The Story No One's Paying Attention to: Deadly Australia Floods Point to Global Climate Change
I know everyone wants to talk about the Giffords assassination attempt, who's to blame for it, issues regarding mental health, gun control, etc. etc. etc. Some stories seem to suck all the oxygen out of the air in this country when they occur.
But while we continue with our endless and probably futile discussion of all things related to the Tuscon Massacre, larger events are occurring on our planet, extreme weather events that were predicted by climate scientists years ago. Like the massive snow storms along the East Coast (again) and even more devastating, the immense record flooding in Australia:
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Climate change has likely intensified the monsoon rains that have triggered record floods in Australia's Queensland state, scientists said on Wednesday, with several months of heavy rain and storms still to come. [...]
"I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change," said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
"The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon,"he told Reuters.
Warmest ever recorded. How often have we heard that phrase repeated over the last decade? Warmest year. Warmest Arctic temperatures. Warmest summer in Russia. Record warm temperatures for cities and states in the US. Warmest ever is almost in danger of becoming a cliche. We are becoming desensitized, numb even, to those words "warmest ever recorded."
Yet we as a country and as a species have done far too little to stem the increase in these warmest ever recorded events. And so we are beginning (and it is just the beginning) to reap the whirlwind from all the megatons of greenhouse gases we continue to pump into the air. Last year it was record temperatures and fires in Russia, and record temperatures and flooding in Pakistan. This year it is record flooding in Eastern Australia, and the results are devastating:
BRISBANE, Australia — Massive floods shut down the center of Australia's third-largest city, sent thousands fleeing from their homes and sparked panic buying of food on Wednesday as rescuers searched for 43 people missing in floodwaters.
At least 22 people have died in Australia's northeastern state of Queensland since drenching rains that began in November sent swollen rivers spilling over their banks, inundating an area larger than France and Germany combined.
The crisis escalated when a violent storm sent a 26-foot, fast-moving torrent — described as an "inland instant tusnami"— crashing through the city of Toowoomba and smaller towns to the west of Brisbane on Monday. [...]
In Brisbane, thousands of homes and businesses were deserted as swirling floodwaters rose in and around the city, forcing residents to flee with a few possessions to higher ground and to evacuation centers crowded with more than 4,000 people, according to Bligh.
This is Australia's "Katrina" moment and though the loss of life is much less, because the flooding has come much slower than the broken levees caused by that hurricane, the damage that is being done to the region is just as bad.
Since starting their onslaught across northern mining state last month, the wall of water has crippled the coking coal industry, destroying infrastructure, putting a brake on the economy and sending the local currency to four-week lows.
Just take a look:
Seventy-five percent (75%) of the entire state of Queensland has been declared a disaster area. To give some perspective that represents a land area equivalent to "[a]n area the size of Texas, or France and Germany combined..."
Imagine for a moment an area the size of Texas under water. You can't, can you. It's too impossible to believe. Yet, it's very real. It's happening right now as I type these words. Why? The answer is not that difficult to explain--it's an increase in the intensity of the periodic La Nino and La Nina events which occur in the Pacific Ocean:
The rains have been blamed on one of the strongest La Nina patterns ever recorded. La Nina is a cooling of ocean temperatures in the east and central Pacific, which usually leads to more rain over much of Australia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.
This is because the phenomena leads to stronger easterly winds in the tropics that pile up warm water in the western Pacific and around Australia. Indonesia said on Wednesday it expected prolonged rains until June. [...]
"We've always had El Ninos and we've had natural variability but the background which is now operating is different," said David Jones, head of climate monitoring and prediction at the Australia Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.
"The first thing we can say with La Nina and El Nino is it is now happening in a hotter world," he told Reuters, adding that meant more evaporation from land and oceans, more moisture in the atmosphere and stronger weather patterns. [...]
Prominent U.S. climate scientist Kevin Trenberth said the floods and the intense La Nina were a combination of factors.
He pointed to high ocean temperatures in the Indian Ocean near Indonesia early last year as well as the rapid onset of La Nina after the last El Nino ended in May.
It's a fact. We live in a rapidly warming world. That increased warming has consequences. We've seen so many of these climate related extreme weather events over the past few years that perhaps many of us can't comprehend that these are the expected results of what happens when the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are massively increased by human activity. In short, many people can't see the forest for all the trees. But those trees (i.e., extreme storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, etc.) are telling us something, something that regrettably our politicians and the propaganda machine of the fossil fuels industry doesn't want us to recognize. Yet smart people, reasonable people, educated people and yes (WARNING: a word some consider immoral is about to be used) scientists everywhere are acknowledging the truth of the matter:
Last fall I posted a blog about the unusual number and severity of extreme weather events that have been striking around the globe for the past several years. That entry focused on the alternating severe drought and heavy flooding in Atlanta in 2007-2009 as an example of the roller coaster ride that climate change is likely to be. As every dutiful scientist does, I stopped short of blaming those individual weather events on global warming, but I am also careful to point out that it is scientifically unsound to claim that the confluence of extreme weather events in recent years is not associated with global warming; I’ll return to this question later.
The weather of 2010 continues the chaos of recent years. In the past six months, the American Red Cross says it “has responded to nearly 30 larger disasters in 21 [U.S.] states and territories. Floods, tornadoes and severe weather have destroyed homes and uprooted lives ...” Severe flooding struck New England in March, Nashville in May, and Arkansas and Oklahoma in June.
Nearly the entire northern hemisphere is experiencing a massive heat wave this summer. Back in February, heavy snowfall in D.C. prompted some politicians to decry global warming, but those voices are now silent in the searing heat that has gripped much of the world this summer. The first half of 2010 has been the warmest January-July period in the global temperature record, stretching back to 1880. I would be the first to question the significance of this single-year observation, but it fits perfectly into a multiple-decade pattern in which each year between 2000 and 2009 was warmer than the average temperature of the 1990s, and every year in the 1990s was warmer than the average temperature for the 1980s.
As extreme as the weather has been in the U.S. this year, things are much worse in other countries that are of great interest to the United States: Pakistan and Russia. [...]
One might think that too much rain in Pakistan would have nothing to do with too little rain in Russia, but two expert analyses by CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller and Weather Underground meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters find that the two are connected. The Russian heat wave is associated with an intense dome of high atmospheric pressure that has settled in over Eastern Europe. This dome is so immovable that it is blocking the flow of the jet stream, which typically determines where mid-latitude storms drop their rains. A similar “blocking high” was in place over Western Europe during the extremely deadly 2003 European heat wave. The block over Russia forced the jet stream to dive far southward, carrying with it a great deal of moisture that normally would have watered Russia’s substantial wheat crop. Instead, that rain fell in northern Pakistan, combining with the already abundant rainfall normally associated with the Asian Monsoon this time of year. The combination of the two was just too much, so while Russia’s crops withered and burned, Pakistan’s crops drowned. [...]
What can we say about the connection between these events and climate change? As usual, there is no definitive answer about these specific events, but direct observations show that extreme weather events have become more frequent in the past half-century, and in the extreme cases that have been studied, the mechanisms are those that one would expect from global warming. At the most basic level, more droughts and heat waves are expected because of hotter, longer-lasting high pressure systems that dry out the land, as witnessed in Russia. On the other hand, more floods are expected because hotter air evaporates more water from the surface and holds more moisture. When the conditions are right, that moisture is released, creating a deluge, as witnessed in Pakistan. The same basic phenomenon was behind the unusually heavy snowstorms that hit the U.S. East Coast this winter.
More specifically, modeling experiments performed by British scientists indicated that the risk of extreme European heat waves like the one in 2003 has at least doubled as a result of human-induced global warming. The same models predicted that continued greenhouse-gas emissions would make similar heat waves commonplace in Europe by the middle of this century. Independent modeling experiments by American climate scientists found that strong blocking highs and associated long, extreme heat waves occurred more frequently in models with elevated greenhouse gas concentrations. (An accessible version of the latter work is available in a report published by the Pew Center in 2007.)
So it is reasonable to conclude that, in aggregate, the documented increase in extreme events is partially a climate response to global warming, and that global warming has increased the risk of extreme events like those in Russia and Pakistan. On the other hand, there is no scientific basis for arguing that these events have nothing to do with global warming.
Let me boil that point down a bit: There is no scientific evidence that extreme weather events are being influenced by anything other than man made climate change. As the famous saying from literature's greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, goes:
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
The truth is that climate change is occurring and the planet's oceans and atmosphere is warming. We have ruled out temperature increases as a result of solar cycles, natural cycles, CO2 in the oceans, evil scientists, etc.. Fat people aren't causing it. Cow farts aren't causing it. Water vapor (i.e., clouds) isn't causing it. Volcanoes aren't causing it. The "hot air" from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their fellow travelers isn't causing it.
What's left: increases in greenhouse gases caused by human activity such as carbon emissions from burning coal and oil for energy.
And that my friends is a bigger news story than any other story with which our planet's news media is obsessed at the moment.