The Australian Desert And Climate Change
Will The Outback Turn Green?
The Australian desert is receiving more rain than ever. It's a trend that scientists expect to continue.
Does the increased rain in the Australian desert mean the red Australian Outback is turning green?
Maybe... but certainly not as fast as the previously greener parts of Australia are turning brown.
It's November 2006, well into another searing spring and summer, and Australia's agricultural regions in the South West, South and East are struggling through another year of the worst draught ever.
Nothing new here.
But the latest revelations of climate experts regarding some Australian Outback regions have attracted a lot of attention.
According to people like Dr David Jones (head of the Bureau of Meteorology's National Climate Centre) Australia's rain hasn't actually disappeared, it has shifted. Shifted towards the north western and central regions of Australia, the sparsely populated Australian Outback.
Take Giles for example. Giles is a small Australian desert weather station, located at the corner where Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet. It's the edge of the Tanami desert. In the last 50 years the rainfall in Giles has doubled.
No doubt, an increase from 150 mm to 300 mm means that we are still talking about a desert. Giles is one of the driest places on the Australian continent, so the doubling of its rainfall hasn't led to visible changes yet. But what has been measured in Giles can be seen all across Australia's North West.
Regions like the Pilbara, the Kimberley and the northern parts of the big Australian deserts were already less arid than the southern desert regions. The average increase of 100 to 200 mm of rain does make a difference here. Marginal areas that were used for growing crops and grazing cattle aren't marginal any more. Parts of the Kimberley even saw their rainfall increase by as much as 300 mm! That is a lot of water.
Life in the Australian desert is adapted to the sporadic rains. If it does rain the desert virtually explodes into life. Within days everything is frantically flowering and seeding, mating and breeding, making the most of the precious moisture while it lasts.
Just imagine, if those rains are now more substantial, and more frequent, and every rain sees an explosion of the flora and fauna...
The desert mouse has already extended its range from the central Australian desert into the western Pilbara, and the number of wild camels in the Australian deserts is increasing.
If the climate trend continues then ecological changes are inevitable. According to Dr David Jones it would be naive to attribute these changes to natural variation: "They're very large and a number are consistent with what we see from climate change computer models."
So how can the climate change turn one half of Australia into desert, and the other part that already is a desert is turning green?
The weather systems that used to bring rain to the South started as monsoonal troughs in the tropics, and then travelled across the continent as what was called north-west cloud bands. Well, those cloud bands now drench everything across the Great Sandy and Gibson deserts, but beyond that they have all but disappeared. The south isn't linked to the tropics anymore and the rain stays up north (that's a super simplified explanation).
Does that mean the red Australian Outback will turn green? We'll wait and see...
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Thank you to the Manpollo Project. Check out their video series here: www.manpollo.org