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Published: 19 March 2012

Long-term warming and sea-level rise continue says key climate report

Recent warming trends in Australia are consistent with longer-term, global-scale warming trends, despite 2010 and 2011 being the coolest years recorded in Australia since 2001. This is one of the findings of the 2012 State of the Climate Report, produced by the CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meterology.

Gympie, Queensland, February 2012
Credit: Photo by Liam 38

The 2012 State of the Climate report provides a summary of observations of Australia’s climate and an analysis of the factors that influence it.

‘I think the key point is that climate change is continuing. Observations are showing that. Weather will change from year to year, but it’s the long-term trends we’re looking at, and the long-term trends are quite clear. Australia is warming. It’s warmed by around a degree over the last 50 years,’ says Dr Karl Braganza of the Bureau of Meterology.

The report notes that:

  1. Each decade has been warmer than the previous decade since the 1950s.

  2. Australian annual-average daily maximum temperatures have increased by 0.75 °C since 1910.

  3. Australian annual-average daily mean temperatures have increased by 0.9 °C since 1910.

  4. Australian annual-average overnight minimum temperatures have warmed by more than 1.1 °C since 1910.

  5. 2010 and 2011 were Australia’s coolest years recorded since 2001 due to two consecutive La Niña events.

The report quantifies Australia’s contribution to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as approximately 1.3 per cent and notes that increasing global energy generation dominated by fossil fuels will drive continued global emissions growth.

‘The continuing growth in greenhouse gases is of concern because that is what drives climate change,’ says Dr Paul Fraser, CSIRO atmospheric scientist.

All the greenhouse gases measured at Australia’s Cape Grim monitoring station are increasing.

‘That’s carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and the synthetic greenhouse gases. Some of these greenhouse gases are increasing at rates we haven’t seen before, like nitrous oxide. Others are increasing at rates that are certainly significantly higher than they were 20 years ago,’ says Dr Paul Fraser, CSIRO atmospheric scientist.

The amount of heat stored in oceans is one of the best indicators of changes in the climate system. The report notes that heat content of the world’s oceans has increased during recent decades and accounts for more than 90 per cent of the total heat accumulated by the land, air and ocean since the 1970s. This warming increases the volume of ocean waters and is a major contributor to sea-level rise.

According to the report:

  1. Sea-surface temperatures around Australia have increased faster than the global average.

  2. Sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region in 2010 were the highest on record.

  3. Sea-surface temperatures have increased by about 0.8 °C since 1910.

There has been a general trend towards increased spring and summer monsoonal rainfall across Australia’s north during recent decades, and decreased late autumn and winter rainfall across southern Australia.

For Australia as a whole, an increase in the number of dry days is expected, but it is also likely that rainfall will be heavier during wet periods.

Source: CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology

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