Don’t be fooled by Australia’s wet and mild conditions.
A United Nations weather agency report, released on Friday, found 2010 is almost certain to rank as one of the hottest three years on record while the past 10 years are the warmest period since climate data began in 1850.
David Jones, head of climate analysis for the Bureau of Meteorology, said Australia was protected from the severe
temperatures in 2010 by a La Nina weather pattern, which brought record-breaking rain across most of the country.
“While Australia has escaped this year … other parts of the planet are seeing incredibly hot temperatures,” he told reporters gathered with other climate scientists in Melbourne on Friday.
Climate change patterns during the next decade will likely bring continuing volatile weather conditions along Australia’s east coast with cycles of rain and heat, he said.
However, dry conditions in Western Australia, especially around Perth, could continue with greater risks of major drought.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released the new weather figures during UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico at 4am (AEDT) on Friday after compiling global records.
Temperatures for 2010 are currently estimated at 0.55C above the 1961-1990 annual average, which is used as a climate warming benchmark.
Only 1998 and 2005 have been warmer than 2010 since records began.
Final yearly temperature data from November and December will be examined early next year to determine if 2010 will remain in the top three.
The agency’s global climate snapshot showed the past 12 months have been marked by dramatic weather: the worst flooding in Pakistan’s history, unprecedented drought in the Amazon, extreme heatwaves across Russia in which 11,000 people died and continued decreases in Arctic sea ice.
Australia’s fragile Great Barrier Reef is still at risk with research scientist Claire Spillman saying ocean warming trends have a real danger of killing off parts of the reef.
She said wide-spread coral bleaching occurred in 2010 across southeast Asia.
“The overall outlook is saying the reef will bleach more often and more severely, which will basically reduce the resilience of the reef,” she added.
The climate change outlook pushes Australia further into unknown territory, with major dilemmas in agricultural management.
John Williams, CSIRO’s former land and water chief, said the country’s weather is largely determined by the interactions of 13 climate systems, which cycle from between 30 days to 50 years.
“We don’t know how climate change will affect those systems that we’re currently familiar with,” he said.
“That means we’re going into periods of uncertainty.”
Farmers will have to get used to climate change amplifying weather patterns, increasing the chances of both bumper crops and failed seasons.
“What we’re seeing is a drying in winter and much more spring and summer rain,” he said.
“That’s going to have impacts on the way we crop and manage.”
The severity of bushfires will remain dependent on the length of time between rain and heatwaves.
Mr Jones noted that Victoria was unseasonably wet only six weeks before Black Saturday and similar weather trends are likely to continue.
The federal government announced $1.9 million to support research into the health impacts of climate change as the global weather report was released.
While the UN report did not blame the warming directly on man-made greenhouse gases, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said such a cause is confirmed in other research on carbon emissions.
“It’s an additional element to confirm that there is indeed warming,” he told reporters in Cancun.