The scientists’ view

AUSTRALIA is no stranger to the visits of El Nino. 

Warm ocean currents off South America and high air pressure over the western Pacific mean Australia will go through a dry spell. 

But occasionally, on average once every 20 years, Australia experiences a Super El Nino, an event more intense and longer lasting, and tied to significant drought events, such as those experienced in Australia in 1982-83 and again in 1994-95.

These climate catastrophes bring widespread ecological, agricultural and economic damage in their wake, and not just in Australia.

The bad news is that research published recently in the leading science journal Nature by Australian and US scientists indicates that thanks to climate change a Super El Nino may visit Australia twice as frequently as before, occurring every 10 years on average.

But according to scientists, climate change has been having an effect for some time.

Dr Helen McGregor from the University of Wollongong’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said we can see evidence of climate change in the local region.

“If you look at temperature records for the local area – say the Illawarra and the Shoalhaven – then you can see an increase in average temperatures over the last 50 to 60 years.”

Dr McGregor also said that ocean temperatures off the NSW coast are also increasing.

“This means the air above the ocean is getting warmer and absorbing more moisture. In the future this will make rainfall more intense.”

She said the extreme temperatures we have experienced lately may also become more common as hot air warmed in the centre of the continent pushed out as far as the coast, something that used to happen only rarely.

“We will also experience more intense bushfires, something no one wants.”

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