New research has found the answer to why southern Australia is recording more droughts and why Antarctica is not warming as much as other continents.
And the news isn’t good, especially coupled with the likelihood of a drought-bringing El Nino event as early as July this year.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide are strengthening the stormy Southern Ocean winds which deliver rain to southern Australia but pushing them further south towards Antarctica.
Researcher Nerilie Abram, from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences, said that with greenhouse warming, Antarctica is actually stealing more of Australia’s rainfall.
“It’s not good news – as greenhouse gases continue to rise we’ll get fewer storms chased up into Australia,” Dr Abram said.
“As the westerly winds are getting tighter they’re actually trapping more of the cold air over Antarctica. This is why Antarctica has bucked the trend. Every other continent is warming, and the Arctic is warming fastest of anywhere on earth.”
While most of Antarctica is remaining cold, rapid increases in summer ice melt, glacier retreat and ice shelf collapses are being observed in Antarctic Peninsula, where the stronger winds passing through Drake Passage are making the climate warm exceptionally quickly.
Until this study, published in the the journal Nature Climate Change, Antarctic climate observations were available only from the middle of last century.
By analysing ice cores from Antarctica, along with data from tree rings and lakes in South America, Dr Abram and her colleagues were able to extend the history of the westerly winds back over the last millennium.
“The Southern Ocean winds are now stronger than at any other time in the past 1,000 years,” Abram said.
“The strengthening of these winds has been particularly prominent over the past 70 years, and by combining our observations with climate models we can clearly link this to rising greenhouse gas levels.”
Professor Matthew England from the Climate Change Research Centre at University of New South Wales said the study answered key questions about climate change in Antarctica.
“This isn’t good news for farmers reliant on winter rainfall over the southern part of Australia,” he said.
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