- Adam Morton
- The Age, February 17, 2009
VICTORIA is likely to come under the influence of another El Nino within the next three years, exacerbating the drought and the likelihood of bushfires, a senior Bureau of Meteorology climate scientist says.
David Jones, the head of the bureau's National Climate Centre, said there was some risk of a worsening El Nino event this year, but it was more likely to arrive in 2010 or 2011.
"We are in the build-up to the next El Nino and already the drought is as bad as it has ever been — in terms of the drought, this may be as good as things get," Dr Jones said. "And the repeated, severe bushfire seasons we have been seeing are a direct result of this very severe, protracted drought."
While climate scientists warn a single event such as Victoria's deadly bushfires cannot be blamed on climate change alone, Dr Jones said the conditions were "totally typical of climate change at the most pessimistic end of the models".
He said El Nino and La Nina events influenced rainfall but neither was controlling the drought, now entering its 13th year. A recent study co-headed by the CSIRO found the record-breaking dry may also be linked to the Indian Ocean's cycle of warming and cooling.
"In the past, La Nina usually meant wet in Victoria and El Nino meant dry," Dr Jones said. "For the last 13 years, the El Ninos have been associated with what could be best called devastating droughts and the La Ninas have been associated with close to average rainfalls, at best."
Concerns about another El Nino worsening the risk of fire in Victoria come as a growing number of climate scientists add their voices to concerns that global warming is being felt more rapidly and dramatically than expected. Climate experts are planning an emergency summit in Copenhagen next month to put pressure on leaders to act quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Chris Field, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told a science conference in Chicago at the weekend that tropical forests could dry out and become vulnerable to devastating wildfires as global warming accelerated.
He said soaring greenhouse gas emissions were driven by a surge in coal use in countries such as China and India.
Higher temperatures could see wildfires raging through the tropics and a large-scale melting of the Arctic tundra, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere that would accelerate warming even further, he said.
Dr Field said the IPCC's last report on climate change, in 2007, had substantially underestimated the severity of global warming.