Today is the northern hemisphere winter solstice and we’ve already seen a year with many climatic records broken and numerous record-breaking disasters, especially with all the tornadoes and droughts and heat waves. Already the global average temperature estimates for 2011 are coming in, and it looks like it will once again break all previous records for the warmest year in history (which was previously broken by 2010, and before that by 2009). The reports we’re hearing from the media about even more rapidly melting polar ice caps and the vanishing of glaciers around the world are not reassuring.
But in the southern hemisphere, it is summer solstice today, and there the signs are even more ominous. Australia has just gone through years of one climatic disaster after another, capped by 2011 with record flooding, wildfires, drought, and even an gigantic typhoon named Yasi. As this article points out, or an article in the December 2011 issue of Discover magazine discussed, many climate scientists view Australia as a harbinger of the future. It is far more vulnerable to changes in climate than most other regions, since it is a small continent located in the southern high-pressure belt of deserts, with only limited wet areas along the coast and the tropical north. It has few mountains or other topographic features that modify climate or trap rain and snow compared to most other continents, so it can be whipsawed through climate changes much faster than other regions. As the article’s author quoted in an email he received from an Aussie friend, “Welcome to Australia, the petri dish of climate change. Stay safe.” Or as David Karoly, the leading climate researcher at the University of Melbourne, put it, “Australia is the canary in the coal mine. What is happening in Australia now is similar to what can expect in other places in the future. One of the effects of increasing greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere is to amplify existing climate signals. Regions that are dry get drier, and regions that are wet get wetter. If you have a place like Australia that is already extreme, those extremes just get more pronounced.”comments (273)