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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

In Sun-burnt Lands

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, May 18, 2014/Categories: sustainability, environment, climate change

Two of my favorite places, California, and that beautiful land far to the south, Australia, are experiencing some of their worst drought conditions. As 2014 begins, California's driest past year was just recorded and in Australia a drought has been in progress for much of the decade.

The US Drought Monitor  has released a map of California showing the depth of the situation there and climate researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have determined the cause of Australia's lingering drought conditions. Both situations could get worse.

Under California's current conditions, the drought metrics range from yellow (abnormally dry); to red (extreme drought); to maroon (exceptional drought) the highest on the color chart. The map was published in mid-spring. With summer ahead, desperate conditions could face farmers and ranchers in the large agricultural valleys of central California and potentially an uninterrupted fire season in the mountains far into the fall.
California Drought Map and Drought Percentage Chart, 5-15-14  (credit: US Drought Monitor)

In Southern California, LA's Metropolitan Water District has taken long-overdue action and is now paying residents to rip out lawns and replace them with drought tolerent landscaping and will also extend rebates for rain barrels and high-efficiency toilets. The excesses of living in a "Cadillac desert" may finally coming home as "water cops" check for "water wasters".

On the opposite side of the Pacific, conditions in Australia mimic those in California. Climate researchers at the ANU looked at the climate patterns in the southern ocean and have concluded that winds, normally delivering rains to southern Australia, are being pushed further south towards Antarctica. Using ice core and tree ring data back to AD 1000, they reconstructed the past climate up to the present. Previously, increases in atmospheric CO2 have been implicated in the changing wind patterns over Antarctica. The project director Nerilie Abram commented:

“As greenhouse gases continue to rise, we’ll get fewer storms chased up into Australia. As the westerly winds are getting tighter, they’re actually trapping more of the cold air over Antarctica."

The ANU research was published by Nature Climate Change .

Drought Swimming Hole, Flinders Ranges, South Australia (credit: Wiki-commons)

Australia is already a dry continent and the native vegetation and tree cover is prone to fires. Over the past few years bush fires have been so extreme that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has had to add another layer to their 5-alarm fire chart with the addition of a "catastrophic" zone.

Dried up swimming holes and parched landscapes in both California and Australia tell a very sad story with multiple layers about the current state in these two "sun-burnt lands".


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