Experts ‘surprised’ at climate change results

Friday August 17, 2012 Written by Calida Smylie Published in Environment

Two Australian climate change experts here to teach a training programme were surprised that a one-size-fits-all approach does not apply to Pacific Islands climate projections.

Scientists John Clarke and Ron Hoeke from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO are in the Cooks this week for two reasons: to teach Meteorological Service staff how to use new climate change software, and to attend the book launch of two research volumes they collaborated on with the met service.

As part of the Australian government’s climate change adaption initiative, Melbourne-based scientists used historical and current data from the Cook Islands and other participating Pacific countries to make projections of what the Pacific climate will be like in the future.

The three-year AusAid-funded collaboration resulted in two volumes containing a regional overview and individual country reports, which included a whole chapter on Cook Islands weather and climate.

Scientists looked at temperature, rainfall, and sea-level data as indicators for projections.

The projected outcome for the Cooks is for increased temperatures, more extreme rain events and higher sea-levels.

Clarke says it was surprising to find ”one size does not fit all“ in comparing projections between Pacific nations.

”The great thing about this research is we can now tailor what needs to be done in individual countries, if not individual islands, to prepare for climate change.“

Everything from infrastructure, like road planning and drinking water supplies, to human health, due to increasing mosquito-borne diseases, will be affected by climate change.

This new research will allow the government and other agencies to plan to adapt.

Generically across the Pacific temperatures are set to rise, but the patterns of rainfall vary – some countries are predicted to get more rain and some less.

”But rainfall is a difficult climatic process to predict,“ says Clarke, ”and our understanding of it is incomplete.“

The changes all depend on how we control our global emissions, he explains.

”We could follow any one of many different pathways depending on how greenhouse gases are controlled, because that is partly what is driving these changes.“

But while he knows Earth is getting warmer, he is not sure exactly why.

”That’s an open-ended question,“ says Clarke. ”Are individual events like cyclones more intense because of climate change? A lot more research needs to be done on what causes these impacts.“

Hoeke, an oceanographer, says sea-levels will continue to rise, but are ”tricky“ to estimate.

”There’s a high certainty sea levels are going to rise but we’re not so confident at how much they’ll rise by.“

He puts a conservative global estimate at a 30cm rise over the next 40 years. Cook Islands sea levels may rise between 10mm to 20mm per decade, but there is also variability between North and Southern Cooks.

”This might not sound like much, but stack that on top of a king tide and see what happens.“

The two scientists acknowledged the help the met service has given them by providing data every month for three years.

”The observations collected by the met office here were crucial to our research. I cannot overstate the importance of this, as we cannot do our work without good quality observations,“ says Clarke.

”It is important that local people can now come to the met service to find climate change information.“

This is especially as met service operations manager Maara Vaiimene had the main issues from the books translated into Cook Islands Maori, also to be released at the book launch.

Meanwhile, Clarke and Hoeke say their stay here has been ”far too short“ and they hope to return to Rarotonga again soon.

”It all depends on AusAid’s future funding though,“ quips Clarke. ”Fingers crossed.“

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