Warm ocean temps worsened the Roma floods

CONTRIBUTING FACTOR: Roma’s Northern Road became a ‘Northern River’ during the height of the flood, which scientists have found were made worse by warmer ocean temperatures.
CONTRIBUTING FACTOR: Roma’s Northern Road became a ‘Northern River’ during the height of the flood, which scientists have found were made worse by warmer ocean temperatures. Derek BARRY

WARMER ocean temperatures may have worsened the impact of the 2011 floods, according to new climate research.

Findings from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate Science found that warmer waters supercharged the impact of the floods by adding moisture into the atmosphere, leading to an increase in rain during the La Nina period of 2011.

Professor Matthew England, who co-authored the study, said the findings drew a consistent link between the continued warming of oceans and the flooding.

"Generally speaking, the oceans have gotten warmer everywhere, but the flooding events caused by La Nina were supercharged by warming ocean temperatures," he said.

"Temperatures increased by half a degree, which is a significant amount from an environmental perspective.

"Whilst the floods were still devastating just because of the La Nina-driven weather, global warming definitely exacerbated their impact in Queensland."

With the findings coinciding with the latest climate talks in Paris, Prof England said there was nothing political about assessing the physics of these events.

"We need to come out and call these events for what they are; global warming made these worse, and will make future events worse," he said.

Thirty five people died in the floods that swept through Queensland's south, and caused up to $2.38 billion worth of damages.

Professor England said the findings were important for those living in regional areas, as it indicated that La Nina and El Nino events would become more frequent in future events.

"We estimate the return period of these floods is about three times more frequent because of climate change, but we might see heavy flooding as soon as the next decade across Queensland," he said.

It also means changes for emergency services, who deal with these devastating events.

"These incidents are on the rise, and we need to make sure that towns have the infrastructure to deal with these events," Prof England said.

Commenting on the findings, Warrego MP Ann Leahy said she was committed to flood mitigation across the region.

"I haven't read the research myself, but the important thing is to ensure that we have flood prevention and mitigation as a priority," she said.

"We want to look at a combination of factors that help minimise the impact.


Key Findings

 - Warmer background state increased the likelihood of the extreme rainfall response

 - Additional ocean warming enhanced onshore moisture transport onto Australia

Topics:  floods roma

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