Droughts to become much more frequent

24 October 2013

A scientist visiting UC says by 2100, climate change will see a one in 20 year drought become a one in two or five year drought in New Zealand.

A scientist visiting to the University of Canterbury (UC) says by 2100, climate change will see a one in 20 year drought become a one in two or five year drought in New Zealand.

Auckland climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger will give a public lecture on the UC campus next week (Tuesday October 29, 5pm) about warmer climate.

"Droughts like that of last summer will become much more common. NIWA climate projections show warmer and drier summers and autumns and stronger westerlies in winter and spring with more spring gales like this year. 

"The average Kiwi will notice much warmer winters, like the last one, with dramatically less frosts.  For ski enthusiasts, changes in seasonal snow can alter the ski industry, with a rise in snow line reducing the ski areas in the North Island dramatically and pushing the South Island areas up to far higher elevations.

"Flash flooding in our towns will be much more common with more high intensity deluges. And those with beach front hideaways will be more prone to attacks of storm surges and king tides from the sea eating away at their properties.

"We’re unlikely to be shielded from the impacts of the global economic effects of climate change, caused by food shortages and general upheaval, and we could see many of our Pacific Island neighbours knocking on our door for help.

"Food supplies would be challenged with a significant risk to the global food basket. Crop yield reductions are likely, especially in India, Africa, United States and Australia, by as much as 30 percent for wheat. 

"Eight hundred million people rely on grasslands and, in lower rainfall areas in the semi-arid subtropics and Mediterranean, yield drops quite dramatically, but increases in the higher latitudes. Livestock face more heat stress and disease, reducing their productivity. 

"All tropical islands in the Pacific are likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude and duration. Extreme heat waves in recent years have had severe impacts, causing heat-related deaths, forest fires and harvest losses.’’

UC’s Sustainability Office will host Dr Salinger whose talk will raise awareness of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, which demonstrates the unequivocal warming of the planet and paints a bleak picture if carbon emissions are not curbed.

UC meteorologist Professor Andrew Sturman says a southward movement of weather systems over recent decades is producing increased frequency of anticyclones in New Zealand.

"My research has found an increase in the likelihood of dry summers. The impact of these trends can vary significantly between different parts of the country, so that each region needs to develop its own strategy for adaptation to climate change," Professor Sturman says.


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Kip Brook
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University of Canterbury
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