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WA drought linked to greater snowfall in the Antarctic

Media release

C212/10

Researchers have found that increased snowfall in the Antarctic may be linked to the significant drought in southwest Australia over the last 30 years.

Dr Tas van Ommen, Principal Research Scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart will be presenting his research results from the analysis of ice cores during a seminar ‘Antarctic Ice Cores and Australian Climate’ at Curtin University on Monday 25 October at 2pm.

Analysis of ice cores drilled at Law Dome, a site just inland from the Antarctic Casey station, has revealed that snowfall variability may be linked to climate in the Australian sector of the Southern Ocean and southwest Western Australia.

Dr van Ommen said the ice cores provide a record of annual variations in snowfall and provide a record that stretches back over 750 years.

“Over the past 30 years, the cores indicate that there has been a significant increase in snowfall in that area,” he said.

“This inversely correlates to the occurrence of a significantly lower rainfall and subsequent drought that has been experienced in the southwest of Western Australia.

“So when there’s extra moisture at Law Dome, the same circulation pattern is starving Western Australia of moisture.”

Further work is underway to explore these connections and understand the reasons behind them. However, these events of greater snowfall in the Antarctic and drought in WA also coincide with human induced changes in the atmosphere that may be contributing to global warming.

“The snowfall increase we see in the last 30 years lies well outside the natural range recorded over the past 750 years,” Dr van Ommen said.

“By doing this very practical climate science we’re understanding things that will help farmers plan for years to come… and if you can adapt to change then you’re really going to be ahead of the curve.”

Curtin University is set to play a major role in re-constructing the past variability in climate change, outlined in the 10-year science strategy recently tabled by the Australian Antarctic Division during its paleoclimate planning meeting in September.

“The recent paeleoclimate meeting concluded that Australia needs to further develop its ice core analytical facilities in order to reach its science goals, and Curtin is poised to play a major role,” Dr Ross Edwards, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Imaging and Applied Physics at Curtin said.

“We plan to create a national facility for ice core research here at Curtin, working together with the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Tasmania, the Antarctic Climate and Environment Cooperative Research Centre, Macquarie University and the Australian National Nuclear Research and Development Organisation (ANSTO).”

Curtin University is well-placed for this work with the Isotope group, the John de Laeter Centre, and its unique Advanced Ultra-Clean Environment Facility (AUCEF) – the cleanest laboratory of its kind in the world that was established by the late Kevin Rosman and John de Laeter.

Notes to Editor:

The seminar ‘Antarctic Ice Cores and Australian Climate’ will take place on Monday 25 October at 2pm at the Curtin Resources and Chemistry Precinct.

Dr Tas van Ommen (PhD) is a Principal Research Scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. He is also Leader of the Cryosphere Program at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. His research interests centre on climate and glaciology, and particularly ice core records of past climate. He is also involved in international airborne studies which are mapping the bedrock of the Antarctic ice sheet and which provide information to guide future ice coring in Antarctica. Dr van Ommen has published 60 peer-reviewed papers and is an authority on using ice core data in conjunction with contemporary meteorological data to extract detailed records of recent and current climate change. He has been a contributing author and reviewer for the IPCC, and has a strong interest in the communication of climate science to non-scientists. He has recently published a high profile result showing a link between drought in southwest Western Australia and Antarctic snowfall changes, which suggests that human-driven climate change is playing a role in the ongoing drought.

More information about The John de Laeter Centre: http://www.jdlcms.org

Contacts:

Tas D van Ommen, Principal Research Scientist, the Australian Antarctic Division, Hobart
Email: tas.van.ommen@aad.gov.au

Ross Edwards, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Imaging and Applied Physics, Curtin
Tel: 08 9266 3458; Mob: 430 344967; Email: r.edwards@curtin.edu.au