Climate experts predict permanent drought could end wine industry in some parts of the world

CLEVELAND - Last night I enjoyed a glass of delicious Australian Shiraz, a 2010 Mollydooker. An outstanding red wine. Big plum flavors with a hint of smoke & anise. In my opinion, the Aussies make some of the best Shiraz in the world. Perhaps it's because of the often warm, very dry climate where these grapes grow. They are places called Barossa, Adelaide, & Coonawarra... perfect for growing grapes that make outstanding wines. Of course, all plants, including grape vines need water.  But the less water grape vines have during the summer and fall, the more flavorful the grape. The algorithm goes like this: Dryer weather = less water in the berry + more sugar and intense flavors = great wines in my glass.

But, imagine my chagrin when I read today about the impending doom of the Australian Wine Industry due to Man-Made Global Warming/Climate Change/Climate Chaos. Here's what they said in the Prague Post this week:
"Predictions are that if temperatures rise another 2 C, growing vines will become untenable in many of the world's more renowned wine regions by 2050. One such case is Australia, whose vineyard area could disappear entirely... in such an event, water, not wine would become the overriding priority."

OMG! So, water will become so scarce in Australia, that grape vines won't grow and there won't be any water to siphon off for the vines. Instead, every available drop will need to be diverted for basic human existence. It's worse than we thought!

A quick web search yields other dire predictions for the Land Down Under. Australian Professor and Government Official Ross Garnaut , told a crowd in Western Australia in 2011: "The drying of the South-West has been predicted by climate change scientists, and climate changes in the region are directly attributable to carbon levels in the atmosphere."

Other predictions preceded Doctor Garnaut's.
In 2005, during a decade of severe drought, Australian Climate Change Commissioner, Tim Flannery predicted Sydney's dams could be dry in as little as two years because global warming was drying up the rains, leaving the city "facing extreme difficulties with water."

In 2007, Flannery predicted cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains, as global warming had caused "a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas" and made the soil too hot, "so even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and river systems."

In 2008, Australian Head of the National Climate Centre at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, David Jones told residents it could be time to stop describing south-eastern Australia as gripped by drought and instead accept the extreme dry as permanent : "There is a debate in the climate community, after … close to 12 years of drought, whether this is something permanent. Certainly, in terms of temperature, that seems to be our reality, and that there is no turning back."

In 2009, TheAge.com said this: "It's not drought, it's climate change, say scientists.
A three-year collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed what many scientists long suspected: that the 13-year drought is not just a natural dry stretch but a shift related to climate change…
Scientists working on the $7 million South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative. To see what role greenhouse gases played in the recent intensification, the scientists used sophisticated American computer climate models. ‘'It's reasonable to say that a lot of the current drought of the last 12 to 13 years is due to ongoing global warming,'' said the bureau's Bertrand Timbal."

I guess it's time to start hiding my prized Aussie wines!

But, hold on. There's a problem. Australia isn't dry right now. Here's the headline in the UK Telegraph newspaper this week: "Hundreds more evacuated in Australian floods"

Floods? You mean the kind caused by excess water?  Yes, it's true. Australia is wet.
This is from Reuters News Service, from February 3, 2012:  "Heavy rains shut four coal mines in eastern Australia on Friday as military helicopters evacuated stranded residents from inundated towns, and authorities warned of further flash flooding. There's more headlines: "More than 11,000 people in Queensland State have been isolated by the flooding and thousands had been evacuated, emergency services authorities said. The town of Moree, the centre of the region's cotton growing, has been cut in half by record floodwaters, while authorities are using helicopters to relocate 300 people already at an evacuation centre in the outback town of Roma to another centre on higher ground. Whitehaven Coal said it had shut four mines due to heavy rainfall, but the mines were not flooded and no equipment had been damaged. Other miners and liquefied natural gas

producers reported their operations had so far not been affected."

And its not just rain. It's record rain (Figure D). Headlines from March 2 of 2012 read "Southeast Australia remains under water:"  "(There were) heavy falls ... across parts of the state last night and because of the duration of the event some records may be broken as far back as 1886," SES Emergency Commissioner Murray Kear said on Friday."

More flooding news here: Flash floods across Australia's Queensland and New South Wales states killed around 35 people, swamped 30,000 houses, and wiped out roads, bridges and rail lines.

A further examination of reality shows that Australia actually has experienced a record amount of rainfall in the last two years.   "Back-to-back La Niña events have created the wettest two-year period on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Its latest Special Climate Statement revealed a two-year rainfall total for 2010–11 of 1409 mm, surpassing the old record of 1407 mm set during 1973–74."

Here is the map of drought conditions in Australia. If we examine the records from the country's own Bureau of Meteorology, we see very good news. There is virtually no drought in Australia and hasn't been for the last 36 months. Only a small part of Southwest Australia has experienced drought in the last 3 years. (FIGURE A) Australian rainfall anomalies show above normal rainfall for the last 36-months across a large portion of the continent (FIGURE C).

Now, keep in mind, Australia is now stranger to drought.  Droughts on this continent are often measured in years, not months. Figure E shows rainfall anomalies since 1900 and many dry decades. This is the driest inhabited continent in the world; 70% of it is either arid or semi arid land. The arid zone is defined as areas which receive an average rainfall of 250mm or less. The semi arid zone is defined as areas which receive an average rainfall between 250-350mm. During the decade of the 2000's Australia experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. But, rainfall measurements since 1900 show no permanent drought across the continent.  (FIGURE D)

It seems much of Australia's rainfall fortunes are linked to naturally occurring factors. The Bureau of Meteorology themselves admit the connection between droughts & ElNino events : "Many, but by no means all, droughts over eastern and northern Australia accompany the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon...On some occasions (such as 1914 and 1994) El Niño-related droughts may extend across virtually the entire country."

Research done in 2004* also points to natural climate variations as the cause for Australian droughts. Dr. Danielle Verdon and associates instead projected that drought and flood in Australia was cyclical and tied to natural cycles in the Pacific both short term and across decades. The authors investigated "the influence of the El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) on rainfall and streamflow regimes of eastern Australia. An analysis of historical rainfall and streamflow data for Queensland (QLD), New South Wales (NSW), and Victoria (VIC) reveals strong relationships between these indices and seasonal rainfall and streamflow totals. (h/t Joe D'Aleo)

Associate Professor Stewart Franks, of the University of Newcastle, thinks scientists should know better than to make incorrect statements about drought here. "The mistake that the numerous expert commentators made, was that they confused climate variability for climate change. The future impact of climate change is very uncertain, but when one "wants to believe", then it is all too easy to get sucked in and to get it spectacularly wrong. In principle, these people should really know better."

So, it looks like I don't have to covet my great Australian wines after all. Ocean patterns have changed to favor more La Nina events for the next several years. If history repeats itself, that means more rain for Australia and plenty of good wine for me. I'll share some with you, if you ask nicely. Cheers!

*Verdon, D. C., A. M. Wyatt, A. S. Kiem, and S. W. Franks (2004), Multi-decadal variability of rainfall and streamflow: Eastern Australia, Water Resour. Res., 40, W10201, doi:10.1029/2004WR003234.

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