El Nino-Southern oscillation influence on the dust storm activity in Australia: can the past provide an insight into the future? Pudmenzky, Christa; Stone, Roger; Butler, Harry

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Pudmenzky, Christa ; Stone, Roger ; Butler, Harry
Wind erosion is an internationally recognised land degradation problem and affects approximately 28% of the global land area. In Australia, the arid and semi-arid zone covers over 70% of the continent and is the largest dust source in the Southern Hemisphere with approximate 5% of the global total. The Lake Eyre Basin, Channel Country and the Mallee region are the main dust source regions in eastern Australia and severe dust storms have the potential to transport millions of tonnes of fertile topsoil from inland Australia to places as far as New Zealand, New Caledonia and Antarctic. The Australian climate is greatly influenced by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) which is the strongest natural fluctuation of climate on interannual time-scales and also affects climate conditions globally by influencing rainfall and surface temperature. ENSO is a complex interaction of atmospheric and oceanic processes and the prime driver of extreme weather events such as drought, floods, bushfires, dust storms and tropical cyclones and up to 50% of annual rainfall variability in northern and eastern Australia is linked to the ENSO cycles. The see-saw pattern of the changes between El Niños and La Niñas has a significant influence on Australia’s economy and impact on our environment, agricultural production and the income and well-being of farming families in rural Australia. In terms of planning for these events it is necessary to understand the underlying mechanisms responsible for the variability in rainfall and to develop adaptation and mitigation measures to cope with these changes. The research project will investigate the capability in utilising ENSO phenomena in predicting dust storm activity in Australia. This will be achieved through major reanalysis of past climate conditions for 200 years or more using the global Atmospheric Circulation Reconstruction over the Earth (ACRE) initiative to reconstruct both upper-air dynamics, surface conditions and then all major dust storm events of the past and if possible develop a Dust Forecasting Model to produce seasonal forecasts.
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