RAIN­FOR­EST MER­CURY RIS­ING

Sci­en­tists re­veal Dain­tree 0.6C warmer in 4 years

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - RICRICHARD KOSER

THE Dain­tree rain­for­est is heat­ing up at an alar­malarm­ing rate, but the plants and an­i­mals that makem up “the old­est rain­for­est on Earth” are pprov­ing more re­silient than sci­en­tists ex­pec­ex­pected.

ThoThose are some of the con­clu­sions to come from the Green­house 2011 con­fer­ence in CairnCairns which wrapped up on Tues­day.

The con­fer­ence brought to­gether 450 of the biggestb brains in cli­mate re­search from arounaround Aus­tralia and over­seas to dis­cuss the lat­est cli­mate re­search and fore­casts.

OnOne alarm­ing statis­tic from the Dain­tree Rain­fRain­for­est Ob­ser­va­tory is the rapid rate at which the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment is warm­ing.

The ob­ser­va­tory is one of six “su­per sites” in Aus­tralia tak­ing de­tailed cli­mate read­ings, and part of an in­ter­na­tional net­work that stretches as far as the Ama­zon. Since de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions in the Dain­tree be­gan in 2006, tem­per­a­tures have in­creased steadily. In just five years, they have in­creased 0.6C. Long-term fore­cast­ing from the CSIRO pre­dicts the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture could rise by 3C by 2080, with much drier win­ters and wet­ter sum­mers.

“When tem­per­a­tures in­crease, the plants can keep up as long as they have wa­ter,” JCU as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Michael Lid­dell said

“Once the cli­mate dries out, how­ever, they’re in trou­ble. We need a much longer data set to be able to an­a­lyse the data prop­erly, but we haven’t had one year since 2006 when tem­per­a­tures haven’t in­creased.”

Prof Lid­dell said the rapid tem­per­a­ture rise and sea­sonal dry­ing out of the Dain­tree could transform the for­est from a “car­bon sink” into a “car­bon source”.

“At the mo­ment, the for­est is stor­ing quite a lot of car­bon,” he said. “How­ever, if you get a dis­tur­bance such as a drought, this can stress and weaken the for­est.

Prof Lid­dell said con­stant warm­ing and dry­ing could transform the low­land rain­for­est into open eu­ca­lypt wood­land, but would leave patches of rain­for­est be­hind.

Pro­fes­sor Steve Tur­ton, who stud­ies those “nat­u­ral arks”, said Mt Lewis and Thorn­ton Peak were two likely refuges for an­i­mals un­der pres­sure from ris­ing tem­per­a­tures.

“A lot of an­i­mals, not just frogs but birds, pos­sums, have a very nar­row tem­per­a­ture tol­er­ance,” he said. “If they’re oc­cu­py­ing a very nar­row ther­mal en­ve­lope, they’re vul­ner­a­ble.”

At one point, Prof Tur­ton said, sci­en­tists thought the Thorn­ton Peak frog was likely to be­come ex­tinct in its nat­u­ral habi­tat as tem­per­a­tures in­creased.

How­ever, Prof Tur­ton said the lit­tle crit­ter had adapted to the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures by creep­ing fur­ther into the gran­ite boul­ders which cover the peak.

More than 40 cli­mate change ex­perts from around the world vis­ited the Dain­tree Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre and Canopy Tower at the Cape Tribu­la­tion ob­ser­va­tory yes­ter­day to in­spect the lat­est rain­for­est re­search into car­bon flux.

The DCC pro­vides $60,000 spon­sor­ship for the JCU car­bon flux mi­crom­e­te­o­ro­log­i­cal pro­ject, which in­cludes a so­phis­ti­cated weather sta­tion and ra­di­a­tion sen­sors on top of the canopy tower to mea­sure cli­matein­duced changes in the car­bon stor­age of the rain­for­est.

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