RAINFOREST MERCURY RISING
Scientists reveal Daintree 0.6C warmer in 4 years
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.