Thursday, August 22, 2013


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on Kevvy's "positive" campaigning

Global sea level rise dampened by Australian floods?

"Australia is in a major drought".  Then what's that stuff that's been falling from the sky outside my window in Brisbane this August  -- a normally "dry" month?

Someone else will have to do the numbers on this but the whole thing smells to high heaven.  Only a small percentage of the rain fell in the Australian outback.  As it always does, most of the rain fell onto the narrow East coastal plain, where it was promptly returned to the sea via the many big coastal rivers  -- JR

New research led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) shows that when three atmospheric patterns came together over the Indian and Pacific oceans, they drove so much precipitation over Australia in 2010 and 2011 that the world’s ocean levels dropped measurably. Unlike other continents, the soils and topography of Australia prevent almost all of its precipitation from running off into the ocean.

The 2010-11 event temporarily halted a long-term trend of rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures and melting ice sheets.

Now that the atmospheric patterns have snapped back and more rain is falling over tropical oceans, the seas are rising again. In fact, with Australia in a major drought, they are rising faster than before.

“It’s a beautiful illustration of how complicated our climate system is,” says NCAR scientist John Fasullo, the lead author of the study. “The smallest continent in the world can affect sea level worldwide. Its influence is so strong that it can temporarily overcome the background trend of rising sea levels that we see with climate change.”

The study, with co-authors from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Colorado at Boulder, will be published next month in Geophysical Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s sponsor, and by NASA.

Consistent rising, interrupted

As the climate warms, the world’s oceans have been rising in recent decades by just more than 3 millimeters (0.1 inches) annually. This is partly because the heat causes water to expand, and partly because runoff from retreating glaciers and ice sheets is making its way into the oceans.

But for an 18-month period beginning in 2010, the oceans mysteriously dropped by about 7 millimeters (about 0.3 inches), more than offsetting the annual rise.

Fasullo and his co-authors published research last year demonstrating that the reason had to do with the increased rainfall over tropical continents. They also showed that the drop coincided with the atmospheric oscillation known as La Niña, which cooled tropical surface waters in the eastern Pacific and suppressed rainfall there while enhancing it over other portions of the tropical Pacific, Africa, South America, and Australia.

But an analysis of the historical record showed that past La Niña events only rarely accompanied such a pronounced drop in sea level.

Using a combination of satellite instruments and other tools, the new study finds that the picture in 2010–11 was uniquely complex. A rare combination of two other semi-cyclic climate modes came together to drive such large amounts of rain over Australia that the continent, on average, received almost one foot (300 millimeters) of rain more than average.

The initial effects of La Niña were to cool surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and push moisture to the west. A climate pattern known as the Southern Annular Mode then coaxed the moisture into Australia’s interior, causing widespread flooding across the continent. Later in the event, high levels of moisture from the Indian Ocean driven by the Indian Ocean Dipole collided with La Niña-borne moisture in the Pacific and pushed even more moisture into the continent’s interior. Together, these influences spurred one of the wettest periods in Australia’s recorded history.

Australia’s vast interior, called the Outback, is ringed by coastal mountains and often quite dry. Because of the low-lying nature of the continent’s eastern interior and the lack of river runoff in its western dry environment, most of the heavy rainfall of 2010–11 remained inland rather than flowing into the oceans. While some of it evaporated in the desert sun, much of it sank into the dry, granular soil of the Western Plateau or filled the Lake Eyre basin in the east.

“No other continent has this combination of atmospheric set-up and topography,” Fasullo says. “Only in Australia could the atmosphere carry such heavy tropical rains to such a large area, only to have those rains fail to make their way to the ocean.”

Measuring the difference

To conduct the research, the scientists turned to three cutting-edge observing instrument systems:

 *   NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, which make detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field. The satellites enable scientists to monitor changes in the mass of continents.

*    The Argo global array of 3,000 free-drifting floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 6,000 feet of the world’s oceans.

 *   Satellite-based altimeters that are continuously calibrated against a network of tide gauges. Scientists subtract seasonal and other variations to closely estimate global sea level changes.

Using these instruments, the researchers found that the mass in Australia and, to a lesser extent, South America began to increase in 2010 as the continents experienced heavy and persistent rain. At the same time, sea levels began to measurably drop.

Since 2011, when the atmospheric patterns shifted out of their unusual combination, sea levels have been rising at a faster pace of about 10 millimeters (0.4 inches) per year.

Scientists are uncertain how often the three atmospheric events come together to cause such heavy rains over Australia. Fasullo believes there may have been a similar event in 1973-74, which was another time of record flooding in that continent. But modern observing instruments did not exist then, making it impossible to determine what took place in the atmosphere and whether it affected sea level rise.

“Luckily, we’ve got great observations now,” Fasullo says. “We need to maintain these observing platforms to understand what is a complicated climate system.”


Queensland the exception as Labor to preference Greens before all in Senate

Katter is a conservative traitor

Perpetually inquisitive and the owner of a rolling, infectious laugh, Christine Milne entered politics in 1989.
Greens Leader Christine Milne. Labor will preference the Greens in the Senate nationally except in Queensland. Photo: Andrew Meares
Labor's national executive has ordered the party to preference the Greens ahead of all others in every state except Queensland.

Labor has a deal with Bob Katter's Australian Party in Queensland, but in other states and in the ACT, Greens senate candidates have been given a boost to their electoral chances.

The move has angered ALP members in Victoria, who fear the deal might also affect how people vote in the lower house seat of Melbourne, which Labor is trying to win back from the Greens.

ALP national secretary George Wright did not respond to calls from Fairfax Media.

A senior Greens operative said the balance-of-power party would be preferencing Labor in the Senate in a similar fashion.

"You can forget all the rhetoric. At the end of the day, Labor and the Greens need to preference each other that way to keep the others out," the contact said. "It's just a pity it didn't occur in Queensland too."

A Katter's Australian Party source confirmed the fledgling party — whose chances were best in Queensland — would preference the Coalition above Labor in most state Senate races.

But in Queensland, KAP and Labor have reached a deal to preference each other above the Liberal National Party in the Senate.

Labor and KAP are also expected to swap preferences in regional Queensland marginal seats including Herbert (held by LNP with a 2.2 per cent margin), Hinkler (LNP by 10.4 per cent), Flynn (LNP by 3.6 per cent) and Capricornia (Labor by 3.7 per cent).

In many regions the KAP vote was higher than that of the Greens in the Queensland state election last year.

KAP remains in talks with the parties about preferences in other lower house seats including in western Sydney.

The KAP source said in some lower house seats the Greens would recommend preferences for the KAP above the ALP.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd refused to confirm any preference deal with Mr Katter on Friday, saying only that such arrangements were a matter for the organisational wing of the parties.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced earlier in the week he would order his party to preference Labor above the Greens and called on Mr Rudd to take a similar hardline stance against the Greens.

Palmer United Party and KAP announced on Friday they would place each other above the major parties on how-to-vote cards for all House of Representatives seats.

Parties and senate candidates have to lodge their upper-house preference tickets with the Australian Electoral Commission on Saturday.


Principals given out-of-school expulsion powers

School principals will be able to suspend or exclude students for offences they commit outside of school hours under new legislation introduced in Parliament on Tuesday.

Provisions under the Strengthening Discipline in State Schools Education Amendment Bill will also empower principals to suspend or expel students who are facing or have been convicted of criminal charges.

It means students who have been charged with a serious offence – as prescribed in the Children's Commissioner's Act – including rape, drug trafficking, armed robbery, torture, kidnapping and attempted murder, can be suspended until the charge is dealt with.

The bill, which expands a principal's power for acts committed beyond the school gates, also means a principal can suspend or expel a student from school for conduct outside of school "provided the conduct adversely affects, or is likely to adversely affect, other students or the good order and management of the school or where the student's attendance at the school poses an unacceptable risk to the safety or wellbeing of other students or staff".

Students will be provided with an educational program during their suspension.

Bullying and other anti-social behaviour, outside school hours and its property, could also be grounds for punishment.

In introducing the bill to Parliament, Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said principals understood their school community and knew what was best for it and should be given the powers to act accordingly.

"This provides a balance between enhancing principals' powers to operate in accordance with local circumstances while guiding consistent decision making that affords appropriate levels of natural justice and ensures the safety and wellbeing of students and staff is paramount," he said.

Under the Education Act as it currently stands, disciplinary options are limited to part of lunch breaks or short periods after school. The amended bill removes time limit restrictions for detention and includes options for Saturday detention and community service.

Short term suspensions can now be up to 10 schools days, up from five, meaning a long term suspension will now be between 11 and 20 days.

School principals will no longer require written submissions when expelling a student, however parents will still have the option to appeal a decision with the director-general.

"These reforms support the reforms under [the] Great Teachers = Great Results [policy] by strengthening principals' powers and addressing limitations contained in the present legislative framework around school discipline," Mr Langbroek said.

The education amendment bill has been sent to parliamentary committee for review, however Mr Langbroek expects it to be passed before the end of the year in time for the first school semester next year.


People smugglers will try to swamp us, says Tony Burke

PEOPLE-SMUGGLERS are attempting to overwhelm the Papua New Guinea Solution and test Labor's resolve, Immigration Minister Tony Burke has conceded, as boats continue to make the dangerous voyage to Australia.

As survivors of the latest maritime tragedy reached Christmas Island yesterday, Kevin Rudd again warned that his border-protection policy would "take time" to work.

Labor has stepped up the defence of its July 16 shift on asylum-seekers, with Mr Burke cautioning that smugglers would try to swamp the policy, but he said that the government's ability to boost capacity at Manus Island in PNG was "very significant" and there was room to accommodate more than 10,000 asylum-seekers.

Under Labor's plan, asylum-seekers are sent to PNG for processing and resettlement, with the Prime Minister vowing that none of them would be settled in Australia.

Forty-four boats carrying 3573 asylum-seekers made it into Australian waters in the 33 days before Mr Rudd announced the policy, compared with the arrival of 2883 asylum-seekers on 40 boats in the 33 days since.

Campaigning in Brisbane yesterday, the Prime Minister warned that the PNG Solution would "take a while to work through".

"I challenge anybody to come up with an alternative effective policy which doesn't say in simple and clear terms that if you are a people-smuggler, and you are telling someone that if you get on to that boat to take them to Australia, you need to know that that person will not be allowed to settle in Australia.

And Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said Labor did not know whether the policy was going to work but it was a new arrangement that struck out in a new direction "and it offers the prospect of removing the product that asylum-seekers are sold".

Mr Dreyfus said it was too soon to say whether this policy will in fact stop or "reduce massively the flow of people coming by boat without a visa". However he said there were early signs that the policy was working.

The first family groups were yesterday transferred to Nauru.

Mr Burke has redoubled Labor's efforts to defend the PNG Solution despite the continued arrival of boats. "In the last few days, some of the smuggling operations have tried to put together a bit of a surge and to see if they can overwhelm the current system," he told the ABC's Lateline program on Tuesday.

He said yesterday voluntary returns of boat arrivals were beginning, with one sent from Christmas Island to Iran and two asylum-seekers returned from Manus Island. He also said Labor's ability to boost capacity on Manus Island was "very significant".

"I have no doubt at all about our ability to find whatever capacity we need in PNG," he said.

The Immigration Minister confirmed the government had found a 165-hectare site on the western end of Manus Island "which would be able to take in the order of 10,000 people".

The opposition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, however, continued to attack Labor's efforts. He said only 1000 asylum-seekers would be on Manus Island by election day, with the other two-thirds of arrivals since the hardline policy was announced still in Australia.

"We're nowhere near 3000 capacity on Manus Island at the moment and we won't be near that for some months," he said.

"And so this suggestion of Tony Burke's that we can create the beds as quickly as people arrive is just complete nonsense.

"He should just be honest with the Australian people. I mean, they are spending $30 million of taxpayers' money telling people in mainstream newspapers, rather than (through) targeted communications into diaspora communities, about their failing boat policy."

Labor's plans to stem the flow of asylum-seekers has faced fresh scrutiny this week after five people drowned and 106 were plucked from the water after their boat listed, then sank on Tuesday as Customs and Border Protection sought to rescue the stricken passengers.

Pressure has also mounted on the government after a regional people-smuggling summit, called after a meeting between the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Mr Rudd six weeks ago, was boycotted by Iran and failed to produce concrete measures.


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