Aussie region's heat records broken in worrying temperature rise

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Record temperatures have been recorded across the Northern Territory, according to data released by the Bureau of Meteorology.

The territory’s airport recorded its hottest ever September day when the mercury soared to 38 degrees on the 21st, with two other weather stations documenting new highs for the month on the same day.

Average temperatures within its borders were 1.25 degrees above the long-term average for September, and two sites also had their highest recorded rainfall for the month.

Main image shows people on a Northern Territory beach. The inset shows a heat impact map of the Northern Territory. Source: Getty / BOM
September heat records have been in parts of the Northern Territory. Source: Getty / BOM

BOM observed the mean maximum temperature this year for the territory has been 0.91 degrees above the long-term average.

The results follow a string of record breaking temperatures across the globe over the last two years, with Antarctica and Europe both recording their hottest ever days.

The news comes as Australia prepares to attend the United Nations COP26 climate talks this year, as experts warn the world must act decisively to cut emissions or future generations will pay the price. 

How will the Northern Territory look as climate change worsens?

Heavier rainfall is expected to result in increased flooding across the northern part of Queensland and the Northern Territory, according to forecasts by Professor Will Steffen, Climate Council spokesperson and Emeritus Professor at ANU.

He predicts Alice Springs could experience a “drying trend”, a phenomenon already being experienced across the east of Australia.

At least two more decades of increasing global temperatures have been “baked into the system”, he believes.

While the immediate effects of climate change are already being noted with bleaching events across the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the rest of the country will have to prepare as heatwaves become more frequent and more intense.

Even the lowest emissions scenario entertained by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has the world heating by an extra 1.6 degrees over pre industrial levels by mid-century, compared to 1.1 degrees today.

Cyclones and flooding set to impact Aussie communities

Tropical cyclones have not been increasing in number in the Northern Territory, but the bad news is that the frequency of those rated as category three, four and five are rising, and they are more likely to be damaging. 

Scott Morrison is yet to commit to joining Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at the COP-26 climate talks. Source: AAP
Scott Morrison is yet to commit to joining Boris Johnson and Joe Biden at the COP26 climate talks. Source: AAP

With the ocean expanding as it absorbs approximately 90 per cent of excess heat from greenhouse gases, and additional water from melting ice adding to the problem, sea level rises will likely increase for centuries.

Coastal flooding, shoreline retreat and coastal erosion are likely to result, particularly in Australia’s north, where rises are being experienced above the global average.

“Those are the other major outcomes of the latest science on what climate change means for Australia,” he said.

"Unfortunately, because of the momentum in the climate system, and the fact that we can't reduce emissions to zero tomorrow, we have worsening conditions that we're gonna have to deal with.”

Australians' health will suffer from climate change effects

Dr James Goldie from Monash University's Climate Change Communication Research Hub told Yahoo News Australia that tropical cities like Darwin are already “at the vanguard of heat stress”, with residents living in what he describes as a “thermally challenging environment”.

The changing climate has led to concerns among scientists about whether such areas can continue to be liveable and allow residents to “thrive”.

A group of people at a lookout as the sun sets in the NT.
Hotter nights will likely make it harder for people living in tropical cities to sleep. Source: Getty

While many scientists are examining the effect climate change will have on the planet, Dr Goldie’s focus is on how it will impact human health.

“There's no beating around the bush - climate change is making human health worse, and it will continue to until we stop emitting greenhouse gases,” he said.

With heat waves already responsible for killing more Australians than all other natural disasters combined, Dr Goldie argues we must now work as a society to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

He notes that the choices we make today to reduce emissions can still result in better human health outcomes, with recreation, work and even sleep likely to be impacted.

“Things like more hot days and especially more hot nights are a real concern up in Darwin,” he said.

“Sleep is a time when we recover from the day's work.

“When we're sleeping, we're rebuilding muscles, we're consolidating memories from the day, and when it's disrupted, whether it be from heat stress or other reasons, all of those processes get impacted.”

'Fork in the road': Pressure to cut emissions at COP26

COP26 is set to begin in Glasgow on October 31, with pressure on nations to take stronger action to combat emissions.

With extreme weather intensifying across the globe due to climate change, the talks will be attended by world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden.

Australia is one of the few developed nations which has not committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and it remains unclear what proposal the Federal Government will take to COP26, or if Prime Minister Scott Morrison will attend. 

Professor Steffen warns that the only way to keep the temperature rise below two degrees is to get emissions down “really fast”.

“Once you start going above two, the risks really escalate very, very fast," he said.

What the planet will likely then experience are tipping points, including irreversible melting of large ocean ice sheets and changes in ocean circulation.

“The point is, once they start, once you've crossed that threshold, we won't be able to stop them, even if we get emissions to zero," he said.

"We're really talking about a fork in the road here. If we want to have a manageable climate for our children and grandchildren, this is the last decade we can actually effectively control climate change."

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