Climate Change and the Flooding in Asia in 2010, Queensland and Brazil in 2011. Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

Last week I wrote that the warming of Arctic ocean could be responsible for the unusually cold spell in January 2010 and December 2010. This week I will begin by quoting Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of South Wales in Sydney. He thinks that climate change has played a significant role in   intensified the monsoon rains that triggered record floods in Queensland.. He is not excluding other factors such as the impact of La Nina on weather patterns in Asia, South America and Australia. He is saying that, “the waters of Australia are their warmest ever measured and those waters provided moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australian monsoon.”[1] By January 13th twenty fivepeople had been killed and many others are missing as the flood waters tore through the city of Brisbane.  The mayor of Brisbane Campbell Newman said that 11,900 homes and 2,500 businesses had been completely inundated, with another 14,700 houses and 2,500 businesses  partially covered in water.[2]

The premier Anna Bligh said that “Queensland is reeling this morning from the worst natural disaster in our history and possibly in the history of our nation,” She went on to that, “We’ve seen three-quarters of our state having experienced the devastation of raging flood waters and we now face a reconstruction task of post-war proportions.”[3] There were stories of great heroism. As their car was being pummeled by a wall of water, 13 year old Jordan Rice insisted that his 10 year old brother, Blake be rescued before him.  By the time his turn came it was too late. [4]

Kevin Trenberth , head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, U.S. says that the floods and the intense La Nina and climate change were responsible for many of the extreme weather events in the past year.  He points to the high ocean temperature in the Indian Ocean last year and the rapid onset of La Nina after the El Nino ended in May 2010. “The rapid onset of La Nina meant the Asian monsoon was enhanced and the over 1 degree Celsius anomalies in sea surface temperature led to the flooding in India and China in July (2010) and Pakistan in August (2010).”[5] He went on to say that, “a portion , about 0.5 degree Celsius of the ocean temperature around northern Australia, which are more than 1.5 C above pre-1970 levels could be attributed to global warming.  The extra water vapour  fuels the monsoon and thus alters the winds and the monsoon itself and so this increases the rainfall further.”[6]

Some scientists such as Neville Nicholls of Monash University in Melbourne are more cautious. He says, “it is a natural phenomenon. We have no strong reason at the moment for saying this La Nina is any stronger then it would be without humans.”[7] However, he says that “global atmospheric warming of about 0.75 C over the past half century had to be having some impact.”[8] “It has to be affecting the climate, regionally and globally. It has to be affecting things like La Nina. But can you find a credible argument which says it’s made it worse?  I can’t at the moment.”[9]

The Queensland floods have devastated coal mines. Open pit mines are  flooded, mine roads have been washed out. It is expected that full recovery will take months. Some analysts are saying that the devastating floods could lead  to a drop of 5 per cent on steelmaking coal which in turn could raise the price of steel by one third or more, from $225 per tonne at the moment. to $293 by the second quarter of 2011.[10] This in turn will lead to price rises across the globe because of the importance of steel for the manufacturing  and building sectors of the economy.  Despite all these examples of severe weather caused by climate change, the public interest in addressing climate change has plummeted in the  past few months.



[1] David Fogarty, “Scientists see climate change link to deadly record floods,” Irish Examiner, January 13th 2011, page 15.

[2] Ed Davies, “Brisbane flooding peaks below levels feared,” The Irish Examiner, July 13th 2011, page 15.

[4] Peta Doherty and Nicky Philips, “ Boy, 13 dies after act of heroism saves brother,” The Irish Examiner, January 13, 2011, page 15.

[5] David Fogarty. op cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] James Regan. “Steelmaking coal price could rise more than a third,” The Irish Examiner, January 13th 2011, page 15.


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