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This Blog is designed to be a Diary of Events illustrating Global Climate Change, and where it will lead.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Biggest Dry

From the Circle of Blue: Australia's summer, 2009:

The grievous consequences of drought and global warming are more visible and dangerous in Australia than in any other industrialized nation.

Wildfires last month killed 210 people in Victoria. The country’s greatest wetland, the Coorong near Adelaide, is drying up. And as it does, the sulfur in the exposed bottomlands mixes with oxygen in the air to form sulfuric acid mud that is killing aquatic life. Forests of Red Gum trees, hearty sentinels of Australia’s arid landscape, are dying. And crops across southeast Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, one of the planet’s most productive food growing regions, are failing. Once prosperous rural cities are in decline, and suicides in farm families occur at a rate twice the national average.

Winding across 400 miles of South Eastern Australia’s dry landscape, the Murray-Darling river system struggles to sustain much of the country’s agriculture. Due to the effects of drought and man, the Wakool River near Swan Hill no longer tops its banks.The brutal Australian drought has emerged as “The Biggest Dry.” This is no mere statement of hyperbole, scientists tell us. It’s what happens when a nation purposefully designed to use an enormous amount of water collides with a hotter and dryer climate that produces much less rain.

Twelve years ago, the rain stopped falling in southeast Australia. The average temperature has climbed 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s respected science agency. So much less rain is falling that surface flows across the region’s river valleys have been cut 40 percent. Over the past decade there has been so little water left in the lower sections of the Murray-Darling river system that for every four out of ten days, the Murray River doesn’t even have enough flow to reach its mouth in the Great Southern Ocean south of Adelaide.

Though it is the first industrialized nation to contend with the severe consequences of drought and climate change, Australia won’t be the last. The Biggest Dry is not only a global warning, it is a test of an industrial society’s ability to cope with new and dangerous conditions that threaten its ability to survive. Some Australians are convinced the nation is well prepared to meet the challenge. But the dry river beds, empty billabongs, fallow fields, and parched human spirits warn of a desperate struggle. It’s not at all clear that Australia’s response will be enough to overcome nature’s fury.

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