Drought, Doubt and Climate Change

So today I’m going to review a news article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning. The SMH is one of Australia’s biggest newspapers, along with The Age, its Victorian counterpart, and The Australian. This article was writtten by Peter Hannam, who is the papers Environment editor. My comments will be interspersed throughout like this. It’ll be a bit of a long post, so jut hang in there. Climate change is the ultimate sign that we’ve failed to relate to our environment and to natural resources in a healthy and sustainable way and the Abbott Government’s response is just ridiculous …

Tony Abbott downplays role of climate change in current drought

PM vows help is on the way for farmers

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has  played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.

For anyone who may not know, last September Australia voted in a right wing Coalition government. Not a conservative government in the British tradition but a US style ‘climate change is fake because Jesus’ government.

And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.

As recently as 2009 the PM is on record saying ‘Climate change is complete crap.’ Now that his Liberal party is in a Coalition government with the Nationals, who have long represented farmers and rural Australia, you’d think they’d do a bit more to tackle climate change. We all know that because of climate change droughts are only going to get longer, more frequnent and more severe so if they really cared about farmers they’d be doing everything they can to take it head on, looking at the long-term effects of climate change on the land.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott met grazier Kym Cramp of “Mount Gipps” station near Broken Hill, NSW, as part of a drought tour with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

‘‘If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘This is not a new thing in Australia.”

 The PM is not a climate scientist or a meterologist and here he is dismissing any link between climate change and this drought. While one cannot say ‘This drought is 4 times worse because of climate change’ or ‘This drought is so long because of climate change’ we can say ‘Every drought *may* be linked to climate change and as our GHG emissions go up it’s only going to get worse. This is not normal for Austrlia. This drought is very bad and we’re only going to see them get longer, more frequent and more intense.’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the "Mount Gipps" station near Broken Hill on Monday.
Mr Abbott at the “Mount Gipps” station. Photo: Andrew Meares

‘‘As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia,’’ he said.

Yes, it has been. But not to this extent. Never in the history of huamnity the world’s climate changed so rapidly. Our agricultural systems are set up for a very specific climactic envelope – a global average temperature of about 15’c – and with every day we fail to act the climate heats up and weather pattens go haywire. I don’t want to see a 6’c world and it’s doubtful that Australian agriculture as it exists today could survive in that.

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

So with one hand he gives farmers some money to deal with this drought while with the other he dismantles climate related policies and istitutions and blindly ignores that there’s a serious problem. That doesn’t create the resilliance and sustainablity that our agriculture sector needs. Australia needs to feed it’s own people and prop up a huge export market yet instead of looking at the long term and acting responsibly, this government wants farmers to be reliant on hand outs as the droughts get ever worse.

‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is … beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’

A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.

The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: ‘‘Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.

‘‘For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.’’

Records melt

Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.

Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Emphasis added.

The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.

That is going to push farmers and rural communities further into debt as they have to invest in seed, stock, chemicals and labour but don’t get the return on the product. There are already far too many mental health concerns and suicides in rural and regional farming communites, and decreasing yeilds and productivity will only lend to this.

The three regions  Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.

Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures.

Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was  ‘‘a world of difference’’ between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.

Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.

John Cramp, the owner of  Mount Gipps,  said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.

‘‘They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,’’ Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view ‘‘climates have always changed’’.

During a drought farmers often turn to bore water to hydrate stock and water crops. This drought that stretches across NSW and Qld is largely in coal seam gas territory, where the federal government supports putting in gas wells. These wells are known to be risky in that they can contaminate ground water which farmers rely on. Seems as if the farmers are being put to the bottom of the pile in terms of priorities.

It is strange when farmers themselves dismiss the link between climate change and drought. I wonder if it’s because climate change has been branded as this massively left wing thing that only tofu eating, hairy legged lesbians care about? We know that there are many people in this world who profit from climate change and they fund groups such as the Heartland Institute to sow doubt about it. It’s so disenhartening to see that among the people who are most affected – farmers – there is the most denial or dismissiveness. Does that make it up to the rest of us? Do we try and convince them, or just go on doing our best without them?

Link to the orignial article: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-downplays-role-of-climate-change-in-current-drought-20140217-32vub.html#ixzz2tcfNuIBN

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Water Ponding in the Rangelands

Rangelands are used for very diverse purposes and have many associated management issues.

They cover 80% of Australia and comprise diverse ecosystems, such as woodlands, tropical savannah, shrub lands, grasslands and deserts. There are many land uses of rangelands, such as mining, tourism, Indigenous use and agriculture. The semi-arid areas are very important for grazing, and $4.4b is made annually from cattle, and a further $1.1b from sheep and wool.

nsw-map-rangelands-higher-rainfall
The rangelands of NSW cover 60% of the state and are located west of the 500mm per annum rainfall zone. The field preparation for this report was conducted in the area around Trangie and Nyngan. SPicture: R Hacker et al., Best management practices for extensive grazing enterprises, NSW Department of Primary Industries, April 2005. 

 

Introduction

Water ponding was used to reclaim scalded soils at two sites in the Nyngan locality. These sites are now 25 and seven years old and a Landscape Function Analysis was carried out on them to compare functionality and pond age, using a scalded site as a baseline.

Landscape Function Analysis

Landscape function analysis (LFA) is used to assess the functionality of rangelands. It uses visual indicators to give an indicator of 11 physical and biological processes to describe three key soil phenomena, and thus the overall functionality of that landscape (Tongway and Hindley, 2004).

indicators
2 Eleven tests are conducted in order to assess three key soil processes that describe landscape functionality.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

An LFA was carried out on ponded sites in order to determine the effects of water ponding on landscape function in terms of stability, infiltration, nutrient cycling, soil carbon, and soil biomass relative to pond age.

Water ponding

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word ‘pond’ I think of this:

tumblr_lzhybmvoMG1r9wixeo1_500
Water ponding; less to do with the Ponds, more to do with soil scalds. Picture: Bill Israel.

Water ponding, however, is a practice used to reclaim scalded soils, which we’ve talked about before.

These soils develop due to clearing and overgrazing, causing an excess of sodium ions (i.e. >15%) which creates hard, concrete like surfaces called scalds. Neither water nor roots can penetrate these surfaces, leading to an absence of vascular plants in these areas, which in turn further disrupts the site’s hydrology. At this stage the landscape enters a new stable state that is X to agricultural use. A functional landscape experiences short tortuous flows of water through grass tussocks, whereas a dysfunctional has long straight flows around tussocks which loses resources such as water, soil, and seeds.

water flow
3A functional and dysfunctional landscape. Note the differences in plant cover and resulting water flow.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

Water ponding is a highly successful practice that uses to reclaim these soils, a system that uses 0.4ha horseshoe shaped ponds to hold water and encourage plant growth by holding water on the surface. When a site is identified for water ponding, it is surveyed with a laser leveller in order to find potential positions for pond banks. Ponds are then laid out from the highest point in the scald and overlap like fish scales so water is not lost. They must be no more than 10cm deep or only reeds and rushes will grow, and wave action can destroy the banks. In order to ameliorate wave action, tunnelling, and dispersion there is a heightened buffer section between the banks and the pond. As the system is reliant on rainfall, water ponding may be less effective in times of drought.

Results

Two water ponding sites were visited, one 25 years old and one seven years old. An LFA was carried out in four ponds at each site in order to assess the effect of water ponding on landscape function relative to pond age. This was done by laying down 15m transects at the back of ponds and collecting information on the fore mentioned 11 indicators in the patches (areas of vegetation) and interpatches (clear areas). Soil carbon and biomass were also measured.

biomass
4 Biomass results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site. 

Biomass was taken from a 30cm2 plot in the middle of the transect, oven dried and weighed.

carbon
5 Soil carbon results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
stability
6 Soil stability is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

infiltration

7 Infiltration of water into soil is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
nutcyc
8 Nutrient cycling is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

Discussion

The above results show that water ponding has a positive effect on landscape functionality. In every data set, treated sites performed better than the scalded control. In the case of nutrient cycling and infiltration, this difference was particularly significant. These two factors are both dependant on basal cover, litter origin and surface roughness among other things. The scald does not have these properties as it has no vascular plants and the dispersive soils create a smooth, hard crust that does not allow for the build-up of resources such as seeds, litter and water.

Water ponding allows water to sit on the scalds, which restores the swelling and cracking properties of the duplex soils (Thompson, 2008). Cracks allow windblown seeds to get caught in the micro-topography, as well as allowing water and root penetration of the surface. The seeds can then grow, restoring infiltration and nutrient cycling. This was indicated in the results; stability does not significantly increase with pond age, whereas infiltration and nutrient cycling do, suggesting that stability recovers first and is needed for nutrient cycling and infiltration.

There was no biomass on the scald, and differently aged ponds had similar amounts. This is because total biomass increases and plateaus relatively quickly; it can be up to a 20% increase in the first year.

Soil carbon increased over time and in comparison to the scalded site. Soil carbon helps to restore functionality by ameliorating soil structure and available nutrients (CSIRO, 20011).

Conclusion

It can be seen from the results that water ponding is successful in reclaiming scalded soils for use. Functionality of landscapes was seen to increase with age, but not significantly in regards to stability. It can also be concluded that, despite it’s irrelevance to agriculture, Amy and Rory’s story is wonderful and that the Last Centurion and the Girl Who Waited are heart warming in their (literally) undying love for each other.

rory
He waited 2000 years for a woman who ripped Time apart for him, but can he reclaim a scalded soil?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue. About goats.

Hello everyone! I’m taking part in a weekly writing challenge to shake it up. Check it out:

It is night, and raining. A YOUNG WOMAN sits at a computer, headphones in, typing with one hand. Her chin is resting in the other. The audience can hear the tinny sound of electro-house music and the clattering of keys. Enter THE BOYFRIEND. She doesn’t notice. He taps her gently on the shoulder.

YOUNG WOMAN: (startled) Gah! Dude, you scared me.

THE BOYFRIEND: You’re still here how I left you this morning! What have you been up to all day?

She takes out her earphones and turns to face him, excited.

YOUNG WOMAN: Soils! Soils are amazing. Well, goats and soils. See, they had too many woody weeds, then they put goats on it to make it better, but the goats messed it up, so now the soil is unhappy because there isn’t any clay and so there’s a film and basically it’s all just terrible.

THE BOYFRIEND removes his jacket, sits down in the armchair next to the desk and looks at her intently. He likes hearing about what she’s learning.

THE BOYFRIEND: (patiently) … Right. And what are woody weeds?

YOUNG WOMAN: (impatiently) They’re woody shrubs that grow in the Australian rangelands and are unpalatable to stock. The rangelands are, like, 80% of Australia, but this case study is from the semi-arid region between Broken Hill and Cobar, in the south-west corner of New South Wales.

grassland
What Australian grasslands of that area are meant to look like. There’s a overstory of trees and an understory of grasses and forbes and nothing else.
woody weeds
An area over run with woody weeds; the middle story. Note the absence of an understory.

THE BOYFRIEND: So where do the goats come in?

 YOUNG WOMAN: Well, removing woody weeds mechanically or chemically is really expensive, and they tried burning it but it doesn’t always work. That’s one of the main maxims in Australian geography; if there’s a problem, set fire to it and ask questions later.

THE BOYFRIEND: (laughing) So they put goats in? Where did they get the goats from?

YOUNG WOMAN: That’s the beauty of it, see. You just fence off a whole lot of feral goats that are out there anyway, and the expense of the fence is offset by the profit made from the goats. There’s a growing market for goat in Australia, especially goat that’s Halal. The goats start off eating all the yummy things, like the forbes and perennial grasses, but then they go on and eat the woody weeds. Unpalatable doesn’t worry goats!

THE BOYFRIEND: Forbes? Isn’t that a town in central New South Wales? And how does this relate to soils being unhappy?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, it is a town too, but forbes is another name for ‘herb’, something that’s not a grass or a shrub but is still a little plant. So they put in heaps of goats. Like, heaps. Out there the stocking rate is 0.3 DSE per hectare, which means that for every hectare you should only have 0.3 of a dry sheep equivalent. This is the amount of resources needed to support a ewe that doesn’t have a lamb. A cow is equal to about 15 DSE, a pony or light horse has a DSE of 10, and so on. So this place is at 0.3/ha, and they go and put in 4 goats on every hectare! This is so they can really eat the weeds down, put that many goats puts pressure on the soil. See, the soil is usually alumino-silicate aggregates coated by clay, yeah? But the goats grind it all together and the clay comes off. You following?

clay runoff
Soil particles are covered in clay (happy soil), but then goats come in and rub it off. The clay forms a film on the surface when it rains, and water can’t get in (sad soil).

THE BOYFRIEND: Yep. The area has a DSE of 0.3/ha, but you run it at about 4/ha and the clay gets rubbed off the soil particles. What happens then?

YOUNG WOMAN: Well, usually the water would just infiltrate into the soil and there’s basically no run-off at all. No erosion or anything, just lots of water for the plants, but because the clay has come off the soil it forms a film on the surface and the water can’t infiltrate into the soil. There’s lots of run-off which causes erosion, and the plants can’t access the water.

THE BOYFRIEND taps his nose thoughtfully. 

THE BOYFRIEND: Hmm, doesn’t sound too good. Anything else?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, dust. Because the soil is made so unstable by the goats they lose massive amounts of topsoil via wind erosion. This is a serious problem in Australia and is very costly, both environmentally and economically.

apocalypse
Sydney Harbour in the 2009 Australian dust storm. I was 16 at the time and it felt like the apocalypse had come.

THE BOYFRIEND: So … goats solve one problem but create a few more?

YOUNG WOMAN: (sadly) Pretty much. If you can figure out how to solve the woody weeds problem they’ll basically make you Australian of the Year and you’ll be a gazillionaire.

THE BOYFRIEND: That’s a shame, goats are otherwise so cool.

YOUNG WOMAN: (excited, looking to a future of solving problems with goats) Yeah, geography is awesome!

So that was my night last night. More or less a true story.

goats3
Goats are awesome.
goat1
What a cutie!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/writing-challenge-dialogue/