Abstracts on Global Climate Change

Sep 2007

Sifting the future from the past: a personal assessment of trends impacting the Australian rangelands

Foran, BD


The fore-sighting exercise undertaken at the Australian Rangeland Society Conference at Port Augusta 10 years ago in 1996 developed four scenarios: ‘economic growth’, ‘best practice’, ‘extra green’ and ‘partial retreat’. These were later collapsed into two broad directions, ` looking out’ (the economic rewards generated by a full application of free market policies with rangeland enterprises having strong external linkages will result in production and management efficiencies which benefit the Australian economy) and ‘looking in’ (rangeland Australia and its human, economic and ecological resources will be best served by the development and maintenance of strong local communities in each rangeland region). It was anticipated that ` looking out’ would apply to only a few rangeland regions where pastoral production is highly valued and rangelands are resilient; ` looking in’ would apply to the majority of the rangelands where other values might outweigh pastoral production in the future and where the rangeland resource is considered less resilient. Given the world’s embrace of economic and trade globalisation, and the dominance in the federal sphere of one coalition government and one prime minister, it seems inevitable that across Australia the last 10 years were dominated by the ` looking out’ direction, while many marginal rangelands had few options but to ‘look in’. The 1996 discussions failed to appreciate fully the importance in shaping today’s world of singular issues such as terrorism, global climate change, potential disease pandemics, the emergence of China and India and, in an Australian rangelands context, the continuing success of the northern beef industry. In the interim, rangelands science has produced an impressive underpinning of integrative information led both by industry investment and government funding. However, long-term resilience is still not assured in many areas of Australia’s rangelands. It continues to be outpaced by those four horsemen of the ( rangelands) apocalypse: the need for growth, periodic droughts, personal gain and introduced organisms. During the next 2 decades the rangelands will be buffeted by many of the same old issues and well as obvious emerging ones. Important human-centric ones will be the tension between European and Aboriginal demographic trends, the increased economic dominance of mining, tourism and defence in the rangelands, and the ‘sponge effect’ of successful towns and particular enterprises. Ecological and bio-physical issues will include carbon trading, energy generation, water catchments, weeds and diseases and agricultural incursions into the northern rangelands. The broad directions of ‘looking out’ and ‘looking in’ still retain some currency for today’s rangeland decision makers but are now embedded in far stronger and shifting currents that are frequently determined by global and national dynamics, rather than local issues. A distinguishing feature of the Australian rangelands is that they are still essentially intact (apart from their fauna) in a world context and may gain future ecological and economic advantage by remaining so. How to retain this status remains one of the great challenges for the next generation of Australian rangelanders.

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Namaqualand - A brief overview of the physical and floristic environment

Desmet, PG


This paper provides a brief introduction to the physical environment of Namaqualand as well as an overview of patterns of plant diversity. The diverse array of parent material and geological processes that have shaped the region since the break up of Gondwanaland have created a complex, and sometimes dynamic physical environment, that is partly responsible for the patterns and processes observed in the biota today. The contemporary climate is characterised by relatively reliable, albeit low (50-250 mm pa), winter rainfall (> 60% winter precipitation) arriving between May and September. East of the central mountains, tropical thunderstorms penetrate the region in late summer (February April). The presence of the cold Atlantic Ocean in the west not only moderates temperatures throughout Namaqualand (mean max summer temperature < 30 degrees C), but also provides alternative sources of moisture in the form of coastal fog and heavy dew experienced in winter months. Recent analyses show that the flora of the Succulent Karoo is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, now termed the Greater Cape Floral Kingdom. It is one of only two desert regions recognised as a global biodiversity hot-spot and contains an estimated 6356 plant species in 168 families and 1002 genera. Namaqualand, which comprises about one quarter of the area of the Succulent Karoo, contains about 3500 species in 135 families and 724 genera, with about 25% of this flora endemic to Namaqualand. This remarkable diversity, however, is not distributed evenly throughout the region, but is concentrated in many local centres of endemism usually associated either with quartzite mountain complexes or lag-gravel plains (quartz-patches). A major exception to the general pattern of centres of diversity is the true Fynbos vegetation of the highest Kamiesberg peaks where rainfall exceeds 400 mm pa. Suggested determinants of the region’s exceptional floral diversity include the complex physical environment, a unique past and present climate and the region’s diverse fauna, most notably insects. The challenge for the current inhabitants and scientists working in the region is to develop a better understanding of this ecosystem so that they will be equipped to deal with the challenges posed by the demands for land and the prospect of global climate change. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Namaqualand’s climate: Recent historical changes and future scenarios

MacKellar, NC Hewitson, BC Tadross, MA


A brief outline of some issues concerning global climate change research is presented before discussing local-scale changes in Namaqaland’s rainfall. Using a gridded data set derived through interpolation of station records, trends in observed rainfall for the period 1950-1999 are discussed. To assess what changes may occur during the 21st century, the downscaled results of six different General Circulation Model projections are presented. The historical trends show some clear spatial patterns, which depict regions of wetting in the central coastal belt and the north-eastern part of the domain, and extensive drying along the escarpment. Reasonably good agreement is shown by the different downscaled projections. These suggest increased late summer convective precipitation in the north-east, but extensive drying along the coast in early and mid winter consistent with the poleward retreat of rain-bearing mid-latitude cyclones. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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