A week ago, our national broadcaster, the ABC, interviewed both Stewart Franks, Newcastle University, and David Karoly, Melbourne University, on the alleged impact of global warming on the floods.
Professor Karoly blamed carbon dioxide and his opinion was broadcast. Stewart Franks, who has for some time been warning of the likelihood of significant flooding in southern Queensland and NSW, explained the floods in terms of natural climate cycles and his opinion was not broadcast.
Professor Franks subsequently wrote to the ABC to protest its repeated use of an alarmist who provided misleading information:
Dear Mr Uhlmann
I would like to protest the repeated interviews with Prof David Karoly with regard to the Queensland floods.
Since 2003, I have published a number of papers in the top-ranked international peer-reviewed literature regarding the role of La Nina in dictating Eastern Australian floods.
There has been no evidence of CO2 in affecting these entirely natural processes, irrespective of their devastating nature.
Why is it then, that someone without any publication nor insight in this key area of concern for Australia is repeatedly called upon to offer his personal speculation on this topic?
This is not a new problem with Prof. Karoly.
In 2003, he published, under the auspices of the WWF, a report that claimed that elevated air tempertatures, due to CO2, exacerbated the MDB drought. To quote…
‘…the higher temperatures caused a marked increase in evaporation rates, which sped up the loss of soil moisture and the drying of vegetation and watercourses. This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed…’
The problem with this is that Prof Karoly had confused cause and effect.
During a drought, moisture is limited. The sun shines on the land surface, and as moisture is limited, evaporation is constrained, and consequently the bulk of the sun’s energy goes into surface heating which itself leads to higher air temperatures. This effect can be as much as 8-10 degrees celsius.
This is a common confusion made by those who have not studied the interaction of the land surface hydrology and atmosphere, as Prof. Karoly has not.
Undoubtably Prof Karoly has expertise but not in the area of hydrology or indeed in many other areas on which the ABC repeatedly calls on him for ‘expert’ comment.
Could I please ask that you cast your net a little wider in seeking expertise? These issues are too important for the media commont to be the sole domain of commited environmental advocates. Surely objective journalism also requires objective science?
Sincere best wishes,
A/Prof Stewart W. Franks
Dean of Students
But still the ABC persists.
Today the Midday Report featured Professor Matthew England from the UNSW Climate Centre speculating on the role of carbon dioxide in the current disaster. Professor Stewart Franks has responded with the following open letter to the Managing Director of the ABC:
Dear Mr Scott
It is with regret that I email you once more regarding speculation on the causes of the recent and ongoing devastating floods being aired on the ABC.
The Midday Report featured Prof. Matthew England of the UNSW Climate Change Centre speculating on the role of carbon dioxide in the current natural disaster.
Perhaps more irksome for me on a personal level, he was asked to comment on the possibility that such strong La Nina events may persist over the coming decades.
Alas his response was that we expect La Nina events every 3-5 years.
Prof. England appears to negate the role of a known, and widely published climate mechanism – the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO),sometimes referred to as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation, or IPO,in Australia.
He also appears to be unaware of the historic multidecadal variability of flood and drought risk in Australia – again widely published in the international literature.
This research has demonstrated that variability of ENSO events (El Nino/La Nina) both in terms of the magnitude of their impact as well as the frequency of their occurrence are associated with changes in the PDO/IPO.
Moreover, the history of flood events in Eastern Australia (particularly southern Queensland and Northern NSW) is inextricably linked to both La Nina occurrence and PDO/IPO phases.
I myself have published widely on this link utilizing state-of-the-art Bayesian approaches. My understanding is that Engineers Australia is currently incorporating such insights into their revised ‘Australian Rainfall and Runoff’ manual – the de facto guide for practicing engineers in assessing flood risk in Australia.
The notion that flood and drought alternately dominate Eastern Australian climate is not new – the notion of multidecadal variability in flood and drought risk was first raised by two researchers – Profs. Robin Warner and Wayne Erskine, in the mid-1980’s.
Ironically enough, both were researchers at UNSW at the time, albeit researchers in geo-morphology (the interaction of climate, water and geological landscape), and not affiliated to any centre for climate change.
Whilst Prof. England is no doubt a prodigious ‘climate scientist’, could I again bemoan the fact that he is addressing issues in only speculative terms, which mostly tend to focus on CO2, whilst dismissing an entire body of work that he has not himself has neither studied nor published on.
Is it not possible to identify more objective researchers whose expert opinions may deviate from the CO2 consensus – whether it be drought or flood in question?
Sincere best wishes,
A/Prof Stewart W. Franks
Dean of Students
I’ve given some background to Professor Frank’s work here:
And on Tuesday morning, I received a phone call from Gerard at ABC (radio) Gippsland asking if I would put the alternative perspective on the recent flooding which he was keen to link with global warming; in particular what he referred to as the “wild weather” around the globe.
I explained, on air, that there was no correlation between atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and flooding anywhere in Australia and that the best explained for the recent devastating flooding was inadequate infrastructure and warning systems in the face of a combination of La Nina conditions during a negative IPO, a monsoon trough and already saturated catchments.