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Australia’s scorcher: why was 2013 so hot?

2013 was Australia’s hottest year since records began. Graphs from the Bureau of Meteorology show how the temperature’s rising 

Source: Bushfire CRC

Source: Bushfire CRC

By Sophie Yeo

After a year of bushfires, heatwaves, cyclones and flooding, there will be few who will be surprising to hear that 2013 was Australia’s hottest year since records began in 1910.

The Bureau of Meteorology announced that the national mean temperature for the year was 1.2C above average, or just 0.8C shy of the level of warming at which the impacts of climate change would become catastrophic if applied globally.The ten-year mean temperature between 2004-2013 is also a record-breaking 0.5C.

annual-mean-temperature-anomalies

“The past year was characterised by persistent and widespread warmth,” write the scientists, adding that the intense heat was felt across all the territories of Australia.

Individual Australian records set during the year include warmest summer and spring, warmest January and September, as well as hottest summer day (7 January) and hottest winter day (31 August).

There were also a number of regional extremes.

climate-facts-and-events

Departures from the average temperature on a day-by-day basis also showed a distinct rising trend.

daily-mean-temperature-anomalies

Meanwhile, the sea temperature is getting distinctly warmer. Scientists believe that the uptake of heat by the ocean could be responsible for the relative stability of atmospheric temperatures globally since 1998.

Sea-temperature

A record breaking year has tied in with some headline-grabbing extreme weather events across Australia. While no single event can be directly attributed to climate change, these kinds of events are predicted to increase in both intensity and frequency as the planet warms.

A heatwave that was notable for both its duration and its extent spread over Australia until 18 January last year, recording temperatures of more than 10C above average. This tied in with bush fires, the most destructive of which was in Tasmania, which spread over 25,500 hectares, destroying and damaging 193 dwellings and 186 other buildings.

Damage caused by the January bush fires

Damage caused by the January bush fires

But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott remains unconvinced: last year, he accused UN climate chief Christiana Figueres of “talking out of her hat” when she said that bush fires were linked to climate change. Since coming to power in September, he has started the process to abolish Australia’s carbon pricing system, as well as axing the country’s Climate Change Commission.

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