How the smallest continent in the world can impact global sea level rise.
Researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado have found that heavy rainfall over Australia during 2010 and 2011, which was caused by three atmospheric patterns coming together over the Indian and Pacific Oceans, likely played a key role in temporarily halting the long-term global sea level rise caused by higher temperatures and melting ice sheets.
The world's oceans have been rising by just more than 3 mm (0.1 inch) annually over recent decades, but during an 18-month period beginning in 2010 the global oceans saw a 7 mm (0.3 inch) drop.
Image below courtesy of the University of Colorado Sea Level Research Group.
Drought conditions have since returned to Australia as the atmospheric patterns have changed. Global sea levels are now rising faster than before according to the UCAR/NCAR News release.
Australia is unique compared to other continents in that the soils and topography of the country prevent almost all of its precipitation from running off into the ocean.
"The smallest continent in the world can affect sea level worldwide. Its influence is so strong that it can temporarily overcome the background trend of rising sea levels that we see with climate change," said NCAR scientist John Fasullo, the lead author of the study.
"No other continent has this combination of atmospheric set-up and topography," Fasullo says. "Only in Australia could the atmosphere carry such heavy tropical rains to such a large area, only to have those rains fail to make their way to the ocean."
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