Australian town of Onslow hits record 50.7 degrees Celsius, as global warming rolls on relentlessly

Rising sea levels prediction

One prediction of where rising sea levels will end up at Cottesloe Beach, Perth Western Australia – Photo courtesy Flickr user go_greener_oz (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When the coastal town of Onslow in Western Australia hit a record-setting 50.7 degrees Celsius (123.3 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 13, 2022, it was just another day in the unfolding climate crisis. It matched the 1960 temperature record at inland Oodnadatta, which is the high mark for the Southern Hemisphere.

Andrew King, senior lecturer in Climate Science at the University of Melbourne, explored the implications through an article in The Conversation:

Unfortunately, this extreme heat is becoming more common as the world heats up. The number of days over 50℃ has doubled since the 1980s. These dangerous temperatures are now being recorded more often – not just in Australia but in cities in Pakistan, India and the Persian Gulf. This poses real threats to the health of people enduring them.

Should these temperatures be a surprise? Sadly, no. Australia has warmed by around 1.4℃ since 1910, well ahead of the global average of 1.1℃.

You may think Australians are good at surviving the heat. But the climate you were born in doesn’t exist any more. Sadly, our farms, wildlife, and suburbs will struggle to cope with the extreme heat projected for coming decades.

One institution in nearby Roebourne grappled with the dire consequences for humans in these extreme temperates. The majority of the prisoners in the Roebourne prison are Aboriginal people. NITV (National Indigenous Television) reporting claims that inmates at the prison “were left to swelter in record heat without adequate air conditioning”:

The extreme heat also grounded the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS):

Andrew King expects Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, to hit 50 degrees Celsius in the near future. Melbourne’s highest official temperature of 46.4 degrees Celsius (115.5 degrees Farenheit) was recorded on Black Saturday, February 7, 2009. It was the day of Victoria’s devastating bushfires with 108 deaths and more than 750 houses incinerated.

Meanwhile at a global level, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, 2022 released a study of ocean temperatures: Another Record: Ocean Warming Continues through 2021 despite La Niña Conditions. It indicated that the world ocean was the hottest ever recorded. The authors warn:

As oceans warm, the water expands, and sea level rises. Preparing for sea level rise and its implications for coastal communities are particularly important.

In addition, warmer oceans supercharge the weather systems, creating more powerful storms and hurricanes, and increased precipitation. Warmer oceans lead to a warmer and moister atmosphere that promotes more intense rainfall in all storms, especially hurricanes, thereby increasing the risk of flooding. Warming ocean waters threaten marine ecosystems and human livelihoods, for example, coral reefs and fisheries.

Novelist and activist Eliza Todd seems to have an angle for an end-of-world movie:

As New Scientist reported, the last seven years were the warmest so far. Last year ranks fifth, sixth, or seventh based on the international datasets used by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for their analysis. Although 2021 was not the hottest year on record, that’s hardly cause to celebrate:

The past seven years were the warmest on record as climate change continued apace, despite the cooling effect of the La Niña weather pattern in 2021.

…2021 saw climate scientists shocked by several temperature records broken by much larger margins than usual in some places, such as the near-50°C record set in Lytton, Canada. Previous research showed this event would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, La Niña “refers to the large-scale cooling of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean”.

This WMO YouTube animation has the following warning: “Global warming and other long-term climate change trends are expected to continue as a result of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.

The Washington Post created an animation of temperature variations since 1880, shared by Twitter user Nuclear Engineering:

Given the spades of new records, it must be time to revisit the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) COP26 Code Red.

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