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Strong monsoons could mean increased droughts in Indonesia BANGKOK (THAILAND) - Fears of strengthening monsoons in Asia could spell trouble for parts of Australia and Indonesia which will see longer and more frequent droughts in the future, according to a study published in Nature on Thursday. By examining the chemical makeup of corals off Indonesia's Sumatra island, researchers found that stronger monsoons in Asia 6,500 years ago led to greater ocean cooling in the eastern Indian Ocean, which reduced evaporation and, in turn increased the droughts in Indonesia and Australia.

As the earth moved further from the sun, the monsoons weakened and droughts became less frequent over the next few centuries. But with climate models predicting that global temperatures rising, researchers said monsoons will worsen and droughts in Indonesian and southern Australia more common toward the end of the 21st century. "It should be a matter of concern, then, that the Asian monsoon system appears to be growing stronger," Mike Gagan, an Australian National University research who co-wrote the paper, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

"This means we could see a return to those heightened droughts that hit countries around the eastern Indian Ocean 6,500 years ago," he said. "Such a change in the timing and severity of droughts in the future could have major implications for Australia and its neighbors." Gagan, who co-wrote the study with Nerilie Abrams, Zhengyu Liu, Malcolm McCulloch Bambang Suwargadi and Wahyoe Hantoro, said his team's work shows the important role that the past can play in better forecasting and preparing for future climate changes.

"If this scenario unfolds, it will be really be predictable," he said. "In a way, that is good because at least we will know what is going on. If we have to adapt and change our farming practices, we will know where we have to move to keep farming." For their data, the team took core samples from coral skeletons from between 6,500 and 4,000 years ago located along a section of the Indonesian coast hit by the 2004 tsunami.

The team analyzed the samples for concentrations of strontium, a naturally radioactive metal, which indicates temperature changes, and oxygen-18, a rare radioactive form of oxygen which shows rain fall levels, and found "that cooler temperatures andthe droughts were much more common than they were today." The findings stumped the scientists at first so they turned to Liu at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is an expert in climate modeling.

Liu analyzed the data and concluded the more frequent monsoons 6,500 years ago caused an increase in a weather phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole - where it becomes colder in the eastern India Ocean around Indonesia while warming more closer to Africa. University of Arizona professors Jonathan Overpeck and Julia Cole, writing about the study in same issue of Nature, called the implications of increased droughts especially "sobering" for Indonesia in terms of their effect on food supplies, health and hydropower.

"Rural livelihoods and natural resources will thus be at greater risk as drought undercuts regional food supplies and stokes wildfires that all generate exceedingly poor air quality in the region," Overpeck and Cole wrote. Indonesia is also a pivotal biodiversity hotspot, and "drought intensification could bring significant challenges to conservation management," they wrote.

Overpeck and Cole, who were not connected with the study, also cautioned, though, that much remains to be understood about future patterns of monsoons, especially how the natural variations interact with manmade effects of aerosols which are predicted to weaken monsoons and greenhouse gases which arethought to strengthen them.



Posted in Environment @ 18 January 2007 09:00 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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