Do we know our baseline climate: using paleoclimate data to better plan and prepare for extreme events

Studying our past climate to predict future patterns has long been a useful method to plan our water future. Paleoclimatology is the study of climates at times before instrumental records were available using records from corals, tree rings, and freshwater and marine sediments. The reconstruction of ancient climate is a valuable method used to understand natural variation and the evolution of the current climate, and to better understand the impact of long-term climate scenarios on water resources.

In this project, researchers developed a database of unique climate proxy records which have been shown to relate to Australian hydroclimate. This data base PalaeoWISE (Palaeoclimate Data for Water Industry and Security Planning ), is the first of its kind and was compiled as a resource to allow water resource managers and scientists to access published, peer-reviewed proxy climate data.

The researchers developed climate reconstructions to extend existing historical datasets for 18 case study catchments across Queensland. The data show that droughts like the Millennium Drought have occurred in the past in the Brisbane River catchment, which means to date the probability of such extremes has been underestimated. The use of paleoclimate data will give a better estimate of the probability of extreme events which will help with drought planning and preparedness.

Such knowledge means we can better understand future risks to our water supplies and plan now to mitigate or adapt to these risks. Paleoclimate records can be used to give more realistic statistics about the risk of long-term droughts and will be used in Seqwater’s water security planning for South East Queensland.


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