Climate change threatens alpine snowfall: report

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Update

Oct. 10, 2011, 4:21 p.m.

Photo:
No future? Snow covers the Victorian Alps at Mount Hotham in September 2008 (Halim King: User submitted)

A report has warned that there could be much less snowfall in the Australian Alps by 2050, unless action is taken to tackle climate change.

The report was commissioned by the Federal Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and was released today.

Study co-author Roger Good says the first comprehensive report on Alpine watersheds since the 1950s shows the future is bleak unless there are changes in the way Alps are managed.

“The worst case scenario is definitely a loss of any snow cover or snowfall, a change in precipitation and that precipitation occurring as high intensity summer precipitation,” he said.

Mr Good, a former New South Wales government botanist, says more money is needed to offset problems made worse by climate change, such as wild pests, weeds and erosion.

The report predicts that average temperatures will increase from 0.6 degrees Celsius to 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2050.

He predicts that global precipitation will drop by as much as 24% by 2050, with lower humidity, less snow cover, altered river flows and more frequent and warmer bushfires.

The report states that 60% of the 235 watersheds are classified as low to moderate – most of them are in decline.

Mr Good says there will be a number of effects of not having snow cover – one being the impact it will have on the vegetation of the Alps.

“[There is] much of the vegetation up there, although it’s alpine and people assume it’s suited to all kinds of extreme cold winter conditions, ”he said.

“In fact, it is not, because in winter it is isolated from extreme temperatures or extreme ambient temperatures, frosts and so on, by the snow itself.

“If you remove the snow cover, there are a number of plant species that will be threatened by changes in light, temperature regimes and so on. It also affects the animals of course.”

The Alps also play a vital role in the health of the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Snowy rivers.

“If we have a change in snow cover or no snow cover where we don’t have the water stored and slowly released during the spring thaw, if it moves to higher intensity summer stores , we get very fast runoff. amount of precipitation can fall, it flows in a different way, ”Mr. Good said.

Devastating

Tony Moore of the Australian Conservation Foundation says the estimated 24% reduction in precipitation would have a devastating effect on alpine communities.

“The snow-capped peaks of the Australian Alps are quite a rare and beautiful thing,” he said.

“They provide 9,600 gigaliters of high quality water to the Murray-Darling Basin.

“It’s very valuable for many different communities and of course for wildlife downstream, but it’s going to decrease with climate change unless we do something to reduce carbon pollution.”

Mr Moore says the report is long overdue.

“We really should be monitoring very special places in Australia like this more frequently, especially since there is a wide range of threats to these environments right now,” he said.

Experts are also gloomy about the viability of winter sports and the tourism that feeds on it in the high country.

“Companies will undoubtedly strive to increase their snowmaking capacity and artificial snowmaking capacity to maintain their viability,” said Mr. Good.

“If the temperatures are slightly higher, they might not even be able to produce artificial snow, so the use of winter sports and snow in winter will be very limited or unavailable at all.”

While not everyone is convinced by these worst-case predictions, the ski industry knows it’s time to act.

It happens now

Falls Creek Resort Natural Resources Manager Ben Derrick says there’s no denying that climate change is happening now and changing conditions are impacting the Alps.

“The way we manage this is to make sure that the environments we have are in the best possible condition,” he said.

Mr Derrick says there is already work underway to try to protect the land from endangered species such as the mountain pygmy opossum.

“They have a very special habitat that they live in, usually above the treeline,” he said.

“There are other pieces in there, but they depend very heavily on a good snowpack on the ground during the winter to be able to go into hibernation.

“If they don’t hibernate during the winter, then the females don’t become sexually active in the spring, and this is a species that is really quite rare. There are less than 2000 breeding individuals left in the wild.”

Prediction

But Mr Derrick believes it’s too early to predict whether man-made leisure activities are also threatened with extinction.

“If you only look at the last two years [they] are a perfect example, ”he said.

“This season we had a very early season with heavy snowfall in June and then virtually nothing after that.

“Last year was next to nothing until mid-August and then we had a really long season.

“So there is a lot of variation within the seasons, but there is also a lot of variation between the seasons, so something like 2004, that in Falls Creek there was about 2.5 meters of snow on the ground in August. , which followed 2003 when there was virtually no snow on the ground in August.

“There is a lot of variation both within seasons and between seasons, so … [are] really quite difficult when there is so much natural variation going on. “

The subjects:

snowfall, environmental impact, environmental management, climate change, nsw, vic, act

First publication

Oct. 10, 2011, 10:38 a.m.


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