Australia's environment in context (Australia in its global setting)

Independent Report to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
CSIRO Publishing on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06745 0

Australia's environment in context (continued)

Australia in its global setting

Australia and its external territories are encompassed within the Indian, Southern and Pacific oceans (Figure 2). The dynamics of surface and subsurface oceanic flows are now understood to influence global climate systems. Air masses circulating across the globe determine the continent's often irregular rainfall regimes. The high year-to-year variability of Australia's climate is partly attributable to the El Nio-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon (every 2 to 5 years). A concurrent Pacific oscillation superimposes much longer-term swings in ocean temperatures and rainfall in the Pacific Basin.


Figure 2: Australia's marine area.

 Australia's marine area.

Source: Environment Australia (2000).

Since the 1970s, Australian scientists have demonstrated how our landscapes have responded to global-scale climatic changes over recent centuries and over geological time. The interconnectedness of planetary forces driving shifts in atmospheric circulation and temperature/rainfall regimes and how these shifts affect water budgets, sea levels and ecosystems are reasonably well understood for various regions of Australia.

Recognition of the possible effect of human activities on global climate has triggered a major international initiative: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The major global-scale findings of the IPCC are contained in IPCC (2001). Climatic trends for Australia are consistent with those of other parts of the world, and include changes in rainfall pattern, temperature rise and probable rise in sea level.

Although SoE (2001) is largely focused on environmental issues on the Australian continent and marine areas, ever-changing global environmental, economic and political factors undoubtedly influence how Australian society can and will manage its lands, waters and air. This is evident, for instance, in the continuing debate on responses to global warming predictions.


Australian land cover 1999 to 2000.
The remote sensing image data were developed for the National Carbon Accounting System. The image shows land cover across Australia in pseudo-natural colour. In general, forests appear as dark green, healthy crops and pasture lands as light green, bare earth and dry vegetation as red, brown and yellow tones, and water as blue. Note: this time period coincided with the peak of a La Nia event when conditions over most of Australia were much wetter than usual.

Australian land cover 1999 to 2000

Source: AGO and AUSLIG