Above-seasonal rainfall in Australia put rising sea levels on hold in 2010 and 2011
Monday, August 19, 2013, 7:12 PM -
The world's sea levels have been rising at a rate of 3 mm per year, largely due to melting ice caps and the burning of fossil fuels -- but between 2010 and 2011, all the right ingredients converged over Australia, causing a significant drop in the world's water levels.
Australia has a unique topography which traps precipitation. Rain water doesn't flow back into the ocean as readily as it does in other places.
This had a significant impact on the planet for an 18 month period beginning in 2010, when more than 300 mm of rain fell over Australia.
The vast majority of this water remained on land, where it evaporated into Australia's arid climate.
Elsewhere, La Niña resulted in less rain.
The combination of Australia's topography and above-average rainfall, coupled with below-average rainfall in other parts of the world, caused the world's water levels to drop by 7 mm.
"The scientists conclude that the Outback region in Australia played a crucial role in trapping a large amount of rainfall when widespread floods occurred over the continent," says Anjuli Bamzai, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, in a statement.
"It's a beautiful illustration of how complicated our climate system is," adds NCAR scientist John Fasullo, lead scientist on the project.
"The smallest continent in the world can affect sea level worldwide. Its influence is so strong that it can temporarily overcome the background trend of rising sea levels we see with climate change."
Now that weather patterns have returned to normal, scientists say that levels are rising again.