WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The southern winter that just ended in New Zealand was the warmest ever recorded, and scientists say climate change is driving temperatures higher and higher.
In the three months to August, the average temperature was 50 Fahrenheit, or 9.8 degrees Celsius, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
That’s 1.3 ° C above the long-term average and 0.2 ° C higher than last year’s previous record. Scientists have been keeping records since 1909, but most of the warmest winters have occurred recently.
Nava Fedaeff, a meteorologist at the institute, said that in addition to global warming, there were more warm winds than usual from the north and warmer sea temperatures this year.
She said the underlying warming trend can be followed by carbon dioxide levels, which in New Zealand rose from 320 parts per million 50 years ago to around 412 parts per million today.
Fedaeff said snowfall at lower elevations this winter was well below average as it has often been replaced by rain, which could result in lower river levels later in the year as there will be less snowmelt. That could affect farm irrigation, she said.
There were also more extreme weather events, said Fedaeff, including severe flooding in some locations and dry spells in others.
Professor James Renwick, climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, said that at least in the short term, some New Zealand farmers with herds of cows or sheep could benefit from a longer grass growing season.
But he said the changes would also put pressure on natural ecosystems, and over time, more species would be threatened with extinction. He said it was imperative that people slow down the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
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“If we don’t get a grip on warming soon, there will be grief for much of the world,” said Renwick.
Renwick said New Zealand has talked a lot about climate change but done little so far to curb its emissions. But he said there was good government policy now, including a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050.
He said there are many natural resources like wind, sun and water that could provide renewable energy for the country’s energy needs.
“New Zealand could become a world leader in green energy and a green economy,” he said.