As Queensland coped with the impacts of the 2010-11 Wet Season, research undertaken by AIMS showed that the frequency of extreme rainfall events has increased since the late 19th century.
In a paper accepted in the prestigious scientific journal, Paleoceanography, Dr Janice Lough, an expert in climate change science explained how her latest research on the subject supports predictions that tropical rainfall will become more variable in a warming world.
AIMS owns Australia's most comprehensive library of coral cores, from long-lived Porites corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
The cores have annual bands, similar to tree rings. They give a record of the ocean environment throughout the coral's life, dating back several centuries, before weather and climate were monitored with rain gauges and thermometers.
Combining the records from many long coral cores from the Great Barrier Reef has allowed AIMS to reconstruct summer rainfall in northeast Queensland back to the late 17th century – providing over 300 years of records to examine past climate variability and change.
This new reconstruction shows that the 1973-74 summer wet season was the wettest of the past three centuries although instrument records show that the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons come a close second and third.
Queensland rainfall is characterised by very high variability. Extreme wet and extreme dry events have always occurred. However, the evidence now suggests that those events are occurring more frequently than in earlier centuries, often with devastating effects (see previous highlight).
Dr Lough's research finding was submitted to the Queensland State Government's inquiry into the floods of December 2010/January 2011.