forecasts | Ocean and atmospheric data |
Improving yields | Satellite forecasting |
The ocean is the key to forecasting long-term climate
variability, according to CSIRO researchers. Improved seasonal
climate forecasting will significantly benefit Australia’s
agricultural and production industries, they say. The agricultural
community currently relies on climate predictions based largely on
the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). According to CSIRO Tropical
Agriculture’s Dr Andrew Ash, the predictions are useful but
have short lead times, modest reliability, and are not universally
applicable across Australia.
“Improved forecasts targeted towards specific agricultural
industries and regions are now possible,” “These are
based on a physical understanding of ocean processes, and include
the influence on Australia’s climate of sea surface
temperatures (SST) from regions other than the equatorial
Dr Ash’s work, supported by the Land and Water Resources
Research and Development Corporation’s National Climate
Variability Program, involves evaluating these new forecasting
techniques that are based on ocean and atmospheric data, and
matching them to industry needs.
The potential benefits to Australia’s agricultural
industries from this new-age forecasting technique are immense.
Annual gains and losses associated with climate variability in
agricultural production alone are estimated at around $1bn.
“Good long-term forecasts will significantly improve
agricultural gains in good years, cut losses in bad years, and help
land managers minimise environmental impacts,” Dr Ash
CSIRO researchers are concentrating on applying better seasonal
climate variability forecasts for the dryland cropping industries,
the extensive grazing industries and the sugar industry.
“Tactical delays to planting times greatly improve
expected yields in dry years while increasing fertiliser inputs can
add considerable value in wet years to the dryland cropping
industries. However, many of these decisions must be taken six to
12 months ahead which is at the limit of SOI-based prediction
“Similarly, with the extensive grazing industries,
managers of rangeland enterprises need to match animal numbers to a
forage supply that varies enormously from year to year.
“We have shown that better management of this variable can
produce a 24 per cent increase in economic returns as well as
reducing the dependence of industry on drought support. Reliable
seasonal forecasts nine to 12 months in advance would allow
managers to make better economic decisions,” says Dr Ash.
Agencies are also looking into the potential use of Global
Positioning System (GPS) technology to be used to monitor climate
change and climate forecasting. Queensland’s Department of
Primary Industries, University of Technology (QUT) and the
Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems have joined in a
feasibility study of the technology .