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A new study by University of Newcastle researchers is questioning widespread claims that the drought experienced in Australia's Murray Darling Basin is a result of CO2 emissions. The analysis, to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, concluded that the cause of elevated temperatures in the Murray Darling Basin was a combination of natural factors.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Stewart Franks, from the University's Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, said the findings were based on known principles of physics. "Senior climate change researchers have claimed that higher temperatures lead to higher moisture evaporation and that this is why the Murray Darling Basin has experienced such a harsh drought," Associate Professor Franks said. "This is incorrect and ignores the known physics of evaporation. During drought, when soil moisture is low, less of the sun's radiant energy goes into evaporation and more goes into the heating of the atmosphere which causes higher temperatures. Most importantly, the elevated air temperatures do not increase evaporation but are actually due to the lack of evaporation and this is a natural consequence of drought. Therefore any statement that the drought experienced in the Murray Darling Basin is a direct result of CO2 emissions is fundamentally flawed."

Associate Professor Franks said the findings of the study highlighted the importance of getting the science right. "A key concern is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - which advises governments around the world - has used the Murray Darling Basin and incorrect science as an example of CO2 induced climate change. There are genuinely-held concerns regarding the role of CO2 in contributing to climate change however it is important to ensure it is based on correct science."


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