The climate of northern Australia, situated in the tropics at the junction of two major oceans, is subject to various influences and drivers. A reliable supply of water is essential to the development of the region and annual rainfall must be captured to provide some of that water. Predicting future rainfall is critical to development planning but, despite detailed research and analysis, predictions remain uncertain.
Northern Australia contains three major and individually unique subterranean water systems. The sustainability of an aquifer depends on how frequently it can be recharged and there is evidence that for some aquifer recharge events occur on a timescale of millennia. The management of these systems, therefore, must address significant challenges and arrangements must be tailored to the individual aquifer characteristics. Water use is also fundamental and the needs of pastoralists, mining, heavy industry and households require different strategies. Cross-jurisdictional compliance, such as the National Water Initiative, add an additional layer of complexity.
Continental Australia has arguably the highest potential for solar power production in the world. A recent study commissioned by the Pilbara Development Commission has inquired into the feasibility of exporting solar power from the Pilbara and Kimberley regions to Indonesia. It found that it was technologically possible, and may be commercially viable within the next decade. The project is incredibly ambitious, comparable to other major projects such as the NBN or the North-West Shelf oil and gas ventures. A solar energy venture of this scale would not, however, be unprecedented.
Population density in Australian cities and urban areas is intensifying. Decentralisation strategies to counter the trend present significant and wide-ranging opportunities for economic, industrial and social expansion particularly in northern Australia.
There exists a public enthusiasm for the potential for northern Australia to be developed as ‘a food bowl for Asia’ or as a reliable source of drinking water for dryer southern regions. Much of northern Australia receives a high annual rainfall but this rainfall is extremely seasonal and is rarely reliable. The availability of water in norther Australia is key to the development of the region, however, the economic feasibility of water storage, reticulation and irrigation infrastructure remains under researched.
Acid mine drainage is a relatively simple process, but it has the potential to lead to long term environmental degradation if left untreated.
Facilitating community involvement in practical efforts to mitigate and ameliorate climate change is key to ensuring the threat is widely communicated and understood at all levels.
There are compelling reasons to find ways to regularly and accurately measure soil carbon deep into the root zone across the full extent of cropping and pastoral lands, however, currently this remains a technological aspiration. The barriers to achieving a cost-effective solution are challenging but hopefully not insurmountable. There has been a strong commitment globally to carbon accounting and if these schemes are to be broadly successful, agriculture must be able to take advantage of, and contribute to, the economic and environmental benefits.
Domestic and international tourists to northern Australia are showing considerable interest in community efforts to address global warming, particularly when they provide an opportunity to make a practical contribution to these projects. This may well be an environmental and economic opportunity to be further developed.
Australia is a major player in the production and export of liquefied natural gas. So why is the country facing gas shortages and a looming domestic energy crisis?