Interactions between climate change, other change drivers and future high energy storm events in Queensland’s Wet Tropics: a ridge to reef perspective

Prof. Steve Turton1

1Central Queensland University, Cairns, Australia


Tropical cyclones (TCs) are the dominant high-energy storm (HES) events affecting marine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems in the Wet Tropics bioregion. Future changes in climate across the region are inevitable. There is very high certainty that air and ocean temperatures will continue to increase, along with sea level rise and more extreme rainfall and air and ocean heat wave events. However, there is low certainty about changes in future annual rainfall and moderate certainty that TCs will be become

more intense but less frequent. What is less well understood is how projected changes in climate and other future drivers (such as land use change) may affect the resistance and resilience of ecosystems to future HES events along the ridge-to-reef gradient. The main climatic drivers that will interact with future HES events include ocean acidification, ocean and atmospheric warming and rising sea levels. All of these drivers will reduce the ecological resistance and resilience of ecosystems along the gradient to cope with HES events, notably increased wave energy, higher storm surges, severe wind damage, high-intensity rainfall and river plume events associated with TCs. Importantly, these climatic drivers are highly interconnected, meaning that there may well be synergistic interactions that will affect socio-ecological resistance and resilience along the ridge-to-reef gradient over coming decades. In addition to climatic drivers, significant human drivers that will affect socio-ecological resistance and resilience of ecosystems in the future include changes in regional land use and land covers due to residential population growth and agricultural change and expansion.


Steve is an adjunct professor of environmental geography at CQU and independent chair of the Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership. His interests include climate change impacts and adaptation pathways in the NRM sector, particularly in the Wet Tropics bioregion.