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Changes in climate

The Earth’s climate is undergoing changes in response to natural variability, as well as human induced changes arising from increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere. Associated with these changes are impacts on the Earth’s water cycle which has direct implications for wetlands.

While there is uncertainty regarding the precise impacts of climate change, there is general agreement amongst climate scientists that climate change will result in increased temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, increased risk of flash flooding, increased drought frequency and severity, increased cyclone intensity, rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion.

Wivenhoe Dam in flood Photo by Greg Miller

Quick facts

Queensland
is developing its climate adaptation strategy to build greater resilience and better manage climate impacts on Queensland’s economy, communities, infrastructure and environmental assets.

There are many different wetland types but one thing they have in common is their dependence on the water cycle, though this varies in terms of specific water quantity, quality and temperature needs.

Any changes to the water cycle through altered rainfall patterns (distribution, time of the year, quantity), extreme weather events and rising temperatures will affect the water cycle and therefore the hydrology of individual wetlands. This in turn will affect the wetland’s structure and functionality. Climate impacts are likely to exacerbate changes in the water cycle.

Examples of how climate impacts are already affecting or will likely affect wetlands include:

  • Increased flooding, especially flash flooding, and associated increases in the level of pollutants entering wetlands as well as the rate and amount of erosion. This is expected to result in poorer water quality.
  • More severe droughts will reduce the water available for wetlands which is likely to negatively affect wetland health. These impacts will be compounded by existing pressures on water supply from infrastructure, agricultural, urban and industrial water use.
  • Increased cyclone intensity and storms are likely to damage coastal wetlands through increased flooding, damage to vegetation, changes to the wetland structure, and their reduced capacity to repair between events.
  • Mangroves and other estuarine wetlands are likely to migrate inland in response to rising seas. Their capacity to do this will depend on suitable sites, topography and local land uses. Salt water intrusion and migration of brackish wetlands will then impact on freshwater wetlands. In many coastal areas existing development and infrastructure are likely to be barriers to migrating systems leading to overall wetland loss.
  • Warmer seas are likely to influence species composition and promote the intrusion of invasive species and increase dead zones, harmful algal blooms, and marine diseases.

There are still many uncertainties regarding specific impacts on individual wetlands due to the sheer complexity of the climate system. However, the overall science around climate change and its likely impacts continues to grow. This increasing body of scientific information will help improve our understanding of how changes in the climate will impact Queensland’s wetlands and water systems.

Wetlands play an valuable role in supporting community efforts to adapt to a changing climate and respond to its impacts. There is increasing recognition of the role that wetlands play in supporting biodiversity, storing carbon and regulating greenhouse gas emission sources, being a refuge for wildlife during drought periods, and buffering our coastlines during extreme weather events.

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Last updated: 12 May 2015

This page should be cited as:

Changes in climate, WetlandInfo, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, viewed 1 February 2017, <https://wetlandinfo.ehp.qld.gov.au/wetlands/management/climate-change/>.

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Heritage Protection