In many parts of the world, the term “winter” usually brings to mind images of snow and ice, or a white and frigid landscape. But, in many parts of the world, winters may be cooler, but snow-free and dry. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard NASA’s Terra captured a stunning true-color image of the red, ochre and umber colors of a central Australian winter on July 2, 2013.
Red borderlines have been overlain on this image to distinguish geographic boundaries. The territory in the north and center of the image is the Northern Territory. Western Australia lies to the west, and Queensland in the northeast. Southern Australia can be seen in the south, bordering the blue waters of the Great Australian Bight. The distance between Arnhem Land, which is the northern part of the Northern Territory, and the Great Australian Bight is approximately 3,500 km (2,174 mi).
At the geographic center of Australia’s large land mass, and near the center of this image, lies the town of Alice Springs, which lies on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges not far from the southern border of the Northern Territory. It is not easily discerned from the background in the image, although it is home to over 25,000 people, or about 12% of the population of Northern Territory. Winter days tend to be warm and dry near “the Alice”, averaging 21° C (70°F) highs and 5°C (41°F) at night. The lowest recorded minimum temperature in the Northern Territory was -7.5°C (19°F), recorded on July 12, 1976 in Alice Springs.
Although the heart of Central Australia is dry, hot and arid, the climate is variable, depending on the location. In the north and south, especially near the coast, the lands are wetter and greener, due to the higher moisture and prevailing winds. In this image, the green lands of the northern tip of the Northern Territory are speckled with red hotspots, which indicate bushfires.
The climate of the region is expected to be affected by a warming world, and the Western Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) has published a Climate Change Management Toolkit, designed to aid in planning for and mitigation of changes brought by a changing climate. According to this kit, it is anticipated that Central Australia will become warmer, with hotter days and less cold nights. The average number of days over 35°C (95°F) in Alice Springs could grow from the current 89 annually to 96-125 by the year 2030. The rising warmth is expected to increase heat-related illnesses, increase vector-borne illness, and in Aboriginal populations diarrheal illness of children is likely to become more severe and frequent. Water security is expected to become a problem that will require strategic management, and extreme storm events are predicted to become more frequent, increasing the risk of floods, landslides and infrastructure damage.