1837: Sydney’s North Shore on Fire

Published on 13 April 2011 by in News

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Painting of a bush fire

Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

On November 29, 1837 hot and windy conditions sparked extensive bushfires that raged across Sydney’s north shore, an area that is now a dense urban landscape.

Fires were reported all the way from Mosman to Parramatta spanning approximately 20km along the northern shore. “Whatever direction the eye turned fires were to be observed” reported the Sydney Gazzette.

Extreme heat and strong winds were reported in the lead up to the fire. According to the Sydney Gazzette, “old hands say it was one of the hottest days they ever knew”.

Residents of the north shore said the fire spread rapidly, likening the speed of the fire front to the charge of cavalry. Residents were reported to have fought the fires as they reached buildings using any means available, but in some cases, the heat from the burning buildings was too intense to approach.

The article reporting the fire was recently uncovered by Gary Cook, a volunteer working on the OzDocs project. The project was setup by the SEARCH team at the University of Melbourne in conjunction with the National Library of Australia, the State Library of NSW and the State Libarary of Victoria.

OzDocs is currently looking for more volunteers to help search historical records and uncover more information about Australia’s climate history.

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Monster cyclones in Queensland, floods in Victoria, bushfires in Perth, heat waves in Russia and snow storms in Europe were a few of the extreme weather events that prompted a recent public talk on the scientific perspective of current extreme weather.

SEARCH researchers Karl Braganza (Bureau of Meteorology), Neville Nicholls (Monash University) and David Karoly (University of Melbourne) spoke at the State Library of Victoria on the 1st of March. They addressed the topical question of whether there was a link between climate change and these extreme events.

Download their presentations and watch full video coverage of the event from the Monash Sustainability Institute’s website.

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River Murray’s record low flow

Published on 31 March 2011 by in News

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Image by Peripitus (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0

The dramatic drop in water flowing through the River Murray between 1998 and 2008 was probably a once-in-1500-year event according to a new study by researchers at the University of Melbourne.

The study reports that although streamflow has varied considerably in the last 200 years, there is a 98% chance that the streamflow deficit experienced between 1998–2008 is the worst experienced since first European settlement.

“This research shows that what we’ve experienced over the past decade was an incredibly rare event” said Ailie Gallant co-author of the paper. “These findings should help us make more accurate predictions of what to expect with the River Murray system as the climate changes”

Researchers from the University of Melbourne’s South Eastern Australian Recent Climate History (SEARCH) team used palaeoclimate records to reconstruct the streamflow history for the River Murray from the period 1783-1988.

“Looking at variations recorded in the annual growth bands of tree rings and coral records allows us to extend our knowledge of natural climate variability centuries before weather records are available” said SEARCH researcher Joelle Gergis.

The paper will be published in a special issue of the journal Water Resources Research that will focus on natural resource management issues facing the Murray–Darling Basin. A copy of the paper is available on SEARCH’s publictation page. .

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Stock in stress during Federation Drought

Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Extreme weather events linked to El Nino Southern Oscillation played a hand in shaping the culture of modern Australia according to a new book chapter by climate historian Don Garden.

The chapter examines the social, political and cultural significance of The Federation Drought, which has been linked to a series of strong El Nino events. The Federation drought was one of Australia’s worst natural disasters on record starting in 1895 and persisting until 1903.

Colonists battled through heat waves, rabbit plagues and dust storms to maintain their crops, their bank accounts and their health. Some of these hardships were immortalized by the likes of Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson and Steele Rudd.

“In their view, the environment was a force in building national character and independence, since those who fought drought, flood and bushfire were hardened and shaped by the experience,” writes Garden.

The chapter entitled The Federation Drought of 1895-1903, El Nino and Society in Australia appears in the book Common Ground: Integrating the Social and Environmental in History edited by Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud and Stephen Mosley and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. Follow the link on our publications page to read the chapter.

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Protected: The New Greta

Published on 03 March 2011 by in Work in progress

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