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Sattelite image of low pressure system off the coast of Australia

Image courtesy of NASA

2010 is the third wettest year on record, and the coolest year since 2001 according to the 2010 Australian Climate Statement from SEARCH project partner organisation The Bureau of Meteorology.

The BOM report shows that the La Niña event that is currently in effect has brought heavy rain, which has eased drought and caused recent flooding.

The report is available from the Bureau of Meteorology’s website.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also released its 2010 State of the Climate global analysis.  According to the report, which looks at global land and ocean surface temperatures, 2010 tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record.

The State of the Climate analyis is available from the NCDC website.

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SEARCH project PhD student Claire Fenby has been awarded a National Library of Australia Summer Scholarship for 2011.

Claire is the recipient of the annual Norman McCann scholarship, awarded for research into Australian History.

She will be based at the NLA from 4 January to 12 February 2011 to conduct a cross-regional study of south-eastern Australian climate and weather from 1835 to 1845.

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Saturnia feeds on Eucalyptus Sydney by John William Lewin. Image: State Library of New South Wales

With south-eastern Australia in the midst of wet La Niña conditions and Victoria suffering locust plagues, a team of SEARCH project volunteers has discovered early settlers battled many of the same extremes.

This heavy rainfall has created perfect conditions for insects such as the locusts that are currently swarming in south-eastern Australia.

Australia’s early settlers also battled plagues of insects and extreme weather, according to accounts from the country’s first newspaper, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser.

A team of volunteers at the State Library of New South Wales has been hard at work extracting weather-related articles from the newspaper, along with meteorological readings from the early years of the colony at New South Wales.

These documentary accounts are being used by the SEARCH research team to help extend South Eastern Australia’s climate record back to 1788.

Volunteer, Gary Cook, who alone has contributed more than 300 articles to the SEARCH project’s OzDocs volunteer database, recently discovered a report of a destructive caterpillar plague that hit Sydney on St Patrick’s Day, 1825.

The research team’s preliminary rainfall reconstruction for the period indicates that 1825 was likely to have been a wet year.

Orgyier Ocks by John William Lewin. Image: State Library of New South Wales

The Sydney Gazette noted that the destructive caterpillar plague hit the settlement after a period of heavy rains, causing widespread crop damage.

“… Since the present enchanting fine weather has again set in, the number of these destructive insects has increased to an unparalleled extent, covering whole fields in their course, which in some spots seemed to be towards the South, in a line from East to West.

Wherever they make their appearance, the most complete destruction immediately follows. Upon Captain Campbell’s estate, in the district of Cooke, they were supposed to be at least two inches in height.”

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 24 March 1825

Australia is presently feeling the effects of a moderate-to-strong La Niña event, which the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts will continue into early 2011, bringing wet conditions to much of the south-east.

The Sydney volunteers have also uncovered accounts of storms that caused shipwrecks and heavy rains that flooded the streets of Sydney.

Volunteer, Ellie Brasch, discovered reports of a unique atmospheric phenomenon, a “peculiar white mist” in Sydney; the refracted light causing an illusion on the horizon line looking out to sea.

“… this line of mist ascended to a position above the horizon, its inferior surface being at one time about a ship’s mast in elevation above it, and forming there a mirror as it were, in which were distinctly visible reflections of three vessels which were going away to the eastward in full sail ; these images reflected on the mist, appeared of course inverted – the hulls upwards.”

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 3 October 1840.

The OzDocs volunteer project is proving to be hugely beneficial to SEARCH’s research. A wealth of climate information is hidden in the pages of Australia’s first newspapers. Library volunteers are already making this valuable resource much more accessible, by identifying and collating articles of interest to the project.

Thanks to the National Library of Australia’s Trove online newspapers, volunteers can work easily from home or from libraries.

To take part as a volunteer on SEARCH project, please contact the project team, or see our Get Involved page.

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Old Weather project online and in the news

Published on 30 November 2010 by in News

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A groundbreaking citizen science project, led by SEARCH project partners the UK Met Office, has attracted thousands of volunteers and made international headlines.

Old Weather is an online volunteer project aiming to digitise ship logs from WWI Royal Navy vessels, in order to gain a clearer picture of worldwide weather events at the time. The project team recently launched their website, as part of the popular citizen science community Zooniverse.

Old Weather allows volunteers to select a particular WWI vessel they would like to follow.

They will then digitise the ship’s logs, which include meteorological data and observations from the crew. Top contributors to the Old Weather site are given the status of Captain or Lieutenant on their chosen ship.

The Old Weather site has already attracted over 7000 volunteers, who have digitised more than 170,000 pages of data.

The Old Weather project has been profiled by leading international media:

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Droughts Floods and Cyclones An environmental history book by SEARCH Project historian Don Garden has received a great review in the latest issue of New Zealand Geographer.

Tom Brooking from the University of Otago’s Department of History provides a positive assessment of Droughts, Floods and Cyclones: El Niños that shaped our colonial past, praising the author’s “impeccable scholarship and industrious research across hemispheres.”

Don’s book is available from leading book stores and online via Australian Scholarly Publishing.

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First Fleet weather research in the news

Published on 30 September 2010 by in News

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First interview with the Native Women at Port Jackson New South Wales - William Bradley. Image: State Library of NSW

Research into the treacherous weather conditions the First Fleet battled on the epic voyage to Australia has attracted a wealth of media attention this week.

SEARCH lead researcher Joelle Gergis spoke with a range of media about the First Fleet weather reconstruction she prepared with Rob Allan and Philip Brohan of the UK Met Office:

- Australian Geographic
- The Age and Sydney Morning Herald
- ABC News
- SBS News
- The Daily Telegraph

The reports come as a conference in New Zealand, coordinated by SEARCH research partner Andrew Lorrey, aims to promote the recovery of old weather data buried in logbooks and early weather records.

Further details of the conference and the First Fleet weather data recovery research is available in this Australian Science Media Centre online briefing.

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The SEARCH project has been featured in The State Library of Victoria’s News magazine for July – October.

Project PhD candidate Claire Fenby details some of the valuable historical documentary resources she has been making use of during her research at the State Library of Victoria.

A copy of her article is available for download here (PDF).

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