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The University of Western Australia hosted a workshop last week that brought together a group of researchers who are piecing together a detailed reconstruction of Australasia’s climate over the past 2000 years.

The group, know as Aus2K, is the Australasian component of an international effort coordinated by Past Global Changes (PAGES) to reconstruct the Earth’s climate over the last 2 millennia.

The region’s leading palaeoclimatologists are using information gleaned from tree rings, coral reef samples and ice cores to uncover the region’s climate history prior to the period covered by modern weather observations.

SEARCH researchers presented a preliminary temperature reconstruction for Australia back to AD 1500 that highlights the marked late twentieth century warming. The group is now extending the analysis to develop a combined land and sea temperature reconstruction for the broader Australasia region to contribute to synthesis work currently under development for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report.

Once completed these climate reconstruction could help scientists to predict future changes in Australia’s temperature and rainfall by providing better estimates of natural climate variability needed to constrain regional model projections.

Aus2K leader Joelle Gergis recently discussed the significance of the Aus2K initiative with ABC radio’s Bush Telegraph program.

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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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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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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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