Extra volunteers to recover climate history

Published on 26 April 2012 by in News


OzDocs logoThe team behind the groundbreaking citizen science project, OzDocs, recently launched a new version of the volunteer website marking a rapid expansion in the scope of the project.

In 2011 volunteers from the OzDocs project discovered devastating locust plagues, sweeping floods, burning heat waves and snow falling in Sydney during colonial times. The launch of the new website in 2012 will accommodate a far greater number of volunteers who will continue to recover Australia’s climate history at an unprecedented rate.

The launch of the new volunteer website was covered in the mainstream media by The Age newspaper, ABC radio, and blogs. This coverage led to a large spike in recruitment with 55 new volunteers signing up in the following month. Together with established volunteers, they rescued 391 historical weather accounts bringing the total number up to an impressive 4,172.

The OzDocs project was primarily founded to help bridge the gap between climate scientists and members of the wider community.

“An important part of this project is to help the community understand the difference between natural climate variability and how industrially-driven climate change since the 1950s is amplifying our already extreme climate in ways not experienced in the past,” said project leader Dr Joelle Gergis.

The information recovered by volunteers will be used to enrich landmark academic studies that are extending the climate record in Australia. This sets up an extraordinary opportunity to involve the broader community in writing our nation’s climate history.

You can learn more and sign up to become an OzDocs volunteer by visiting www.ozdocs.climatehistory.com.au

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1836: Snow in Sydney

Published on 06 December 2011 by in News


Meteorological table published in The Sydney Herald, 30 June 1836

The burgeoning colony of Sydney was blanketed with up to an inch of snow on a bitterly cold morning in June 1836. This historic event was recently uncovered in a newspaper archive by a volunteer from the citizen science project, OzDocs.

‘About seven o’clock in the morning a drifting fall covered the streets, nearly an inch in depth… a razor-keen wind from the west blew pretty strongly at the time and altogether, it was the most English like winter morning … ever experienced,’ reported The Sydney Herald.

The meteorological table in The Sydney Herald recorded that on the morning of the snow (June 28, 1836) the temperature had dropped to a frosty 3 degrees Celsius (38°F). According to The Monitor newspaper the snow disrupted trading in the colony with vendors unable to transport their goods to the markets.

The surprised colony members were reported to have made light of the unusual occurrence. ‘Some of the “Old hands” express a hope that their old acquaintances, Messrs. Frost and Snow do not intend emigrating to New South Wales,’ reported The Sydney Herald.

Gary Cook, an OzDocs volunteer, discovered the first of the newspaper articles describing the historic weather event in the National Library of Australia’s TROVE database. OzDocs is currently looking for more volunteers to help search historical records and uncover further information about Australia’s climate history.

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OzDocs project receives engagement award

Published on 05 October 2011 by in News


Source: University of Melbourne, Knowledge Partnerships

The team behind the citizen science project, OzDocs, was awarded a University of Melbourne Vice Chancellor’s Staff Engagement Grant at an official ceremony on 30 September 2011.

The goal of the OzDocs project is to piece together Australian climate varitaions from the time of first European settlement until official weather records begin in 1900. As a citizen science project, OzDocs will engage volunteers from the community to explore online archives of historical documents including newspapers, explorers’ journals, artworks and farm diaries.

“This project is all about bringing the wider community and researchers together to play a part in uncovering our climate history” said Joelle Gergis the project leader. “It’s really exciting because OzDocs will be Australia’s first online database of historical climate information back to first European settlement in 1788”.

The OzDocs project is a joint venture between the SEARCH team at the University of Melbourne, the National Library of Australia, the State Library of New South Wales and the State Library of Victoria. These national and state libraries hold expansive collections that will provide the majority of the source material for the volunteers’ work.

The information collected by the OzDocs project will be used by climate scientists and historians in ongoing research. It will also be made available to the public to help people gain an insight into how Australian climate variability and extremes have influenced our society over the past 200 years.

The project will be run online allowing anyone with an internet connection to contribute. The $10,000 grant will be put towards website development costs and the live site is expected to be launched in early 2012.

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Research Trip to the State Library of NSW

Published on 29 September 2011 by in News


Claire Fenby at work in the State Library of NSW

In late July 2011 Linden Ashcroft and Claire Fenby, two PhD students from the SEARCH team, spent three weeks delving into the rich collection of historical documents at the State Library of NSW. By the end of their research trip the pair had unearthed an abundance of valuable historical climate information that will contribute to our understanding of Australia’s recent climate history.

While at the State Library, Claire Fenby examined personal diaries, letters and journals that give first-hand accounts of weather and climate in the 1800s.

‘The country in a terrible state for want of rain, as there has been very little inland for the last year; large fields planted with grain which ought to have been green two months ago do not as yet show the slightest appearance of vegetation. Hay 14 £ per ton, cattle dying, with the other accompaniments of a long drought,’ writes George Pulteney Malcolm in his diary from 1835.

Documents like these can help to illustrate the effect of low rainfall on vegetation, crops and livestock, while also giving us an idea of the impact of dry weather on the economy. The information found in letters and diaries can also be compared to other source material, like newspaper reports, to gain a nuanced view of climate in a broad range of locations throughout New South Wales.

Tripod setup to capture high resolution images of early instrumental weather data

Linden Ashcroft’s work involves recovering and analysing early instrumental weather data from historical documents such as ship logs, observatory records, meteorological diaries and station records. The first step in this process is to track down the original sources and then produce image copies that can be used for computer based data entry.

During her visit to the State Library, Linden procured over 4500 photos of many different sources that are invaluable for her future work. These images contain temperature, pressure and rainfall data from various time periods and locations throughout the early years of European settlement.

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Image source: Tim Keegan

The severe drought that afflicted South Eastern Australia from 1997–2009 ‘Big Dry’ is likely to have been the worst since first European settlement according to a new study by climate scientists at the University of Melbourne.

The researchers used data derived from tree rings and coral records to determine that there is a 97% chance that 1998–2008 was the driest decade since 1788.  This conclusion was derived from a 206-year rainfall reconstruction, which has been accepted for publication in the US journal Climatic Change.

“This study is an example of the importance of understanding of pre-industrial climate variations unavailable from modern meteorological observations” said lead author Dr Joelle Gergis. “Our study shows that while rainfall has varied naturally over time, the recent drought may have been exacerbated by the 1oC increase in maximum temperatures observed in the south-eastern Australian region over the past 50 years’.

The rainfall reconstruction also indicates that relatively wet conditions prevailed during the first 45 years of European settlement, with a pronounced wet period centered on the 1820s – a period of rapid agricultural expansion. Evidence for this wet period was also found in historical descriptions of water level fluctuations in Lake George in the ACT, which is known to rise and fall in response to variations in rainfall.

The study is part of the South Eastern Australian Recent Climate History (SEARCH) project, run by experts in the fields of paelaoclimatology, meteorology and history. The SEARCH team is working to extend the climate record for South Eastern Australia that will help our understanding of the drivers of Australian climate and how they have changed over past centuries.

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1863: Drought Followed by Devastating Flood

Published on 15 June 2011 by in News


Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Settlements along the Clarence River in NSW were inundated with record-breaking floodwaters that claimed the lives of 9 people and caused extensive damage to riverside towns and farms in February 1863.

The flood followed 2 months of wet weather that had brought an end to a severe drought. The relief felt after the drought broke was short lived in the Grafton region as concerns grew over the saturation of the countryside throughout January and early February.

Observers noticed a rapid rise in the Clarence River on February 14th and warned others that the flood risk was high. Later that night Grafton received the heaviest rainfall of the season and flood conditions worsened. At its peak, the floodwaters rose more than 7 metres above the high water mark.

Homes, crops and livestock were lost all along the river while the small town of Tabulum suffered severely as 4 men leading drays were washed away. The rise of water was so rapid that it left a number of people trapped on roofs and in trees.

The Clarence and Richmond Examiner described the rescue efforts of 3 local men. “They swam to several persons who had been twenty-four hours clinging to trees and by means of ropes brought them to places of safety. Several lives were saved in this manner,” reported the Examiner.

Several newspaper articles describing this historic weather event were recently uncovered in the National Library of Australia’s database by Gary Cook and Ellie Brasch while volunteering for the OzDocs program.

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

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Piecing together Australasia’s past

Published on 04 May 2011 by in News


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

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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Extreme weather in 2011: A Scientific Perspective

Published on 06 April 2011 by in News


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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Protected: Funding for PAGES Aus2K

Published on 03 March 2011 by in Work in progress


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