River Murray’s record low flow

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. .