Australia’s meteorological anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney Cove, only 228 years ago. A defining moment, certainly, although more and more people agree that the 26th of January is not the right day to honour all things Australian.

flag_raising
The Founding of Australia, 1788. Oil sketch by Algernon Talmdge (1837). Image: State Library of New South Wales.

To commemorate the date, let’s have a look at Australia’s earliest weather observations. Their history, funnily enough, began at exactly the same time…Read More »

Teleco-what now?

This post contains a lot of links to scientific articles that may be paywalled, or just as bad, really technical. Just let me know if you need a copy of any of them, or if they don’t make sense.

Ah, teleconnection. What a word. Much like ‘madrugada‘ does not have a translation into English, or ’serendipity‘ does not have a Spanish equivalent, teleconnection is a term that is hard to translate into normal words without it losing some of its beauty.

But let me have a try. Essentially, teleconnections are the connections between weather and climate in one place, and weather and climate in another. No, that’s not it. A teleconnection is the remote influence of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. No that’s worse. It’s the effect that the climate in one place can have somewhere else. It’s teleconnection.Read More »

The week I wrote about science instead

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my experiences of living and working in Spain, hoping to fill the gap that I discovered when frantically Googling ‘how to live in Spain as an Australian’ before we left home. I enjoy sharing what we see, what we eat, and where we discover in this largely unknown region of southern Catalonia. It might be useful for others to know how we survived the administration process, and what to expect. I write for my friends, my family, for Past Me, and hopefully for future visitors.

One of the other reasons I started this blog was to tell stories and snippets from my research, which (until I got here) was mainly about historical weather observations in Australia. This topic is an amazing combination of history and science, of characters and statistics, and throughout my PhD I was determined to tell those stories to more people than my patient friends and obliging parents.

And so this website is a combination. Una mezcla. Part professional, and part…not. Sometimes I feel bad about this. I want to say sorry to those who have arrived here looking for info on Australia’s climate history, and are instead bombarded with pictures of Catalan booze. Equally, I want to apologise to my mates who want to keep up to date with our adventures here, but have to wade through the science stuff that they may find boring. I worry too, that when it comes time for me to find another job, this quasi-professional approach might bite me in the backside, as I have shared too much of my personal life.

But you know, most of the time I do not want to apologise. To take that young person’s phrase that I don’t completely understand, I’m sorrynotsorry. Just like any profession, scientists don’t do science all the time. Sure, we may appreciate the world in a different way, but we are still living in that world, and occasionally doing non-sciencey things, just as accountants do non-accountanty things, and waitresses do non-waitressy things.

And maybe one day a potential young scientist might come across this blog and realise that he can be passionate about clinical psychology AND about his random love of baking dog-shaped cakes, or that her love of physics with her goal of visiting every football stadium in the world can co-exist happily. Or perhaps a skeptic might stumble here looking for details about historical Victorian weather and find that the scientists who study this stuff are real, complex people too, and may think twice before publishing something hateful on her blog.

Who knows. But either way, this week I finally put together a small tale about Melbourne’s meteorological history. Light on graphs, but effective at making me homesick, this is a summary of some key sights to see in Melbourne if you are on a nerdy science tour. Enjoy! Or don’t.

The week I figured out the wattles

We’ve just returned from a frolic around Malta, Sicily and Rome, catching up with some dear friends, learning more about the amazing history of the Mediterranean, and eating our body weight in pizza/pasta/chocolate-filled croissants.

There were so many things to do and see and smell, but one particular feature kept catching my eye…

Wattle I think of next?
Wattle blossoms in Tortosa.

The wattles! You can blame my botanist father if you like, but I couldn’t help but notice acacias—and eucalypts—everywhere we went. They are in Tortosa too and I’ve been aware of them since we arrived. Lazily I just assumed that their presence meant another Australian had lived here at some stage.

No more. Once that I learnt that these trees grow wild across at least three countries in southern Europe, my interest was officially piqued!

But what a depressing interest-quenching mission it has turned out to be. A quick something-search has led me to discover that several wattle and gum tree varieties are considered environmental pests across much of Europe and Africa.

The plants were brought over from Australia in the late 1700s because they were exotic, pretty and interesting. But now our floral emblems have invaded roadsides, coastal bushland and nature reserves across Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, crowding out native species and destroying local biodiversity.

Not everyone is against the naturalised Aussies. Much like Grafton in New South Wales celebrates the jacaranda, that great purple South African migrant, the French southern Riveria honours the wattle (or mimosa) bloom every year with a week-long festival.

I HAD been enjoying the little green and gold slices of home whenever I saw them. In fact I have some wattle blossoms in a bottle on the dining table right now. But it turns out they are the European equivalent of rabbits in Australia: slowly and surely wrecking up the place. I no longer want a Spanish home among the gum trees.

Extending the temperature record of southeastern Australia

This is a guest post that I was kindly invited to write for climanrecon.wordpress.com. Climanrecon is currently looking at the non-climatic features of the Bureau of Meteorology’s raw historical temperature observations, which are freely available online. As Neville Nicholls recently discussed in The Conversation, the more the merrier!


Southeastern Australia is the most highly populated and agriculturally rich area in Australia. It’s home to our tallest trees, our highest mountains, our oldest pubs and most importantly, our longest series of instrumental weather observations. This makes southeastern Australia the most likely place to extend Australia’s instrumental climate record.Read More »

The week of my first lecture

This week I filled in for a professor and gave my first ever lecture as a professional scientist to undergraduate students. Two hours of talking at second-year geography students about the climate of Australia. I now officially feel like an academic!

Although I get nervous (who doesn’t), I usually like giving public presentations. After some training in science communication, I hope that I am not completely crap at them either. But this was my first presentation to an audience that were not native English speakers. Unfortunately I could not rely on our mutual knowledge of Con the Fruiterer, or speak in slang. AND, I only had six days to prepare.Read More »

The week of our first visitor

Last week we welcomed our first guest to Tortosa, a dear friend who had trekked all the way to Europe from Australia just to see us! And go snowboarding in Andorra.

It was strange to have a visitor in our town when it doesn’t feel like our town yet. Where to go? What to do? It was even stranger when our guest had a better grasp of the Spanish language than we do, meaning that he was our guide as much as we were his!

We had a great time. Despite Tortosa being much smaller than Barcelona, we filled his few days here with what I hope was delicious and fun adventures. If you have found this blog by Googling ‘things to do in Tortosa’, or ‘cheap stuff to do in Tortosa’ here is the first in what I hope will be many lists of activities. As we learn more, we’ll add more!

  • Visit the cathedral. I missed this excursion, but apparently it was big, old, echoey, and cheap at only 3. Other information I’ve learned about the massive building in the middle of town with a slightly spasmodic bell is that it has Baroque and Gothic components, is on the site of an old roman forum, and was built between 1347 and the 1700s.
Calçots
Calçots. A plate of onions might not sound delicious, but they were sweet and excellent sauce vessels.
  • Eat some local food! For us that meant a delicious lunch at Paiolet, a restaurant near our flat. I tried calçots, a seasonal onion that is barbecued and served with the most delicious romesco sauce. Our friend tried the menjar blanc (white food), a local rice milk and cinnamon dessert that doesn’t photograph well. We ate three courses each, shared a bottle of wine and had coffee for under 40.
  • Hire a bike. As I have bragged previously, I now own my own wheels, but the boys had to hire theirs. And why have two bicycles when you can have one? For 25 from the nearest bike hire store, we secured an incredible TANDEM MOUNTAIN BIKE for the day, giving us the freedom to have Goodies-style montages all over town. We rode along part of the Via Verde, one of Spain’s many bike paths built on old train routes. We did not really get far enough to see much verde, but enjoyed the good path and rode through a couple of towns to the west of Tortosa.
Tandem bike
That look on my face is definitely joy. Not terror. Promise.
  • Explore the fortifications. The hills behind Tortosa are topped with (I think) medieval ruins, halting structures that remind you how young European settlement in Australia really is. One of the forts, behind the Parador, is signposted and maintained, while the others are more like secret garden ruins. You can meander for hours. All have great views. And all are gloriously free.

 

28 June 1836: Snowfall in Sydney

My PhD was on the past climate of southeastern Australia. This involved looking at lots of different sources of old weather data from the 1800s. Newspapers, government records and farmer’s diaries: each source an important clue to the history of Australia’s climate.

While my work focussed mainly on quantitative data (numbers) rather than qualitative descriptions of what happened (words), using both sources of information can improve our understanding of the weather of the past. Plus, much like music and lyrics (great film), they tell a much better story together.

I want to share some of the more exciting events in the archives of Australia’s weather. Everyone loves talking about the weather, and extreme events, woah! Can we talk about anything else? So let’s start with an easy one. A classic. Sunday 28 June, 1836: snowfall in old Sydney town.Read More »