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Federation and MeteorologyBureau of Meteorology
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The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908


Early Colonial Weather Reporting

The Impact of the Telegraph

Beginnings of Intercolonial Co-operation

The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences

The Role of Clement Wragge

Towards a Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology





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The Intercolonial Meteorological Conferences (continued)

They also affirmed the desirability of extending the existing system to include Western Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and of achieving a 'more active co-operation' from Queensland. Hector's presence indicated New Zealand's willingness to co-operate and Ellery was confident the Tasmanians could be persuaded, but the prospects regarding Western Australia and Queensland were not canvassed in any detail.

In other respects the discussion was limited to technical co-operation between the existing services. Settling on standard observation times was easy enough, and agreement was also reached on minimum standards for instruments: pressure should be recorded on a standard mercury barometer rather than an aneroid instrument; thermometers should be of a recognized make and 'compared with standards as frequently as possible'; rain-gauges were to be of 8-inch collecting diameter; and the Beaufort scale was to be used in reporting wind strengths. Agreement was likewise reached, pending further experiment, on the method of exposing the solar radiation thermometers. The best way of using some instruments remained uncertain. All recognized, for example, that shade temperature readings varied considerably according to how thermometers were exposed, but instead of specifying a standard method, they agreed to experiment further.[63] Likewise, they identified a need for more experiments on methods of measuring humidity, wind speed and pressure, and evaporation rates.

An issue only beginning to be addressed by meteorologists, including those who attended the 1879 conference, was that the air mass with which they were concerned had three dimensions, not two, so that measurements confined to the surface of the Earth near sea-level were unlikely to be sufficient to understand its behaviour. The only recourse available to nineteenth-century meteorologists, apart from expensive balloon flights, was to establish observing stations on mountain-tops. After Russell reminded the conference of Strzelecki's observation of winds at the top of Mount Wellington different from those experienced lower down the mountain, they agreed that in each co-operating colony, a meteorological observatory should be established in a suitably located mountain peak.[64]

People in Bright Sparcs - Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Todd, Charles

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Home, R. W. and Livingston, K. T. 1994 'Science and Technology in the Story of Australian Federation: The Case of Meteorology, 1876-1908', Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 10, no. 2, December 1994, pp. 109-27.

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