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Developments in Climatology in Australia

Australian Climatology Before 1946

Climate Monitoring

Climate Prediction

Climate Change

The Current State and Future of Climatology



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Developments in Climatology in Australia: 1946-1996

An edited version of a talk presented at the symposium on 'Developments in Operational Meteorology (1946-1996)', in celebration of the 80th birthday of Dr W. J. Gibbs OBE.

Australian Climatology Before 1946

Australian meteorological services were concerned with climate from their inception. For instance, H. C. Russell, the NSW Government Astronomer and Meteorologist during the late 19th century, wrote on 'Physical geography and climate' and 'On periodicity of good and bad seasons'. Much of the early work focussed on the description of 'average' climate, although interannual variability was recognised and the possibility of predicting these variations was considered.

Even before the formal establishment of meteorological services, climate had been a matter of controversy. As early as 1850 the colonies, especially Victoria, were promoted as having a climate beneficial to sufferers of tuberculosis. This was hotly contested by the Victorian Government Statist.

The Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, from its establishment in 1908, was involved in climate questions of public importance. The early editions of The climate and meteorology of Australia, by H. A. Hunt. Commonwealth Meteorologist, included a discussion of influences affecting Australian climate. This focussed on the possible effects of forests on rainfall. The possible ameliorating effects of forests and agriculture on climate was a controversial subject before and after the turn of the century. Later, Griffith Taylor, who was employed as a physiographer by the Bureau from 1909 to 1920, documented the physiography (including the climate) of Canberra, the planned site of the new capital. Taylor was embroiled in acrimonious public disputes after he noted that much of the inland was desert. His book on Australasian geography was banned in Western Australia and he was vilified by the 'boosters'—politicians and others who refused to accept that Australia had deserts, or that the environment in any way limited population growth.

The Bureau was also involved in discussions on the Bradfield scheme to launch massive irrigation projects in the Centre. It was claimed that evaporation from the water storages and irrigated areas would lead to increased rainfall of wide areas of the inland, and that temperature changes due to the increased water vapour would ameliorate climate and increase productivity. This idea was based largely on papers published by E. T. Quayle, formerly Senior Meteorologist of the Bureau. A committee organised by the Bureau concluded that there was no evidence that the scheme would lead to amelioration of climate, either by lowering the temperature or increasing rainfall. Quayle, who was a member of this committee, dissented.

So, the early development of climate science in Australia was marked by controversy, as meteorologists tried to depict the true nature of the country's climate.

Not all of this, however, would be what we might, today, call 'operational climatology'. This would include real-time monitoring of climate variations and change, and the prediction of variations. The remainder of this paper concentrates on the development of operational climate monitoring and prediction, rather than on descriptive climatology (e.g., Loewe 1948; Radok 1948; Gentilli 1972; Linacre and Hobbs 1977) or the more strategic work undertaken in CSIRO (e.g., Dix and Hunt 1995).

People in Bright Sparcs - Hunt, Henry Ambrose ; Loewe, Fritz; Quayle, Edwin Thomas; Russell, Henry Chamberlain; Taylor, Thomas Griffith

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Nicholls, N. 1997 'Developments in Climatology in Australia: 1946-1996,' Australian Meteorological Magazine 46, 1997, pp. 127-135.

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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