Asia, economics, environment, geography, Health, Malaysia, population, Singapore

#Peatland and forest burning for palm oil production continues, but at what cost?

Travelling through East Kalimantan in 1987 the extent of forest clearance was immediately apparent. On the road from Balikpapan to Tenggarong most of the clear-felled areas I passed were tantamount to a tinderbox waiting for a firestorm.

Fire in logged areas was a regular occurrence in East Kalimantan and ten years after this visit, the inevitable happened. The El Nino of 1997-98 exacerbated yet another outbreak that went on to burn 25% of the province.

Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997
Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997

The El Nino of 2015-16

In June the Straits Times reported that peatland fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra that blanketed South-east Asia in thick haze last year released the greatest amount of climate-changing carbon since record blazes in 1997, producing emissions higher than in the whole of the European Union.

The Nature Climate Change 4 notes that El Niño events are a prominent feature of climate variability with global climatic impacts. The 1997/98 episode, often referred to as ‘the climate event of the twentieth century’1, 2, and the 1982/83 extreme El Niño3, featured a pronounced eastward extension of the west Pacific warm pool and development of atmospheric convection, and hence a huge rainfall increase, in the usually cold and dry equatorial eastern Pacific. Such a massive reorganization of atmospheric convection, which we define as an extreme El Niño, severely disrupted global weather patterns, affecting ecosystems4, 5, agriculture6, tropical cyclones, drought, bushfires, floods and other extreme weather events worldwide3, 7, 8, 9

Recent research on the 2015 fires reported in the Straits Times concluded that 884 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted in the region last year, with 97 per cent originating from forest fires in Indonesia.

The results showed that regional carbon dioxide emissions from the fires were 11.3 million tonnes per day in September and October 2015, more than the 28-nation EU’s daily emissions of 8.9 million tonnes during the same period.

The researchers also said the emissions were worse than during the 1997 fires, considered the worst on record.

At that time, there was an even longer drought and widespread burning due to a stronger El Nino.

Research suggests 100,000 premature deaths

A palm oil concession in Indonesia's Riau Province
A palm oil concession in Indonesia’s Riau Province

Harvard and Columbia University researchers have used air pollution readings to calculate exposure to the toxic smoke haze that drifted across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, last year. Their research suggests 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, arising from this event.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Indonesia correspondent Jewel Topsfield quotes the report from the Environmental Research Letters journal on September 19 as estimating “. . . that haze in 2015 resulted in 100,300 excess deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,” says the report, which was published in. This was largely the result of exposure the dangerous particulate matter of 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5).  The report states:

A combination of El Niño and pIOD conditions in July–October 2015 led to dry conditions that exacerbated agricultural and land clearing fires in southern Sumatra and Kalimantan. The resulting dense haze persisted across much of Equatorial Asia for weeks, imposing adverse public health impacts on populations in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Using the adjoint of the GEOS-Chem global chemistry model together with health response functions, we estimate ~60 μg m−3 of population-weighted smoke PM2.5 exposure and 100 300 premature deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore due to extreme haze in 2015. These values are more than double the 25 μg m−3 of smoke PM2.5 and 37 600 premature deaths that we estimate for a similar haze event in the region in 2006. The approximate doubling of regional smoke exposure in 2015 compared to 2006 is consistent with observations of haze from both OMI AI and MODIS AOD during the two events.

Conditions are becoming worse with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle and Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) potentiating factors.

enso_iod

 

The report notes that, “Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of death from a number of ailments including stroke and respiratory illnesses,” one of the researchers from Harvard University, Dr Shannon Koplitz, told Fairfax Media.

Indonesians were the worst affected with an estimated 91,600 excess deaths.

Last year Indonesia’s National Disaster management Agency (BNPB) acknowledged the severity of the situation reporting that hat 43 million Indonesians were affected by the smog in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone with 503,874 reported Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI).

fires_kompas_eng002
Based on a map appearing in Kompas, Tues 26 October, 2016

Topsfield reports Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from BNPB as claiming “There is nothing like that (91,000 premature deaths),”  and going on to say, “It is not true. The data is not valid. If there were high numbers of people dead we would have stated it in our almost daily forest fire press releases last year.”

It seems Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has misunderstood the data which pointed to premature deaths, rather than deaths in the present period.

Biggest Environmental Disaster of 21st Century

Topsfield  also quotes Erik Meijaard, an Indonesian-based honorary associate professor at the University of Queensland who says that “Indonesia’s fires are probably the biggest global environmental disaster of the 21st century”.

Meijaard wrote in The Jakarta Globe referencing the Mongabay Series: Indonesian Forests which noted that:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from peat fires in Borneo and Sumatra are currently exceeding emissions from the entire U.S. economy, putting Indonesia on track to be one of the world’s largest carbon polluters this year.
  • According to the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires have just topped the CO2 equivalent of a billion tons.
  • The findings bring into sharp focus the importance of ending business-as-usual approaches to land management in Indonesia if the world hopes to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

While the health impacts are an obvious and continuing legacy of the rapacious forest burning there are other grave consequences.

Non-health consequence of forest clearing and burning

The impacts on endangered ecosystems and endangered animals, in particular, are well documented. Tragic as this is, particularly for animals such as the Sumatran Tiger and the Orang Utan, I’ve concentrated on less well known impacts. The WWF covers the issue of Palm Oil and Biodiversity Loss most thoroughly.

Subsidence of peatlands and their increasing vulnerability to sea level rise and flooding

Flooding in deltas and riparian lowlands is accelerated by the subsidence of peatlands.  Subsidence commonly occurs when channels are cut through peat lands as part of the clearing process. Peat dries out begins to release sequestered CO2 and shrinks. This is well documented in the Straits Times article which reminds us that unrestrained forest clearance to develop oil palm and pulpwood plantations leads to land subsidence.

The article observes that:

Millions of hectares of Indonesia’s former forest lands are slowly subsiding and could become flooded wastelands unable to grow food or timber-based products in one of the world’s most populous nations. Combined with rising sea levels, the scale of the problem becomes even more stark because much of the east coast of Sumatra is just a few metres above sea level.

It quotes Wetlands International which claims that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of Sumatra’s peatlands have been drained, largely for agriculture.

Vast stretches of peatlands along Sumatra’s east coast that is mere metres about sea level. Mr Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International tells us:

These peatlands will become unproductive so that, over time, almost the entire east coast of Sumatra will consist of unproductive land that will become frequently flooded, adding that this means the livelihoods of the local communities will be jeopardised, and industrial plantations will not be possible any more.

Remediation is unlikely to be an option so the costs associated with this aspect of the palm oil industry are huge and inter-generational.

Siltation of drainage basins, mangroves and coastal waters

Clearing any land in humid environments increases run off and reduces the percolation of water into soils.  Run-off velocity in such situations also increases and without the protective forest layer erosion increases, top soil is lost and carried into water courses, streams and rivers. This in turn reduces the efficiency of channel flow, increasing flooding and also leading to increased siltation of estuaries and coastal waters.  Such siltation can disturb coastal mangroves and associated fish breeding areas.  River transport, coastal fishing and coastal navigation all suffer.

Muhammad Lukman, in research towards his PhD, has identified elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in riparian and coastal sediments.   He suggests that his findings could be evidence of the effects of widespread, long-term and intense agricultural burnings along with the many forest/peat swamp fires that have frequently occurred in the past 20 years or so.

Some estimates of cost can be made in terms of the costs of flood mitigation and control measures, losses arising from flooding of agricultural land and settled areas, and the immediate impacts on navigation and fishing

Forced closure of schools and educational institutions;

On 25 September, 2015, as haze hovered above AQI 300 in Singapore, schools and kindergartens were closed and protective N95 masks distributed. Levels of smoke haze pollution were far higher in Indonesia where schools had been closed in the previous month. In Malaysia the government announced that schools would be closed in areas with an AQI over 200. On Monday 5 October, 2015, Detik online reported that in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau Province in Sumatra, schools had been closed for more than a month owing to the smoke haze. Finally the Department of National Education Pekanbaru forced students to go to school despite the smoke haze.

Such a cyclical problem will cause significant disruption to educational services and the development of human resources, particularly in Indonesia.

Closure of airports and disruption of airline schedules.

During the burning season 2015 flights were frequently cancelled at Sultan Syarif Kasim II (SSK II) airport Pekanbaru, in Riau province with visibility down to between 300 to 600 metres in the area. Elsewhere Kuching International Airport (KIA) in Sarawak, Malaysia was closed on September 10 with visibility down to some 400 metres. In Indonesia, poor visibility due to smoke disrupted flight schedules at Pinang Kampai Airport, Riau. All of these events have direct measurable impacts.

Losses sustained by the tourism industry and other business sectors

Last year Reuters quoted Irvin Seah, DBS economist in Singapore, who said, In 1997, the level of pollution was not this severe, and noting that the tourism industry’s contribution to the economy was relatively smaller back then.

The Reuters report observes that Tourism makes up 6.4 percent of Malaysia’s economy and about 5 to 6 percent of Singapore’s and quotes an ANZ research report that says, in Singapore, Shopping, restaurants, bars and outdoor entertainment will all suffer during this hazy period.

Among the events disrupted or even cancelled due to the haze were the 2015 FINA Swimming World Cup in Singapore and the Kuala Lumpur Marathon in Malaysia.

While losses in tourism and ancillary sectors can be calculated there are increased costs to businesses across the board. Developing and implementing disaster relief plans for employees is one area that is immediately obvious, then there are the issues of work days lost owing to respiratory or cardio pulmonary illnesses, disruptions to supply chains and various other schedules of usual business activity. Finally there is the matter of impacts on ventilation and air conditioning filtration systems particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Impact on global warming

This was also broached in the previous post Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The precise impact of any one burning event is difficult to judge, but the immense quantities of carbon stored in the peatlands of Indonesia is cause for concern. One estimate suggests that Indonesia’s 1997 fires released 810 to 2,670 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, the equivalent of 13 to 40 per cent of the fossil fuels emitted worldwide that year.

In a report entitled ‘Indonesian haze: Why it’s everyone’s problem’ on 18 September, 2015, CNN observed that, it’s a persistent, annual problem that disrupts lives, costs the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia billions of dollars, and leaves millions of people at risk of respiratory and other diseases. The land that burns is extremely carbon rich, raising Indonesia’s contribution to climate change.

The CNN report also reminds us that in 2014 Indonesia was ranked the world’s sixth worst emitter of green house gasses.

environment, geography, Health, Indonesia, Singapore

#Indonesian #peatlands are torched again as the #burning season gets underway

I wasn’t expecting things to deteriorate quite as quickly as they have today.

aqis1300260816

 

Just in case readers aren’t familiar with this Air Quality Index scale, readings are based on several factors but the figure 248 refers to parts per million of particles 2.5 microns in size.  These have a capacity to enter the lungs and remain deep inside.

aqi_cols

 

So, where is all this smoke haze coming from today.

First, here is yesterdays wind map showing hotspots in the ASEAN region.  There are two in Sumatra.

aqiswind250816

 

Here is a map showing palm oil plantations and peat domes in Sumatra.

Oil palm map

 

Without doing a precise mapping exercise to match the active hotspots with peat domes, it’s still obvious that the most likely source of Singapore’s smoke haze pollution right now is a hot spot  west south west of Palembang.  At the time of writing Palembang is at AQI 54 but this is a PM 10 reading

Indonesia’s hot spots

The Straits Times recently carried this video from Reuters

Today the Straits Times carried this article.

Save

Asia, Australia, environment, geography, history, indigenous, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam

#BookLaunch of ‘Seen & Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia & the #Pacific’

 

This is a Chitter Media Production, produced and edited by Adrian Metlenko, camera operators Adrian Metlenko and Evan Darnley-Pentes.

Australia, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, religion, sociology, travel

The author on “Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia and the #Pacific”

Common views of Asia and the Pacific, from the outside, often confer undue prominence to such things as typhoons, tsunami, earthquakes, malaria or even magic. While these can be confronting realities in the Asia-Pacific region beyond such differences even more remains unseen and misunderstood. Frequently unacknowledged are the influences Asian and Pacific cultures exert far beyond their borders.

 

Seen & Unseen: A Century of Stories from Asia & the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations of change. It blends anthropology, botany, ecology, economics, geography, history, politics and spiritual traditions. While each story is cradled in reality and crafted with a careful eye for historical accuracy, frailty of memory, the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some fictional even when they are not.

Influencing this work is an acceptance that interactions with people from our own culture are generally tangible and familiar, but when beyond our immediate culture things change. Now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated in intangible, non-rational and unseen ways. Foucault’s notion of the third space has influenced this work. Another influence is the Balinese belief that reality is an interaction of Sekala (The Seen) and Niskala (The Unseen).

Precisely what comprises the unseen realm varies throughout the region. What might be understood as mere micro ecology, in the developed world, can have spiritual explanations in some Asian and Pacific cultures. In rational secular society people commonly eschew magic as mythology or superstition, yet in parts of Asia and the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

The stories

I begin this journey in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company, a tale inspired by the little known ANMEF sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. While easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took an enormous toll. Sid Thompson also appears in Red Poppies and Janur. Several stories address changing Australian views of Japan through the encounters of ordinary people. Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia reveal Asian influences in Anglo-Australia of the 1950s. First Landfall and The Sublime to the Horrific chronicle my own first bumbling attempts at being in Asia. Some 15 stories are set over an 18-year period in Indonesia from the comfort of urban to life to that of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. These begin with tales about engaging with manifest cultural differences and lead into matters of more global significance. Campaign and The General Election take two Australians and Indonesian friends through a transition to democracy. An Unusual Kind Of Thunder and In The Charnel House deal directly with the Bali Bombings of 2002 while My Second Meeting With Jonathan unfolds in its aftermath. Singapore 43 years On is about returning to Singapore, a city transformed. Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told retrospectively from Hanoi. Finally, Sid Thompson returns in the more metaphysical tale Headland.

The basic and enduring interplay of the seen and the unseen worlds is of great significance to those of us from the land that’s girt by sea. While we might choose not to see, to look inwards and to rejoice in the notion that our land abounds in nature’s gifts, regional and planetary systems are unfettered by such introspective cultural constructions.

Sales

You can purchase the book now from Amazon

 

 

environment, geography, Health, Indonesia

Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Living with the haze in Singapore.

Thunder, lightning and rain were a blessing through the night. Listening to the gentle tapping of rain drops on the window confirmed I’d been right switching off the airconditioning and air filter last thing. Rain always brings an interlude of clearer atmosphere. This was no exception with the PSI dropping to 87 and the PM2.5 to 95 from peaks of 224 and 274 in the previous 24 hours.

12015004_10153587953709694_6412679897148484678_o

Sitting here in Singapore over the past two weeks I’ve watched as levels of air pollution have risen. In this connected island nation with it’s ultra fast Internet gathering information about the problem is easy. The Haze Information Portal is my first reliable source of data. When the levels of air pollution rise to unhealthy I wear a mask to help filter out the PM2.5 the particles in the air that are smaller than 2.5 microns, the ones that can travel deep into the lungs.

The Air Quality Index (AQI)

Anyone living in a city listed in the Air Quality Index website can check their city’s AQI by using this link I’ve set up for South, Singapore. Just click on this link and search for your own city.

aqi_cols

The pollution indices and color codes available on this website follow the EPA graduation, as defined by AirNow and explained in wikipedia.

An experiment

As an experiment I just walked about 300 metres to the Zion Road Hawker Centre without wearing my mask. The entire journey was conducted with PM2.5 at 167, in the red band. I wore a mask on the return journey. Now my nose is itchy, I’m sneezing, I can feel a burning sensation deep inside my nose and the back of my throat. My voice is slightly hoarse. I’m actually in an at risk group and I’m by no means alone.

This is the last time I’ll attempt the experiment.

Source of the haze

After a few days living with the haze, particularly if PM2.5 reaches Hazardous, which it has done, reflecting on the cause of the problem is inevitable. In our case the problem is Indonesia, Sumatra to be precise, although it’s not alone, Kalimantan also has huge problems. Of course none of this is new, it’s been going on for a while. A friend who lived in Singapore back in 1993-94 reports encountering the haze.

This season in 2013 was also bad for haze but arguably the worst to date was the period 1997-98. At that time major forest and peatland fires broke out in South East Asia. Some of the areas plagued by fire were already very familiar to me, notably the Kutai region of eastern Kalimantan. An El Nino induced drought brought the critical conditions necessary for fire to break out in areas that had already been partly cleared of forest cover and contained huge fuel loads. A total of 10 million ha of forest was burnt during that time, primarily in Indonesia, but also in Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand. The fires burned or damaged over 1.45 million ha of peatlands, about 4% of the total peatland areas in the region. One million hectare of peat swamp forest in Indonesia was damaged in this period (BAPPENAS, 1999). Fires in the area of peat soils were identified as the major contributors (about 60% of particulates) to the smoke and haze which enveloped a major part of the region and contributed to an estimated economic loss of US$9 billion. [1]

Indonesian environments and palm oil plantations

Most people probably think of Indonesia as a land of rice fields and rainforests, and it is, but it’s also a land of monsoon forests, mangroves, nipa palm swamps and swamp forests. It’s in these swamp forests that the source of the problem lies dormant. If they are left undeveloped or developed in sustainable ways the problem usually doesn’t arise, but unfortunately they are falling victim to the rapidly expanding oil palm industry. Indonesia is the world’s largest Crude Palm Oil producer with about 10 million hectares of Palm Oil Plantation, more than 600 Palm Oil Mills, about 120 refineries, and some palm kernel oil mills, oleo chemical companies and biodiesel factories.

Palm oil is the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil representing 34% of all vegetable oils consumed with soybean oil in second place at 27% of vegetable oils consumed. As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia is responsible for 52% of the world output. Production grew 11% per year between 1993 and 2013. Malaysia produces 34% of the global output. Combined Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil production in 2012 was valued at about $40 billion.

Well established palm oil plantations

Around 70% of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations are in Sumatra and the remaining 30% in Kalimantan. These islands also contain stands of tropical rainforests. Early palm oil plantations were often established in areas where rainforests had been logged for their valuable timber.  One notable area was the coastal fringe to the north-east of 3°N 99°E in North Sumatra province then extending south-east into the inland areas of Riau and Jambi provinces.

Mapping the Sumatran palm oil industry

Oil palm map
    Coastal areas of Sumatra support extensive swamp forests 
 Acknowledgement: B. Barus, Diar Shiddiq, L.S. Iman , B. H. Trisasongko, Komarsa, G, dan R. Kusumo) Staf Bagian Inderaja dan Informasi Spasial, Departemen Ilmu Tanah dan Sumberdaya Lahan, IPB; Peneliti Pusat Pengkajian Perencanaan dan Pengembangan Wilayah, LPPM, IPB;  Presented in National Seminar Sustainable Peat Land Management in the Agricultural Land Resources Agency (ALRA), Bogor, May 4, 2012

Early oil palm plantation development tended to be mostly in well-drained areas with undulating to hilly landforms.

Sumatra Topography. (CCL. Author Sadalmelik)
         Sumatra Topography. (CCL. Author Sadalmelik)

Recent oil palm plantation development is being undertaken in the swamp forests and associated peatlands within the north-eastern coastal areas of Sumatra.

Tropical swamp forests and peatlands in Indonesia

Peatlands cover at least 9% of the Indonesian land surface, the exact area is somewhere between 16.8 and 27.0 million ha. They form in swamp forests. The process of peat land formation is illustrated in the following diagrams.

Peat Dome

Peat is dead organic matter accumulated in a wet oxygen depleted environment, it is about 90% water and 10% plant matter. Such a high water content creates what is called a perched water table in the peat dome. Water retained in a peat dome is higher than in surrounding areas.

Deposits can accumulate over 1000s of years and those in South East Asia have been forming since sea levels stabilised after the Pleistocene, at the beginning of the Holocene.

About 70% of tropical peatlands are found in South East Asia. Most occur in coastal or peri-coastal swamp forests or lowland river catchments in areas of Indonesia in Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan) and West Papua, Papua. They play an important role in flood mitigation during wet seasons and maintaining water supply during dry seasons.

Tropical peat domes can be up to 50 km wide occupying entire catchments between adjacent rivers.

Although peat swamp forests have many species of valuable dipterocarps limited access, and the preponderance of dipterocarps in the larger tropical forests within more well-drained areas, ensured that they were less disturbed until recently. Consequently they have remained an important habitat for animals. In Sumatra peat swamp forests are habitat for endangered species like Orang Utan, Sumatran Tigers and Rhinocerous.

A store of carbon

Peat deposits are a large and highly concentrated carbon store. Peatlands and organic soils contain 30 percent of the world’s soil carbon but only cover 3 percent of the Earth’s land area. [3]  It is estimated that carbon storage in peatlands is up to 58 kg per cubic metre. Their capacity for carbon sequestration alone makes them a valuable global asset.

 Exploiting Sumatra’s peat lands

Given the huge income earning potential of the palm oil industry the clearing of swamp forests is increasing. In Indonesia cleared peatlands under oil palm cultivation are expected to increase to between 6 and 9 million ha by 2020, amounting to about one-third of total peatlands.  Such a large intervention will have major environmental consequences.

At a global scale, CO2 emission from peatland drainage in Southeast Asia is contributing the equivalent of 1.3% to 3.1% of current global CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel. If current peatland development and management practices continue, these emissions are predicted to continue for decades. 

Methods of clearing

Clearing swamp forests and associated peatlands is a two stage process:

  1. canals are dug through peat domes so that water drains away.  This causes the peat dome to subside.
  2. remaining forest cover is slashed and burned.

The process is well documented in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper of October 1, 2015. There are some brilliant graphics.

The CO2 problem

Once peatlands are drained they begin to release CO2.  Once they are burnt the release of CO2 increases dramatically.

In an average tropical peat fire 33 cm of peat is lost, which corresponds to 702 t CO2 ha-1 (Ballhorn et al. 2009; Couwenberg et al. 2009). This is more than 15 times the annual oxidative loss from 50 cm deep drained peat soil and exceeds average Holocene accumulation rates by 100 to 550 times. As a result of burning peat and vegetation in Indonesia during the severe El Niño event of 1997/98 about 1.8-3.0 Gt of carbon dioxide were released to the atmosphere (Page et al. 2002; Van der Werf et al. 2008b; Couwenberg et al. 2009). 

Subsidence in the coastal and peri-coastal areas where peatlands are drained and burned presents additional problems going into the future.  More severe flooding exacerbated by sea level rise could render significant cleared tracts of land peatland unusable.

Summarising the impacts

Solutions

  • Finally the search facility in the Food and Agriculture Organisation website will turn up a rich stream of information on the problem and solutions

Why the air pollution and fires are such a problem at the moment

Apart from illegal and unregulated forest burning, three other geographic factors influence the problem, at any time.  These factors are climatic and meteorological. Their interaction can intensify or modify the air pollution problem on a given day.

A primary driver is the monsoon

The southern monsoon brings south-west to south-easterly winds to Indonesia and mainland South east Asia

monsoons

aus to sing
Wind directions between Australia & S E Asia October 1, 2015.

The influence of the monsoon is easily shown in this wind direction chart for Thursday October 1, 2015.

While the Australian continent is still relatively cool, winds are spilling out of Australia as south easterlies. Moving off shore they become easterlies then as they pass over the Equator they are deflected becoming south easterlies as the pass over Sumatra.  Now they begin to blow smoke over Sumatra, Singapore and Malaysia.

Variations in Weather

The wind direction on a given day will influence the intensity of the haze blowing over Singapore. This is determined by pressure cells.

2015-10-01_TopChart_07
Synoptic chart of October 1, 2015

Variations in the isobars, particularly the wavy patterns along the Equator further influence local wind direction.

ENSO

The southern oscillation plays an important role, particularly when the Indonesian and Philippines archipelagos move into an El Nino.  Aridity increases both intensifying and prolonging fire regimes.

areas affected
Areas experience reduced ocean temperatures and evaporation during the El Nino phase.
Australia, environment, geography, history, Personal comment

Unravelling the Mystery of Lake George: the vanishing lake

After a morning of working in the garden it’s a relief to be out of the wind. Right now it’s blowing at 50 km/h and gusting to 59km/h. In the spring wind gusts stir up a lot of fallen flowers and pollens, so all the while I was working outside digging, sweeping and planting I had an irritation in my nose.  It goes with the season.

The view from the Federal Highway, east, across Lake George.

All this strong dry wind heralds an El Nino event and a period of dry conditions which causes me think of drought and the iconic indicator of such events, Lake George.  It’s somewhat of a mystery lake. I can only recall seeing it full for a short period, for the most part it’s dry with a few muddy puddles after rain. This last La Nina period it’s started to fill again, but nowhere near the bank full stage I’ve seen it in the past. It’s a bit of a mystery. The draining of Lake George is always a good sign that were entering an El Nino period of the southern oscillation (ENSO).

A Link with China

Once people suggested that Lake George had a subterranean link with China.  The popular myth asserted that it was conditions in China which determined its water level.  Of course this fanciful notion has long been dismissed.  A useful source on this is Gary Jones ‘Inside Water’ blog. In my experience, tour coach captains, often not renown for their accurate local knowledge, have added to the apparent mystery over the years embroidering layer upon layer of fanciful explanations for the lake’s appearance and disappearance.

Lake George Water Facts

With a catchment of 954 square kilometres, 16% of this occupied by the lake. It’s a small system just 25 kilometres long, 10 kilometres wide, very shallow and, for a lake in eastern Australia, very salty. Unless there’s significant rain in the catchment, it seldom has much water. Just 10 minor tributaries feed the lake, which sits at 1350 metres asl.

While the means annual rainfall in the area is 750mm it does have appreciable amounts of water in La Nina periods, if rain is falling in the catchment.

Lake George, 25 kilometres north-east of Canberra, has a catchment area of 984 square kilometres. Ten minor tributaries feed the lake, which has no surface outflow. The only data I could find for these was for the 25 Km long Turallo Ck which at the time of writing had a depth of 0.62 metres and discharging at a rate of 32.9 ML/day around 80% of it’s bank full flow. The NSW department of Primary Industries Office of Water, provides some real time data on Turallo Creek.

The Lake’s Murray Cod Industry

In the 19th century there was actually a fishing industry on the lake.  Well, perhaps industry is somewhat of a misnomer. Murray Cod were translocated from the Molonglo River to the Lake George area in 1848.  This stimulated a fishing industry, but this must have been in a La Nina period. The population that developed in Lake George was used as a source to stock the Wollondilly and Cox’s Rivers and Mulwarree Ponds near Goulburn in the Nepean Catchment .  For the reference on this see Species Summaries: An Analysis and Summary of Historical Information on Native Fish.

A new capital for a new nation

Reporting in the Canberra Times on March 12 this year, Ian Warden made an inspired contribution to the lake George saga.  He reminds us that “Mystical Lake George, once upon a time one of Canberra’s rivals as the chosen spot for the federal capital city”.  Reading this piece reminded me that I’ve actually seen the plans for the proposed national capital site at Bungendore.

Plan shewing proposed Federal Capital site in the locality of Lake George. http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-vn437205

An expedition to Lake George

On Tuesday I head off to the lake. My son and I will attempt to paddle our kayaks on what water there is. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, something he can tell his grandchildren about. Hopefully I’ll be able to join the conversation as well.

Whether or not we succeed is problematic.  The lake seems fullest at its eastern edge, but this area is surrounded by private land holdings and I don’t know whether we’ll gain entry.  Still there’s a good chance we will, since this shoreline, rather the low line of hills above it is the site of a major wind farm.

Wind Farms

I took photograph at the top of this page from a bus moving at around 100km/h back in late July. I appreciate the hues but I’m also rather taken by the wind farm in the background.  Wind farms appeal to me.  Perhaps it’s just from a childhood fascination with those Southern Cross wind pumps that dotted Australia’s arid landscape.  There were always displays of at agricultural shows in Sydney, the Royal Easter Show to be precise.

Wind farms are a controversial topic, but I really enjoy them.  There’s a small wind generator not far from where I live.  More about this in my next post.

Australia, DER, education, geography

Sydney Urban Growth and Decline 2011: Student observations updated

Last November I published the first of these wordles, by way of summarising the language used by my students who had written reports on a field study project conducted earlier in the year. My students completed a field study around the Sydney Harbour foreshore from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.

This was part of a major unit of work within the syllabus topic: Issues in the Australian Environment. A description of my approach is found here.

After the students had completed a report on this activity, as part of an assessment task, I merged two student reports as the base document for a Wiki on urban processes. Both papers are now published on an urban proceses wiki for further refinement by all students who participated.

Here’s a wordle based on the two papers.

Wordle: Sydney and Urban Study

Not long ago we repeated the field study.  My feeling is that this years students really understood the issues at a deeper level than last years. Here’s the wordle from the two best students reports.

Wordle: Urban Growth and decline 2

Why a stronger result this year
Several factors operated to produce a stronger result overall, this year. I think the first of these was my own confidence. Last year the field study was run as part of a DER Research project. I was probably over ambitious in what I attempted to achieve and also less familiar with the software and what students might be able to achieve with it. Last year there was also an extraordinary amount of time pressure on the process. Another critically important factor was that all assessment was reduced to pen and paper work whereas this year a significant component of the assessment was digital. This last change reflects changing culture within the school and the increasing prominence of digital approaches, thanks to the DER 1:1 laptop program.

Scope of the Project
This report focuses on indicators and impacts of urban growth and decline identified in a field study that was undertaken along the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. Participants investigated a variety of the geographical issues related to change in land use along the foreshore of Sydney Harbour how they are being resolved. Specifically the field study aimed to answer a set of research questions concerning:
• the use being made of the foreshore;
• the impact of such use on the biophysical and built environment; and,
• the ways in which impacts are being addressed.

With these questions as a focus participants gathered data at four separate locations: Pyrmont Bridge and King St Wharf; Millers Point; Walsh Bay; and Circular Quay West.

Not all of the main urban processes of urban renewal, urban consolidation, urban decline and gentrification were observable at each of the chosen locations but all of these processes were observable in the field study area.

Just how the participants reported on the field study activity in the follow-up assessment was open to one of two basic approaches.

They could:
• choose to report on each location in turn describing and analysing the indicators and impacts of each urban process at each location: or,
• discuss each urban processes citing examples of it’s occurrence, indicators and impacts at each of the four locations studied