Wednesday, 16 March 2022

Climate Change, Cloud-seeding, Floods, and Volcanic Mayhem

The Earth’s dynamics are complex and interrelated. For example, the chemical composition of magma below volcanoes in Indonesia has historically been linked to crop failures in Europe! This example from the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, where it is thought that temperatures caused the “the Year without a summer”. Meronen et al (2012) demonstrated that the gasses (such as sulphur dioxide) released from volcanic eruptions will have severe impacts on weather systems. These weather impacts include temperature but are also likely to cause other impacts either directly or indirectly, particularly precipitation resulting in major floods, particularly in Europe (Fagan 2000); though elsewhere there were flooding events that are apparently correlated. These floods often caused catastrophic damage.

Recently, of course, many many people have been affected in some way by, in some places, the worst floods recorded since, well, records have been documented in Australia. I've seen a few explanations of the "why" including the following three main ones:

On social media I’ve seen the flooding attributed to the practice of “cloud seeding”, 

I’ve also seen in the broader media the flooding attributed solely to anthropogenic climate change.

The Bureau of Meterology lies the blame squarely on La Nina.

I’ll address all of the above and raise a hypothesis which is different, but in some way related to all of them.

Cloud seeding (introducing chemicals or particles into the atmosphere to encourage water droplets to form or increase in size) is sometimes recognised a as mechanism to increase the chance of rainfall. It is worth noting though, that statistically it is very difficult to prove that cloud seeding does much at all. The technique (if it can be called that), is applied mainly at dry times on the ground but when there is moderate atmospheric water content. Cloud seeding was tested in South East Queensland during the desperately bad drought from 2006 (Tessendorf et al 2012), though it was not possible to determine if clouds were formed due to the seeding material, or simply due to natural updrafts of air (one of the ways that clouds are formed naturally). I can find no record that cloud seeding took place in eastern Australia preceding the weather event, but it is worth noting that the volume/mass of seeding material needed would rule out seeding as causing the huge scale of rainfall.

The second reason I outlined above, is anthropogenic climate change. It is unfortunate that this has been attributed as a cause by many public figures and organisations, because it is impossible to attribute a single weather event to a climatic situation. Climate is a statistical representation of longer-term weather patterns and so one weather event does not demonstrate the climate, or a climate change. I will also note that if climate change was a factor in this weather event it is different from observed extreme weather events in Australia, where over the last several decades the incidence and frequency of storms and floods has decreased. Even models of storm frequency shows a decrease in frequency and a higher rate of break up of storms before impacting on the Australian landmass due to anthropogenic climate change (e.g. Abbs 2012). So, I have trouble pinning this flood event on anthropogenic climate change, or even natural climate change.

The third reason outlined seems to be the most likely of the three listed, and indeed I cannot argue with it much, except to potentially add a geological factor. Yes, you guessed it, volcanic eruptions. On the 15th of January this year, there was an extreme eruption of the Hunga Tonga –Hunga Ha'apai volcano. On facebook I re-posted a video, that demonstrated the scale of the eruption. The immediate particulates and aerosols (including sulphur dioxide) generated by the eruption past through the atmosphere across northern Queensland in the next several days. This material continued to circulate in various levels in the atmosphere over the subsequent weeks. So, a hypothesis is that if you combine the increased air moisture as a result of Coral Sea water temperature during this El Nina weather pattern we are in, combined with the blocking high pressure system in southern Australia (a common Australian summer climatic feature), with the natural effect of a huge volume of natural “cloud seeding” sourced from the volcanic eruption, this may have resulted in the extreme rainfall in eastern Australia. This would reflect the historical impacts on weather and floods resulting from volcanic events elsewhere in the world over recorded history, and reasonable enough that I think it worth considering.

Of course, speculation as to the “why” does not help those who have been so adversely affected (even killed) during the floods, but having some idea as to “why” can help us plan for future weather events. As a former Lismore resident, my thoughts go out to those in Lismore as well as those further up and down the coastal strip who are still living through the damage of the floods.

For some old posts on how volcanic eruptions from the Tonga area can affect the beaches of our coastline click here: 

Pacific Islands on Holiday to the North Coast

Tonga Comes to Visit Again

References/bibliography:

*Abbs, D. (2012). The impact of climate change on the climatology of tropical cyclones in the Australia region. CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship Working paper No.11.

*Fagan, B (2000) The little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850, Basic Books, New York.

*Meronen, H. et al (2012) Climate effects of northern hemisphere volcanic eruptions in an Earth System Model, Atmospheric Research, pp107-118.

*Tessendorf, S.A. et al (2012) The Queensland Cloud Seeding Research Program, American Meteorological Society, vol 93: issue 1.


Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Appealing to Authority

I have previously provided some opinion posts (such as this one) which I take some digs at the state of scientific research at university level in the world today. However, only recently, and potentially ironically, I want to draw attention to a paper was published on 21 May in Science Advances by two researchers from the university of California (Serra-Garcia & Gneezy 2021). This paper is one which I think appears to prove through robust statistical methods that the process of science research dissemination is badly broken.

If I were to paraphrase Serra-Garcia & Gneezy (2021) it is that the most cited articles in the most ‘reputable’ journals turn out to be false. This seems to apply more to the most ‘reputable’ journals such as Nature, Science and the like as these journals tend to publish more ‘groundbreaking’ research articles. Alas, the research that ends up disproving these 'groundbreaking' research articles are boring, so they not published in the ‘reputable’ journals.


Even worse, Serra-Garcia & Gneezy (2021) have shown that between 40%-62% of studies published in the journals Nature and Science have never been successfully replicated.

The end result is that falsified work is more accessible and more cited than the paper that debunks the original research. Serra-Garcia & Gneezy (2021) show that even after research published in a prestigious journal are proved wrong, the level of citation that still gets positively referred to by other researches to back up their research incredibly frequently occurs 300 times more often than the debunking papers. Specifically, the article states shows that non-replicable publications are cited even more after the replication study is published, and persistence of the citation is not explained by negative citations.

In my mind this demonstrates that falsified science can become the accepted science and an enormous amount of further research is built upon this falsified science; or even that false papers are cited more often than good ones.

Universities measure success of their academics and their papers by the number of citations they have received and by the impact factor of the journal (Nature and Science have some of the biggest impact factors). Therefore, it is possible that this is creating a result that the worst researchers (often the most ‘progressive’) are cited and rewarded the most by their universities and funding bodies. Whereas, good science and good researches are relegated… I wonder if you still can judge a paper by the number of citations it has, but counter-intuitively, the more citations the more likely the paper is wrong!

In summary, keep on questioning. Don’t trust research just because an ‘expert in the field’ wrote it or because it is published in a ‘reputable’ or ‘prestigious’ journal. 

Note: I use the word reputable to actually mean headline-grabbing.

The paper is available in full here.


Monday, 29 March 2021

Why is coal rare at the beginning of the Triassic? and other questions.

I'm still around!

I came across this very good, but long video on the Permian-Triassic boundary (which is defined by a massive extinction event).

What jumped out to me was the lack of coal early in the Triassic. Interestingly, in the Northern Rivers the first major coal measures don't occur for many millions of years into the Middle Triassic. Those are the Nymboida Coal Measures.

But there is a lot interesting here so it is a recommended video.

The Great Dying with sound - YouTube




Sunday, 1 September 2019

Tonga comes to visit... again?

The effects of Tongan undersea volcanic eruptions are not the first thing you'd think of when enjoying the summer weather on a sandy beach at Kingscliff, Byron Bay or Port Macquarie. But 6 years ago, in 2013 there was a direct reminder of a volcanic eruption of the the undersea volcano the Havre Seamount. This reminder was pumice rock washed ashore from an eruption which took place about 6 months previously. You can read more about it on the blog post I wrote at the time. It looks likely a very similar thing is going to occur in the next few months.

In mid August this year (2019) it was observed that a massive 'raft' of pumice rock was floating west of Tonga. A small island called Fonualei showed evidence of recent activity, with steam and fresh pumice in the area. The extent however of the eruption went unnoticed until a sailing boat sailed through a huge pumice raft. ABC News has a great video of what sailing through the raft looked like.
Photographs from passenger aircraft and also some satellite pictures have shown that the size of the eruption must have been huge. The Island of Fonualei was active but clearly not the main location of the eruption. We'd all be very aware of the eruption if it was Fonualei erupting the volume of rock obvious from the satellite. A formal but short report on the eruption by the Smithsonian Institute can be found here.

Given that the prevailing currents and winds will direct this pumice onto the coast of Australia it is something to look out for. Biologically it is interesting too. Fresh pumice washed up on the shore can transport various sea creatures. This is because pumice makes a great home given its porosity.
Not much more to add, except a prediction. I don't know how good it will be but I guess that come mid summer we will see pumice from Tonga washing up on the beaches of NSW and Queensland.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Bottled Tweed Shire Spring Water - The Biffo!

I’ve been meaning to address the ‘bottled spring water' discussions that have been going on for quite some time in the Northern Rivers. I guess better late than never is OK. The recent request by Tweed Shire Council for comment on their draft planning proposal made me think it was worth putting some ideas up now. This is not a very technical post, more of a bureaucratic process one. Note it does not include surface water issues which are legally very similar and tied up with groundwater, it also does not consider the other issues such as road damage from haulage of water, construction of water supply pipelines etc). To be very clear... this is also tagged as an opinion post. It contains my personal views and opinions on the matter - they can be very different from yours! Feel free to let me know what your opinion is in the comments section below.

Can't find a relevant photo... so this will do!
To give some background, groundwater in the Tweed Valley is derived from two main aquifer types, either deep fractured rocks of the (administratively called the New England Fold Belt Coast Groundwater Source), or shallow groundwater systems of the sediments of recent alluvium (Such as the Tweed Alluvium Water Source). I understand that most (or is it all?) of the groundwater that is extracted in the Tweed Valley that ends up in water bottles is from the deeper groundwater source.
 
Tweed Council is proposing to prohibit new water bottling facilities in rural zoned areas of the shire. One of the reasons overly simplistically outlined for this proposal by the Tweed Daily News is that “there is not enough data on groundwater resources to fully understand the environmental impacts of the industry”. The Planning proposal document also says “…there was a perception that water belongs to the community and should not be used for private profit.

This raised my eyebrow. 

Access to groundwater in NSW is controlled by the state government. This is in two forms: 
  1. 1. The actual well or borehole that is to extract water is licenced by the state. 
When and individual wants to install a bore a water supply works approval application must be made to WaterNSW. Staff experienced in groundwater (including hydrogeologists) assess the application against plans (Water Sharing Plans) that have been developed to protect the environment from badly extracted water, including too much extracted water over periods of time, the possible impact on neighbouring groundwater bores and groundwater dependent ecosystems 
  1. 2.Water is owned by people and companies. The water itself when not used for basic landholder rights (e.g. stock and domestic) is licenced by the state and capped based on the water source (Water Sharing Plans). There is no automatic community right to any water unless it is basic rights water – which the Water Sharing Plans prohibit from being adversely affected. 
If an individual wants to extract water that is not for basic landholder rights they must buy water from some other producer in the water source. This means that the amount of water extracted cannot be increased. The plans that are in place also place a limit on how much water for different uses can be extracted from a source. I think the category of water in the case of bottling water would be Industrial Use. The limits on water have been set by hydrogeologists and state planners and are outlined in the Water Sharing Plans.

Slight differences to the above process are where a development is classed as state significant development, these are assessed in an even more detailed way (and by another organisation – the new Natural Resources Access Regulator). However, even in this case the extraction rules in the Water Sharing Plans cannot be ignored. 

In addition, the NSW Chief Scientist is due to release its final report on the impact of the water bottling industry on the North Coast. Being a state government review conducted by hydrogeologists this review has the potential to be the most useful for decision making and can directly feed into modifying the Water Sharing Plans or other licencing processes if there is shown to be a deficiency.  

Given that water is managed by the state government I was surprised to see that there is an expectation by some that Tweed Council should seek to manage water using local planning instruments. It is interesting that if a bottling plant is proposed in a rural area in the Tweed it requires Council consent now, and concurrence from other environmental agencies. In fact local government is legally required to refer such matters on to the appropriate state government department for these matters.  

I’m not saying this is the wrong way to manage water it is just, in my view, a very novel and creative way given the state has ultimate authority over water resources. How can a local government place rules that stop new water bottling plants to be constructed, but cannot stop water that is legally owed by someone and allowed to be used for that purpose under state rules? I guess this is one way you can… but a very cumbersome and possibly unnecessary way? If there is an expectation that the community owns the water, should the community actually be buying the water? I don’t fully know, as always I have more questions than answers! 

Anyway, the draft proposal in on public exhibition until the 17th of September 2019. Go to www.yoursdaytweed.com.au/waterbottling for more information or to make a submission.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Faulty Gold - The Enmore Goldfields


I was undertaking a project on a private property near Enmore, south of Armidale last weekend. This gave me the opportunity to visit some abandoned mine sites and have a look at the country. The property I was on consisted of two stratigraphic units, the Girrakool Beds and the Enmore Monzogranite. The area I was most interested in was the boundary between the two units. Where I was the boundary is defined by a fault known as the Borah Fault.  The fault zone is quite easily observed through topographic and drainage features, but also there has historically been some gold extraction from some locations along this fault including two mines that I got to visit (Buffalo Ranche Mine and Sherwood Mine).  These mines make up part of the area sometimes referred to as the Enmore-Melrose Goldfield.


Old mining equipment Sherwood Mine
The regional geological mapping identifies that the north of the Sherwood Fault are blocks of the Girrakool Beds. This geological unit is dominated by mudstone (slate) and greywacke (lithic sandstones) with rare chert and basalt (Gilligan et al 1986) and is sometimes considered of Permian age (e.g. Binns 1966, Leitch 1974) but is more likely Carboniferous Gilligan et al 1986). It appears to me that the Girrakool Beds in the Enmore area have not been studied extensively but other areas well to the North east of Armidale have been much more studied because in that area they have undergone extensive and complex metamorphism. 


South of the Borah Fault, as well as some fault bound blocks to the north of it is the Enmore Monzogranite. The Enmore Monzogranite is a name given to a biotite monzogranite of S-Type derivation (from melted sedimentary rocks) commonly with a foliation (preferred direction of mineral alignment). The quartz in the unit is usually of a blue colour and there is occasionally amphibole. garnet and even some graphite present in some places too. It commonly contains xenoliths. The Enmore Monzogranite has been classified as part of the Hillgrove Supersuite. As far as I can find, the Enmore Monzogranite has not been dated accurately and therefore only has an inferred age of Carboniferous or Permian.


Remnants of the old Sherwood Mine
The Borah fault can be traced for quite some distance because the faulting has affected the rocks (which area now called mylonite, breccia and fault gauge). The shearing stresses caused by movement along the fault has recrystalised some of the rock and broken up other areas. Because of this action the affected rocks have been weakened and are more susceptible to erosion. This means that over time creeks have preferred to flow along the fault strike. For example one creek, Postmans Gully flows along the fault towards the north-east and another, Borah Creek flows along the same fault in the opposite direction (towards the south-west).


Some old mining equipment still remains at Sherwood Mine, with the remnants of a steam engine apparently manufactured about 1878 still visible. Historical mining records (Henley 1985) show that approximately 7.9kg of gold was extracted in 1893 then in the period up to 1937 a further 2.6kg was produced. Follow up exploration was carried out from time to time, particularly in the 1970’s to 1990’s but no significant economic concentrations of gold were identified. I note that the geology superficially appears similar to the nearby Hillgrove mines area but on further inspection it appears that all of the substantial mineral deposits lie in a thin zone around and along the fault line. The mineral deposits are also of a quite different chemical make up with low concentrations of Antimony, which distinguishes it from the major mineralisation events that formed many of the Gold-Antimony deposits from the nearby Hillgrove Gold Field. 


As mentioned, the most significant gold occurrences in the Enmore-Melrose Goldfield are located on, or adjacent to the Borah Fault (and nearby Sherwood Fault). This indicates the faults are likely to be a structural control on the gold mineralisation.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The NSW/QLD border geological mess and other matters - Talk at Binna Burra

This year marks the 85th birthday of the Binna Burra Wilderness Lodge in Southern Queensland. As part of the 85th celebrations the lodge has invited many people to give talks at the lodge between the 20th and 24th of June. There are many interesting science and nature talks open to the public on these days and two of the talks will have a geological theme. The Lodge is situated on the northern side of the Tweed volcano and the landscape and ecology of the area is intimately connected with the geological history of the area.

I will be giving a talk on the evolution of our understanding of the Tweed Volcano over the years and how politics can affect how we scientifically look at our part of the world. My talk will be on Friday 22nd June at 9.30am. On Sunday 24th, Warwick Willmott will be giving a more geology overview walk and talk including discussions on how the Tweed Volcano and Hawaiian Volcanoes have many similar characteristics.

UPDATE: Due to personal matters I have had to cancel my talk. The Talk by Warwick Willmott on Sunday is unaffected.

The details of my talk are as follows:


Talk title:
Our understanding of the Tweed Volcano: A Learning, Unlearning, Forgetful and Confused Experience.

Abstract:
The landscape of the NSW/QLD Border (Lamington and Tweed areas) being the result of a single volcanic centre, has been recognised formally for less time than the establishment of Binna Burra Lodge (only 70 years). Since this first realisation, many researchers have added to understanding of how the landscape has evolved. However, sometimes even in our modern and scientific world new knowledge can get lost, be ignored, or repeat old myths. This talk will cover some of the evolution of our understanding of the Tweed Shield Volcano and examine some of the persistent ‘popular science’ myths of this landscape.


For details of events being held at Binna Burra Wilderness Lodge you can visit their facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/binnaburra/events/?ref=page_internal