26 September 2023

Indigenous weather forecasts found finer

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Scientists at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) have uncovered traditional Indigenous environmental knowledge which is assisting them in their studies of weather cycles around Australia.

A member of ANSTO’s expert radon team, Scott Chambers said the team was well aware that weather in many regions of Australia did not conform to the traditional four European seasons.

“We were unaware that an alternative seasonal model existed until he learned about work being undertaken by a group at the University of Wollongong (UoW) who are using Indigenous knowledge of weather cycles to better understand seasonal variability in Sydney’s air quality,” Dr Chambers said.

“The UoW Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry had combined information from members of the Dharawal and Darug communities with climatological records to determine a meaningful set of natural weather cycles for the Sydney region.”

Dr Chambers said the ANSTO team hoped this more locally-applicable information would help it understand controls on pollution around Sydney better than that provided by the adopted European seasons.

“Although interviews with traditional knowledge holders were unable to arrive at a conclusive answer as to an exact number of Indigenous seasons, what they did provide was useful descriptions of Sydney weather conditions for specific periods, such as hot/wet, cold/still or cool/dry,” he said.

“Interestingly, when I looked just at the radon data, a seven-season cycle seemed to emerge.”

He said that if the four European seasons were used to interpret Sydney’s pollution data, the time of peak pollution occurred illogically at a split between two seasons.

“Whereas, if we adopt the Indigenous seasonal cycles, the time of Sydney’s peak pollution falls entirely within a single season when local average synoptic weather patterns result in very low levels of atmospheric mixing,” Dr Chambers said.

“The Indigenous seasonal groupings tend to explain the behaviour of pollution, mainly changes in mixing events, much more clearly than the European seasons,” he said.

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