Thank you for your comments. It is important for scientists, …

Comment on Extreme variability: local climate change right now by Fiona Walsh.

Thank you for your comments. It is important for scientists, and all of us, to recognise the variety of opinions and interpretations on this topic. Many issues emerge from the prior comments, but here we can respond only to those about data selection, data durations, local trends vs trends elsewhere in inland Australia, and publication.

In relation to ‘cherry-picking’ (aka selective use of data, @ de Vries and @Richards): Our project was a collaboration with a group of CLC rangers at Santa Teresa. Thus we analysed data that were collected by long-term weather stations as close as possible to Santa Teresa – including Alice Springs. Trends in climate across the entirety of inland Australia were not within our project remit.

We collated data on nine variables for three locations. Only Alice Springs had data for all nine variables. Hermannsburg had the longest near-continuous data for total annual rainfall over 124 years. The trend for increasing rainfall events described in the article appears to be consistent for Alice Springs and Santa Teresa, but the duration of records are shorter. Additional to rainfall, there were upward trends in the Alice Springs data for maximum winter temperatures and maximum summer temperatures, but no obvious trend for minimum summer and winter temperatures. However, the number of frost days also trends upward. 

To our knowledge, these are more finely grained collations than done by BOM or other agencies (@ de Vries). Our data do warrant publication (@ de Vries), but unfortunately this is unlikely in the short term. Two of the four CSIRO scientists involved have been made redundant as a result of the cuts to CSIRO environmental research and arid zone research. The remaining two scientists are required on other projects. We could supply the graphed data on request for others who would like with work with them. We encourage you to look at the community report downloadable here:” rel=”nofollow”>

In relation to the question of whether the Santa Teresa-Alice Springs-Hermannsburg findings are applicable to other areas of inland Australia, we did a brief analysis of rainfall, but not temperature, for five additional arid zone locations further west and east of Alice Springs. As @ de Vries suggests, Boulia (620 km ENE of Alice) shows no discernible trend. However, Leonora (1,400 km SW of Alice) shows average annual rainfall has risen by 44% over the period 1898-2013 (statistically significant). Leonora experienced increased inter-annual variability during 1940-1980, when increasing rainfall becomes apparent, but rainfall variability has since reduced. Wiluna (1,410 km W of Alice) also shows a 37% increase in annual rainfall average 1899-2016.

BOM data for these and any other weather stations can be obtained from, and examined and analysed by any interested reader. BOM maps of climate trend across Australia can be viewed at

The map of trend in average annual rainfall for the period 1940-present indicates how increasing rainfall has been occurring from Alice westwards, whilst inland Queensland has experienced no trend at all. The geographical pattern in positive trend is mainly in summer and autumn rainfalls. It partially results from tropical cyclones carrying heavy rainfalls further inland and more frequently than in the past.

All this said, our interest was to bring attention to trends within Central Australia. More importantly, our concern is with the capacities and opportunities for people within Central Australia to cope with changing climate conditions.

Dr Fiona Walsh and Dr Ashley Sparrow

Recent Comments by Fiona Walsh

A touch of light: Aquila audax
Mike, your skills and writings are much appreciated. The weave of your experience, with animal observations and wry but important questions offer us much.
You shed a little light on your dedication and practice in photographing Eagles (whilst they watch you) but how was that extraordinary eagle in flight image captured?

A touch of light: totemic caterpillars
Wow, twelve Ayepe-arenye in one photo. I so appreciate what you share Mike.
In these strange times gardens, bush and nature can offer solace. It’s easy to walk, look and be curious.
Last evening in the Spencer Hill Landcare area I was watching a herd of Utnerrengatye (Emu bush caterpillars).
They grazed on the tips of Utnerre (Emu bush shrub). I was surprised to see an Ilperenye (aka green stinky beetle) like a sentinel higher than the caterpillars. I associate them as ground-dweller who hunt Ayepe-arenyes.
While I was video-ing the Ilperenye, the beetle disappeared out of frame. Gone? No, it leapt to grab and stab a caterpillar. A long pincer hold as green guts streamed out. I felt a chill and saw more clearly why Arrernte people whisper the name Ilperenye as if something scary.
Is sci-fi in our backyard better than TV?
Thanks again to you, other landcarers who clear space for wonderful critters and traditional owners who share their insights.

Real young people, not the faceless offender
Rainer, it is good to read of the experience shared by yourself and your countrymen in the group. It seems you are humble, wise, trusting, open-hearted and deeply considered. I valued reading your quiet questions of local people even to finer details like where to put your swag. So often European Australians come to a cross-cultural context, with at best little recognition of our own assumptions and presumptions and worse, with beliefs that ‘the solution’ is known by outsiders.
There is much to learn from the guidance of older people and the inspiration and energy of younger people. Thank you for writing and sharing the account of this trip and its deeper insights.

West MacDonnells blaze: sorrow and questions
To the rangers, other parks staff, Aboriginal rangers, Bushfires staff, volunteers and others – thank you again for your work in the recent Tjoritja (West Macs) fires.
The valiant efforts to protect at least Angkerle Atwatye (Standley Chasm) and Ormiston building complexes were obvious. I also acknowledge the worry of your families.
Conditions were in the 40s, winds strong, terrain often inaccessible even on foot and equipment probably limited.
I expect there was confusion, conflicting priorities, misunderstandings, even mistakes. These are to learn from.
A cooperative, well-coordinated, sustained approach is needed. I expect you’ll look to experts like those named in earlier articles and others.
Fire management is largely about people.
To the wider public, we’re all responsible even indirectly as our choices, our actions – our inaction – influences our climate and these regional landscapes.

Fire management inadequate to non-existent: ALEC
Firstly, thank you to the 80 or so people who tried to contain fires in Tyerrtye (West Macs National Park).
This devastating fire is a tragedy: Three major burns in 20 years is a repeated tragedy.
I still miss the old corkwood groves east of Hugh River who burnt c. 2001.
Now I think of the places on the Larapinta Trail where we’ve seen and heard moist mulga groves, frog pools, old pythons, ancient Callitris trees, rare plants, persistent possums – have these gone? Are they safe?
The Macs is a biodiversity hot spot with more species than any desert bioregion in Australia. And more cultural sites and songlines too. These fires are comparable with the 2018 Queensland rainforest burns and the current Tasmanian burns.
As a desert ecologist and social scientist, I ask why did this happen in the Macs?
What can we learn and improve upon? Burns will happen again.
To the why – there is climate change and buffel grass fuels.
There is also government priorities, funding and practical on-ground actions.
Parks and Wildlife has been defunded by successive governments to the detriment of landcare and management.
Whereas government funding to short-term tourism ventures like Uluru field of light and Parrtjima have increased. Has funding for Red Centre Nats and Finke desert race also grown?
Each are badged as contributing to a “turbo-charged” economy and do contribute to global warming. The costs to the natural systems that sustain humankind and wildlife are high.
West Macs fires could have been smaller had there been better funding, then sustained strategic prescribed burning by people competent and confident to do so.
25 years ago a cohort of park managers and fire experts burnt regularly with matches and drip torches in mild conditions.
People like Latz, Matthews, the Allans then mentored Schubert, Catt and others. Many of them learnt from and worked with experienced Aboriginal people; some still do. They did protective and preventative burning.
Has this Aboriginal – whitefella culture of burning patches and breaks shifted to one of caution or fear thus inaction?
We know mitigation is easier, safer and cheaper than defence when fires burn.
Action is more important than plans, strategies, workshops or even these words.
Annual investments of several hundred thousand dollars in skilled people who learn and do the practical work of burning in our national parks is vital.

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