From Meteorites to Meteorology – Diverse Victorian Science in the Latest Proceedings

Proceedings 131-1 Cover

Volume 131, Part 1 of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria is now online, featuring a new species of calcareous sponge discovered in Geelong, a spectacular new H5 meteorite uncovered in Maryborough, an account of Indigenous meteorological knowledge using stellar scintillation, a reclassification of fossil graptolites from the early Bendigonian, a case for regulated investment in a resilient electricity network, an account of the Bureau of Meteorology’s new extreme heatwave event forecasting service, and a discussion on whether a similar service might be required for cold extremes on public health grounds.

Porifera (Calcarea: Lithonida) from the Lower Miocene Batesford Limestone, Victoria, Australia, including a new species Monoplectroninia malonei sp. nov.

Batesford Limestone
Location of the outcrop in the Batesford Limestone, Batesford Quarry. Satellite Source DigitalGlobe © 2017. Inset F. McSweeney.

Authors: Fearghus McSweeney, John Buckeridge and Michelle Kelly. Paper:

The Batesford Limestone is a fossiliferous Miocene calcarenite exposed in the Australian Portland Cement Quarry, at Fyansford, about 8 km northwest of Geelong, Victoria. The limestone formed off the flanks of a granitic inselberg known as Dog Rocks, with preferential accumulation of skeletal carbonate, recording a transgressive sequence, as the island slowly submerged in the Port Phillip Basin of Victoria.

Loose spicules from sediment analysis. Micrograph images (A‒E) taken on Philips XL30 SEM and light microscopy image (F). A, E, F: triactine spicules and B as suspected triactine spicule; C1 close-up of C, and D (parasagittal) show epitaxial growth of calcite on the rays; F: triactine with inception thread, visible as darkened central canal.

Sponge body fossils have been collected from the Batesford Limestone for many years but not formally identified or published. This project was undertaken to evaluate the sponge fauna present and determine the diversity of that group.

Four species have been recognised from this biofacies by the authors: Tretocalia pezica Hinde, 1900, Bactronella australis Hinde, 1900, Plectroninia halli Hinde, 1900 and a new species, Monoplectroninia malonei sp. nov., described and named in this paper.

Maryborough, a new H5 meteorite find from Victoria, Australia

Maryborough Meteorite
The Maryborough meteorite prior to cutting. Museums Victoria specimen E19297.

Authors: William D. Birch, Dermot A. Henry and Andrew G. Tomkins. Paper:

In May 2015, Mr David Hole discovered a 17 kg single mass of a stony meteorite while fossicking for gold, using a metal detector, in Maryborough Regional Park, Victoria. The meteorite was found on the surface, resting on a yellowish brown clay, in open box‒ironbark forest.

Cutting the meteor
Cutting the Maryborough Meteorite at Crystal World. Photo: Thomas Kapitany

The Maryborough meteorite is a new H5 ordinary chondrite, a single stone with a mass of 17 kg. There is no evidence for any shock-inducing event and the meteorite shows incipient weathering in the form of thin iron-oxide mantles around the Fe–Ni grains.

A terrestrial age of less than 1000 years is estimated from C14 dating. While there are a number of historic reported meteor sightings in the Maryborough district, none can be tied to the meteorite’s find site. To date, Maryborough is the third H5 ordinary chondrite and the second largest single chondritic mass, after Kulnine (55 kg), found in Victoria.

Related Article: Prospector’s mystery rock was no nugget, but something much rarer

Indigenous use of stellar scintillation to predict weather and seasonal change

Canis Major
The constellation Canis Major, featuring the star Sirius. Image: IAU.

Authors: Duane W. Hamacher, John Barsa, Segar Passi and Alo Tapim. Paper:

absorption coefficient
The absorption coefficient of water in the visible spectrum (using data from Pope & Fry 1997, and Kou et al. 1993). Wikimedia Commons.

Indigenous peoples around the world observe the motions and positions of stars to develop seasonal calendars. Changing properties of stars, such as their brightness and colour, are also used for predicting weather. Combining archival studies with ethnographic fieldwork in Australia’s Torres Strait, the authors explore the various ways Indigenous peoples utilise stellar scintillation (twinkling) as an indicator for predicting weather and seasonal change, and examine the Indigenous and Western scientific underpinnings of this knowledge.

By observing subtle changes in the ways the stars twinkle, the Meriam people of the Torres Strait gauge changing trade winds, approaching wet weather and temperature changes. The authors also examine how the Northern Dene of Arctic North America utilise stellar scintillation to forecast weather.

Extraordinary dimorphism in the Phyllograptid Harrisgraptus n. gen. from the early Bendigonian (Early Floian, Early Ordovician) of Victoria, Australia

Photographs of tubaria of Harrisgraptus eocaduceus showing the extraordinary variation in habit and morphology. Alphabetical ordering follows steps in the transition from slender-stiped U-shaped (A) to wide-stiped U-shaped (G), after which stipes gradually become more divergent and slender (H–P), until they are fully extensiform (P).

Author: A.H.M. VandenBerg. Paper:

This paper analyses two samples of graptolite collected and classified in 1933 by one of Victoria’s foremost researchers, Dr William John Harris and maintained in the research collections of Museums Victoria. Graptolites are fossils of small, aquatic invertebrates that lived during most of the Palaeozoic era (542 – 251 million years ago). Previously classified as two distinct species, the author identifies the two samples as members of a single population with extraordinary dimorphism, placing them in the new genus Harrisgraptus in honour of Dr Harris, and in the family Phyllograptidae.

Several authors have illustrated and described graptolites ascribed to Harris’ earlier classifications. All are superficially similar to the Victorian species but none can be assigned to Harrisgraptus with any confidence, as all lack the elongated proximal rutella typical of the genus. Most are from much younger strata. It therefore seems that Harrisgraptus is endemic to Victoria.

Resilience and reliability for electricity networks

Tree Damage
Uprooted tree damaging electricity network equipment (Credit: Nycshooter/E+/Getty Images).

Author: Jill M. Cainey. Paper:

The ability of any system to be ready for and recover from a major event is described as resilience, but resilience is not an incentivised activity for electricity networks and the impact of climate change means that major event days are increasing in number, leading to higher costs for customers.

Without a regulatory focus on resilience, a network may meet or exceed reliability standards, while still not being resilient in major events. Investing in reliability does not always deliver resilience, but investing in resilience is demonstrated to deliver significant improvements in both resilience and reliability, resulting in beneficial performance outcomes for customers using cost-effective and efficient network investment approaches.

A heatwave forecast service for Australia

BoM Twitter
BoM Twitter post showing the issuance of a heatwave forecast for the three-day period 27 to 29 December 2018.

Authors: Lynette Bettio, John R. Nairn, Steven C. McGibbony, Pandora Hope, Andrew Tupper and Robert J.B. Fawcett. Paper:

Australia’s mean temperature has risen by over 1°C since 1910, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events. Extreme heat can profoundly impact human health, infrastructure and the environment. Research conducted at the Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere shows that climate change is impacting the intensity and frequency of extreme heat events. One way that the Bureau has responded to this challenge is by providing a forecast service specifically targeted at identifying heatwaves.

A heatwave service has been developed with clear impact-based categories of heatwave severity and identifies areas expected to be impacted by three or more consecutive days of unusually high maximum and minimum temperatures on a national map. This service is now available operationally on the Bureau’s website during the heatwave season (nominally November to March) and is proving a valuable tool for engaging the community, including emergency services, with forecasts and warnings of extreme heat.

Do heat alerts save lives?

Death rates over 64s
Daily death rate (per 100,000 in affected population) of Melbourne residents aged 64 years and above, plotted against overnight temperature in one-degree boxes. Summer (magenta) and winter (black) are plotted separately. Data are from 1978‒2001. Individual dots are the results for an individual day. The short bars indicate the average daily death rate for the two seasons, in the indicated temperature range, five days after the specified overnight temperature. The two thin dotted lines indicate the mean seasonal mortality for all temperatures — the upper line is the mean daily winter mortality while the lower line shows the summer mean mortality.

Author: Neville Nicholls. Paper:

Short-term heat events (e.g. heat waves) and cold events cause more loss of life in Australia than any other weather or climate extreme. They are also, relative to other extremes, easier to predict, exhibit larger spatial scales and thus affect more people, and responses that can reduce the excess mortality associated with them are better understood and more readily actionable.

There is evidence that the heat-event alert system introduced in Victoria in 2009, and subsequently enhanced, saves lives. Improving and further enhancing heat-alert systems will reduce the costs, both human and financial, associated with heat events. This paper discusses whether a cold alert system is required, along with the possible reasons why the excess mortality after a hot event is of shorter duration than after a cold event, and why winter mortality typically exceeds summer mortality even for similar temperatures.

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