Media release: 2014 University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research

Winner: SEARCH Project, University of Melbourne

University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research0

University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research0
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

A 1000-year climate history for Australia

First Fleet settlers endured La Niña floods and heavy rains in 1788, but only three years later faced severe drought. And the 1997-2009 Millennium Drought was Australia’s worst since European settlement.

These are just two of the findings of the University of Melbourne SEARCH (South-Eastern Australian Recent Climate History) team, which has won the University of New South Wales Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research for their success in mapping a thousand years of climate history.

Previously, detailed knowledge of Australian climate history was limited to the start of official records in 1908. The SEARCH team extended that record back more than a century by drawing on the earliest written observations—thousands of pages of gazettes, newspapers and farm records, even First Fleet log books.

As well as teams of historians and librarians, the SEARCH team ‘crowd sourced’ the study of newspaper and gazette articles. More than 100 keen, volunteer citizen archivists scoured thousands of pages of online archives and contributed thousands of articles to the historical record.

But even more remarkably, the SEARCH team was able to build a comprehensive picture of our climate history over the past 1000 years by drawing on many fields of science, studying coral records, tree rings, cave deposits and ice cores.

“This was a landmark project drawing together scientists, water managers, volunteers and historians to extend our record of natural climate variability in the Australian region”, Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said.

The team has also shown that during the 1997-2009 drought the Murray River ran at a 1500-year low, and that temperatures since the 1950s are the highest in the past 1000 years.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.

The other finalists were:

  • The AIBL Team—from CSIRO, National Ageing Research Institute, Howard Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Austin Health and Edith Cowan University for their huge interdisciplinary study of ageing and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Professor Justin Gooding, Professor Katharina Gaus and Dr Peter Reece from the University of New South Wales for their development of biosensors capable of measuring release of enzymes from a single living cell.

Watch their YouTube video

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