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Introduction
Clare rainfall record
Photos, May 2008
Bennys Hill Road photo
A year later
Bushfire of 2009
Climate change or freak event?
Pine trees
Afterword
Index
Also see
Greenhouse;
Climate change

Climate change hits the Clare Valley

Spring Gully Conservation Park was hard hit following the exceptional summer of 2007/08, with heavy damage particularly to the red stringybark trees

If you find an error on any of these pages you will be doing me a favour by pointing it out so that I can correct it.
My aim is that everything that is not plainly an opinion should be true.
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
This page created 2008/05/11, modified 2013/03/08

The red stringybark tree community, that has lived in the Clare hills for thousands of years, has suffered very badly from heat and drought. It appears likely that, in the next few decades, they will go from being the dominant species in some microenvironments to becoming a scattered remnant in only small areas, predominantly with southerly aspects.

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Temperatures
The blue diamonds are long-term average monthly temperatures for Clare. Pink squares are averages of the temperatures measured in particular months.

Note that in most cases the temperatures (and in particular those of the spring and summer of 2007/08) were higher than those for average months (pink plots are above blue plots) – evidence that the climate is warming in the Clare Valley. On average the temperatures during the whole of the period shown on the graph were 0.79° warmer than the long-term average.

These data are extracted from Bureau of Meteorology records available on the Net.

 
Epicormic growth
Epicormic growth on one of the trees that previously appeared dead, photo July 2008. Unfortunately, many trees that produced epicormic growth in the winter of 2008 were dead by the following year.

Introduction

Spring Gully was first gazetted as a Wildlife Reserve in 1962 and later proclaimed as a Conservation Park to protect a significant population of red stringybark trees. It is at Latitude -33.91°, Longitude 138.59°, near Clare in the state of South Australia. The stringybarks (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) had, thousands of years previously, become separated from the remainder of the species which are in eastern Victoria and eastern NSW, see Wikipedia. Many of these trees have suffered badly from heat and drought, particularly in the summer of 2007/08, and an unknown proportion have died.

 

Nowhere to go

Kenneth Feeley, a biologist at Florida International University, was reported in Scientific American of March 2013 as saying that plants in the Peruvian Andes needed "to move nine or ten vertical metres a year" to keep up with climate change. Of course the red stringybark of Spring Gully area have nowhere higher to go.

March 2013; heat continues following hottest summer on record

I wrote this on 2013/03/09. The average maximum temperature for March so far has been four degrees higher than the long-term average. The BoM forecast for the next week if for above average temperatures every day. The summer has also been very dry. The next month or two will be very hard on the red stringybarks.

Senator Sean Edwards lives 5km away

Sean doesn't want action on climate change and doesn't accept the science.
Environmentalist have been predicting for years that as temperatures rise due to climate change, species on hills or mountains would tend to die-out at lower altitudes and gradually spread toward higher altitudes, where the lower temperatures would suit their needs.

It seems that the red stringybarks of Spring Gully Conservation Park have taken a big first step on the journey toward that local extinction. It is more a guess than an estimate, but something like a third to a half of the trees have come very close to dieing, or have died. As these trees are at or near the top of the Clare hills, the species cannot migrate to a cooler habitat at a higher altitude.

I revisited the park on 2008/07/27 and observed epicormic growth on many of the trees that earlier appeared to be dead. Interestingly the shooting is on the northern side of the tree trunks and larger branches, although apparently on all sides of smaller branches. Another visit on 2009/07/26 showed that many of the trees that had produced epicormic growth had died.

The Spring and early Summer of 2007 were dry in the Clare Valley of South Australia, a premium and famous wine-growing region. To make matters worse the first three months of 2008 were exceptionally dry; only about 16mm of rain fell in this period. The final blow was an all-time record long heatwave in mid-March. The results can be seen in the photos below...



 
This section added 2009/06/28

Clare rainfall record


 
Clare rainfalls
Note the decline in rainfall in recent years
The graph at the right is made up of Bureau of Meteorology data taken from Clare Post office (1863 to 1994) and Clare High School (from 1995 onward).

The average annual rainfall from 1863 to 1990 was 632mm, from 1991 to 2008 it was 557mm, 75mm lower. In the period from 1994 to 2008 the average was 525mm, 107mm lower than the 1863 to 1990 average. The curved line was calculated as a line of best fit to the data.

The steepness and persistence of the decline in rainfalls since about 1970 seems to be unprecedented in the data. Plainly the declining rainfalls, combined with higher temperatures, will stress perennial plants.

Worryingly, the decline in rainfall seems to be becoming steeper, there is no reason to think that the bottom has been reached.

Note on the data of the graph

It has reasonably been suggested that some of the apparent decline in rainfall shown on this graph could be due to the area around Clare Post Office (data to 1994) being a little wetter than Clare High School (data from 1995 onward); another possibility is that there could be some difference in the situation of the two rain gauges, or in rainfall recording (the PO recordings were manual, the HS recordings automatic). Unfortunately there was no period when rainfall recordings were taken at both places.

Clare HS is about 1km west of Clare PO, and at slightly higher altitude (in the Clare Valley, as in most places, there is a correlation between higher altitude and higher rainfall) than Clare PO. My property, Elysium, is about 4km west of Clare HS and at about the same altitude; my average annual rainfall (from 1996 to 2008) is about 20mm higher than Clare HS for the same period; this suggests that rainfall does not generally decrease toward the west in this area.




Photos, May 2008

Red stringybark The trees with the dark bark in this photo are red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha).

The live tree is, I believe, a bluegum (Eucalyptus leucoxylon).

Wyman's Track

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park


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Red stringybark The trees with the dark bark on the left of this photo are red stringybark. Those with the smooth white bark on the right could be bluegums.

Most of the bluegums, perhaps the most common Eucalypt in the Clare Valley, are quite healthy. The difference is remarkable; thousands of stringybarks are dead or near dead, more thousands of bluegums going on the same as ever.

Wyman's Track

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park



Red stringybark Another stand of Eucalyptus macrorhyncha.

Note that these trees are mainly very young. Many of the trees that appear dead in this photo will recover in time.

Wyman's Track

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park



Red stringybark and bluegums Most of the trees on the left are highly stressed stringybark, while the trees on the right (bluegums?) have survived with little apparent damage.

There is always a danger that when a major species is set back to this extent that the area will be colonised by weed species such as Spanish lavender.

Wyman's Track

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park


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Dead and live The majority of the trees in this photo are red stringybark. It seems that those on the right, being less crowded together, have survived well because they had a greater volume of soil from which to access water.

Wyman's Track

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park



Bluegums and stringybark Live bluegums(?) in the foreground, near-dead stringybark in the distance

On the track along the roadside

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park


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Big stringybark The tree near the center of this photo is exceptionally large for the red stringybarks of Spring Gully. It appears quite dead (but may recover given sufficient time).

The green shrubs are Acacia.

On the track along the roadside

11th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park



Ridgetop walk Thankfully the stringybarks along the ridge-top walk were not in quite such a bad way as those on the Cascades Trail and Wyman's Trail. However, many are near dead even here too.

Ridge-top walk

12th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park



Healthy This beautiful stringybark, on the park boundary at the end of the ridge-top walk, looks very healthy. Again, this is probably because it is not as crowded as where many have been stressed to the point of seeming to be dead.

Ridge-top walk

12th May, 2008; Spring Gully Conservation Park

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Bennys Hill Road

On Bennys Hill Road It was easy to find red stringybarks on the Clare ranges in May 2008. They seemed to mostly be dead and were easy to see because of their pale leaves.

I now know where there were scattered patches of stringybark that I didn't know were there. What a pity to learn of the existence of something by its apparent death! We can only hope that they recover and that the next bad summer does not come for a few years yet.

12th May, 2008; Adjacent Bennys Hill Road

There appear to be a number of other similar small patches of 'dead' stringybarks along the same ridge, on the western side of Clare. Most of these are on private property.

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Climate change or freak event?

 
Australian mean temperatures
Australian mean annual temperature anomaly – credit: Aust. Bureau of Meteorology, 2008
It might be argued that similar dieings could have taken place in the past every fifty or hundred years or so, whenever there was a particularly harsh period of drought and/or heat; that this event might not be unique. Even if most of the trees recover, the community could not suffer this sort of blow at all frequently without there being a great competitive advantage given to the other species in the community. If this had happened in the past, at more than very rare intervals, the Eucalypts other than stringybarks would have taken over entirely from the stringybarks.

The graph on the right shows the change in average annual temperatures from 1910 to about 2007. For each year it shows how the average temperature for that year compares to the average temperature for the base period, 1961-1990. Years below that average are represented by blue bars going downward and years above average temperature are represented by red bars going upward. The length of the bars show how far the temperature of that year deviated from the average.

The stringybark dieing was a freak event – to some extent. There was no dieing last year or the few years before that, even though climate change hasn't heated the world much in that time. But, looking at the graph and considering that there is a trend for each year to be a little warmer than the one before, how could any reasonable person doubt that the dieing is a combination between global warming and a freak event. Freak events such as this are going to be more common as temperatures rise.

Of course I am not going to convince the remaining climate change skeptics. There is a hard core of these who will die believing that it is not happening or that it is 'normal' or that it is nothing to do with human activity.
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A year later

2009/07/26

Year later 1 My wife and I visited Spring Gully again on 26th July 2009, a year and a couple of months after the visit on which most of the photos above were taken.

Many of the stringybarks had not recovered.



Year later 2 Quite a few of the trees that had produced epicormic shoots had not survived.

Here the tree on the right of centre has survived, while its neighbour left of centre has died after shooting.



Year later 3 Another view of an area with many dead trees over a year after the main 'dieing' event.
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Bushfire of 2009

November 2009

Bushfire 1 A bushfire was started by lightning on 2009/11/20 following a record November heatwave. It was reported in the Northern Argus that about 20ha of the park was burned; however I estimated the burned area at no more than 4ha a few days later.

This photo was taken 2009/11/29



Bushfire 2 A part of the burned area, photographed from the lookout car park, 2009/11/29. It is interesting that many of the leaves on the trees in the burned area have apparently not been killed by the heat; presumably because of the small quantity of fuel beneath the trees.

This will obviously stress trees that have already suffered from the drought and heat; what the long-term affect will be remains to be seen.

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Pine trees

Pines Perhaps the most conspicuous damage that climate change has done to the Clare Valley is to the older pine trees.

The red stringybarks are confined to a few small parts of the area and some of them are recovering (by February 2010, when this photo was taken), but the dead or dieing pines are widespread.

This photo, of aleppo pines, Pinus halepensis, was taken on the Blyth road about 2km west of Armagh.

Younger pine trees have suffered less than old, but perhaps young radiata have come off worse than young halepensis?

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Afterword

Isn't it about time that we, as individuals and as a society, started taking climate change seriously and doing something about it – changing our life-styles, closing down fossil-fuelled power stations?

What more must we loose before the apathetic majority change from their big four-wheel-drives to small fuel-efficient cars or even bicycles and our governments start spending more on renewable energy than on coal?

I reviewed this page on 2011/01/19, toward the end of record floods in Queensland and Victoria. Extreme weather events, including flooding, are one of the effects of climate change. "We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality"; Ayn Rand.

Will it happen again in 2013?

My wife and I visited Spring Gully again in early February 2013. January had been the hottest on record and there had been very little rain through Spring and the first two months of Summer. The red stringybark trees that we saw looked to be in fair condition, but should the Summer continue hot and dry for another month or more, as was quite possible, things could easily change. There could be another disaster for the red stringybark of the Clare hills in 2013.
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Index

On this page...
Afterword
A year later
Bennys Hill Road photo
Bushfire of 2009
Clare rainfall record
Climate change or freak event?
Introduction
Photos, May 2008
Pine trees
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