Whipping up a dust storm in D

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Dust storm obscures Sydney Opera House, September 2009. Image by Janet Kavanagh, NSW Maritime, CC

While innocently vacuuming never-ending dust this week, I accidently sucked up the D harmonica which was lying on the coffee table. Said harmonica emitted a plaintive sound, closely resembling the wheezy noise of a piper warming up (think, You’re the Voice, Eric Burden’s Sky Pilot and that AC/DC song about it being a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll).

Alarmed (these little blues harps cost $45 a piece), I managed to grab one end before it disappeared into the dusty bowels of the 10-year-old Wertheim. After a short struggle and a discordant approximation of the intro to Blowin’ in the Wind, I freed the harmonica and continued on my merry way.

Most household tasks have fallen my way since She Who is Ambidextrous (SWIA) broke a bone in her wrist, although to be serious, using the vacuum cleaner has always been one of my chores. This machine has seen better days, but it still does the job. The broken hose is securely held together with gaffer tape and a pair of chopsticks. A while ago I priced a replacement hose at a vacuum cleaner shop (I could have bought a budget-level machine for the same money). The enterprising young lad managed to side-track me to a really up-market vacuum cleaner which, I discovered after a 20-minute spiel, cost $1,799.

“I could buy a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla for that sort of money,” I said, “Nice try, kid.

I went out of the shop happily humming ‘I love my Toyota Corolla, aha hah,’* having spent no money at all. Instead I went to one of those big red and green barns and bought a roll of gaffer tape.

Maybe 36 years ago (or more), I succumbed to a sales pitch when a colleague sent his uncle around to sell me a vacuum cleaner. I had been telling this colleague how the old machine was seriously incapable of sucking up not only dust but hair and dander from a Golden Retriever.

So Uncle Harry called around, to demonstrate the superior dust sucking power of a top of the line Electrolux, in the days when top quality appliances were manufactured here and sold door-to-door with a five or even 10-year warranty.

I bought the Electrolux on time payment, because that was the only way to finance such an extravagant purchase in those impecunious times.

I’ve earned a few million (sic. Ed.) dollars since then and that old machine refuses to die. It’s now the ‘downstairs’ vacuum cleaner, although I’ve been known to use it upstairs when (as is a common problem), temporarily unable to source the right-size dust bags.

“That old thing still does the job,” said She Who Told Me in Week 3, “I Don’t Vacuum”. (My Dr. said I shouldn’t vacuum- bad for the back. Ed.)

A while back, when the tiler had finished laying tiles in our downstairs rooms I (without thinking), took the Electrolux out and started sucking up tile dust. It was the smell that alerted me – smoke pouring out the top of the machine. The bag was chockers. I let the Electrolux cool down, put in a new bag and what do you know, it continued on untrammelled, a glass half full version of the Millennial expression, “This sucks”.

I’m completely sure no manufacturer today could produce a vacuum cleaner (or any appliance), that would last 36 years and more.

This line of thinking led me to research robotic vacuum cleaners, which can be bought for as little as $129 or as much as a 20-year-old Toyota Corolla. Choice magazine generally gave all models the thumbs down when marking them on the capacity to extract dust from carpet.

The intelligent vacuum cleaner does a pretty good job on hard floors, although why you’d prefer a round model over a square one (to get into those nasty little corners that harbour ancient dust), is a mystery.

The perplexing thing is this: where does dust come from and why does it settle again after one pass with a vacuum cleaner? As Quentin Crisp said in The Naked Civil Servant: “There is no need to do any housework at all.After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

Dust mites and chronic allergies

I will acknowledge to being a little bit fussy about vacuuming, ever since the allergist did the pin prick tests to show I was hyper-allergic to dust mites. On first discovering this in the 1990s, we hired a heavy duty industrial vacuum cleaner and paid an agile friend to clean the crawl space in the attic of our 60-year-old house. After the fourth big black garbage bag was passed down the ladder to the respirator-wearing assistant, our friend declared that was one job he was never doing again.

It’s not too hard to find out the answer to the question, where does dust come from? Science Daily surmises, not so surprisingly, that most house dust comes from outside. The scientists developed a computer model that could track distribution of contaminated soil and airborne particulates into residences. They found that over 60% of house dust originates outdoors. The study by the American Chemical Society found that contaminants like lead and arsenic can find their way into homes via airborne dust.

Researchers David Layton and Paloma Beamer found that household dust included dead skin shed by people, fibres from carpets and upholstered furniture and tracked-in soil and airborne particles blown in from outdoors.

The 2009 report mentioned above came out in the same year a 500 km wide dust storm the colour of Donald Trump’s complexion swept across New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian capital, Canberra, experienced the dust storm on September 22 and a day later it reached Sydney and Brisbane. Thousands of tons of dirt and soil lifted in the dust storm were dumped in Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea. Ah yes, you remember that.

Random dust storms aside, the real culprit feared by those suffering from asthma and hay fever is the dust mite. Scientists agree that dust mites thrive among the aforementioned dead skin discarded by humans and pets. The dustier your mattress and pillows are, the worse the problem gets. As this fascinating but skin-crawling article says, there could be between 100,000 and one million dead dust mites (and mite dung) lurking in your bed. Ugh!

What you need to do, every time you change the sheets, is to strip the bed, hang the bedding out in the sun then attach the nifty little mattress cleaner that may or may not have come with your vacuum and give the mattress a good flogging, so to speak.

Or you could buy a robot vacuum cleaner and instruct it to spend all afternoon roaming around on the bed:

As Hal said in 2001 A Space Odyssey: “I’m sorry (Bob), I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

*(a reference to Tiffany Eckhardt’s love song to her Toyota Corolla)  

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Rising sea levels and apocalyptic fiction

rising-sea-levels
Photo of Kulusuk, Greenland by Nick Russill, flickr/cc https://www.flickr.com/photos/nickrussill/146760303/

I’d always thought my song about the mountain dwellers ending up on waterfront row because of rising sea levels was not to be taken too seriously. It was an apocalyptic view of what might happen if it didn’t stop raining and, moreover, not a terribly original idea as it turned out. But the risk of flash flooding from above-average rainfall is only half the problem for people living down there, at sea level.

A loyal reader, visiting the coast from cooler climes down south was discussing his theories about rising sea levels and coastal tourist locations like Noosa, given news of the Arctic region’s third winter heat wave in a row. His attention had been drawn to Greenland, where temperatures have remained above freezing at a time of year when it should be at least 30 below. Clearly such weather extremes in the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic region must accelerate the process of rising sea levels?

As The Independent reports, this is happening even though large parts of the Arctic Circle are trapped in perpetual darkness.

New global projections forecast a sea level rise of 2m by 2100, compared to a 0.74m rise in a 2013 study. So far, the forecasts that oceans would rise on average by 3mm a year has provoked a scornful debate between believers and climate sceptics. Yes, the science is not wholly believed. There are people in high places who have made naïve and disturbing statement such as “coal is good for humanity”, at a time when most scientists agree that CO2 emissions, produced largely from human activity, must be reduced.

The spectre of melting polar ice bringing an apocalyptic end to civilisation as we know it has been a favourite theme of science fiction writers for a long time. Now there is even a fiction sub-genre known as ‘cli-fi’ which has spawned many cataclysmic climate scenarios.

The spookiest forecast, before cli-fi was a thing, was The Drowned World, J.G Ballard’s second novel, published in 1962. Ballard’s main character is a scientist in charge of a floating research station, drifting above a submerged London, beset on all sides by encroaching tropical jungle. A 50th anniversary edition (with an introduction by Martin Amis) has been released and it is available as an ebook. I’ve not read it, though, relying on Peter Briggs’ review for the synopsis.

Ballard eerily conjured up a world where polar ice caps have melted and solar storms have left us in an irradiated world. Europe is a series of lagoons, devoid of human life, although the tropical bugs love it!

The most recent book in the cli-fi genre which I have read is The Ice by Laline Paull. Her 2017 mystery novel begins with wealthy tourists aboard the Vanir, traversing previously frozen Arctic oceans. The mission is to find a (now rare) polar bear, but instead they find the thawed body of an explorer who went missing years ago in mysterious circumstances.

Fiction aside, the alarming temperature rises in the frozen north have had a bizarre impact on Europe, the US and Canada in 2018, which at this time of year ought to be seeing the first thaws of spring. A day temperature of 1 degree celsius in Greenland might not seem too warm to us Aussies, but typically the days are often up to 30 degrees colder. And this is not confined to Greenland. The most northern US city (Utqiaguik, Alaska), has also been enjoying a balmy 1 degree celsius − again that’s 22 degrees above average.

Meanwhile,The Independent observed that a relatively high pressure system over Russia and the Nordic north and a relatively low pressure system across the UK resulted in freezing Artic air being drawn towards the UK and causing exceptionally cold weather there.

The chorus of Waterfront Row ponders: “Little did I think when I moved to the mountains, I’d end up on Waterfront Row, renting out my shed to all those who fled the torrents and the foment down below.”

Imagine my chagrin upon writing and recording this song to be told (by a country music fan), that the song was similar (in theme) to Graeme Connors’ A Beach House in the Blue Mountains. I had not heard of the song but googled it (as you do).

We’re not the only ones taking ‘cli-fi’ into the realms of songwriting. Sunshine Coast songwriter Noel Gardner made up this cheery tune about the low-lying island nation of Tuvalu. He takes the role of the climate sceptic to satirise the controversy about Tuvalu and rising sea levels.

Some years back, the tiny Pacific island nation was said to be so prone to inundation its citizens might have to become New Zealanders. As it happens, some 2,400 Tuvaluans have already moved to NZ or neighbouring islands, according to a not-for-profit group that monitors world poverty.

They may have moved too soon, if, as the article below says, Pacific atolls like Tuvalu actually grow and float, becoming impervious to rising tides.

Now, a study confirms what we’ve already known – atolls, and in particular Tuvalu are growing, and increasing land area, writes Anthony Briggs. “So much for climate alarmism”.

Nevertheless, the highest elevation on Tuvalu is 15 feet and it is perpetually exposed to rising sea levels, cyclones and tsunamis.

An article in The Conversation says previous studies examining the risk of coastal inundation in the Pacific region have been conducted in areas where the rate of sea level rise is ‘average’ – 3mm to 5mm per year. A team of authors, led by The University of Queensland Senior Research Fellow Simon Albert unearthed outlying examples.

At least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands, where sea level rises are in the order of 7mm-10mm a year, have been lost completely to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. A further six islands have been severely eroded. These islands range in size from one to five hectares and supported dense tropical vegetation that was at least 300 years old.

Last year, new projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US revealed that global sea levels could rise by 2 metres by 2100 if emissions remain at their current levels. As the ABC reported, this is substantially higher than the 74cm increase proposed in a 2013 Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Under these new projections, Sydney’s Circular Quay, Brisbane Airport, Melbourne’s Docklands and North Fremantle would be among locations at risk. So too Stradbroke Island, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, while in South Australia the seaside suburb of Glenelg would also be in trouble.

Scarier predictions have been made, with scientists taking into account the prospect of Antarctica melting, as well as the Arctic, doubling predictions of a 2m rise by 2100.

Should we care? By 2100, the youngest person I know will be 89, so maybe she will care. Her children and grandchildren definitely will.

And what does this mean for Australia, where the majority of the population live along narrow bands of coastal land on the east and west coasts?

You can scare yourself (or reassure yourself) by checking out this interactive website which allows you to see the predicted results of sea level rises wherever you happen to live.

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Cape Town water crisis a stark reminder for drought-prone Australia

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Water stress map: www.wri.org creative commons licence

Cape Town’s water crisis is making news around the world, but nowhere should it be ringing alarm bells more than in our neck of the woods – South East Queensland. It’s not that long ago since the Millenium Drought (2001-2009) reached a dramatic point in late 2007. Brisbane became the first Australian capital to endure Level 6 water restrictions at a time when the region’s main reservoir, Lake Wivenhoe, dropped to 15% capacity.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the town water crisis is so parlous that taps were to have been turned off on April 16, but conservation efforts by the city’s 4 million people has pushed this out to June 4. Cape Town introduced Level 6 restrictions last month. Reports from the South African capital sound a bit like conditions in South East Queensland, circa 2007-2008.

The so-called ‘Day Zero’ – when water in Cape Town’s six reservoirs drops to 13.5% – means taps will be turned off and residents will have to queue at standpipes for daily rations. (Think dystopian movies like Young Ones or The Worthy).

A news report this week described a sudden sharp shower in Cape Town (10mm or so). People were said to have rushed out of restaurants, bars and shops just to feel the rain on their faces.

Residents are being encouraged not only to limit their showers but also to have baby baths over the shower outlet to collect the grey water for recycling. As was the case in Brisbane, Cape Town residents are being discouraged from washing their cars and flushing toilets (unless really necessary).

According to our local utility, SEQWater, during our own water crisis in 2007-2008, Brisbane residents successfully halved daily water consumption to 140 litres per person under Level 6 restrictions, which included a ban on filling pools. Gardens could only be watered with buckets (with water collected from those three-minute showers). The motto, ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow’ was nailed to many a dunny door.

Conditions are tougher in Cape Town, where residents are limited to 50 litres each per day. The Guardian reported that Cape Town’s water crisis was accelerated by a drought so severe it was not expected for another 384 years. Plans to diversify with more boreholes and desalination plants are not scheduled until after 2020. The city’s biggest reservoir, Theewaterskloof Dam, has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry since the drought began in 2015. The shoreline is receding at the rate of 1.2 metres per week, The Guardian reported.

Tucked away in its two-page feature on Cape Town’s water crisis was the colourful but completely unhelpful statement from an un-named homophobic pastor who blamed the drought on gays and lesbians.

Back home, South East Queensland’s water crisis in 2007-2008 ushered in a new era of water management, resulting in the SEQ Water Strategy, which set a water consumption target of 200 litres per day.

SEQWater spokesman Mike Foster says the biggest single change since the Millenium Drought was construction of a 600 km reverse flow pipeline network that allows treated water to be moved around the region. The utility also now has a ‘drought-ready’ strategy which is triggered when storage falls to 70%. Currently the region’s dam levels overall are at 75.9%, so nobody is losing sleep over the average per capita daily water consumption of 184 litres.

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Baroon Pocket Dam spillway January 2011, image by Bob Wilson

FOMM wrote in March that water levels at our local dam, Baroon Pocket, had dropped to 46%. SEQWater supplemented the Sunshine Coast through an extended dry spell in 2017. Baroon Pocket Dam is now back to 78% (this photo of the spillway (January 2011) shows what can happen when 750mm falls in one month.

Blame it on climate change if you like, but the Sunshine Coast region has recorded below average annual rainfall in three of the last six years. What really did the damage was an eight-month stretch from July 2016 to February 2017 with an average rainfall per month of only 43mm. Source: Bureau of Meteorology monthly rainfall.

The South East Queensland Water Strategy aims to maintain regional water security into the future through management and operation of a water grid including a recycling facility and a desalination plant.

SEQWater owns and operates 26 dams, 51 weirs, and two borefields, including 12 key dams which supply as much as 90% of the region’s drinking water. Foster says SEQWater is now planning for far worse events than the Millenium Drought.

“Cape Town never thought they would experience more than two failed wet seasons in a row. South East Queenslanders never thought we would experience two failed wet season in a row either.

“But we went through the Millenium Drought and nearly a decade of failed wet seasons.”

Foster says that if SEQ was again faced with a Millenium Drought scenario, the strategies put in place would allow water supply to be maintained with medium level restrictions.

Meanwhile, in far more parched countries

You might feel relieved to learn that Australia was not one of 33 countries identified by the World Resources Institute as facing extreme water stress by 2040. However, Australia is one of six regions facing increased water stress, water demand, water supply, and seasonal variability over the next 22 years.

The top 11 water-stressed countries in 2040, each considered extremely highly stressed with a score of 5.0 out of 5.0, are projected to be Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon.

The 2015 report forecasts rapid increases in water stress across regions including eastern Australia, western Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, the North American West, northern China, and Chile.

Nothing focuses the mind on the need to conserve water more than a summer camping holiday in a water-scarce national park. At the Bunya Mountains national park, east of Dalby, bore water is available in the national park camp ground. But it is labelled ‘non-potable’ and visitors are advised to boil and/or sterilise the water before using. We have a 60 litre tank under our caravan and we also take two 10-litre containers as back-up. Even so, after five days the van tank was less than half full and by the time we drove home on a stinking hot Sunday, we were sharing the last few mouthfuls from a water bottle.

Fine, just walk into the Kilcoy IGA and buy some bottled water, right? Maybe not. In Cape Town, supermarkets were forced to introduce a per customer limit after a big run on bottled water.

You may recall I was enthralled a while ago by Ben H Winters’ series, The Last Policeman. This cli-fi trilogy depicts the urban chaos developing as the population wait for the cataclysmic arrival of an asteroid which will destroy the planet.

Winters expertly conjured up underlying tensions between survivalists, conspiracy theorists or escapists who have “gone bucket list” or found easy ways to do themselves in. Then there are those with no particular moral code. As of the policemen in Winters’ second book says: “Just you wait until the water runs out…”

More reading: The 11 cities most likely to run out of water

http://bobwords.com.au/doesnt-rain-soon-mate/

http://bobwords.com.au/dont-drink-the-water/

 

If it doesn’t rain soon, mate

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Baroon Pocket Dam March 8, 2017 (Photos by Bob & Laurel Wilson)

Conversations in the street of any Australian town often involve the weather, which over the past four months has been bereft of rain or “dry” (pronounced “droy.”

Tim: “How’s things, Harold?

Harold: “Droy, mate!”

Tim: “Got 10 points last night – hardly worth measurin’.”

Harold: “How’re dams holdin?”

Tim: “Nothin’ but mud and mosquitos.”

Mrs Harold: “If it doesn’t rain soon, mate, we’re gonna move back to the town.”

The latter is the narrator’s refrain from one of my songs; the laconic farmer, chin up as usual, watching the ABC. He’s being harassed by the banks, making do with pumpkin scones and home brew and tells the wife that if she must pay bills, pay the one with the lawyer’s letter – today.

Australian farmers are well-used to Continue reading “If it doesn’t rain soon, mate”