Windows on Meteorology: Australian Perspective

Eric K. Webb (editor)

CSIRO Publishing 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 1998
Windows on Meteorology is a wide-ranging collection of papers on Australian meteorology. It begins with some short pieces on climate and weather in Aboriginal cultures — on rain rituals, seasonal calendars, and meteorological terminology, from Arnhem land to central Australia, and on the archaeological record of Tasmanian Aboriginal responses to climate changes during the last 30 000 years. Then there are four papers on palaeontology and ecology. One looks at the near-polar climatic setting of dinosaurs in what is now Victoria, when Australia was separating from Antarctica during the Cretaceous; the other three at adaptations to arid conditions and highly variable climate by Australian fauna — by crustaceans (water pool shrimp), burrowing frogs, and desert kangaroos.

There are six papers on the history of Australian meteorology. A general narrative survey is followed by studies of instrumentation and observing networks, of the centennial drought, and of 19th century perceptions of the "health" of the Australian climate (including arguments over whether Melbourne's climate was good for tuberculosis). Two rather technical papers deal with cloud physics from 1949 to 1985 and with research on "turbulent transfer in the lower atmosphere" (the latter is the only piece in the volume that uses any mathematics).

Turning to particular meteorological phenomena, there are papers on floods, droughts, and the Southern Oscillation index (the El NiƱo effect), on tropical cyclones, on morning glory cloud lines in the Gulf of Carpentaria, on dust storms, on east coast cyclones, and on the southerly buster. The papers in the final section explore Australian contributions to meteorological instrumentation: satellite remote sensing, the Jindalee skywave radar, fast-response instruments for turbulence measurements, the use of aircraft, and acoustic sounding of the atmosphere.

With a attractively broad selection of material, Windows on Meteorology is an enjoyable introduction to Australian meteorology. While it has the apparatus of a scholarly volume (references are provided with each of the papers) and its inter-disciplinary approach makes it of obvious appeal to anthropologists, ecologists, and historians of science, it is also perfectly accessible to a general audience.

June 1998

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%T Windows on Meteorology
%S Australian Perspective
%E Webb, Eric K.
%I CSIRO Publishing
%D 1997
%O paperback, colour photos, references
%G ISBN 0643060383
%P x,342pp