No change in 150 years – completed with that?

by David Mason-Jones

In November and December of this year (2021) it will be exactly 150 years since a scientific expedition meticulously observed the water temperatures along the Great Barrier Reef.

On the journey from Sydney to Cape Sidmouth in the far north of Queensland, scientists measured the hourly sea surface temperatures of “the warm current that sets in south along the east coast of Australia”, now known as the East Australian Current, between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm every day is measured. The measurements began on the high seas from Port Stevens, north of Sydney, and continued near the tip of Cape York. On the return trip two weeks later, they did the same.

Led by government astronomers from Melbourne and Sydney, the trip was organized by the Royal Society of Victoria to observe a total solar eclipse predicted for December 12, 1871. but the subject of formal scientific research and followed the same protocol and used the same thermometer for each observation.

From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales [a637564 / PXE 722/1567]

The 1871 data published by Henry Chamberlain Russell in 1871 are the earliest consistently collected data on sea surface temperature on the Australian coast.

Russell’s data established a baseline against which current sea surface temperatures can be compared. The comparison makes zero the generally accepted hypothesis of rising sea surface temperatures in the Great Barrier Reef.

If the Great Barrier Reef’s sea surface temperature is trending up – and this trend could be described as “fast” – a 150-year comparison should be enough to confirm this. The problem is that it doesn’t make that sort of thing. Compared to today’s values, it shows no upward trend.

The main finding of the latest research report will be anathema to several research bodies. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and organizations such as CSIRO, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, WWF, and the Climate Council have consistently maintained that reef survival is due to rising sea levels and sea ​​surface temperatures is at risk.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority states that sea surface temperatures in the Australian region have warmed about 1 ° C since 1910, while the Great Barrier Reef warmed 0.8 ° C over the same period.

The main results of the research were:

First, compared to the same seasons (November and December), there is no difference in the average sea surface temperature over the past 150 years. That’s a long time and shows that temperatures are homeostatic, i.e. self-regulating.

Second, during the warmest time of the year (December to March), the monsoon water cycle acts as a self-regulating heat pump that keeps the average sea surface temperature between 29-30 ° C. If the water entering Reef Lagoon can’t warm up, neither can the North Queensland or East Australian Currents. There is no evidence that the process collapsed or is likely to do so in the future.

The operation of the heat pump closely regulates the sea surface temperature between 27 ° C and 29 ° C, but less than 30 ° C for up to five months and more than 20 ° C in winter (July to September). Low water temperatures in winter set the southern limit for reef ecosystems, not high water temperatures in summer, which rarely (and only briefly) exceed 31 ° C.

The scientist Dr. Bill Johnston found the 1877 publication while researching HC Russell’s contribution to meteorology in Australia in the National Library. The former lead researcher from New South Wales compiled the 1871 data, analyzed it meticulously, and correlated the temperature readings with the latitude at which they were recorded. This is vital as the warm East Australian Current cools slowly as it flows south from the tropics and eventually into the Tasman Sea.

The 1871 observations were used to derive the most recent data from 27 Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) data loggers from Thursday Island in the north to Boult Reef in the south. Both data sets were robust, comparable and suitable for studying the development of sea surface temperature over time. The AIMS data for equivalent times and latitudes did not differ significantly from the data measured in November / December 1871. It is shocking that this important scientific evidence has not been more prominent in all of the reef exploration of the past few years.

The result of this analysis certainly disproves the claim that sea surface temperatures in the Great Barrier Reef are rising and rising rapidly.

The results have now been published in detail on the Australian website BoMwatch – a website dedicated to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The data set with calculations is provided separately as a supplement to the report on the Bomwatch website.

On the detailed report by Dr. Johnston can be accessed at The full report with data tables can be found at The researcher and editor at BoMwatch want to make this a completely open field for scientific research.

In his final conclusion, Dr. Johnston states: “No difference was found between the temperatures measured at Port Stephens and Cape Sidmouth by astronomers from Melbourne and Sydney using bucket samples in November and December 1871, and the data at those times from 27 AIMS data sets from Thursday Island in the north to Boult Reef in the south. Alarming claims that the East Australian Current has warmed due to global warming are therefore unfounded. ‘

Reference: Lomb, Nick (2016) Australian Solar Eclipse Expeditions: The Journey to Cape York in 1871. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 79-95.

David Mason-Jones is a freelance journalist with extensive experience.

Dr. Bill Johnston is a former senior researcher with the NSW Department of Natural Resources and a former weather observer.


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