Science

Weather: Fowlers Gap research station feels the heat

Remote research . . . part of Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station
Wednesday, 9 January, 2013
Deborah Smith

UNSW Science's property at Fowlers Gap is the only arid zone research station in NSW and it was also the hottest spot in the state on Tuesday afternoon.

The temperature reached 44.2 degrees at 2pm on January 8 at the remote research and teaching facility, which is about 110 kilometres north of Broken Hill in the state’s west.

Administered by the Faculty of Science, the vast arid rangelands of the station provide a unique site for ecological research by scientists from UNSW as well as other institutions in Australia and around the world.

Many long-term studies have been carried out there, including on birds, kangaroos, small mammals and insects.

Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station is also a working farm, with more than 5000 sheep.

Acting manager, Garry Dowling, and his wife Vicki, said the temperature has risen above 44 degrees on several days this month, with the local weather station displaying a reading of 49.2 degrees on Saturday, January 5.

Keeping the sheep watered in summer is a “never-ending process” for Mr Dowling and his field assistant, Mark Tilley.

The Dowlings and their three young children came home early from a holiday to look after their animals, which include 10 chickens, four ducks, three dogs, a pig and a young joey, during the latest heatwave.

The family’s story of braving the high temperatures appeared today in an article, Cool in the pool in the state’s hottest spot, in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Some areas within the Fowlers Gap station have been monitored for more than 30 years, providing a unique record of environmental change in the arid zone of southern Australia.

One recently published study on chestnut-crowned babbler birds at Fowlers Gap found that these social animals, which forgo breeding to help raise the offspring of other members of the group, tend to focus their efforts on close relatives.

They work much harder to care for their brothers and sisters than for the young of more distant relatives.

UNSW science students go on excursions to the station to learn about issues such as feral animal control and wildlife management.

The scenic landscape is also a drawcard for artists, including students from the UNSW College of Fine Arts.

The station, which has conference facilities and a range of accommodation, including dormitories, cottages, and camping sites, has potential as a good place to study solar energy and gamma-ray astronomy.

The property has been held by UNSW since 1966 on a “lease in perpetuity” as a teaching and research station.