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Flooding in Australia?!

So, I have to write a blog about this amazing phenomenon that is making its way to the Outback this year. In the middle of Australia, there is a place called Lake Eyre, which really isn’t a lake at all most of the time. However, once about every 40 years or so, when it rains really heavily in Queensland, a massive flood slowly creeps down across the Outback, eventually leading to Lake Eyre, which drains about 1/6th of the continent. In its wake, the flood turns the dessert green, and fish, amphibians, and birds magically appear to eat, breed, and hibernate for decades until the next flood comes. It is truly an incredible thing to try and grasp—some of these eggs just sit in dirt waiting for up to 40 years for the water to come. How does something like that evolve? How do the birds know that the water is there in the middle of the continent? How can the frogs lie dormant for years, and then suddenly spring to life and catch insects? How do little country towns survive years of dry dirt and dust, and then suddenly welcome hoards of people who follow the flood waters to Lake Eyre?

I’m not sure that anyone knows the answers to those questions, but this year, there is a chance to see all of those things happen. Last year, floods reached Lake Eyre, and amazingly, they’re headed for the center of Australia again this year. I think they’re even going to be bigger, as there are several river systems that are flooded this year. You should check it out on Google maps. I’m pretty sure you can see the flood waters — they’re huge. I think you can see them heading toward Birdsville and also Innamincka. Also, there is water heading down the Darling River, which won’t make it to Lake Eyre, but will make it to the River Murray, and possibly to the Lower Lakes in South Australia. This is a pretty big deal, as salt water intrusion as a result of insufficient freshwater flows is a major problem for the Lower Lakes. It will be interesting to see how this sudden increase in water changes things for irrigators and the environment. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it since it’s closely related to my research here.

Anyways, we haven’t been to the Outback yet, but we have to go. You can read about it, but I don’t think we’ll really have a good sense for it until we actually experience it. And, to see it in bloom and thriving with life would be incredible. In fact, I think the BBC should do another round of Planet Earth DVDs and include a section on the Australian Outback—this may be their only chance in decades to film it. I guess this blog is mostly about how amazing it is that life has adapted to—and even thrives—in some of the world’s harshest environments. I get a little nervous even thinking about the Outback. There’s this saying that if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space. I think in Australia, if you’re not living on the edge, you either don’t need fresh water to survive (some kangaroos can survive on salt water), you’re able to wait several decades before hatching from your egg (like the fish and amphibians), you live under ground (people really do in Coober Pedy), or you can cover yourself in a ball of slime and patiently await the rain (like some frogs do). Basically, if you’re not living on the edge in Australia, you are one hardy soul.

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