Category Archives: Climate change

Ice Bird – the unsinkable boat

This entry was posted on by .
Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Restoration of the sailing boat that made the first single handed voyage to Antarctica
Dr David Lewis was a courageous sailor, an extra-ordinary navigator and an adventurer with big dreams. He was the first navigator in modern times to cross the Pacific Ocean without using instruments, following a legendary Maori course from Tahiti to New Zealand. In 1972, David undertook another adventure to sail, alone, to Antarctica and circumnavigate the subcontinent. He bought a second hand, steel hulled boat designed by Dick Taylor. It was an 11 metre sailing boat, called Ice Bird and David and some friends hurriedly prepared it for his summer journey. The steel boat had a large amount of lead in the ballast in case the boat capsized. The trip involved sailing through the ‘Roaring Forties’, the ‘Furious Fifties’ and the ‘Screaming Sixties’. He encountered mountainous seas with 35 metre waves, constant gales, hurricanes and freezing temperatures. The boat was not built for such incredible conditions and capsized three times, twice on the way to the Palmer Antarctic Station and once on its way to Cape Town, South Africa. Continue reading

Hill’s Mini-Hoist rotary clothes line

This entry was posted on by .
Toy Hills Hoist "Mini-Hoist" rotary clothes line, made by Hills Hoists Ltd, Adelaide, South Australia, 1956-1959. Powerhouse Museum collection 87/664.

Toy Hill’s Hoist “Mini-Hoist” rotary clothes line, made by Hill’s Hoists Ltd, Adelaide, South Australia, 1956-1959. Powerhouse Museum collection 87/664.

I’ve seen this little 60-cm high Hill’s Hoist clothes line in our basement storage area for years and always assumed it was a model which reps might have taken around to secure sales. Clearly, lugging a full-size clothes line around with you was out of the question and this is a perfect model of the famous clothes line which sprouted up in backyards across the nation. However, research in The Australian Women’s Weekly between 1956 and 1959 revealed ads for a Mini-Hoist, a toy version of the Hills Hoist rotary clothes line.

Continue reading

These petrol pumps are history, but what’s the future?

This entry was posted on by .


Detail of Powerhouse Museum Collection object B1465.

Powerhouse Museum Collection object B1465. Gift of the Shell Company, 1961.

Young Sydney engineer Frank Hammond invented the ‘visible volumetric’ petrol pump around 1920 and licensed his patent rights to manufacturers in Australia and the UK. Garages purchased visible pumps to ensure that they were supplying an accurately measured volume of petrol, or ‘motor spirit’, to each customer. They wanted to convince customers that they were getting a fair deal, they didn’t want to lose money by supplying more petrol than customers paid for, and they wanted an innovative edge over competing garages.

Continue reading

Suburbia, apartmentia, adapturbia

This entry was posted on by .
Nelsons Ridge

Nelsons Ridge housing estate, photo by Marinco Kojdanovski 2012

Are baby-boomers responsible for Sydney’s unaffordable housing? It’s becoming a common theme of the property media with story headings like ‘Boomers put super squeeze on first home buyers’. And similar arguments are being made in the planning and architecture world.

Former NSW Government Architect Chris Johnson: ‘The big issue right now for Sydney is the pendulum swing from low density detached housing to more urban apartment living.…With a growing army of ageing baby boomers wanting to protect suburbia, Sydney needs a new swat squad of younger urban dwellers to support the new apartmentia’.
Continue reading

World Meteorological Day – early meteorology in Australia

This entry was posted on by .
 Lightning strikes on the Sydney Harbour, 7 December, 1892. The photograph was exposed over four minutes giving an impression of five separate stri...

Lightning strikes on the Sydney Harbour, 7 December, 1892. The photograph was exposed over four minutes giving an impression of five separate strikes. Government Astronomer H C Russell calculated the height of the Darling Harbour flash from the cloud to the water to be approximately 1540 feet.

Lieutenant William Dawes, who came out to Australia with the First Fleet, made the first recorded meteorological observations in Australia but the next set were probably made from Parramatta Observatory between October 1822 and March 1824. 
Continue reading

A hot topic: Solar Thermal Power

This entry was posted on by .

This post is part of an ongoing series of energy storage posts by intern Brett Szmajda.

When I say ‘solar power’, most people conjure up images of the thin, iridescent blue panels that make a patchwork quilt out of the roofs of suburban houses. But photovoltaic solar power — converting the sun’s rays directly to electricity — is a youngster in the field of solar energy. Its great, great grandfather is solar thermal power; and with the looming threat of climate change, heat from the sun could be a significant part of Australia’s renewable energy transformation.


Solar Heater by Lawence Hargrave

The principle behind solar thermal power should be familiar to anyone who has ignited dry leaves with a magnifying glass. Solar thermal power utilises the heat from the sun’s rays to do useful work. This object from the collection, invented by Lawrence Hargrave, illustrates the Australian inventor’s early attempts to heat water using the sun’s heat. Sunlight is focused by the conical dish onto the central pipe, which is closed at one end so it can hold a small volume of water. As best as we can tell, this was a hobby or proof-of-concept by Hargrave, who was also making small steam engines. However, around the same time as Hargrave was toying with solar, inventors on the other side of the world were patenting larger solar water heaters that could heat water for a household.

Utility companies have taken these basic small-scale ideas and supercharged them, creating solar thermal power stations to yoke the sun’s heat and turn it into electricity. (There are many alternative designs; most involve a lot of mirrors). For example, ‘power tower’ solar thermal power plants use several hundred mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a central tower containing a column of water; this causes the water to boil, producing steam that drives a turbo-generator.

A 'power tower' solar thermal station. Image by Flickr user afloresm, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

A 'power tower' solar thermal station. Image by Flickr user afloresm, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

The big problem for solar thermal power generation is that sunlight isn’t constant — a solar thermal plant must contend with clouds, inclement weather, and of course, nightfall. The Solar Tres power plant (a ‘power tower’ design) in Andalusia, Spain has overcome this using a novel form of energy storage: molten salt. Instead of heating water directly, sunlight is concentrated onto a column containing a mix of 60% sodium nitrate and 40% potassium nitrate. The heat from the molten salt boils water and turns a turbine, as usual. The advantage of this additional step is that the molten salt can store the accumulated heat (for the electronics junkies in the audience, it’s almost like a ‘heat capacitor’). So when the sun goes behind the clouds or night falls, the heat from the molten salt continues to boil water, turning the turbine and keeping the power flowing. The simple addition of molten salt to the system allows 15 hours of heat storage, meaning that Solar Tres can run around the clock.

Solar thermal plants have been rolled out in a number of locations world-wide, but the uptake in Australia has been limited to two small plants: a 1.5 MW demonstration solar thermal plant has been added to the coal-fired Liddell Power station, and CSIRO has a 0.5 MW solar thermal power station in Mayfield. The biggest recent development was in June 2011, when a 250 MW solar thermal/gas hybrid plant (Solar Dawn) was given 464 million dollars of government funding as part of the Australian Government’s Solar Flagships program. Solar power is a natural fit to the Australian climate, so I’d expect some considerable growth in this sector. Until then, we’re left to wonder why Germany has invested more in solar infrastructure than Australia, when the majority of Australia has more sunshine hours per day than the German average.

Oceans, data, and climate change: Sea Robots

This entry was posted on by .

Photography by Marinoc Kojdanovski, Powerhouse Museum.

Attention data nerds and science geeks, you will love this object.

This is what is known as an Argo float (I prefer the term sea robot), the picture doesn’t give you a sense of scale but the whole unit is about 6 feet tall. They are used to gather scientific data about the worlds oceans, and help in ongoing research about climate change.

To be exact there are 3000 of these floats drifting along in the worlds ocean currents measuring temperature and salinity in the upper 2000m of the ocean.


Image courtesy of Argo

They are dumped off ships into the ocean and using an internal programmable bladder system they delve down to be “parked” at pre set depth. At 10 day intervals they pop back up to the surface to transmit their data via satellite, then sink once again. They are designed to make about 150 of these cycles.

The best thing about the Argo collaboration is that all the data is available to anyone, in real time, from their website.


Image courtesy of Argo

The 3000 floats provide 100,000 temperature/salinity profiles and velocity measurements per year distributed over the global oceans.

The Argo float pictured above is currently on display in Ecologic: creating a sustainable future.

Real vs Fake: Museum objects

This entry was posted on by .

Photography by Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum

Whilst working on the new ‘Ecologic: creating a sustainable future’ exhibition, we were looking for objects to help us tell the story of climate change, and more specifically talk about the fossil record.

We searched for real fossils to put on display, and could have easily arranged some 100 million year old fossils to put behind glass in the exhibition. But no one can touch them behind the glass.

I frequently witness visitors to our museum, especially children, touching anything they can, buttons will be pushed, levers pulled, knobs turned, even if not designed to be touched.

We solved out fossil dilemma by getting casts of fossils (thanks Australian Museum!) and putting them on open display, freely touchable by visitors.


Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski, Powerhouse Museum.

I am curious as to what you think.

Would you rather.. be able see real objects that are safely locked away from your grasp….or to be able to touch replicas/fakes?

Old objects new ideas: volcanoes and climate change

This entry was posted on by .

Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

This inconspicuous lump of rock is actually a piece of lava from Mt. Vesuvius, Italy. It is one of the Museum’s earliest collected objects, having been purchased in 1886 in New York.

It was probably no more that a curiosity back then, yet it has been incredibly valuable for us to use in discussing contemporary issues.
It is on display in the Ecologic exhibition, and used to explore some of the causes of climate change (other than anthropomorphic climate change).

Large volcanic eruptions can impact earths climate reducing the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, lowering temperatures in the troposphere, and changing atmospheric circulation patterns.