Tag Archives: animation

How the news moves


Don’t feel like reading? Fine, skip to the pictures!

My last post explored the spatial and temporal dynamics of news production, looking at how the intensity of news coverage about coal seam gas varied over time across regional newspapers. In this post, I will look instead at the geographic content of news coverage: which places do news articles about coal seam gas discuss, and how has the geographic focus changed over time?

Coal seam gas development in Australia has become a matter of national interest, at least insofar as it has a place (albeit a shrinking one) on the federal political agenda, and has featured (albeit to varying degrees) in news coverage and public debate across the country. But it’s hard to talk sensibly about coal seam gas — whether you are talking about the industry itself, its social and environmental impacts, or how the community has responded to it —  without grounding the discussion in specific locations. From one gas field to another, the structures and dynamics of underground systems vary just as much as the social systems on the surface. I am convinced that any meaningful analysis of CSG-related matters must be highly sensitive to geographic context. (My very first PhD-related post on this blog, an analysis of hyperlinks on CSG-related web pages, pointed to the same conclusion.)

Most news stories about coal seam gas are ultimately about some place or another (or several), whether it be the field where the gas is produced, the power plant where it is used, the port from which it is exported, the environment or community affected, or the place where people gather to protest or blockade. Keeping track of which places are mentioned in the news could provide one way of tracking how the public discourse about coal seam gas develops. And the most logical way to present and explore this kind of information is with a map. In theory, every place mentioned in an article could be translated to a dot on a map. Mapping all of the dots from all of the articles should reveal the geographical extent and focus of news about coal seam gas.

Why do this? (Other than because I can, and it might be fun?) Firstly, because I’m still a little sketchy about how coal seam gas development and its attendant controversies have moved around the country over the last decade or two. I’m reasonably familiar with what has transpired in Queensland, but much less so with the situation in New South Wales. As for the other states, where there has been much less industry activity, I know virtually nothing about where and when coal seam gas has been discussed. So a map (especially one that can show time as well) of CSG-related news would provide a handy reference for understanding both the national and local geographic dimensions of the issue.

The other reason to map the news in this manner is that it may provide a way to both generate and answer interesting questions about the news landscape (or the public discourse more broadly) around coal seam gas — and this is, after all, what my PhD needs to do. Continue reading

Queensland’s Groundwater Database – The Movie!

(Just want to see the movies? Click here.)

Every bore is sacred

In Queensland, as in much of Australia, water is a scarce resource. Except in the monsoonal north, the annual rainfall tends to range from low to unreliable. Good years follow bad years; droughts follow floods. The continued availability of water for human use and environmental health cannot be taken for granted: it must be planned for. In Australia, the responsibility for this planning rests with the state and territory governments.

When I joined Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources 1 in 2006, the state’s surface water resources (rivers and overland flows) were pretty well accounted for. Water resource plans — the state’s legislative instrument for allocating water among competing uses — had been prepared for nearly every river basin in the state. The department was now grappling with the more difficult task of accounting for the state’s groundwater.

In many parts of Queensland, underground reservoirs (or aquifers) are the only reliable source of water. Across much of the state’s arid interior, human settlement and agricultural activities would be virtually impossible without water from the Great Artesian Basin — an enormous sequence of aquifers that underlies much of the eastern half of the country. Closer to the surface, there are numerous alluvial aquifer systems — the most significant being the alluvium of the Condamine River in the Darling Downs — which support regional towns and intensive irrigation districts.

The Great Artesian Basin.
The extent of the Great Artesian Basin (Image source: Wikipedia, contributed by Tentotwo.

Over the past century, many groundwater systems in Queensland have effectively been ‘mined’ as water has been taken at a rate faster than it is naturally replenished. Drastic reductions in water use from these systems have been (and are still being) enacted to return water extraction to within sustainable limits.

However, determining what these limits are is no trivial task. The workings of groundwater systems are largely hidden from view, and the only way to develop a picture of them is to drill holes in the ground and piece together the observations taken at each one. I remember a groundwater engineer in the department likening this process to punching holes into a book and reconstructing the plot by studying the confetti. That analogy might be a slight exaggeration, but it does illustrate why every hole drilled, and every bit of data collected, is so precious. We can really only guess at how a groundwater system works, and sometimes the data from a single hole will make all the difference between a good guess and a bad one. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. The department wasn’t actually called this in all the time it was there, but for the sake of simplicity, that is what I am calling it here!