May 31 – Andrew

When we awoke this morning we were hoping for good weather since we had a full day of outdoor activities ahead of us, however Mother Nature did not appreciate this. Being the “dry” season in Australia you wouldn’t expect to see the amount of rain we’ve received in the last few days.

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We learned today why this wind farm was named the Windy Hill Wind Farm. At least we got to see this technology in action. Though these turbines spin at 38 rpm they do not pose threat to local bird wildlife.

We began the day with a bus ride to the Windy Hill Wind Farm. When we arrived there was a downpour of rain. All of the students ran for a shelter located within viewing distance of the wind turbines in order to snap some pictures before everyone ran back. We decided to hold out lecture inside the bus. Our tour guides Adam and Lee were both technicians that specialize in wind turbines specifically. Our guides were very informative explaining exactly how much power this small wind farm (20 turbines) produces. On a windy day, and working at their maximum, the wind turbines produce 600 KW per day.

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Some of the group huddles away from the rain as we observe the wind turbines before a mad dash back to the bus

Obviously it is easy to relate wind turbines to sustainability; however it is tough to gage exactly how sustainable the turbines are. The technicians estimated that on the day we visited the turbines were producing 9 million watts of power per hour, which would power roughly 9000 Australian homes. The electricity feeds into a local grid where the electricity company buys wind power from the wind farm at a cheap price. The farm is more than just energy sustainable, it is also economically sustainable. The power created by the wind turbines saves $400/hour every day for the entire year. This money will be used to stimulate the local economies.

Though this seems like a magical form of alternative energy farmers are opposing the idea since the companies installing wind farms typically buy up farmland of small time farmers to build these farms. Some farmers, however, have learned to work with the wind farm companies. The particular wind farm we visited was built on cattle grazing ground. The farmer rented out his land to Enercon, the company who installed the wind turbines. His cattle can still graze on the land; however the farmer gets compensation and the community benefits from a clean, efficient form of energy.

After the wind farm we visited Undara Lava Tubes where we visited the Sindicone volcano and the lava tubes (caves carved out by lava) created 190,000 years ago. While here we hiked 2.5 km (~1.5 mi) along the brim of the Sindicone volcano our guides Mac and Ian introduced us to many new species of plants we had never before seen including the blood wood tree, ironbark and python bark tree. These trees were once utilized by the Aboriginals for their unique properties such as the hard bark of the ironbark tree. We even got to see a wallaby up close here, which was interesting to see in its natural habitat.

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The group was stopped periodically to observe important areas of the volcano rim. This particular stop we learned about the nutritious volcanic soil.

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If you look closely you can observe a horizontal line of green vegetation. This vegetation is growing on nutrition rich volcanic soil. The path was a river carved out by molten lava hundreds of thousands of years ago.

When volcanos continually erupted long ago the lava flow took two distinctive paths, flowing around natural geographical features, in this case hills. In doing so the lava left behind layer upon layer of nutrient rich volcanic soil in the path of a riverbed. These areas are rich with vegetation on the surface. This was evident in the distinctive green paths you could see between areas of darker, brownish vegetation. Below the surface, however, the lava tubes created large caves under the landscape.  These caves are home to many species of bats, frogs, spiders, snakes, and many other insects and animals. We got to witness many bats, spiders, frogs, and even a snake that slithered across our path. The bats here are occasionally known to fly out of the cave when disturbed, but luckily we only awoke a single bat.

The first of the caves, the Mikoshi Cave (or little temple), was littered with animals bones, and had the walls painted with mineral rich deposits. One of the most dangerous parts of our venture was scaling down the rock layered walls leading to the caves. The walls were quite steep and you wouldn’t have wanted to take a wrong step. As rainwater seeps through holes in the rock created by tree roots trying to reach the volcanic soil the water deposited calcium (white), iron oxide (red) and manganese (green) on the cave walls. The succeeding caves looked the same but the depth and lengths varied.

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The group was very excited to tour these caves. I believe we all see the importance of conservation measures taken. One particular measure being the requirement of an accompanying certified tour guide to enter these caves.

These sites are a rich area of biodiversity due to the nutritious soil and the shelter the lava tubes provide for local wildlife. The nutrient rich soil allows for a plethora of different plant species to grow along the riverbed. The vegetation is even more prominent when natural wildfires burn down the surrounding vegetation since plants along the riverbed grow back so quickly.  Luckily in 1992 the Australian government deemed this site a national park so that the national park institutions could preserve these areas. The many species of wildlife that lives here would likely be struggling to survive without the government recognition.

References / Additional Sources:

Undara Lava Tubes. Bram and Gerry Collins. © 2008-2013 Dutana Pty Ltd. April 1, 2013. Web.

Adam , Lee . Windy Hill Wind Farm, Enercon. April 1, 2013 Site Visit.

Mac and Ian. Dutana tour guides. © 2008-2013. April 1, 2013 Site Visit.

Undara Lava Tubes. Festival Australia. Sane Earth 2013. April 1, 2013. Web.

Windy Hill Wind Farm. The Black Shed © 2011. April 1, 2013. Web.

Undara Volcanic Park. © 2008-2013 Dutana Pty Ltd. April 1, 2013. Web.

http://weather.mla.com.au/climate-history/qld/yungaburra – Yungaburra Climate History

http://www.yungaburra.com

http://www.yungaburramarkets.com – Yungaburra Market information

http://www.yungaburra-accommodation.com.au – Information about Yungaburra

http://www.thebackshed.com/windmill/articles/Ravenshoe.asp – Windy Hill Wind Farm information

http://undara.com.au/lava-tubes/tunnels-to-a-wildlife-underworld/ – Exploring Undara information

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