First HIGH grass pollen day for Canberra in 2016

The Canberra Pollen Monitoring Program recorded its first HIGH (>50 grass grains/m3) grass pollen count this spring on the 3rd November, which is significant for a number of reasons. The first is that it marks the beginning of the peak period of grass pollen production in the region, a period when grasses are flowering in abundance and producing enough pollen to generate widespread hay fever and asthma suffering in the local population. The second is that it has been preceded by a period of relatively wet and cool temperatures (particularly night time temperatures) that may have suppressed the onset of high pollen production in the grasses over September to early October. Nevertheless we have seen MODERATE (>20 grass grains/m3) grass pollen counts recorded as early as the 6th October which can be considered the the beginning of the grass-related hay fever season in Canberra. What this also means is that there are likely to be more HIGH grass pollen days in the coming weeks as the warmer and drier weather will be well suited to high pollen production, and this pollen will be particularly abundant in the air when there are strong NW to NE winds blowing.

The graph below shows the relationships between rainfall, grass pollen count and hay fever symptom score for the Canberra region since 1st Septempber to the 3rd November 2016. Our hay fever survey certainly appears to confirm the general principle that when grass pollen increases in the air we breath people suffer more from hay fever symptoms. While this may seem to show the "bleedin' obvious" it is important to try to understand when people begin to suffer, how many people are suffering and where they are sufferring the most. These are some of the main aims of the Canberra Pollen Monitoring Program and we will be bringing you further updates and results from our work over the season.

First HIGH grass pollen day for Canberra in 2016 recorded on 3rd November. This coincides with the highest Symptom Score (average) recorded via our @CanberraPollen app. The high rainfall during September and into October may have played a role in suppressing grass pollen production this year. * marks Moderate to High grass pollen days and these correspond to days when the Sypmtom Score increases.

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Peak pollen season could spell trouble for Canberra's solar panel owners

The pollen count has started earlier this year (September 1, 2016) and the new data is showing some interesting early spring trends. One of these is reported in the Canberra Times today http://bit.ly/2cwdrYf. What might we expect to see this September?

  • Tracking the rise and fall of Pine (Pinaceae) pollen and Cypress Pine (Cupressaceae). September is a month that both of these plant families are shedding abundant amounts of pollen (see http://bit.ly/2cCUfUJ and http://bit.ly/2c2l5Us for more details).
  • Other trees that are producing pollen at the moment are Elms (Ulmus sp.), Willow (Salix sp.) and Birch (Betula sp.).
  • We expect to pick up the beginning of the Grass pollen season sometime during the second half of September.

 

Yellowish "dust" floating in puddles along a footpath at ANU after rain is actually Pine/Cypress pollen.

 

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Canberra is still the nations Hotspot for Hay fever – but not quite all of it!

Over the past 2 years (2014-2015) the Canberra Pollen app has been downloaded and used by over 11,000 people. The information generated from the mobile survey has allowed us to pinpoint suburbs within the ACT and immediate surrounds that recorded the most severe hay fever suffering during the 2014 and 2015 season (see Figure 1). The survey responses were broken down into five categories (ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms) and these are displayed as the deviation from the mean response across the region. So those areas that are below zero (blue and green suburbs) all below average symptom responses. The suburbs that are yellow represent the mean response in the survey, and the suburbs that are orange or red all registered high level (above average) symptoms. The results show that there are a number of suburbs that continue to be well above the regional mean and can be considered as hotspots for hay fever (red suburbs). The hotspot suburbs include: Casey, Forde, and Franklin in Gungahlin; Melba, Holt and Higgins in Belconnon; Dickson and Reid in northern Canberra; and Macarthur, Gilmore, Isabella Plains and Calwell in Tuggeronong.

Figure 1. Hotspots for hay fever suffering in Canberra and the region for 2014-2015. Suburbs marked in red are those where respondents reported the highest levels of hay fever suffering throughout the season. Suburbs marks in blue show a strong negative deviation from the mean implying low levels of hay fever suffering across the season.

Most of these suburbs were reported last year as hotspots for hay fever, so the fact that in the second year of this survey we see the same areas recording hotspots for hay fever suggests that there may be some areas in the city that are worth avoiding if you suffer from severe hay fever or are susceptible to asthma attacks. The reason why these areas are hotspots remains unclear. Environmental factors are the likely to be at least in part causing these hotspots. The proximity of the Gungahlin, Belconnen and Tuggeronong suburbs to open pasture (grasslands) and pine plantations (particularly near Macarthur/Gilmore/Calwell and Holt/Higgins) may be a factor in those areas. The inner city suburbs of Reid and Dickson may be distant from grasslands but they have many streets lined with some highly allergenic trees such as the Plane Tree and Oak Trees.

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