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Hydrological Sciences Journal

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Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New



To cite this article: A. J. HALL (1984) Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea,
Hydrological Sciences Journal, 29:4, 399-423, DOI: 10.1080/02626668409490959

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/02626668409490959

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Hydwlogical Sciences - Journal - des Sciences Hydrologiques, 29, 4, 12/1984

Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua

New Guinea*

Hydrometeorology Branch, Bureau of Meteorology,
Box 1289K, Melbourne, Australia 3001
ABSTRACT As the northern third of the country lies
above the Tropic of Capricorn, Australia has a large area
subjected to tropical influences. Northern Australia and
neighbouring Papua New Guinea provide considerable
contrasts hydrologically. The meteorological and
climatological reasons for producing one of the most
variable rainfall and runoff regimes in the world (in
Australia) and one of the wettest and least variable
regimes (in Papua New Guinea) are discussed. The spatial
distribution and variability of rainfall, evaporation and
runoff (streamflow) are considered in relation to the
seasonal rainfall-producing mechanisms (including tropical
cyclones in the case of Australia) and topography (which
is a controlling influence in Papua New Guinea). Practical
needs for determining hydrological characteristics in the
region are outlined together with an assessment of the
status of hydrology with respect to these needs. Current
applications to water resources development and management
are discussed.

L'hydrologie tropicale en Australie et en Papouasie-

Nouvelle Guinée
RESUME Comme le tiers du pays est situé au nord du
Tropique de Capricorne, une grande partie de l'Australie
est sous l'influence de la météorologie tropicale. Nord
de l'Australie et de avoisinants Papouasie-Nouvelle
Guinée mettent en relief des contrastes hydrologiques
considérables. Les phénomèmes météorologiques et
climatiques qui sont à l'origine d'un des régimes de
pluie et de ruissellement le plus variable du monde (en
Australie) et un des régimes le plus humide et moins
variable (en Papouasie-Nouvelle Guinée) y sont décrites.
La distribution spatiale et la variabilité de la pluie,
de 1'évaporât ion et du ruissellement sont considérées par
rapport aux phénomènes tels que les cyclones tropicaux en
Australie, et à la topographie qui joue un role prépond-
érant en Papouasie-Nouvelle Guinée. Les besoins pratiques
de déterminer les caractéristiques hydrologiques et une
évaluation du programme d'hydrologie dans la région sont
indiqués. Les applications existantes pour l'exploitation
et l'administration des resources d'eau sont examinées.

*Paper presented at the International Symposium on the Hydrology of

Humid Tropical Regions, Hamburg, FR Germany, August 1983.
400 A.J, Hall

The area of northern Australia and New Guinea, of which Papua New
Guinea (PNG) occupies the eastern half, is situated at the junction
of the Indo-Malayan and Southwest Pacific regions. To the east of
this predominantly oceanic area are the small scattered islands
and atolls of the Pacific. To the west is the comparatively large
mass of islands of the Indonesian archipelago. The continent of
Australia provides the southern boundary of a region which is
referred to distinctively as "maritime continent" (Ramage, 1971).
"It acts as an important global heat engine, driving not only its
own internal atmospheric circulation but extensive regional
circulations to the north and south as well" (McAlpine et al., 1983).
While PNG is close to the equator (between 2 and 12°S) and is
thus well within the equatorial humid tropical regions of the world,
Australia is a continent of contrasts. These range from a humid
tropical continent from 11°S to a temperate moist climate at 39°S
with an arid zone covering more than a third of the country in the
centre and west. WMO (1983) defines humid tropical regions as being
located "principally between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn
and having a mean annual precipitation of at least 1000 mm and a
mean monthly temperature in any month of at least 20°C". An
application of this definition to Australia is shown in Fig.l and
demonstrates that only the top 15% of the Northern Territory (NT),
the top 70% of Cape York in Queensland and 70% of the Kimberley

120 130 140 150

Fig. 1 Tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea region (after Gentilli, 1972).

Plateau in Western Australia (WA) meet these criteria. The 20 C

line of mean monthly temperature in any given month averages 17-18 S
and is well north of the Tropic of Capricorn which separates the top
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 401

one-third of the continent.

The Keoppen classification of climate is in wide international
use and is shown in Fig.l for Australia. The division between the
A - hot climate, and BS - dry climate, semiarid, approximately
follows the 1000 mm annual isohyet (see Fig.2). The 20°C line is a
little north of the transition from BS to BW - dry climate, arid.
In terms of vegetation this line lies a little south of the
transition from woodland to grassland savanna. Only small pockets
of rainforest occur on the eastern coastal areas.

Fig. 2 Median annual rainfall over northern Australia (mm) (after Lee & Neal, 1981).

For the purposes of this paper the 20 C line is taken as the

southern boundary of a humid tropical climate. As such it follows
Thornthwaite's DA'w transition from a semiarid hot winter dry to all-
season dry line (Gentilli, 1972). In the hinterland of the NT the
20°C line is approximately 3°S of the boundary given by WM0 (1983).
However, with the addition of a narrow northeastern coastal strip
extending southwards to the Tropic of Capricorn between the sea and
the mountain ranges, this zone would be generally accepted as
tropical Australia.
The relief of northern Australia is relatively low with ranges,
where they exist, rising usually a few hundred metres and up to
1000 m in the Kimberley Plateau, WA. The exception is the Great
Dividing Range which rises to around 1600 m in the Atherton Table-
lands region on the east coast near Cairns. The generally low relief
causes little obstruction to the atmospheric systems which control
the climate. The notable exception is the eastern uplands which
modify the atmospheric flow in the lower levels.
By comparison New Guinea has a massive cordillera which extends
2500 km, making it one of the world's great mountain systems. This
is not a single chain but a complex of ranges interspersed with wide
valleys. There are also coastal plains which widen in some areas,
particularly in the Fly River basin in the southwest. The rugged
mountains on the mainland of PNG rise to 4500 m in some areas and
the larger islands mostly have Cordilleras, some rising to over
402 A.J. Hall

3000 m. In many parts the Highlands extend to the coast. Thus

although the climate characteristics are typical of other regions of
the world, they are largely influenced by the rugged mountainous
nature of the country and its maritime location in a broad region of
sea surface temperature maximum in the equatorial Western Pacific.
Generally speaking the climate of PNG is hot and humid except in
the Highlands where the days are mild and warm. All climate stations
below 2000 m have a mean temperature in the coldest month exceeding
18 C and have a Koeppen A classification of tropical rain. McAlpine
et al. (1983) have indicated the main Highland cooler zones,
distinguished by hachure in Fig.l. Most of the country has a
Koeppen classification Af - rainy, tropical, constantly moist with
forest covering the lowlands, mid-mountain and mountain regions and
about three-quarters of the land areas. There are also areas of
open savanna in Papua which are classified as Koeppen Aw - rainy,
tropical, driest season in the winter. Conditions throughout the
Highlands above 1500 m resemble the mid-latitude climates (Koeppen
Cf) except for the little variation of temperature and the absences
of summer and winter seasons. Low variability is a general feature
of the climate.
Except for the most northern parts of Australia, north of 12 S,
the rainfall, evaporation and runoff of Australia and PNG often
provide marked contrasts and are thus treated separately. The status
of hydrology and water resources development and management is
largely dependent upon the needs and development of the two countries
and also are discussed separately.
Although groundwater plays an important part in the provision of
water supplies in the region, particularly in northern Australia,
this review deals only with the three main elements of the water
balance, namely rainfall, evaporation and runoff.


The major meteorological controls on the general atmospheric

circulation in the region are discussed by McAlpine et al. (1983).
In tropical regions, the net radiation balance of the earth-
atmosphere system is positive, becoming increasingly negative at
higher latitutdes. The general atmospheric circulation and synoptic
scale disturbances transport sensible and latent heat from lower to
higher latitudes to achieve a balance.
Release of latent heat and vertical transport of heat energy in
the tropics is accompanied by convective disturbances and convective
cloud clusters which originate in an approximately zonal (E-W) belt
of high cloudiness and rainfall. This organised zone of high
cloudiness and rainfall containing deep convective (cumulonimbus)
clouds is known as the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ). In the
New Guinea region, two factors contribute to an increased frequency
of such storms relative to other tropical oceanic regions. The
massive topography of the Indo-Malayan Archipelago, extending from
Malaysia through Indonesia to New Guinea, greatly enhances convection
in moist equatorial airstreams. Further stimulation is provided by
the broad region of sea surface temperature maximum in the equatorial
Western Pacific leading to lower surface pressures, together with
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 403

high air temperatures and moisture content. The 'maritime continent'

is thought to be the most energetic large-scale heat source in the
global circulation.
The meridional (N-S) transport of heat energy from the tropics
towards the higher latitudes is largely achieved by the large-scale
circulation processes of the Hadley cell, a direct thermally-driven
mean meridional circulation, and subtropical disturbances which at
times extend well into the tropics. Also operating in the region
is the 'Walker circulation', a large-scale zonal (east-west)
circulation operating over the equatorial Pacific.
The east-west (zonal) components of the main tropical wind
systems tend to be stronger than their north-south (meridonial)
components and fall into three main systems. The most extensive of
these is a deep belt of tropical easterlies over the vast areas
between the subtropical ridge axes. The lower boundaries of this
system encompass the oceanic trade winds which are one of the chief
mechanisms for the conversion and transport of water vapour and
stored latent heat to drive the general circulation. Much of the
Trade Wind belt is overlain by the upper-level westerlies or the
"Anti-trades". In tropical oceanic areas unaffected by land masses
the undiverted Trades from both hemispheres converge at the ITCZ,
which remains within 10 latitude of the equator. Where land masses
intrude, the surface Trade Winds of winter alternate in lower
latitudes in summer with the equatorial or monsoonal westerlies. The
monsoons are developed mainly as a result of large seasonal shifts
in the temperature and pressure belts caused by the movement of the
sun and the thermal differences of the large land masses of Africa,
Asia and Australia and the surrounding oceans. The ITCZ may be
displaced up to 20-30° of latitude away from the equator in the
southern hemisphere.

The climate of northern Australia has been considered recently by
Lee & Neal (1981). They initially draw two general points: the
climate of the arid region and the definition of monsoons.
The climate of the arid region of northern Australia is a
climatic anomaly in global terms (Trewartha, 1962). Although it is
one of the world's largest deserts, its rainfall is not as low as
other deserts at similar latitudes. Furthermore, in northern
Australia the minimum rainfall is in the interior whereas in other
low latitude continents the very driest area is along the west coast.
Essentially this is due to the shape of the WA coastline and the
absence of a cold ocean current and associated upwelling along the
northwest tropical coast. Tropical cyclones and tropical rain
depressions can thus occur in this region, contributing greatly to
the relatively high seasonal rainfall.
The term "monsoon" means a persistence of a given wind direction
in a climate where there is a pronounced change in prevailing wind
direction from one season to another. In the tropics in the summer
monsoon, the seasonal wind is from the west while the winter monsoon
brings winds from the east. In the Australian context, Ramage (1971)
points out only a small proportion of Australia (approximately that
north of the 20 C line on Fig.l) is really monsoonal. The remainder
404 A.J. Hall

of northern Australia is dominated by the Southeast Trade Winds.

The climate of monsoonal Australia thus consists of two basic
seasons, known locally as "The Wet" and "The Dry". The wet season
generally starts late in the year and ends around late March or early
April. Nicholls et al. (1982) discuss the factors affecting the
start of the Wet at Darwin and give a method to predict this. There
are marked differences in the times of commencement and cessation at
one location and differences across the longitudinal spread from
115 to 151 E. Periodically the northwesterly monsoonal winds of
the lower latitudes extend well south across the continent and help
to maintain the tropical rain disturbances.
Lee & Neal (1981) summarize the mean low level wind circulation
features in January when the monsoon shear line is the dominant
feature, lying roughly along latitude 12°S. The northwest monsoon
prevails to the north of the line bringing a layer of moist air and
variable rainy conditions to the far north of Australia. The
heaviest rains frequently occur in the vicinity of the monsoon shear
line where the air streams converge. Monsoonal rain disturbances
and tropical depressions develop in the shear line, although tropical
cyclones form only over the ocean. South of the shear line the
prevailing winds have an easterly trajectory and are relatively
moist as they strike the east coast. Occasional disturbances in the
easterlies (or upper air disturbances resulting from interactions
with higher latitude troughs) can bring heavy rain to the east
coast, particularly north from Townsville where the mountains are
quite close to the sea.
The easterly flow may dry out considerably west of the Dividing
Range, but periodically the low level moisture penetrates into the
interior from the northeast. Aided by surface heating, sporadic
shower and thunderstorm activity results, which is enhanced from
time to time by the passage of upper air troughs associated with
higher latitude weather systems. The cyclonic circulation south of
the Kimberleys is a shallow "heat low", not usually an active
monsoonal weather disturbance.
During the dry season, generally from May to October, the high
pressure systems cross the southern half of the continent and can
often remain stationary over the interior for several days.
Northern Australia is then influenced by the Southeast Trade Winds
flowing out of these southern anticyclones. Generally the air is of
dry southern origin, but occasionally in the far north trajectories
are from the east and a few showers develop over the far north and
northeast coasts.
Tropical cyclones and tropical depressions develop over the seas
around northern Australia during the wet season. Their frequency
of occurrence and the tracks followed vary greatly from season to
season (Lourensz, 1981). An average of three Coral Sea cyclones per
season affect the Queensland coast and two to three Indian Ocean
cyclones affect the northwest coast of WA. On average, once a year
the NT coast is affected by a cyclone. Cyclones approaching the
land from the sea usually produce very heavy rain and strong winds
in coastal areas. Those moving inland lose their strength but still
may produce widespread heavy rainfall. Individual cyclones may
control the weather over northern Australia for periods of up to
one week. During the transitional months and extending into the wet
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 405

seasons, thunderstorms commonly produce short-period heavy rainfall

over a limited area.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's longitudinal position between 141 and 157 E
places it on the eastern edge of the Asian monsoon area and within
the region where the narrow Pacific ITCZ widens into the broad
maritime.continent doldrum region. The predominant seasonal feature
is the regular alternation between the two major airstreams of the
Southeast Trade Winds and the Northwest Monsoon separated by the
discontinuous and moving ITCZ. The southeasterly Trade Winds
predominate from May to October. During this season marked windward
and leeward rainfall effects occur, producing very heavy rainfall on
windward slopes of areas exposed to the southeast and southern face
of the central cordillera.
The belt of monsoonal westerly winds to the north of the ITCZ is
dominant from December to March. As the disturbances move from
east to west across PNG during the monsoon season they introduce
dissimilar air from many directions giving periods of heavy rainfall
interspersed with dry conditions. Within the perturbation belt the
air is generally warm moist and unstable, producing considerable
deep convective activity enhanced by the massive topography. Thus
highly localized heavy rainfall occurs in this season over most of
PNG except in the Highland areas.
Between these two main seasons are transition seasons when the
equatorial trough and the associated monsoon shear line in the
southern hemisphere are migrating southwards through the New Guinea
latitudes and strengthening or migrating northwards and weakening.


Rainfall in northern Australia is markedly seasonal, occurring
during the summer monsoon. Annual median rainfalls are above 800 mm
in the tropical humid areas above the 20 C line in Fig.l, and range
from generally 1200 mm down to 200 mm in the inland along the
Tropic of Capricorn in Fig.2. The annual isohyets have a general
south to north gradient across Queensland. Tully in the Atherton
Tablelands near Cairns on the northeast Queensland coast was the
acknowledged wettest place in Australia with an annual median rain-
fall of 4200 mm. Close by, Bellenden Ker Top has now been shown to
have an even wetter regime. Records have been kept only since 1973,
but already Bellenden Ker Top has set new records: in January 1979,
for the highest daily fall (1140 m m ) , the highest weekly fall
(3847 m m ) , and the highest monthly fall (5387 mm); also the highest
yearly fall (11 251 mm) occurred at this location.
As well as the rainfall in northern Australia being highly
seasonal (all summer rainfall, November-April), the rainfall is
highly variable. Particularly on the west coast, random tropical
cyclone visitations cause extremely great variations in rainfall
from year to year. At Onslow, annual totals varied from 15 mm in
406 A.J. Hall
1912 to 1085 mm in 1961 and, in the four consecutive years 1921 to
1924, the annual totals were 566, 69, 682 and 55 mm respectively.
At Whim Creek, WA, where 747 mm has been recorded in a single day,
only 4 mm was received in the whole of 1924. Great variability can
also occur in the heavy rainfall areas. At Tully (Queensland) the
annual totals varied from 7898 mm in 1950 to 2486 mm in 1961.
Because of the variability of Australian rainfall and the skewed
nature of its time series distribution, median rainfalls are used
instead of mean rainfalls. Rainfall variability is described using
deciles, e.g. the amounts not exceeded by 10, 50 (the median) and
90% of all recordings. The average variation over the area above
the 20 C line (Fig.l) ranges from 70% of the median annual rainfall
for the 10 percentile to 140% for the 90 percentile. Onslow, on
the WA coast, has the most variability from 40 to 180%. In the
high rainfall area around Tully the variability of the 10 to 90
percentiles is 90 to 150%. Darwin and Thursday Island, which is
close to PNG, range from 75 to 125%.
Srikanthan & McMahon (1982) in a preliminary study of the
stochastic generation of annual rainfalls report coefficients of
variation of 18% for Darwin, 32% for Mackay, 43% for Broome, 25% for
Monto and 54% for Alice Springs. The last two stations are just
south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Papua New Guinea

Rainfall in PNG is generally high, with most of the country

receiving between 2000 and 3500 mm annually. The spatial variation
of rainfall is considerable, depending upon the direction and speed
of air streams and the topography. For example, around 1000 mm
occurs annually at Port Moresby and over 10 000 mm occurs in the
0k Tedi area in the Western District (Brown, 1983). Figure 3
shows the mean annual rainfall for PNG.
The seasonal distribution of rainfall depends on the predominating
air masses discussed earlier. Figure 4 shows the boundaries of the
areas which experience the following rainfall patterns: (a)
predominantly southeasterly rainfall, (b) regular intense long-
duration rainfall and (c) occasional intense long-duration rainfall.
The predominant storm type in PNG is the convective thunder-
storm, although in many areas these are considerably modified by
topography. These storms are of short duration (commonly 1 to 1.5 h),
relatively small in area (less than 130 km ) and usually occur
between mid-afternoon and midnight.
Tropical cyclones very seldom occur in the area, although the
Milne Bay province is occasionally affected. Tropical Cyclone
"Hannah" is the most recent to cause any appreciable damage and
passed near Tufi in May 1972 producing a three-day total of 461 mm.
Storm rainfalls in PNG can be very intense: daily rainfalls up
to 583 mm (Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, 1973) and
hourly rainfalls up to 155 mm have been recorded. Most coastal
regions occasionally experience major storms producing daily rain-
falls in excess of 250 mm. Such storms are of long duration, up
to 12 h or more, and are of fairly uniform intensity. The storm at
Port Moresby in April 1946, yielding 650 mm in two days, is an example.
In a study of storm rainfall in the Western Highlands District ,
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 407



Fig. 3 Mean annual rainfall over Papua New Guinea (mm) (after McAlpine et al., 1983).

Shaw (1972) noted the high spatial variability of rainfall and that
few storms covered more than 30 km 2 . The Snowy Mountains Engineering
Corporation (1973) studied the spatial variability of rainfall in the
Laloki Valley near Port Moresby, which is the only area with a
sufficient raingauge density to carry out such a study. The storms
studied had an areal extent of 100 to 250 km 2 and produced areal


7-ÇSZ7 ;

\//\ Areas receiving main
rainfall m South Easterly

il i Sll Areas of regular intense

long duration r a i n f a l l s

r"-""^ Areas of occasional

intense long duration

Fig. 4 Rainfall zones in Papua New Guinea (after Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, 1973).
408 A.J. Hall
reduction factors from point to basin rainfalls which are much lower
than the values used in the temperate regions of the world,
Overall, PNG possesses a remarkably reliable rainfall and is one
of the largest constantly wet areas in the world. McAlpine et al.
(1983) have mapped the coefficient of variation of annual rainfall
for the 15-year standard period available to them since the re-
building of the network in the mid 1950's. They found that virtually
the whole country has coefficients of variation less than 20% and
that there is a clear regional pattern in their distribution. The
central Highlands and the Sepik plain have a very low variability of
less than 15%. Monthly rainfalls in the wet season show less
variation than in the dry season. Drier stations such as Port
Moresby tend to have more variable rainfall in both the wet and dry


Observations of evaporation over Australia using the US Class A
evaporation pan have recently been reviewed (Bureau of Meteorology,
1985) and the mean annual average US Class A pan evaporation over
northern Australia is shown in Fig.5. Average annual evaporation
above the 20°C line (Fig.l) ranges from 3500 mm in the northwest to
2000 mm in the northeast , and averages around 3000 mm in the NT and
WA and 2500 mm in Queensland. The seasonal variation is large, with
an average minimum over the area in June of 200 mm rising to a
maximum approaching 300 mm in November before the summer monsoon
brings greater cloudiness, higher humidity and reduced evaporation.
Higher evaporation will be maintained if summer rains are either
delayed or deficient. The year-to-year difference in evaporation

130 135 UO

Fig. 5 Mean annual evaporation over northern Australia (mm) measured by US Class A pan (after
Bureau of Meteorology, 1984).
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 409

is generally low with a coefficient of variation of usually less than

10%. Variability is highest in the inland areas where the evaporat-
ion is highest. Hoy (1977) showed that a significant inverse
relationship exists between annual totals of pan evaporation and
rainfall over most of the interior and north of Australia. Only the
southern portions of the area above the 20 C line in NT and WA are
affected by variations in rainfall. This relationship appears to
arise from the dependence of pan evaporation on incoming radiation
and vapour pressure of the air both of which are correlated with
rainfall in the drier inland areas.

Papua New Guinea

Observations of evaporation over PNG using the US Class A
evaporation pan did not commence until 1967, and at the time a
detailed study of these data was made (Keig et al., 1979) only seven
evaporation stations were available on the mainland. There were
sufficient data to allow an estimation of evaporation at a further
eight stations using the combination method (Penman, 1948), but even
this expanded network was insufficient for reliable spatial
extrapolation. However, mean monthly temperature and mean monthly
index of relative humidity data were available for a total of 64
reasonably well distributed climate stations and sunshine data were
available for 15 of these. The method of estimating US Class A pan
data proposed by Christiansen (1948) was used by Keig et al. (1979)
after adjusting the coefficients by fitting the equation to existing
records, to provide a consistent set of data for the 64 stations.
Figure 6 is based on the above data and shows that the highest
rates of annual US Class A evaporation are in the order of 2300 to


Fig. 6 Mean annual evaporation over Papua New Guinea (mm) calculated as US Class
A pan equivalent (after Keig ef a/., 1979).
410 A.J. Hall

2340 mm in the coastal areas experiencing the longer drier seasons

and lowest rainfall. Annual evaporation is lowest in the Highlands
generally ranging from 1600 to 1800 mm with some areas below 1500 mm.
Keig et al. (1979) found that the seasonal variation in the rates of
evaporation was slight and, as with rainfall, it tended to decrease
at higher altitudes.


The average annual runoff of humid tropical Australia above the
20 C line (Fig.l) is 220 mm. This is based on a recent assessment
(Brown, 1983a) and shows a wide variation of annual runoffs of well
over 1000 mm for small basins on the far north Queensland east
coast to less than 100 mm for some of the WA basins. Figure 7 shows
the average annual runoff over tropical Australia and is based on
the above assessment which uses long-term records of discharge and
rainfall to provide measured and estimated values.

Fig. 7 Observed and estimated runoff for northern Australia (mm} (after Brown, 1983a).

Rainfall exceeds evaporation for the first three months of the

year in the NT above 15 S and all of Queensland above the 20°C line,
for all the areas above approximately 18°S for the first two months
of the year and, for March, that area above 15°S latitude. In
December, a small area along the NT coast near Darwin, and the tip
of Cape York peninsula in December and April, have rainfall greater
than evaporation. Thus the bulk of the runoff in these months is
associated with storm rainfall from tropical cyclones or heavy
monsoon rains.
A measure of hydrological variability is the coefficient of
variation. McMahon (1978) presents a figure giving the variation
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 411

of this statistic applied to annual streamflows in Australia. The

1.0 coefficient of variation line approximately follows the 20 C
line in Fig.l and is the upper value of this statistic in humid
tropical Australia. The wetter regions of higher rainfall and lower
evaporation, along the NT coast near Darwin, Cape York Peninsula
and south of the 20 C line on the northeastern Queensland coast,
have a value around 0.5. These values are similar to the Australian
average of 0.75 and are considerably higher than the world average
of 0.27, both excluding arid zones which have different character-
istics (McMahon, 1982). Furthermore, the range of these values in
Australia (0.19-1.83) is much higher than in the rest of the world
The variability of peak annual discharges is also an important
characteristic of the hydrological regimes. In a similar way to
his analysis of annual streamflows, McMahon (1982) has examined
annual peak discharges. Flood data are usually examined in the
logarithmic domain rather than using natural flows. For Australian
streams, excluding those in the arid zone, McMahon found the mean
standard deviation of the logarithms of the annual peak flows to
be 0.35 (range 0.12-1.3). This is more than twice the world non-
arid zone average of 0.15 (range 0.06-0.36).

Papua New Guinea

The average annual runoff of PNG has been estimated at 2100 mm
(Aitken et al., 1972). This makes it one of the highest values in
the world and nearly ten times that of humid tropical Australia.
High runoff is aided by short showers of high intensity and steep
mountainous slopes.
Laurenson (1973) noted from his studies of the Ramu River, in
the area to the south and west of Madang, that there is a high
degree of uniformity from year to year of annual storm and flood
intensities, and a high degree of variability from point to point.
This was also noted by Shaw (1972) for the Highlands, and more
generally by Pilgrim (1972) and Snowy Mountains Engineering
Corporation (1973). Laurenson (1973) showed that the standard
deviations of the logarithms of the mean annual floods for the two
Ramu River basins were 0.03 and 0.10. These are much lower than
the values normally found in temperate regions and on average are
less than one third of the values for northern Queensland or mid-
A water balance approach was used by McAlpine et al. (1983) to
produce Fig.8. Using a weekly balance of rainfall, evaporation and
soil moisture, the analysis was carried out for 64 stations. Port
Moresby in the dry south area of the country has mean weekly rain-
fall exceeding evaporation by a significant amount on average from
late December to May. For the remainder of the year the reverse
is the case. At Madang, in a more humid area, the seasonal pattern
of the rainfall is less pronounced and precipitation exceeds
evaporation for all months of the year. McAlpine et al. (1983)
found that the variability of mean annual runoff is low. The total
range of variability at most of the stations studied in their
15-year standard period was less than the median. Half of the
yearly runoff values vary from the median by only 10-20%.
412 A.J. Hall

Fig. 8 Estimated mean annual runoff for Papua New Guinea (mm) (after McAlpine
efa/., 1983).


Hydrological networks
Australia There are approximately 400 raingauges in the humid
tropics of Australia giving a density of 2600 km per station.
This is fewer than the minimum density for a flat region in a
tropical zone of 600-900 km 2 per station suggested by WMO (1981).
However, the density lies within the range of provisional norms
tolerated in difficult conditions of 900-3000 km 2 per station.
Without taking into account the spatial distribution of the rain-
gauges in the region and considering the difficult conditions
imposed by a sparsely populated area, the raingauge network is
reasonable. The number of US Class A pan evaporation stations of
22, with a density of 42 000 km 2 per station, is within the
recommended minimum of 50 000 km per station.
There are some 250 streamgauging stations operating in this
region. The density of streamgauging stations is 3700 km per
station which is less than the WMO recommended density for flat
regions in tropical zones of 1000-2500, but within the range of
300-10 000 km 2 per station tolerated under difficult conditions.
Again, not taking into account the spatial distribution of stations,
and considering the sparse population and access difficulties ,
particularly in the wet season, the streamgauging network is
generally adequate. This is a reflection of the concerted effort by
Federal and State Governments to improve water resources assessment
in Australia during a period which coincided with the International
Hydrological Decade, 1965-1974.
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 413

Papua New Guinea There are now about 300 rainfall stations in
PNG, giving a density of 1500 km 2 per station. The Snowy Mountains
Engineering Corporation (1974) reports that approximately 440
stations were operating in 1973. The current overall number of
gauges is less than that recommended by WM0 (1981), which suggests
an area of 100-250 km per station for mountainous regions in
tropical zones. For small mountainous islands of less than 20 000
km with very irregular precipitation and a very dense stream
network, as are most of the PNG islands, the minimum density
recommended is 25 km per station. Under difficult conditions a
density of 250-1000 km' per station may be tolerated in the tropics,
and under very difficult conditions a density of 2000 km per
station may have to be accepted. Thus discounting the smaller
islands, and if it were well distributed, the rainfall network is
considered reasonable. There are 12 Class A pan evaporation
stations with a density of 38 000 km per station, which is within
the recommended value.
Approximately 95 streamgauging stations are operating in PNG
including 12 installed on small catchments in the 0k Tedi mining
development area and three on Bougainville Island. The present
density of stations is roughly 5000 km per station which is outside
the range of norms for a minimum network for mountainous regions in
tropical zones of 300-1000 km 2 but at the limit of 5000 km 2 per
station tolerated under difficult conditions. On small mountainous
islands with very irregular precipitation and a very dense stream
network, a density of 140-300 km per station is recommended.
Taking into account the uneven distribution of streamgauging
stations in PNG, the network is not adequate.
Hydrological analysis and design procedures
Australia Rainfall data in Australia have undergone considerable
analysis, and design procedures are available for the estimation of
rainfall events from short storms of low return period up to major
storms used to derive estimates of probable maximum precipitation
(PMP). Heavy rainfalls in Australia are usually analysed using the
lognormal distribution. Procedures have been developed by the
Bureau of Meteorology for the estimation of rainfall intensity-
frequency-duration values for return periods of up to 100 years and
durations up to 72 h (Institution of Engineers, 1977). These are
currently under review by the Bureau and extensive analysis is being
undertaken to include the effects of factors such as topography,
dewpoint and location, to extrapolate rainfall intensities to
ungauged areas. Procedures for estimating PMP have recently been
upgraded (Kennedy & Hart, 1984) and include a generalized tropical
cyclone model and wider application of the US Thunderstorm Model.
These models not only greatly reduce the work involved in deriving
these estimates, but have enabled them to be made with greater
confidence in the more data-sparse and lower cyclone frequency
northwest areas and have provided regional consistency.
Flood estimation procedures have been derived by a number of
groups in the region and have been reviewed by Pilgrim & Cordery
(1980). Approximately one third of the estimates are made using
Australian Rainfall and Runoff - Flood Analysis and Design
414 A.J. Hall

(Institution of Engineers, 1977) and most other estimates use State

Mains Roads Department manuals. The Rational Method remains the
most commonly used; however, there is an increasing application of
synthetic unitgraph and runoff routing methods. While most flood
estimates are based on design rainfall intensity data, regional
flood frequency procedures have been derived for each State in the
humid tropics, the most recent being in Queensland (Boughton &
Collings, 1982). The wide variation of streamflow has led to the
general use of the three-parameter log-Pearson type III distribution,
although the lognormal, Gumbel or log-Gumbel have been used
successfully, particularly for lower return periods.
Two lognormal frequency distributions to describe separately the
cyclone and non-cyclone 24-h annual rainfall series were used to
derive a complex distribution and were converted and compared to
the annual flow series by Ashkanasy & Weeks (1974). The authors
concluded that the application of the lognormal distribution to the
simple annual maxima series is not suitable for extrapolation to
even the 1% level and that the effects of the different rainfall
producing mechanisms should be examined. Further work by Canterford
& Pierrehumbert (1977) showed that in tropical Australia, in
particular the northwest region, for the primary one-day rainfall
series, single distribution types were inadequate for the analysis of
return periods of 50 years or greater. A double distribution model,
or separation of annual maximum rainfalls associated with tropical
cyclones from those associated with other rainfall producing
mechanisms, was required to define the series adequately.
One water supply reservoir in the region, at Manton Dam 60 km
south of Darwin, and a second a little south of the 20°C line near
Mt Isa, Queensland, have been studied in detail as part of a national
lake evaporation project (Hoy & Stephens, 1979). Estimates of lake
evaporation by the bulk aerodynamic method, the pan conversion
method and, where possible, the water balance method were evaluated
relative to the heat budget method for seven Australian lakes. At
Manton Reservoir only the bulk aerodynamic method has been shown to
estimate monthly evaporation totals with a standard error of
estimate of better than 10%. Hoy (1977) found US Class A pan-to-
lake conversion factors to be generally higher than those derived
in other countries and were significantly correlated with annual
rainfall. Isopleths of the conversion factor show values above 0.8
in the vicinity of the 20 C line (Fig.l) and values above 0.9 in
the region north of 15 S.
Streamflow simulation using conceptual rainfall-runoff models
has had little application in the humid tropical region of
Australia. A monthly streamflow model similar to the one developed
by Boughton (1966) has been used in the NT for water supply resource
modelling and in the uranium province where water quality is the
main concern. The Sacramento Streamflow Simulation Model (Burnash
et al., 1973) has been applied unsuccessfully to a small rocky
catchment in the Kimberleys, WA. A number of basins have been
successfully analysed using this model in Queensland north of the
Tropic of Capricorn.
Streamflow generation of annual flows using stochastic time
series models is reviewed by McMahon (1977). Values of basic
parameters, distribution types and Hurst exponents for 40 north
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 415

Australian streams were examined. As well as the gamma distribution,

the Weibull distribution was found to be a suitable distribution for
flow generating models. The parameter values of the Hurst exponents
were related to each other and to lag-one serial correlation
coefficients. Overall, regional trends in the time series character-
istics were not strong.
Storage-yield analysis techniques and low flow analysis have
received considerable attention in Australia. McMahon (1976) has
derived a simple equation relating reservoir storage to the
coefficient of variation of annual flows, draft rate and probability
of failure of supply. Procedures are also given for estimating mean
flow, coefficients of variation and serial correlation for gauged
and ungauged basins, including an adjustment factor for net
evaporation loss. Teoh & McMahon (1978) evaluated eight rapid
storage-yield analysis procedures suitable for preliminary studies
or regional surveys and found the simple method outlined above and
Gould's (gamma) procedure (Gould, 1961) to be satisfactory.
To determine adequate land management and forest management
systems to cope satisfactorily with the annual wet season deluge,
the Queensland Department of Forestry established a hydrological
research programme in the rainforests of north Queensland in the
late 1960's. In the mid 1970's, experiments to monitor the effects
of logging and land clearing practices were expanded in conjunction
with James Cook University of North Queensland to include detailed
studies of the hydrological processes. The most recent summary of
this work in basins north of Innisfail and between the coast and the
high rainfall area around Belenden Ker is given by Gilmour et al.
(1982). The most significant findings were that logging produced a
doubling of suspended sediment during high flows while clearing
produced a ten-fold increase and the process studies demonstrated
that substantial overland flow occurred in the undisturbed rainforest

Papua New Guinea A flood estimation manual for PNG has been
prepared by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (1973).
Generalized procedures are given for the determination of rainfall
intensity-frequency-duration data for PNG using a rainfall intensity
index which is modified for basin elevation and slope, mean annual
rainfall over the basin and a rainfall duration factor. The log-
normal distribution was used in this analysis. PMP estimates have
been provided for several basins by the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology. For areas up to 1000 km and durations up to 6 h the
US Thunderstorm Model has been used. For longer durations, such as
24 h, the 6-h estimate derived using this method is multiplied by
the ratio of the highest observed 24-h to 6-h falls in the area
concerned (Kennedy & Hall, 1981).
The regional frequency method using parameters of basin area,
rainfall intensity and slope was assessed as being more accurate
(+50%,-35%) than the other procedures for basins over 200 km . The
general accuracy of unitgraph procedures in PNG is low. This can be
attributed to the large spatial variation in basin rainfall.
Laurenson (1973) in his studies of the flood characteristics of a
larger basin, the Ramu River, reached the same conclusion. He
rejected the unitgraph method because of the high spatial variability
416 A.J.Hall
of storms and high baseflow of the river, and used a flood frequency
analysis of the annual maximum series for flood estimation. Pilgrim
(1972) used the annual maximum series to carry out a frequency
analysis of several streams and noted the low variability of annual
flood peaks. In this investigation of flood estimation for road
design he also showed the Rational Method to be valid in the region.
The regional flood frequency approach has been extensively studied
more recently by Atkins (1980). The lognormal distribution was
confirmed as being the best frequency distribution for PNG streams.
The correlation between flood flows and catchment area were found to
be much higher than most published values, particularly at the
longer return periods. In addition to those used earlier, parameters
based on the number of stream junctions were introduced. At higher
return periods the latter and basin area were sufficient to produce
good results. This suggests "the climate is printed on the basin
provided the geomorphology and the climate are in equilibrium"
(Atkins, 1980).
Runoff studies have been largely in conjunction with hydroelectric
power and mining development and have centred on the Laloki and Ramu,
Purari, Musa and Ok Tedi Rivers. Ribeny & Brown (1968) used a simple
conceptual rainfall-runoff model to predict weekly runoff in the
Lakoki and Ramu basins. The same model was used by Cross & Higgins
(undated) for basins in the lower Asaro and Waghi Rivers. Japanese
consultants used the Tank Model (Sugawara, 1961) in the Purari
Basin Wabo Power Project investigations (Snowy Mountains Engineering
Corporation (SMEC) with Nippon Koei Co. Ltd and others, 1977). Brown
(1983b) describes the use of the Sacramento Model (Burnash et al.,
1973) and the Australian Representative Basin (ARB) Model (AWRC,
1972) to generate daily streamflow data from rainfall in the Ok Tedi
region. A relatively short calibration period of 19 months was found
to be quite adequate to calibrate the Sacramento Model in this wet
tropical region on the 240 km Ok Menga basin. Both models gave
similar results when estimating daily discharges. The hydrological
studies in the Ok Tedi region again showed rainfall and streamflow
to have low temporal variability, enabling relatively short periods
of record to be sufficient to define long-term trends. On the other
hand, storm rainfalls exhibited a very high spatial variability
with almost no correlation between stations only 1 km apart, which
makes flood modelling difficult.
Streamflow generation methods were used by SMEC in the earlier
referenced Wabo Power Project (1977) to produce 500 years of
synthetic runoff record. The methods used were the normal
distribution (the average monthly runoff was assumed to have a
normal distribution), the lognormal distribution (2-parameter), the
lognormal distribution with a lower boundary (3 parameter), the
gamma distribution (assumed for the logarithms of the runoff) and
Kartvelishvili's (1969) method in which the runoff is converted to a
normal distribution by a special transforming function. Of these
five methods, the 3-parameter lognormal distribution and Kartvel-
ishvili' s method gave the best results.
Because of the large sediment loads carried by rivers draining
the mountain areas, hydroelectric schemes can face siltation
problems. There may also be environmental problems caused by
release and escape of waste from mining operations such as in
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 417

Bougainville and Ok Tedi. These problems have been studied

extensively and have produced some useful results for the field of
sedimentation as a whole. Total sediment discharge based on the
sediment rating curve is an almost universal approach and was used
by SMEC in the Ok Tedi investigations. This direct approach has
some problems and in many cases the sediment concentration varies
with season (e.g. Pickup et al., 1981). In other instances there
may be no correlation, particularly where the sediment source is
distant from the sampling point and tributaries of different
hydrological regimes enter the stream in between. Regression
approaches using channel parameters, e.g. width/depth and weighted
mean silt-clay index of bed material, were unsatisfactory in
reflecting the characteristics of the sediment load in the Fly River
(Pickup & Warner, in press). These authors and Pickup (in press)
describe the successful application of the regime theory-dominant
discharge approach to predict the response of the Fly and Purari
Rivers to changed sediment input. The approach taken was to divide
the system into a series of bed-material zones, each with its own
sediment characteristics and type of channel adjustment. Higgins
(1979) reviewed five sediment transport equations and developed an
improved version of Bagnold's total load equation for application
in the Jaba basin, Bougainville. Pickup et al. (1983) describe the
use of large computer-based simulation models of river processes to
investigate sediment loads. Travelling dispersing wave models were
found to be the most appropriate in the modelling of the Kawerong
basin, Bougainville.



The most recent review of Australia's surface water resources has
been made by Brown (1983a) . Gauged and ungauged runoff and the
mean annual quantities of fresh and marginal water and brackish and
saline water have been assessed for the 65 river basins which flow
into the sea above the 20 C line and the remainder of the country.
McMahon (1978) has extended earlier work along this line to examine
the potential development of surface water resources based on
hydrological factors. By relating streamflow regulation (or draft)
to storage capacity and evaporation, generalized maps of maximum
possible streamflow regulation and maximum draft at various storage
capacities for drainage divisions and various locations are
The largest dam constructed in the region is the Ord River Dam
in WA (Webster & Wilkin, 1973). The dam is the major engineering
feature of the Ord Irrigation Project, has a 98 m high rockfill
3 3
wall, an active storage of 5.7 Gm and a flood storage of 34 Gm .
This large flood storage is designed to hold most floods since the
main spillway and three auxiliary spillways will discharge into
existing natural creeks which cannot carry the flood flows. This
unusual concept of flood design made it inappropriate to use the
conventional maximum probable flood, and a probability study of
418 A.J. Hall

seasonal inflows was used as well as some deterministic assessments

involving the maximum probable flood. Other large dams in the region
are the Darwin River Dam, 259 Mm , used for Darwin's water supply,
and Tinaroo Falls Dam on the Barron River, Queensland, 407 Mm 3 , used
for hydropower and irrigation.
Extensive studies and monitoring are being carried out in the
uranium province in the East Alligator River basin in the NT. Water
quality and dispersion of radioactive wastes are the main concern
and dye dispersion studies have been carried out as well as
hydrological modelling.
Water management not only requires an assessment of the resources
but also requires an assessment of the demand or water use. A
national survey of water use was carried out by the AWRC (1981).
This was assessed in the major basins under the headings of urban/
industrial, irrigation and other rural uses, together with the
public and private sources of surface and groundwater.
Flood forecasting is an important part of water management;
however, as the region is sparsely settled, few schemes are in
operation. Qualitative flood forecasts are made for the Barron
River, Queensland, using simple correlations of rainfall and/or
flood stage. The same technique is used in the Katherine-Daly River,
NT, and flood modelling using the Runoff Routing Model (Institution
of Engineers, 1977) has also been attempted.

Papua New Guinea

The assessment of runoff and hydropower potential in PNG has been
carried out by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (1970) .
Hydropower schemes have been developed in the Laloki, Ramu and a
number of smaller rivers. The first and only major dam in PNG is
the Sirinumu Dam on the Laloki River, where it provides storage for
the downstream power stations and water supply for Port Moresby
(Frazer, 1962). The dam was enlarged to a 34 m high rockfill
structure with an unusual feature of a steel membrane on the upstream
face. Its storage capacity is 345 Mm with a conventional spillway.
Hydropower developments to date are comparatively small, the biggest
being the Ramu scheme (75 MW). However, considerable potential
exists in PNG and the proposed hydropower scheme for the Purari River
has an initial capacity of 1800 MW.
Other water resources activities are associated with mining
construction, on Bougainville and in the Ok Tedi region in particular.
Again water quality and sediment are the main concerns. The
agreement between the consortium developing the Ok Tedi region and
the PNG Government specified the collection of certain hydrological,
sediment transport, water quality and meteorological data before
commencement of construction operations. This will enable the
effects of the project to be monitored and assessed by comparing the
post-project water supply, sediment loads and other variables with
those measured under the original environment.
A study of the technical and legal aspects of the assessment and
administration of the water resources was commissioned by the
Department of Public Works (Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation,
1974). The technical investigations were primarily concerned with
the review of all phases of the data collection programme, the
Hydrology in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea 419

relations between the hydrological and meteorological services of

the country and the staff required. Legal investigations concentrated
upon a review of the Water Resources Ordinance , 1962 , the
relationship between the PNG Electricity Commission and a review
of a draft Water Supply Ordinance, 1973. During the course of
these studies, a proposal for a Water Resources Coordination Board
was evolved and a draft prepared of a new Water Resources Ordinance.
A further draft was prepared by a UNDP team in 1980 and this , with
some modifications, was enacted as the Water Resources Act, 1982.
The proposal for a Water Resources Coordination Board was not

Although relatively close, the northern humid tropics of Australia
and PNG provide considerable contrasts in tropical climate and
hydrology. PNG lies within the seasonal movement of the ITCZ and
by and large has a comparatively uniform rainfall throughout the
year. On the other hand the Australian tropical region has the one
wet season for about four months of the year and is subject to
extreme variability of rainfall associated with the presence, or
absence, of tropical cyclones. This is particularly the case in
the northwest where heavy rainfall associated with cyclones occurs
less frequently. Convective storm rainfall in PNG has wide spatial
variation under the influence of one of the world's larger
While annual streamflows in PNG are reliable by world standards
and relatively short records can provide reasonable design data for
monthly and annual flows, Australia has streams which are
considerably more variable than world rivers. The flow distributions
of Australian rivers are more skewed and tend less towards the two-
parameter theoretical statistical distributions that apply in PNG
and other world rivers, and in some rainfall applications a complex
distribution is recommended. Relative to mean annual runoff, mean
peak annual floods can be up to an order of magnitude larger than
world rivers and the variability of peak annual floods is larger.
The spatial variation of storm rainfall in PNG is high and flood
design based on streamflow and regional flood frequency methods is
preferred to attempts to relate storm rainfall to runoff. Despite
the areal variation in storm rainfall, good simulations of daily
discharges have been made using conceptual rainfall-runoff models.
In the reliable climate of PNG only a few years of streamflow data
need be used to calibrate these models which can then generate
streamflows using comparatively inexpensive rainfall data. Even
with rainfall data, five years is sufficient to provide adequate
estimates of long-term estimates.
The status of hydrology in the region has overall reached a
reasonable level considering the sparse settlement of northern
Australia and the extreme ruggedness of PNG and its level of
development. Water resources networks are not within the
desirable norms recommended by WMO, but are considered generally
adequate, particularly under the very difficult conditions which
typify PNG. Water resources have been recently assessed in the
420 A.J. Hal
region and flood estimation procedures are available. However, as in
many countries, there are still gaps in data availability and
limitations imposed by inaccuracies in data and design procedures.
In PNG, considerable attention has been given to sediment problems,
to the hydrological problems associated with mining operations and
to potential hydropower development.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The assistance of colleagues in Australia and

John Brown, the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, and David
Sargent, Director of Water Resources, PNG, in providing material
for this review is gratefully acknowledged. This paper is published
by permission of the Director of Meteorology.

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Received 26 August 198 3; accepted 4 July 1984.