What’s been in Melbourne’s air lately?

In our last post we described some of the changes to our service this season, such as the expanded pollen monitoring network.  We’ve lost count of the number of times over the years we’ve been asked if it was possible for pollen counting to be done outside of Melbourne.

And now it’s happening at our sites at Hamilton, Creswick (near Ballarat), Dookie (near Shepparton), Bendigo and Churchill (near Morwell).

That’s such a big change for us and one I hope those of you in regional Victoria will find useful.

But that’s not the end of the changes.

Another thing we regularly get asked about is ‘other pollen’.

The main activity of the Melbourne Pollen Count has been counting how much grass pollen is in the air and forecasting grass pollen levels for the week ahead.

But we also count ‘other pollen’ and many of you have rightly asked, what’s in it?  Could some types of ‘other pollen’ be triggering your allergies?

Quite possibly.

So another of the changes here is that we are counting some types of other pollen and one type of fungal spore.

And not just here in Melbourne, but at all six of our sites.

It’s a lot of information and we’re still trying to figure out how best to display it.

Today’s picture is our first attempt.  It shows what was in Melbourne’s air from October 1 to October 9.  Dates are across the top and the numbers show the percentage of the daily total represented by each pollen type.

Melbourne pollen heat map

Each square is coloured to indicate the level: the more of that pollen type, the greener the square.

So you can see that cypress and Oleaceae were the dominant pollen types during early October. Cypresses are conifers and Oleaceae is a family of trees and shrubs of which olive and ash (Fraxinus) are familiar examples.  Levels of birch pollen also started picking up towards the end of the week.

At the bottom of the list is the fungal spore type we counted, Alternaria.

Cypress pollen, Oleaceae pollen and Alternaria spores are associated with allergies.

You can tell us what you think of the figure via FaceBook or Twitter.

Springing into a new pollen season

October 1 marks the start of a new pollen season and that means we are back and counting once again.

There's a lot about our daily service that will be familiar to most of you - a daily count of grass pollen levels and a forecast for the week ahead.  Grass pollen is the main cause of outdoor allergies at this time of year and our information can help you understand and better manage your hay fever and asthma.

But there are a few changes as well that we think make our service even more important and useful than before.

Today, the Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy announced a new monitoring, prediction and alert system that will allow authorities to warn people about the risk of thunderstorm asthma up to three days before an event.  The Melbourne Pollen Count at the University of Melbourne has been working with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the Bureau of Meteorology and other partner organisations to help develop this system.

An important part of the system is a significantly expanded pollen monitoring network in Victoria.

For hay fever and asthma sufferers, this means that as well as counts and forecasts from our Melbourne site, we can now provide grass pollen counts and forecasts from our sites at Hamilton, Creswick (near Ballarat), Dookie (near Sheparton), Bendigo and Churchill (near Morwell).

Today's photo shows team member Dr Ed Lampugnani installing a trap on the roof of one of the buildings at Federation University at Churchill.

You'll find counts and forecasts for each site on our webpage, where you'll also find a grass pollen forecast for each of Victoria's nine weather districts.

But working with the Bureau of Meteorology has meant we've had to change the time at which we do our counts. 

Instead of appearing daily at about 4:30pm as in past years, our counts and forecasts will be released at around 10:30am. The grass pollen count will reflect the 24 hour average for grass pollen in the air to 9am on the day of the reading and today's forecast will be for the rest of the day.

In later posts I'll describe some of the other changes we're making to the service, including regular updates on a range of pollen types other than grass.

We hope you'll enjoy the new service.


The Melbourne Pollen Count in 2017

This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article and meet the Melbourne Pollen Count team and learn what's happening in 2017.

Dr Bill Frankland on being 105

Dr William Frankland is a British immunologist born in 1912 and still going strong. Among the many notable achievements in his long life, Dr Frankland established the first publicly available pollen count service in 1963, in order to inform his patients and the general public about the local pollen levels in London.

Thunderstorm asthma final report

And here's a link to the Inspector-General's final report into last year's thunderstorm asthma episode. Implementing the recommendations will help Victoria understand, predict and better respond to future events.