Water Everywhere (or Not)August 14, 2014

The road from Canberra to Sydney is without a distraction.

Forty kilometers from the Australian Capital Territory lies Lake George. This body of water is usually a source of river(s) and its tributaries. But not this lake. Motorists won't notice this while they're in Federal Highway. They'll notice something strange about the sediment when they're close. What lies beneath it holds the secret to the lake's history.

Imaginary lakes

Lake George will remind literary buffs of “The Hobbit”, where Bilbo Baggins stumbles into a subterranean lake. The water comes from the cave's ceiling, where it sips through Misty Mountains. The lake's surface is cold and still, and in the middle is an isle where Gollum lives. He manages to see through this dark place, relying on his hands to catch fishes and goblins. These creatures push Bilbo and the elves into the underground, where they live. But they part ways somewhere in these (goblin) tunnels, with the hobbit ending up with Gollum.

Like this darkened lake, George's source comes from above.

The enigma behind this body of water will remind romantics of Great Britain's lakes. A certain lady lives in one of them. Merlin is said to summon her, giving him the Excalibur. The kingdom is near peril, and Merlin believes that anyone who can pull the sword from the rock, from which the wizard thrusts it into, will lead the inhabitants out of trouble. No one expects a young lad to do it. But this magical sword chooses him. Arthur will rule Camelot.

Lake George is known for its bad spirits and a bunyip, a mythical creature of Aboriginal legend, which haunts swamps and billabongs.

Sign of the time?

In 2000, Lake George dried up completely. There were instances when there were pools of water that would last for months, but there was none on the start of the new millennium. This would last for years. It was a cause of concern, as this was a sign that the drought would be prolonged. Some looked at it as an opportunity, as the parched landscape allowed closer inspection of the sediment. Was there water underneath it? Maybe not. But scientists discovered fossils. They may be recent, but a few might go back to an earlier period. After all, it was believed that Australia was once a tropical land. Imagine trees endemic in the Amazon in abundance in this part of the world.

"We know that two or three million years ago there were plants growing around the lake that no longer grow in the region today, particularly plants that have rain forest affinities,” said Professor Brad Pillians from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

"Plants that grow on the coast or in New Zealand or New Caledonia today were growing in the Lake George area … the climate was much wetter".

"It's one of the most complete archives of long term climate history in south eastern Australia and indeed in the southern hemisphere".

What an intriguing thought, but Lake George is no Walden Pond.

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