Every two years CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology get together, crunch the numbers and release a definitive report on long term trends in Australia’s climate – The State of the Climate.
The SoC 2014 released today is focused on the changes that have been observed in Australia’s long-term climate trends and it shows that temperatures across Australia were, on average, almost 1°C warmer than they were a century ago, with most of the warming having occurred since 1950.
“Australia’s mean temperature has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910,” BoM chief Dr Vertessy said. “Seven of the ten warmest years on record in Australia have occurred since 1998. When we compare the past 15 years to the period 1951 to 1980, we find that the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold and the frequency of very cool months has decreased by around a third.
“The duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves have increased across large parts of Australia since 1950. Extreme fire weather risk has increased, and the fire season has lengthened across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.
“We have also seen a general trend of declining autumn and winter rainfall, particularly in southwestern and southeastern Australia, while heavy rainfall events are projected to increase. Australian average annual rainfall has increased slightly, largely due to increases in spring and summer rainfall, most markedly in northwestern Australia.”
CSIRO boss Megan Clark said Australia has warmed in every State and Territory and in every season.
“Australia has one of the most variable climates in the world. Against this backdrop, across the decades, we’re continuing to see increasing temperatures, warmer oceans, changes to when and where rain falls and higher sea levels,” Dr Clark said. “The sea-surface temperatures have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900 and greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.”
CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology play a key role in monitoring, measuring and reporting on weather and climate, contributing to improved understanding of our changing global climate system. State of the Climate 2014 is the third report in a series and follows earlier reports in 2010 and 2012.
Below are some of the main facts from the report.
- Australia’s mean surface air temperature has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910.
- Seven of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
- Over the past 15 years, the frequency of very warm months has increased five-fold and the frequency of very cool months has declined by around a third, compared to 1951–1980.
- Sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region have warmed by 0.9°C since 1900.
- Rainfall averaged across Australia has slightly increased since 1900, with a large increase in northwest Australia since 1970.
- A declining trend in winter rainfall persists in southwest Australia.
- Autumn and early winter rainfall has mostly been below average in the southeast since 1990.
Heatwaves and fire weather
- The duration, frequency and intensity of heatwaves have increased across large parts of Australia since 1950.
- There has been an increase in extreme fire weather, and a longer fire season, across large parts of Australia since the 1970s.
Global atmosphere and cryosphere
- A wide range of observations show that the global climate system continues to warm.
- It is extremely likely that the dominant cause of recent warming is human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and not natural climate variability.
- Ice-mass loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets has accelerated over the past two decades.
- Arctic summer minimum sea ice extent has declined by between 9.4 and 13.6 per cent per decade since 1979, a rate that is likely unprecedented in at least the past 1,450 years.
- Antarctic sea-ice extent has slightly increased by between 1.2 per cent and 1.8 per cent per decade since 1979.
- The Earth is gaining heat, most of which is going into the oceans.
- Global mean sea level increased throughout the 20th century and in 2012 was 225 mm higher than in 1880.
- Rates of sea-level rise vary around the Australian region, with higher sea-level rise observed in the north and rates similar to the global average observed in the south and east.
- Ocean acidity levels have increased since the 1800s due to increased CO2 absorption from the atmosphere.
- Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase due to emissions from human activities, with global mean CO2 levels reaching 395 ppm in 2013.
- Global CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuel increased in 2013 by 2.1 per cent compared to 3.1 per cent per year since 2000.
- The increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 2011 to 2013 is the largest two-year increase ever observed.
Future climate scenarios for Australia
- Australian temperatures are projected to continue to increase, with more hot days and fewer cool days.
- A further increase in the number of extreme fire-weather days is expected in southern and eastern Australia, with a longer fire season in these regions.
- Average rainfall in southern Australia is projected to decrease, with a likely increase in drought frequency and severity.
- The frequency and intensity of extreme daily rainfall is projected to increase.
- Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number but increase in intensity.
- Projected sea-level rise will increase the frequency of extreme sea-level events.
Media: Huw Morgan M: +61 417 834 547
When Thomas Edison patented the incandescent light bulb in 1879 it would have been hard for him to predict just how much his invention would revolutionise the way we use energy.
Gone were the days of huddling around gas and oil lanterns. The light bulb led to changes in building design, the length of the workday and sparked the creation of entirely new industries.
Since then, scientists and engineers have been continuously trying to improve the way we light our homes and offices. In the 1900s, energy shortages led to breakthroughs in the use of fluorescents. In more recent years it has been all about improving affordability and efficiency.
But what’s the next bright idea in lighting? Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) are where it’s all at.
OLEDs are an emerging technology that deliver bright, thin, highly efficient displays with excellent colour purity. They work by taking an organic material, either small molecules or polymers, and sandwiching them between two electrodes.
Because OLEDs are so thin, they are also highly flexible – opening up huge possibilities to change the way we do things. To showcase the potential of this technology, Australian designer Andy Zhou has created a flexible OLED luminaire. And boy does it have all the bells and whistles.
Working with our flexible electronics researchers, Andy created the Plus Pendant light as a final year project for his industrial design degree at Monash University. The pendant will be hitting the world stage next month as part of the Melbourne Movement stand at the Milan Design Festival.
Using 36 OLED panels the pendant shows off the technology’s razor thin profile and flexibility. The frame flexes up and down to change the characteristics of the light, ranging from an area light to a spot light. This unseen mechanism is achieved by clever use of magnets and tensile wiring.
See the light in action in this video:
As you can see the future of lighting looks very bright indeed.
Our flexible electronics team is developing materials and processes to enable the low-cost manufacture of flexible electronics technologies such as displays, lighting and solar cells. Their mission is to develop the science and partner with industry to create new opportunities for manufacturing in Australia and overseas. Follow: @FlexElectronixx
Sure, everybody wants to be a marine biologist. It’s a glamorous job: working on the ocean, diving off coral reefs, discovering a new species here, saving an endangered species there. It’s definitely a profession that would have you as the talk of the table at dinners and family barbeques.
But what you don’t often hear about is the behind the scenes work – the endless report writing, the rigorous trip planning, getting the smell of fish off your hands. Being a marine biologist is, at times, a thankless task.
Luckily for you, today we’re going to focus on the glamorous part.
Marine biologists from our Wealth from Oceans Flagship and The University of Western Australia recently took a trip to the coral reefs of the Pilbara region, in north Western Australia, where they were scouting survey sites for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership.
This five year project is taking a snap-shot of the health of the marine ecosystems in this biodiversity hotspot, compiling a baseline of research data that will inform environmental and industrial monitoring programs. This data will underpin the Pilbara’s marine management and ensure long-term commercial and conservation sustainability in the region.
The Partnership is all about providing the science for sound decision making, and this research trip has put the process into practice.
Unfortunately, on the trip the research team found evidence of coral bleaching in the region due to some recent marine heatwaves, including the bleaching of a pocket of ancient coral heads – many up to 400 years old – that have provided an important record of reef health.
“We suspect this bleaching event was due to marine heatwaves that occurred in the region over the past few summers, and to see it up so close was sobering,” said our lead scientist on the project, Dr Russ Babcock.
“But to offset this loss, some reefs only a short distance north showed much less damage and will continue to contribute to a healthy ecosystem. By studying these sorts of variations and why they occur, we can improve our overall understanding of the marine environment in the region, and how we can best preserve it”.
The team managed to take some great images of the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that sits under the waters of the Pilbara. We asked Russ to run us through a few photos from the trip to give you an insight into the work of a marine biologist – and maybe even help you learn something in the process! Click on one of the images below to view the gallery.
“For myself and the research team, the greatest challenge for the Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership will be to understand how the unique coral reefs in the Pilbara have adapted to such a diverse range of conditions, and how they will survive into the future. We want to make sure that the region’s ecosystem is better understood and appreciated on an international scale,” says Russ.
Find out more about the Partnership here.
Education has come a long way since the ‘chalk and talk’ classes of the 90s. Back then the most exciting pieces of technology in our school classroom were an overhead projector, the videos we watched on a chunky TV that moved on wheels and the single Apple Mac computer we used for word processing.
Today’s classrooms seems a world away with laptops, tablets, smart boards, video conferencing, webinars, blogs, online videos, educational games and social media now par for the course.
One of the fields taking advantage of this shift in technology and learning is online educational games. A 2010 study of the use of 3D teaching and learning conducted by four Boulder Valley schools in Colorado found that 3D technology stimulated high student interest in, sustained focus on and solid retention of learnt content.
A real life 3D virtual world
‘Gamifying’ educational information is not a new concept. For years, educators have been incorporating game based elements into tasks and activities to teach, persuade and motivate. The reason it works so well is that it can encourage attitude and behaviour change which can be carried through to real-world applications.
Our clever computer scientists are looking to take this concept one step further. They’ve teamed up with 3PLearning, the creators of world leading e-learning tool Mathletics, to transform the real world into the digital world.
Together they are developing a range of new digital environments that replicate real life iconic locations for a new tool called IntoScience - an online science education game that allows secondary students to explore a range of unique 3D learning environments from their computer, iPad or classroom smart board.
Using their own customisable avatar students begin the journey in their own research lab. As they progress through quests, they explore the surrounding environment and test their science skills to complete inquiry based tasks with their robot helper Lawrence.
IntoScience could one day make online incursions a reality for students who may never get the chance to visit Australia’s most iconic sites. They can walk beneath the dense canopy of the Daintree rainforest, understand the forces holding up the Sydney Harbour Bridge or explore the life found amongst the elaborate underground structures of the Jenolan Caves without leaving the classroom.
But it doesn’t stop there. Our home grown laser scanner Zebedee is also being used to create the realistic online environments. The scanner swings back and forth on a spring to capture millions of detailed measurements, generating accurate 3D maps of pretty much anywhere, from caves and forests to buildings and even the leaning tower of Pisa.
By combining these 3D maps with 360 degree high-definition panoramic video (like the one on our Museum Robot’s head), we’re creating online spaces that will mirror real-life environments. This means students could transition from exploring one location in the virtual world to viewing a high definition panoramic video of the exact same place in the real world.
Teachers and students can register to participate in a free trial of IntoScience and the new environments.
This project is funded by the Australian Government.
Media: Sarah Klistorner T: +61 2 9372 4662 M: +61 477 716 031 E: email@example.com
By Angela Beggs
In a move that will make biking enthusiasts jump out of their Lycra in sheer delight, we’ve helped create one of the first completely customised 3D printed bikes.
Designed and 3D printed out of titanium at our Melbourne additive manufacturing facility Lab 22, the bike’s lugs – small metallic components that join the tubular frame of the bike – were shipped out west late last year to Perth bicycle manufacturer Flying Machine.
The experts at Flying Machine have been working tirelessly since then to perfect this little red rocket, known as 3DP-F1.
In an article published on Friday, Flying Machine’s Matthew Andrew says the bike parts took only 10 days to produce and ship, compared to 10 weeks for more conventional parts.
He says the bike, which was customised to his requirements, rides like a dream.
“It fits like a glove and rides even better than I had hoped. It’s light, stiff, fast and extremely comfortable,” said Matthew.
What’s also really exciting is that the lugs are produced in Melbourne and the frame building is done in the team’s Perth studio, making these Flying Machines truly Australian made.
“We’ve wanted to use this technology for some time now, but until recently we didn’t know who to turn to make it happen,” he added.
Now, anyone can own a 3DP-F1 bicycle, made to fit their exact measurements and riding style.
Lab 22 has manufactured a diverse range of prototype products including biomedical implants, automotive, aerospace and defence parts for Australian industry.
Find out more about titanium technologies at CSIRO.
By Angela Beggs
They are so tiny that they’re invisible to the naked eye. In fact, one of these pint sized particles is about an 8,000th the size of a single human hair. But nanomaterials have a big role to play in manufacturing, the environment and our everyday lives.
You may have heard discussions about these miniature materials being used in sunscreens, but this is just one place where we might find them – they also occur naturally from volcanoes, bushfire and, wait for it, even in milk.
Our experts are working with government and community groups to help ensure Australia captures all the benefits of nanotechnologies in a safe and socially responsible way.
In this video nanosafety expert, Dr Maxine McCall, gives us the big picture on nanosafety:
Read more about our work on nanosafety.
It sounds like a bad sci-fi plot: a fleet of ‘bio robots’ are let loose in the world’s third largest ocean to study its physical and biological makeup.
What could they be up to? Are they the first wave of an alien invasion, ala Independence Day or War of the Worlds? Or are they a human made technology turned evil, Terminator-style?
Thankfully, the answer is none of the above: these bio robots will be used for the powers of good. They’re part of a new research collaboration between our scientists and their Indian counterparts at the Indian National Institute of Oceanography (CSIR-NIO) and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS).
In fact, we should probably stop calling them bio robots, as cool as it sounds. They are actually an enhancement of an existing technology, known as ‘Argo’ floats. These clever robotic sensors are designed to help us understand how our oceans are influencing the climate.
About the size of a big barracuda, the free-floating devices are programmed to dive to depths of 1000m and 2000m over a ten-day period, and measure the ocean’s temperature as they go. They will repeat this cycle for years at a time.
There is currently a network of 3,600 Argo floats dotted across the world’s oceans, owned and operated by more than 30 different international research organisations.
Here’s a video of our marine scientist, Dr Susan Wijffels, explaining how they work:
Why Bio Argos?
The Indian Ocean is of vital strategic importance to its border nations. The east Indian Ocean alone is home to almost half of the world’s fishermen and women, and it yields around 8 per cent of global fish production. It contains the third-largest tuna fishery in the world, with an estimated value of US$2-3 billion annually. Plus, it contains mineral resources like copper, iron, zinc, silver and gold.
It also drives the climate of its surrounding regions, which make up more than 16 per cent of the world’s entire population. So, all in all, you can see why it’s important that we keep track of what’s going on below the surface.
Our new Bio Argos, as we call them, will be launched in the Indian Ocean by Australian and Indian vessels midway through this year. They will be equipped with tiny sensors that can measure biological indicators within the ocean like dissolved oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter and particle scattering.
Together, these sensors can tell us about the growth of plankton cells that drive the biology of the Indian Ocean, how much carbon they take up, how much gets used up the food chain and how much gets buried. Knowing about this growth is important for predicting how much food the Indian Ocean can produce, and how much carbon dioxide it can capture – which has a direct impact on climate.
Collecting this data will give us a better idea of what keeps the Indian Ocean healthy and productive, allowing us to manage its resources more effectively. It will also help us understand how the ocean influences both the regional and global climate and extreme weather events, like the one that devastated the coastal waters and fisheries of north Western Australian in 2010-11.
To find out more about the Bio Argo floats and this research partnership, check out our media release.
Many Aussies will choose to make the most of their extra day-off this weekend by heading to the nearest coastline. While splashing around, the biggest concern for most of us will be how to ward off the UV rays. Or perhaps those sneaky grains of sand that hang around for weeks – no matter how many times you think you’ve gotten rid of them all.
But every Summer many beach-goers have a much bigger problem to contend with. They will encounter trouble in the surf.
We’re lucky in Australia because we’ve got surf lifesavers to keep a watchful eye over us. Since these bather-clad heroes first hit our shores, they have rescued over half a million people across our 10,500 plus beaches.
While they’re best known for pulling swimmers from rips and currents, lifesavers also have the tough role of looking after distressed patients until the ambos arrive. Thankfully, our surf lifesavers have a little green whistle to lend them a hand.
Officially known as Penthrox, the green whistle is a device used to deliver immediate pain relief. Used on hundreds of injured beach-goers every year, it has significant advantages over other analgesics, such as nitrous oxide and morphine, in that it is fast acting, self-administered, non-addictive, non-narcotic and very safe to use.
We’ve recently starting working with the makers of the green whistle, Australian healthcare company Medical Developments International (MDI), to develop a new production process for the whistle’s key pain relieving ingredient. If successful this will facilitate large-scale production to support the company’s plan to take the green whistle to the UK and Europe. This means our friends across the pond might also soon be able to benefit from this Aussie innovation.
So if you’re heading to the beach this weekend, stay safe and stick between the flags. If you do end up in trouble, be thankful for our amazing lifesavers – and their little helper.
Find out more on how CSIRO is keeping you healthy.
By Paulo de Souza, Science Leader – Sensor Networks
Coinciding with ten years of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Project, research published today in Science has found some of the oldest evidence of past water on Mars – and confirmed it was ideal to nurture life.
Found in ancient mudstones at Mars’ Endeavour Crater, the geochemical data collected by the Opportunity Rover shows that water was almost fresh. It would have been, almost four billion years ago, the most liveable mud on Mars.
Opportunity sampled the Matijevic formation – a grouping of fine-grained, layered rocks enriched with clay minerals – and analyses showed they were the oldest Martian rocks, and had the earliest evidence of water activity, the rover has encountered so far.
Back in 2004, Opportunity discovered rich deposits on hematite, jarosite and round concretions we dubbed “blueberries”. That was definitive proof that an ocean flowed on Mars.
However, scientists around the world were sceptical about the suitability for life as that water was probably too acidic. Just as you wouldn’t quench your thirst with a glass of vinegar, this water would not make the kind of mud microbes would be able to live in.
But our results indicate that microbes would have found in that place a delight to live in – not too salty, not too acidic, but just right.
Now we just need to see if there were any microbes there, by searching for any fossils that might hint that Mars was once inhabited and not just habitable. The search, and the fascination, goes on.
Centuries of wondering
As a long-term member of the science team guiding research on Mars, I’d like to reflect on what we’re looking for and why it’s worthwhile to keep exploring.
Start by looking at the night sky. Even though we can see just a part of it, the universe has more stars and planets than you could possibly imagine. Yet just a few hundred years ago, we thought we on Earth were at the centre of the universe, putting us in a very special place.
The science done by our first astronomers revealed that, in fact, we were turning around the sun. Later we discovered our sun is just another star, one of many in the universe.
The first confirmed accounts for another planet beyond our solar system was reported in 1988 by Canadian astronomers Campbell, Walker and Yang. The natural questions we now face are: is there life somewhere else in the universe? Or are we alone?
In the thousands of years since the Egyptians and Babylonians first knew of its existence, the red planet has been an object of study and fascination. More recent perspectives on Mars are also interesting to revisit.
In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli saw “continents”, “seas” and “channels” on Mars through his telescope.
More recently still, with the advancement of science, we’ve been in a position to get a more accurate picture of our nearest neighbour. The world of sensors, where my expertise lies, has leaped ahead so we can send compact sensors on spacecraft that gather a wealth of information.
With all this combined international exploration effort, we’ve sent many spacecraft to Mars to study large areas from the air and in minute detail on the ground.
The list of spacecraft reads like a roll-call at school:
- Mariner orbiter in late 1960s
- Viking landers during the 1970s
- Mars Pathfinder in 1997
- In the past decade Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit, Phoenix and more recently with Curiosity
We also have an Indian mission Mangalyaan on the way to Mars today, a number of missions being planned for the future like the rover on 2020, Chinese attempts to get there as well as the lottery for a one-way ticket to the red planet.
Our reason for living
All this exploration was fuelled by the 1996 analysis of the meteorite ALH84001 in Antarctica. This meteorite came from Mars, has carbonate in its chemistry (carbonate needs water to be formed) and has a number of structures that resemble fossilised bacteria.
Since then the traffic on Mars has never been so intense.
But what are we looking for so intensively on Mars? The answer is everywhere on a full-of-life Earth: water.
Even though some landscape features observed by Mars orbiters provide evidence that liquid water might have flowed on the surface of Mars long ago, surface studies like ours look for direct evidence for mineral deposits created by an interaction with water and rock. The gadgetry on the Mars Rovers is designed to carry out these sophisticated geochemical analyses.
Life, as we know it, depends on water to be formed, sustained and to evolve. It does not mean, however, that life somewhere else in the universe might not depend on another substance. It is much easier to look for something we know so well.
Paulo de Souza is a collaborating scientist on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission.
At CSIRO, we’re part of a mission. But it’s not just any old mission. It’s a quest to hunt down elusive gravitational waves that may pinpoint the moment in time when a black hole is born.
The concept of a ‘black hole’ is one of the most curious in astrophysics. It’s a region of space-time where nothing, not even light, can escape. While there are countless studies that support the existence of this phenomenon, when it comes to actually proving black holes are real, all of the evidence is indirect.
Black holes are one of the more spectacular predictions of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Another is that space-time can be made to ripple, like the surface of a pond, when an event such as the birth of a black hole occurs. But the effects of such ripples – known as gravitational waves – are so tiny they have not yet been detected.
Leading the charge for gravitational wave detection is the Advanced Laser Interferometry Gravity-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States. LIGO has just installed a series of new ultra-high-performance mirrors that have been coated by our Precision Optics lab based in Sydney.
Because gravitational waves influence the movement of light photons as they bounce up and down between the coated optical mirrors, this new technology will give us our best chance yet of establishing the existence of black holes and other cosmic phenomena.
While LIGO has the potential to take us a big step forward in recording gravitational waves, many challenges are still to be tackled. Its detectors are incredibly delicate and difficult to operate continuously at optimum performance. At the same time they are producing massive amounts of data that must be sifted for very tiny signals.
The good news is that Australia is poised to play a major role in tackling these challenges. It was announced this week that a home-grown project will create new facilities to support LIGO in Australia. These include a new detector test bed (built in a partnership between the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, the Australian National University and CSIRO’s Precision Optics lab) as well as a major upgrade to the iVEC supercomputer in WA that will allow Australian researchers to participate in the exciting hunt for cosmic signals.
It’s hoped that this boost in power will fast track the identification of gravitational waves, and in doing so help physicists solve one of space’s most confounding mysteries. Ultimately, this may give us a better understanding of the origins of this amazing Universe in which we live.
Read more about our work in high-precision optics for astronomy.
While many of us took refuge from the heatwave in air conditioning, one of our summer vacation students ventured outside to test a hot question: Can you fry an egg on the footpath?
Check it out here:
And the result? Well, we won’t be having the result on toast anytime soon.
Eggs typically require temperatures of around 60°C – 70°C to start firming as the proteins in the egg must modify and coagulate in order to cook. In Katie’s experiment, the light colour of the concrete surface reflected more light than the other surfaces and was a poor conductor of heat, therefore having less energy to cook the egg.
The dark coloured barbecue plate was able to cook more than the concrete as it absorbed more light and had a higher thermal conductivity. The egg started turning white as the temperature of the surface was above 60°C.
The best result was in the funnel cooker. The reflective sides of the funnel cooker concentrate a lot of the sun’s rays and can get up to 140°C – 150°C. Our funnel cooker wasn’t quite that warm, but it was close to 60°C as the egg started cooking and turning white.
It was only 30°C in Newcastle this week when we eggs-perimented, so to those looking to replicate our short study on the toasty sidewalks of Adelaide or Melbourne – do let us know your results.
Myth busting is just one of the things Katie is getting up to during her summer vacation scholarship with us. Katie is studying renewable energy engineering at the University of New South Wales and is spending her summer with our Energy Flagship in Newcastle. Katie’s looking into the technical and commercial feasibility of using solar thermal energy to cook in Australia (yes, it’s not just cooking eggs).
“I’m looking at collector, storage and heat transfer methods that can store the energy from the sun to enable cooking at night, which performs comparatively to conventional cooking method,” said Katie.
Katie is also working on delivering the same level of performance that consumers are used to, including the ability to bake, steam and fry in a reasonable cooking time with conventional cooking devices. “If any of the systems are able to be deployed widely they could have huge impacts. House hold energy bills could be reduced over time as well as reducing the negative impacts of fossil fuels,” she said.
Although the project is far from finished, Katie’s research has noted that conventional ovens are often less than 30% efficient and have not improved significantly in the past 15 years, increasing the demand for solar cooking. Katie believes that if the storage of energy from the sun in large quantities becomes successful and as we have a greater understanding of solar intermittency, the future of Australian cooking habits will drastically change for the better.
Australian scientists have designed a first-of-a-kind optical filter that will allow astronomers to capture some of the most detailed images of the sun that have ever been seen.
Developed by CSIRO, the filters will get up close and personal with our nearest star like never before when they blast off aboard the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter satellite in 2017.
Orbiting the sun at distances similar to Mercury, the Solar Orbiter will travel closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft. The mission will be the first to provide detailed views of the star’s Polar Regions and inner heliosphere – the uncharted innermost region of our Solar System.
CSIRO optics research leader Dr David Farrant says the optical filters were designed to be extremely accurate, allowing the satellite’s instrumentation to take measurements centred to within 1/30th of a nanometre. That’s just a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair.
“Having manufactured several of these filters over the past two years, we have just shipped the final one off to the Max Planck Institute where it will be assembled and tested with the rest of the satellite’s sophisticated equipment.
“Our optics lab is the only place in the world where filters of this kind can be made to such precise specifications. Even then we had to develop a series of new techniques, precision lasers and even a new testing chamber, just to make this work.”
Dr Farrant says that the images the Solar Orbiter collects will offer unprecedented detail of the sun’s magnetic and seismic activity.
“This incredible detail will provide new insights into sunspot activity, which will help in the prediction of solar winds and geomagnetic storms. This will improve the accuracy of climate models here on Earth, providing significant scientific, social and economic benefits.”
“The filters have to be extremely robust to survive the Orbiter’s 10 year mission in space. We had to design them to withstand the forceful vibration of the spacecraft’s launch as well as the ongoing intense heat and high energy radiation from the sun.”
As a precursor to the Solar Orbiter mission, in 2006 the CSIRO team developed a series of devices for the IMaX consortium, for a balloon-borne solar observation mission travelling over the Arctic. This allowed them to understand how this type of instrumentation responds to extreme conditions, helping them adjust their specifications accordingly.
Dr Farrant says he is extremely excited to see the hard work of his team head into outer space.
“We’ve developed high precision optics for some of the world’s most sophisticated observatories, but this will be the first time we actually send our research out into the solar system. It’s a tremendous achievement.”
Media contact: Crystal Ladiges +61 3 9545 2982 or 0477 336 854
By Adam Harper
What if I told you that insects in the environment may be able to tell us about the world they live in? Imagine it; they could reveal changes in climate, the presence of dangerous gases or even the arrival of pests. Now you might think this a flight of fancy and tell me to buzz off, but this may not be so far from reality.
Our new research project is using tiny sensors that act like your car’s e-tag and attaching them to the backs of honey bees.
You heard right – bees with a chip on their shoulder, or on their back at least.
These tiny 2.5mm x 2.5mm chips relay data to recorders placed around hives and known food sources. We’re not talking about one or two wired up insects here, 5,000 tags are currently being attached to honey bees in Hobart and released into the natural environment.
And why would our researchers do that?
Collecting bee movement information at this scale is a world first and will allow researchers to generate a four dimensional model (three dimensions over time) of bee behavior and the way these insects move through the landscape. This information is needed on a global scale as wild honey bee populations are dropping drastically or vanishing all together. In some instances this is because of the parasitic Varroa mite. In others it’s a case of Colony Collapse Disorder, which is believed to be caused by diseases and agricultural pesticides.
CSIRO’s Dr Paulo de Souza leads the project and talks about why it is so important to protect these often feared insects.
“Honey bees play an extremely important role in our daily lives. Around one third of the food we eat relies on pollination and this is a free service these insects provide. A recent CSIRO study showed that honey bees helped increase faba bean yield by up to 17 per cent. Knowing how bees interact with their environment will allow farmers, fruit growers and seed producers to manage their properties using honey bees to increase productivity,” says Dr de Souza.
The research is also looking at the impacts of farm pesticides on honey bees and how much these chemicals contribute to CCD. Healthy bees means healthy landscapes.
Tagging the bees is only the first stage in the project. The next requires us to make the sensors even smaller, down to the size of a grain of sand so they can be used on smaller insects like mosquitoes and fruit flies.
“We also want these smaller tags to be able to sense environmental conditions such as temperature and presence of atmospheric gases; not just track their location.”
“Further to this the sensors will be able to generate energy from the beating wings of the insects, which will give the sensors enough power to transmit information instead of just storing it until they reach a data logger,” says Dr De Souza.
In short, insects will be real-time ‘swarm sensing’ at a scale never before achieved. Insects could become the canaries of the mines or the sniffer dogs of the airports. Bring on the buzz.
Media: Adam Harper, +61 7 3833 5605 adam.harper(at)csiro.au.
Earlier this week we posted about a letter we received from Sophie, a 7-year-old girl. All she wanted was a dragon.
“Our work has never ventured into dragons of the mythical, fire breathing variety. And for this Australia, we are sorry,” we replied.
Sophie’s letter, and our response, made an unexpected splash across the globe. It was featured on TIME, Huffington Post, The Independent, Yahoo, Breakfast TV, the list goes on. People contacted us offering to help, financial institutions tweeted their support and DreamWorks Studios phoned (seriously), saying they knew how to train dragons and wanted to speak with Sophie. The dreams of one little girl went viral.
We couldn’t sit here and do nothing. After all, we promised Sophie we would look into it.
So this morning at 9:32 a.m. (AEDT), a dragon was born.
Toothless, 3D printed out of titanium, came into the world at Lab 22, our additive manufacturing facility in Melbourne. The scientists there have printed some extraordinary things in the past—huge anatomically correct insects, biomedical implants and aerospace parts. So they thought a dragon was achievable.
“Being that electron beams were used to 3D print her, we are certainly glad she didn’t come out breathing them … instead of fire,” said Chad Henry, our Additive Manufacturing Operations Manager. “Titanium is super strong and lightweight, so Toothless will be a very capable flyer.”
Toothless is currently en route from Lab 22 in Melbourne to Sophie’s home in Brisbane.
Sophie’s mother Melissah said Sophie was overjoyed with our response and has been telling everyone dragon breath can be a new fuel. “All her friends are now saying they want to be a scientist and Sophie says she now wants to work at CSIRO. She’s saying Australian scientists can do anything,” Melissah told the Canberra Times.
We’d love to have you in our team, Sophie. For now, stay curious.
* * *
UPDATE: Dragon delivery complete.
by Meg Rive
What do you get when you mix solar energy and natural gas? High-efficiency electricity, improved energy and food security, new jobs, cleaner transport fuels and some good Aussie-Indian collaboration.
There is no single solution to the world’s energy challenge and sometimes it takes creative thinking to get the best out of our energy sources.
We’ve embarked on a type of energy dating service to get water and natural gas together (in a chemical way). We’ve developed new technology that concentrates the sun’s rays to drive a reaction between water and natural gas, storing the solar energy in the form of chemical bonds. The resulting SolarGas™ can then be used to produce high-efficiency electricity in a gas engine or turbine.
It can also be used to produce pure hydrogen for industrial use (for example, fertiliser production, petrochemical processing, steel making and hydrogen fuel cells used in transportation or stationary energy), as well as providing cleaner transport fuels.
A study, funded by the Australian Government in collaboration with the Solar Energy Commission of India, identified that SolarGas technology has the potential to provide a sustainable and cost-effective alternative for hydrogen production in some of India’s most important industries.
It’s hoped that deploying SolarGas in India will lead to job creation through local manufacturing and operation of the technology. It could also help energy and food security, because less natural gas would be needed for hydrogen production, the cost of and carbon emissions from making fertiliser would reduce, and there would be less pressure on future gas prices.
In particular, there’s strong potential to roll out the technology in Gujarat and Rajasthan, because both states have great solar resources and natural gas infrastructure, as well as being major industrial users of hydrogen.
Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Patrick Suckling, said “Energy and energy security are critical issues for Australia and India, and we have much to offer each other by sharing our renewable technology expertise and technology.
“SolarGas could provide both our countries with an exciting new commercial opportunity, and I hope this technology can play a part in India’s drive towards energy security.”
We’re now hoping to start a pilot project in India, using the study’s findings to develop a concept design for a pilot-scale SolarGas facility and find a good site for it.
Find more info on the SolarGas technology.