A sea full of mysteries to be solved

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 9: Seas and coasts

Life originated in the oceans 3–5 billion years ago and even today 20 of the 33 animal phyla (the highest groupings within the animal kingdom) remain confined to the sea. That means that most life under the sea is like nothing we find on land.

An elephant seal with an electronic tag on its head

Sea creatures can also help us explore the oceans. Sea mammals can take sensors to parts of the ocean we’d never be able to go ourselves, like under Antarctic sea ice. Image: Chris Oosthuizen

Worldwide there are big gaps in our understanding of the oceans and the life within them. Our exploration of Australia’s marine biodiversity has been limited mostly to the margins of the continent, on the continental shelf and the upper continental slope. Even near the continent, some 50–70% of the species we’ve found in recent surveys have never before been seen by scientists.

New technology and equipment, like autonomous robotic vehicles and electronic tagging, as well as our brand new marine research vessel, RV Investigator, is allowing us to explore in ways we’ve never explored before and so we can begin to address those knowledge gaps.

In the ninth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Alan Butler and Dr Nic Bax talk about the unique habitats of the sea, the challenges it poses to exploration, and new tools and technologies helping us discover and manage the biodiversity it holds:

To find out more about discovering biodiversity in the ocean, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at the relationship between our cities and biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.

I like big ships and I cannot lie

And boy, does this baby have back.

Australia’s new $120m marine research vessel, Investigator, is a thing of beauty. We’ve been watching Investigator get built step-by-step over in Singapore and have shared with you some of the key moments of its birth.

Investigator is now only hours away from arriving at its home port of Hobart. We’re hoping to welcome the big ship at 10am Tuesday morning with a flotilla.

You can follow all the action on Twitter using #RVInvestigator from around 8am tomorrow.

And for your dinner table conversation tonight, here are some sweet facts about the big ship:

  1. This will be Australia’s biggest ever marine research vessel.
  2. It has ten internal storeys.
  3. It has three diesel-electric engines, capable of generating enough electricity to power a small suburb.
  4. It can collect weather data 20km into the atmosphere and within a 150km radius from the ship.
  5. It can map the sea floor to any depth. Only 12 per cent of Australia’s ocean terrain has been mapped.
  6. It will take 50 days to fit the ship with super techy equipment once it arrives.
  7. There’s a gym onboard.

Sunset from the deck of the Investigator

Does it get any better than this? Sunset on the deck of Investigator.

So why is any of this important? Australia’s oceans are estimated to contribute $42 billion annually to our economy, increasing to over $100 billion in ten years. And yet there’s so little we actually know about them – we know more about the moon than we do our own deepest oceans.

What may we learn from Investigator? We’ve never been able to collect fish and biological samples in our deep oceans before. So we’re likely to discover new species. We’ve never been able to map the ocean floor to any depth before, so now we can describe the ocean floor in Australian waters, which means we could find new resources. And the weather radar on the top of the ship, it will allow us to collect data at sea, for the first time.

This ship is the bee’s knees of marine research… and it will put Australia at the forefront of ocean research globally.

Oh, and before you ask about MH370…

We certainly have the necessary sophisticated sonar technologies to undertake the search, but let’s look at the size of the job at hand.

Let’s assume that we don’t need to refuel the ship or change the crew onboard and we can operate continuously. We would need to tow a piece of equipment called a side-scan sonar, which has a beam width of 500 metres at a speed of 2 knots, and the latest size of the search area was 60,000 square kilometres.

This means it would take Investigator 3.8 years to map the search area. That’s working 24hrs a day, 365 days a year.

LEGO model of ship

Win yourself a LEGO model of the ship by getting creative with your selfie.

Send us your best snap of Investigator as it comes into Hobart harbour for a chance to win a LEGO model of the ship AND a tour of Investigator for you and three friends later this year. Use #RVInvestigator when posting your image to Twitter or Facebook, or email it directly to us at socialmedia@csiro.au by 5pm Tuesday 9 September. Winners will be announced Wednesday at midday. Creative selfies with Investigator are highly encouraged.

Follow the action on Twitter with #RVInvestigator.

Media enquiries:  Sarah Schofield on +61 3 6232 5197, +61 417 028 016 or sarah.schofield@csiro.au


Managing water across borders

Koshi River in Nepal

Koshi River in Nepal. Image by Amy North

As World Water Week draws to a close, we want to tell you about a water management project we’re involved with in the developing world.

The Koshi River basin covers some of the poorest parts of China, India and Nepal. The river stretches more than 700km, from China in the north, down through Nepal and across the Himalayas, and finally feeds into the Ganges River. Millions of people live in the region – many of them in flood-prone areas – and rely on the river and the fertile floodplain for their livelihoods.

We’re helping to manage the river better and improve the circumstances of the people living there.

The area is subject to floods, droughts landslides and flows of debris. Erosion also leads to heavy sedimentation, and rivers have been known to change their course.

NASA image showing course change

This NASA satellite image shows a change of the Koshi River’s course.

The effects of climate change aren’t helping, either. Glaciers in the upper reaches of the Basin are melting, bringing water and sediments down to the plains. The people of the Koshi River Basin are in an increasingly vulnerable situation. The impacts of climate change are disturbing water supply and agricultural production. Adding more pressure, the demand for energy and food production is rising.

Raising the stakes even higher, the Koshi Basin also has areas of significant biodiversity, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Australian Aid, we’re working with partners including the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, the International Water Management Institute and eWater  to develop an integrated modelling framework for the entire basin. We’re helping to develop water balance models that capture the relationship between climate (both rainfall and temperature) and stream-flow (and flood risk) in the Koshi River Basin.

We’re also working on characterising the seasonality and variability of stream flow, and, if possible, the expected trends in stream-flow. We’ll also develop techniques for understanding the likelihood of particular stream-flow estimates.

We aim to use the research and knowledge gained from these projects to allow a regionally coordinated approach to developing and managing the Koshi Basin’s water resources. The people of the area, and the environment, should both benefit.

99.999% certainty humans are driving global warming: new study

Gambling for high stakes

Would you take a gamble with these odds? Image by Kraevski Vitaly Shutterstock

By Philip Kokic, CSIRO; Mark Howden, CSIRO, and Steven Crimp, CSIRO

There is less than 1 chance in 100,000 that global average temperature over the past 60 years would have been as high without human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, our new research shows.

Published in the journal Climate Risk Management today, our research is the first to quantify the probability of historical changes in global temperatures and examines the links to greenhouse gas emissions using rigorous statistical techniques.

Our new CSIRO work provides an objective assessment linking global temperature increases to human activity, which points to a close to certain probability exceeding 99.999%.

Our work extends existing approaches undertaken internationally to detect climate change and attribute it to human or natural causes. The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report provided an expert consensus that:

It is extremely likely [defined as 95-100% certainty] that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic [human-caused] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.

Decades of extraordinary temperatures

July 2014 was the 353rd consecutive month in which global land and ocean average surface temperature exceeded the 20th-century monthly average. The last time the global average surface temperature fell below that 20th-century monthly average was in February 1985, as reported by the US-based National Climate Data Center.

This means that anyone born after February 1985 has not lived a single month where the global temperature was below the long-term average for that month.

We developed a statistical model that related global temperature to various well-known drivers of temperature variation, including El Niño, solar radiation, volcanic aerosols and greenhouse gas concentrations. We tested it to make sure it worked on the historical record and then re-ran it with and without the human influence of greenhouse gas emissions.

Our analysis showed that the probability of getting the same run of warmer-than-average months without the human influence was less than 1 chance in 100,000.

We do not use physical models of Earth’s climate, but observational data and rigorous statistical analysis, which has the advantage that it provides independent validation of the results.

Detecting and measuring human influence

Our research team also explored the chance of relatively short periods of declining global temperature. We found that rather than being an indicator that global warming is not occurring, the observed number of cooling periods in the past 60 years strongly reinforces the case for human influence.

We identified periods of declining temperature by using a moving 10-year window (1950 to 1959, 1951 to 1960, 1952 to 1961, etc.) through the entire 60-year record. We identified 11 such short time periods where global temperatures declined.

Our analysis showed that in the absence of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, there would have been more than twice as many periods of short-term cooling than are found in the observed data.

There was less than 1 chance in 100,000 of observing 11 or fewer such events without the effects of human greenhouse gas emissions.

Good risk management is all about identifying the most likely causes of a problem, and then acting to reduce those risks. Some of the projected impacts of climate change can be avoided, reduced or delayed by effective reduction in global net greenhouse gas emissions and by effective adaptation to the changing climate.

Ignoring the problem is no longer an option. If we are thinking about action to respond to climate change or doing nothing, with a probability exceeding 99.999% that the warming we are seeing is human-induced, we certainly shouldn’t be taking the chance of doing nothing.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Five facts you didn’t know about hydraulic fracturing (fraccing)

If you type the word ‘fraccing’ into Google you will immediately see how complex a topic it is.

The process of hydraulic fracturing involves pumping fluid underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release trapped gas.

We thought we’d shed some light on the technique with five top facts and a new video which explains what coal seam gas is, how it is extracted and what some of the challenges are.

Top 5 facts about hydraulic fracturing:

Hydraulic fracturing infographic

Five facts about hydraulic fracturing

  1. Hydraulic fracturing typically takes place a few hundred metres below ground for coal seam gas and up to 4000 metres for shale gas
  2. The technique has been around since the 1940s
  3. In Australia it is used in 100% of shale gas developments and 20-40% of coal seam gas wells
  4. Typically 5 to 30 megalitres of water is used when fraccing a shale gaswell (US figures), and 0.5 to 3 megalitresfor coal seam gas wells
  5. The fluid used in fraccing is approximately 99% water & sand, and 1% chemical additives.

To get a better understanding of coal seam gas and hydraulic fracturing visit our website www.csiro.au/unconventionalgas

Can cities cater for our critters too?

Australia’s Biodiversity series – Part 8: Cities and towns

Cities are one of the great inventions of civilisation. They are centres of knowledge, invention and cultural change. But how good are they at supporting the local plants and animals?

Cities tend to have been built in areas of high biodiversity, with rich soil and permanent water supplies, and so there may be more species living in and around your city or town than you think. Simply punching your postcode into the Atlas of Living Australia will give you a list of everything that’s been recorded there.

Of course, the fact that there’s now a city on that land will have impacted species’ ability to persist there. The way we design and lay our cities out has an influence on how extensive that impact is, and will continue to be important as cities and populations grow.

Views of Canberra and New York City cityscapes

Canberra and New York City are at opposite ends of the urban density spectrum. But which is better for biodiversity? Image: Mark Lonsdale

Cities occupy just 2% of Earth’s surface but account for 75% of the resources consumed by humans. That sort of resource use represents one of the biggest challenges to the world’s biodiversity. But being centres of cultural change, cities also present many opportunities to engage people in supporting biodiversity conservation efforts.

In the eighth video of our Australia’s Biodiversity series, Dr Mark Lonsdale talks about the relationship between cities and biodiversity and some of the big ways cities can play a role in supporting our biodiversity in coming decades:

To find out more about the relationship between our cities and towns and biodiversity, you might like to read the corresponding chapter of CSIRO’s Biodiversity Book.

Last week’s video looked at agricultural landscapes and how they can be better managed to support biodiversity. You can review it and the other videos in the series on our YouTube channel.

Science scholarships – a vocation vacation

Hammer orchid project

One project is on the evolution of the hammer orchid

Those long summer holidays are getting closer. Some people go somewhere exotic, some chill out at home, and some come and do science with us.

Applications for our vacation scholarships are now open. Every year we make about 200 offers to promising undergraduates who are in the advanced stages of their degrees. The successful applicants get to work on real projects, in science, engineering or related fields like science communication, and get paid to do it. Scholarships are available in all states and the ACT, in a wide range of subject areas. Fancy working on a bird-scarer robot? Or mapping the gene that makes some wine taste salty? Describing a new fossil beetle from the Jurassic? 

Fossil beetle from the Jurassic

A fossil beetle from the Jurassic.

And it doesn’t necessarily stop there, Some vacation scholars have been offered the opportunity to do their honours or PhD projects with us, while others have been given jobs. If nothing else, former vacation scholars like computer scientist Samantha Connolly say their scholarships helped them build great networks.

‘After I left’, she says, ‘I was able to host a Women in Engineering High Tea networking event at CSIRO for Engineers Australia, and to run a robotics workshop for CSIRO’s Double Helix Club. CSIRO is great for allowing its staff to participate in community engagement. My supervisor let me take a few days off to run a robotics workshop, and I was even able to bring in a few robots to show CSIRO employees’.

The scholarships generally start in late November or early December, and run for eight to 12 weeks.  There are some mandatory requirements. Applications close at 11:30 pm AEST Sunday 14 September.

And yes, there IS a link to everything you need to know.


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