By Barton Loechel, Social Scientist, Science into Society Group.
Recent research suggests only a minority of mining companies are preparing for the biophysical impacts of climate change. Those that are preparing are going it alone: there is little collaboration on planning between miners and local government.
The preparedness of Australia’s resource communities for climate change will depend on adaptation planning across multiple sectors. For example, a range of climate change effects – drought, and conflict over water use, heatwaves and intense rainfall – will adversely affect mining operations as well as other industry sectors, communities and the surrounding environment.
Climate change in Australia is projected to lead to more frequent and severe droughts, floods and heat waves; increased cyclone intensity; and sea-level rise and ocean acidification, albeit with significant regional variations over different time frames.
Droughts cause competition between water users in rural areas – notably miners, farmers and rural townships. Intense rainfall events, such as those experienced in the Bowen Basin coal mining region of Queensland, led to extensive flooding of mine pits, damage to transportation routes, on-going disruption to production and export of coal, reduced state royalties, and community outrage over the effects on downstream water quality caused when pit water was released into streams.
Heat waves can reduce the liveability of mining communities and pose occupational health and safety risks for mine operational staff. Sea-level rise and ocean chemistry changes have implications for the integrity of port infrastructure and offshore platforms, while greater storm surge heights may affect mining-related infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas.
These various biophysical climate change impacts will not be simple, one-way relationships. They may include cascading effects between sectors and issues at multiple levels, such as the increased energy needs for emptying flooded pits or cleaning contaminated water.
CSIRO has been working with two groups that are central to these issues, mining companies and local government authorities with a focus on what they are doing to prepare for climate change.
The relationship between mining companies and local governments is increasingly important for climate change planning. Climate change is likely to affect not just mine operations and the landscapes in which they are located, but also the well-being of mining communities. But collaboration between mining companies and local government appears to be missing; it could well be central if mutually beneficial adaptation strategies are to be developed in the future, and actions designed to reduce climatic impacts do not have adverse impacts elsewhere.
We have conducted national surveys (just published), interviews with regional stakeholders, and workshops in three of Australia’s major mining regions over the last three years. Ongoing work includes case-studies of particular mining operations, regions and value chains to identify approaches to climate adaptation assessment most suitable for the resources sector.
Overall, this work shows that while there are many potential impacts from climate change for mining operations and their associated communities, there appears to be relatively little activity assessing and reducing these risks. We found only 13% of mining companies have undertaken a climate vulnerability study or have any adaptation policies, plans or practices in place. The main reasons companies hadn’t done this work were uncertainty around climate change impacts and political and regulatory settings. Only 39% of mining companies were convinced that the climate is changing (compared to 65% of local government respondents).
Local government concerns about and preparation for climate change were much higher although, even then, adaptation planning is occurring in less than half the councils surveyed. Councils said the main reasons they hadn’t undertaken adaptation planning were financial cost and lack of funding, lack of skilled personnel and inadequate information available for them to respond. They were less concerned than mining companies about uncertainty of impacts and political settings.
The level of collaborative planning between the two groups was poor. None of the local government respondents who reported adaptation planning said they had involved a mining company in this planning. Only two of the mining companies that undertook adaptation planning reported partnering with local government. A follow-up survey is currently underway to collect a larger sample of companies and local government authorities for this work.
Climate scientists studying the impact of changing wave behaviour on the world’s coastlines are reporting a likely decrease in average wave heights across 25 per cent of the global ocean.
In some of the first climate simulations of modelled wave conditions they also found a likely increase in wave height across seven per cent of the global ocean, predominantly in the Southern Ocean.
Lead author, Dr Mark Hemer, said that 20 per cent of the world’s coastlines are sandy beaches which are prone to natural or man-made changes. It is estimated that 10 per cent of these sandy coasts are becoming wider as they build seawards, 70 per cent are eroding and the remaining 20 per cent are stable. Around 50 per cent of Australia’s coast is sand.
“Waves are dominant drivers of coastal change in these sandy environments, and variability and change in the characteristics of surface ocean waves (sea and swell) can far exceed the influences of sea-level rise in such environments.
“If we wish to understand how our coasts might respond to future changes in climate then we need to try and understand how waves might respond to the projected changes in global atmospheric circulation seen as shifts in storm frequency, storm intensity and storm tracks,” Dr Hemer stated.
Dr Hemer explained that coastal impacts of climate change studies have predominantly focused on the influence of sea-level rise and, until now, not focussed on how changing wave conditions will impact the coastal zone in a changing climate.
He said sea-level rise is likely to have considerable influence along much of the world’s coastlines. However, with such poor understanding of how changes in waves and other coastal processes will also influence shoreline position, it is difficult to attribute a level of future risk to the coast under a warmer climate.
The study compared results from five research groups from Australia, the United States, Japan, Europe and Canada. Each group used different modelling approaches to develop future wave-climate scenarios.
“While we find agreement in projected change in some parts of the world’s oceans, considerable uncertainty remains. We’re continuing to quantify the dominant sources of variation with the latest generation of climate models which will be used in the up-coming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports,” Dr Hemer said.
He said climate is one of several mostly human-driven factors influencing coastline change. These findings are derived from a study which seeks to understand potential impacts on coasts from climate change driven wind-wave conditions. The study will be published in the print edition of the journal Nature Climate Change on 25 April.
Media: Craig Macaulay P: 03 6232 5219 M: 0419 966 465 Email: Craig.Macaulay@csiro.au
Biodiversity genomics was centre stage at the launch of the Centre for Biodiversity Analysis in Canberra a few weeks ago. The Centre – a joint initiative between the Australian National University and CSIRO – hopes to address the challenge of protecting Australia’s biodiversity in the face of rapid environmental change.
The launch also marked the opening of the Centre’s inaugural conference, which focussed on the exciting and rapidly expanding field of genomics.
In recent years there have been concerning predictions about the future of Australia’s biodiversity. Many of our healthy communities of plants and animals are declining due to climate change, habitat loss and competition from invasive organisms. Some species currently listed as threatened are expected to become extinct, and our natural environment to be increasingly overtaken by weeds, losing its uniqueness.
Biodiversity predictions are uncertain because scientists often lack the data to reliably predict biodiversity outcomes. Models have yet to include many aspects of organisms, particularly their ability to adapt to environmental changes through evolution and/or changing their physiology.
A combination of evolution data and adaptation strategies will help guide conservation efforts, allowing species to survive in stressful environments.
To reduce uncertainty in biodiversity predictions, ecologists emphasize the need to monitor plants and animals, run large experimental programs, and devise new models. These are important, but take time, and environmental managers need to prepare for the future now. They need to know which species are most threatened, or might need to be moved to persist, and where landscapes could be altered to conserve biodiversity and individual species.
In the climate change arena, we now know that many species need to be able to adapt to survive. Adapting requires organisms to deal with stressful situations as they are often unable to move to favourable areas. A challenge is being able to predict if this is possible, particularly within a short time frame rather than through thousands of years of evolution.
The way organisms might do this is through physiological or behavioural changes (plasticity) or through rapid genetic evolution. Predicting the likelihood of these processes occurring is difficult when using traditional approaches. It typically requires many years of experimentation, breeding programs and tests with populations moved to new areas. For many species these options are not possible because of long generation times, difficulties in growing organisms away from their home ground, and the long-term funding and commitment required to complete such work.
The CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and Monash University are fast-tracking conservation efforts by focusing on the genetic and genomic levels of plants and animals. In the conservation area, genetic tools have already been applied successfully in a number of areas. They have helped to show how populations of species are interconnected in the landscape, assisting in management. Genetic markers have shown how species like sea turtles might breed on oceanic islands hundreds of kilometres away from the seas where they are usually found, highlighting the importance of protecting breeding sites in conservation efforts. Genetic tools have also been essential in deciding what precisely constitutes a species for conservation.
A new and potentially very powerful set of tools is now on the horizon, as genomics starts to be applied to natural resource management. Genomic analyses have traditionally been regarded as too expensive and massive to apply to all but a few species. Sequencing costs have declined significantly and new projects – including this project which uses Drosophila (a genus of small fly) – will lead to sequences of many thousands of species from across all the major classes of higher organisms. Our colleagues are also using genomics technology in Western Australia’s Kimberley region to fast-track the discovery of new species.
A sequence of DNA by itself does not tell you much. It needs to be checked for errors, analysed to look at location or sequences of genes and regulatory regions, and compared carefully against already existing genomes to predict sequence differences underlying functional changes. Once this process has been completed, genomes provide a unique picture of what happened in the past, and what might happen in the future. This information is particularly relevant to understanding the ability of species to adapt to climate change.
Genes are not static entities. They can duplicate, so new functions evolve. Or they can decay as mutations accumulate, and then eventually be lost, resulting in the loss of old functions. These historical signatures can be identified by comparing the genomes of related species (or populations or individuals) from different environments.
To counter hot conditions, organisms typically turn on coordinated sets of genes like heat shock protein genes. The machinery that underlies or regulates this process can become lost through mutation. Species might then fail to acclimatise or do so under the wrong conditions.
As long as enough is known about this machinery, it’s possible to use the genome to identify a signature of climate change responses in the past. More importantly, the genome can also be used to look at the potential for adaptation in the future. Species which have functional copies of relevant genes and regulatory elements should reflect the ability to mount adaptation responses, and to evolve rapidly in response to a changing climate and other stresses.
This research is supported by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.
Media: Josie Banens Ph: +61 2 6246 4422 Mb: +61 (0)402 913 131 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How will we feed the world in 2050? Feeding a growing population is a big challenge, but feeding them in the face of a changing climate, volatile markets and limits on resources means we need to work hard to succeed. According to projections, the maximum amount of food we can produce declines steeply under growing climate pressures, yet we will need more food to make up for global crop losses.
In response to the challenge, CGIAR, a global agricultural research alliance, pulled together the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change and Megan Clark, our Chief, represented Australia. The commission released a report last year on Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change. The report reviewed scientific evidence and produced a set of actions to transform the food system. These recommendations include transforming current patterns of food production, distribution and consumption, and also investment and innovation to empower the world’s most vulnerable populations. For us consumers, actions include eliminating food waste and having access to better sustainability and nutrition information from improved labelling.
This animation goes into more detail on our ‘safe operating space’ in relation to food and climate change.
Today is the one year anniversary of the CGIAR report. Read more about the idea to finished product and their ongoing research on their blog. More on our work tackling food security challenges on our website.
By Don McFarlane- Research Programme Leader, Land and Water
While the rest of Australia has had a reprieve from the Millennium Drought, and floods have recently affected many areas along the north eastern Australian coast, the extended dry period that has affected south-western Australia since about 1975 continues unabated.
The loss of traditional water sources has required the building of seawater desalination plants capable of providing half the drinking water needs of people living in the Perth region.
Traditional water supplies are projected to dry even more by 2030 according to research just published by CSIRO scientists.
Global climate models (GCMs) give variable projections but they usually provide some hope for a wetter future in most regions. However, all 15 GCMs that provide daily information project an even drier 2030 for south-western Australia. On a percentage basis, the runoff into the reservoirs that supply water to Perth and into irrigation dams is projected to reduce by about three times more than the reduction in rainfall.
Even more disturbing, because catchments have dried so much since 1975, a given rainfall amount now generates less runoff. Catchment water yields will only recover if there are decades of rainfall large enough to raise groundwater levels within the deeply weathered profiles. According to the GCMs, this is very unlikely to happen.
The story for groundwater levels on the coastal Perth Basin, the water source of choice for most people living in the region, is more complex.
The Basin contains aquifers that store large amounts of water to more than a kilometre in depth. Surface sandy aquifers support wetlands and are directly recharged by rainfall.
The research tested how these aquifers would respond under the climate projections for 2030. It also looked at what would happen if the dry climate since 1975 (even drier since 1997) were to continue.
Groundwater levels under areas of native vegetation and plantations would decline under any of these scenarios. As rainfall declines, the proportion used by vegetation increases and groundwater recharge correspondingly falls.
Large parts of the Gnangara Mound, a major water resource for Perth, are overlain by banksia woodlands and plantations and would experience a lowering of groundwater levels and further loss of dependent wetlands.
More than half of the Perth Basin has been cleared for use by non-irrigated agriculture. In these areas groundwater levels are expected to remain stable, or in some cases to continue to rise as rainfall declines because the annual crops and pastures use less water than perennials.
Ironically, it is where native vegetation has been cleared with a consequent loss of biodiversity values that there may be enough water in future for permanent streamflows and wetlands.
Analysing the response of rivers and catchments to the climate since 1975 has identified interesting and sometimes unclear relationships. Two basins constituting only 15% of the area contributed 43% of the streamflow and these basins seemed to respond less to rainfall reductions. The reason for this behaviour is unclear.
Interactions between rivers and their surrounding aquifers are projected to change. Fresh groundwater currently enters these rivers as they cross the Perth Basin, often reducing their salinity. However in future, with groundwater levels much lower, it is expected that the rivers will discharge their more saline water into the fresh coastal aquifers.
The study estimated the growth in water demand and compared these with projected water yields to identify areas of shortage and surplus by 2030. The Perth region is relatively water-rich and has been able to supply both itself, and inland agricultural areas and the eastern goldfields, until recently.
The water shortage in the Perth region is anticipated to become worse by 2030.
This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.
Dr Paul Hardisty has been appointed Director of the CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship and will commence in May based at Perth.
Paul has been working for more than 20 years in the environmental and sustainability fields, has global expertise in the resources and industrial sectors, and has advised corporations and governments. He also has strong research links to business and industry, and has developed several joint industry-academic research programmes.
He co-founded the international environmental consultancy Komex Environmental, now part of WorleyParsons, where he has held the position of Global Director, Sustainability and EcoNomics since 2006. Much of Paul’s recent activities have focused on the economics of sustainable climate change mitigation and adaptation. Paul holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering, Imperial College, University of London, is a visiting Professor in environmental engineering at Imperial College, London since 1999, and is Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia School of Business.
He has a strong scientific publication record and recently authored the book Environmental and Economic Sustainability.
The Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship was established by CSIRO in June 2008 to help communities, industry and governments respond to impacts of a changing climate.
See the media release.
By Adam Harper
Deep in the woods of regional Victoria, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d walked onto the set of Star Wars as the night sky is filled with lasers being fired into the treetops. Pew pew!
But don’t worry, these lasers aren’t harmful and sadly it’s not a rave. In fact under normal conditions the lasers can’t even be seen.
What these lasers are doing is setting the global standard in forest vegetation monitoring. They’re called VegNET, world first scanners that have been developed by our Sustainable Agriculture Flagship to measure the change in forest canopies over time.
“By comparing weather and soil information to changes in the forest canopy we can better understand how things like climate change will affect our forests,” said our research scientist, Dr Glenn Newnham.
Forests are the lungs of the earth, they provide us with our oxygen rich atmosphere, filter our waterways and provide shelter for our wildlife; land managers need to understand how best to protect them.
We have been working with the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in Victoria on the Victorian Forest Monitoring Program. This will see about 500 plots set up in forests across the state. If current trials are successful, VegNET technology may form an important part of forest monitoring programs in the future.
“The technology is an adaptation of a piece of equipment you can buy in the hardware store, the laser rangefinder. It measures the distance between two points and with a few modifications can be set to take measurements automatically,” Dr Newnham said.
Late at night, when most of the state is sleeping, these scanners are waking up for work, which involves taking a 360 degree scan over about 40-minutes to record 1,000 measurements of the forest above. This information is sent wirelessly to a data logger and made available online for scientists to access and analyse. Over several years this will become an extremely valuable record of the state of Victoria’s forest environment.
The next step of the program is to calibrate the technology with satellite observations. This will allow the DSE to monitor forest health and condition on a large scale with great ease.
“Traditional methods of forest measurement are still used but some of these sites take hours to get to. This technology is helping to provide more information in less time and is setting world standards,” Dr Newnham said.
The other advantage of such rapid monitoring of forests is that it can alert land managers to issues such as pest and disease outbreaks which may have gone unnoticed for months otherwise.
To find out more about the VegNET technology, it’s creator Dr Darius Culvenor and the partnership with DSE Victoria, we have this video for you :
Ice cores drilled in the Greenland ice sheet, recounting the history of the last great warming period more than 120,000 years ago, are giving scientists their clearest insight to a world that was warmer than today.
In a paper published today in the journal Nature, scientists have used a 2540 metre long Greenland ice core to reach back to the Eemian period 115-130 thousand years ago and reconstruct the Greenland temperature and ice sheet extent back through the last interglacial. This period is likely to be comparable in several ways to climatic conditions in the future, especially the mean global surface temperature, but without anthropogenic or human influence on the atmospheric composition.
The Eemian period is referred to as the last interglacial, when warm temperatures continued for several thousand years due mainly to the earth’s orbit allowing more energy to be received from the sun. The world today is considered to be in an interglacial period and that has lasted 11,000 years, and called the Holocene.
“The ice is an archive of past climate and analysis of the core is giving us pointers to the future when the world is likely to be warmer,” said CSIRO’s Dr Mauro Rubino, the Australian scientist working with the North Greenland Eemian ice core research project.
Dr Rubino said the Greenland ice sheet is presently losing mass more quickly than the Antarctic ice sheet. Of particular interest is the extent of the Greenland continental ice sheet at the time of the last interglacial and its contribution to global sea level.
Deciphering the ice core archive proved especially difficult for ice layers formed during the last interglacial because, being close to bedrock, the pressure and friction due to ice movement impacted and re-arranged the ice layering. These deep layers were “re-assembled” in their original formation using careful analysis, particularly of concentrations of trace gases that tie the dating to the more reliable Antarctic ice core records.
Using dating techniques and analysing the water stable isotopes, the scientists estimated the warmest Greenland surface temperatures during the interglacial period about 130,000 years ago were 8±4oC degrees warmer than the average of the past 1000 years.
At the same time, the thickness of the Greenland ice sheet decreased by 400±250 metres.
“The findings show a modest response of the Greenland ice sheet to the significant warming in the early Eemian and lead to the deduction that Antarctica must have contributed significantly to the six metre higher Eemian sea levels,” Dr Rubino said.
Additionally, ice core data at the drilling site reveal frequent melt of the ice sheet surface during the Eemian period.
“During the exceptional heat over Greenland in July 2012 melt layers formed at the site. With additional warming, surface melt might become more common in the future,” the authors said.
The paper is the culmination of several years work by organisations across more than 14 nations.
Dr Rubino said the research results provide new benchmarks for climate and ice sheet scenarios used by scientists in projecting future climate influences.
Media: Craig Macaulay. Ph: +61 3 6232 5219 E: email@example.com
By Kirsten Lea
For the average Aussie, electricity bills represent about 2.3 per cent of their household budget. However, for many of us on an income below the average, it is a huge expense when the bill lands in the mail box each quarter.
Not only do the bills hurt our back pocket, the electricity we use to heat and cool our homes contributes to around 21 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is contributing to climate change.
There are things you can do to reduce your bills (and stop climate change) right now. Check out our D-I-Y energy saving tips room by room and start saving on your energy bills!
We are also directly lending a helping hand to older, low income Queenslanders with our EnergySavers program. Thanks to funding from the Australian Government, we are working with Brisbane City Council to help 1000 volunteers make small, but significant, changes to take control of their electricity bills.
The way it works is simple; we bring people together in small groups in a local venue, such as a library or school. The group works through our energy fact sheets, filled with tips and advice, they watch a video and chat over a cup of tea. It’s a friendly, useful way for people to understand what will make a difference to their electricity bills. And it works. We have had great results with similar programs.
Just a handful of changes can save enough electricity to cover the cost of bread and milk for the week. That’s a big saving when every penny counts.
Find out more about EnergySavers at www.csiro.au/energysavers or call 1300 119 003.
An innovative global observing system based on drifting sensors cycling from the surface to the ocean mid-depths is being celebrated by scientists today after reaching a major milestone – one million incredibly valuable ocean observations.
From 10 drifting robotic sensors deployed by Australia in the Indian Ocean in late 1999, the international research program has been quietly building up a global array which is now enabling new insights into the ocean’s central influence on global climate and marine ecosystems.
The initial objective was to maintain a network of 3000 sensors, in ice-free open ocean areas, providing both real-time data and higher quality delayed mode data and analyses to underpin a new generation of ocean and climate services. The program is called Argo.
“We’re still about 50 years behind the space community and its mission to reach the moon,” says Argo co-Chair and CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship scientist, Dr Susan Wijffels.
“The world’s deep ocean environment is as hostile as that in space, but because it holds so many clues to our climate future exploring it with the Argo observing network is a real turning point for science.
“In its short life the Argo data set has become an essential mainstay of climate and ocean researchers complementing information from earth observing satellites and uniquely providing subsurface information giving new insights into changes in the earth’s hydrological warming rates and opening the possibility of longer term climate forecasting,” Dr Wijffels said.
Although the one millionth profile of the upper ocean, measured from the surface to a depth of two kilometres, was achieved in early November, oceanographers around the world are today celebrating this critical benchmark in ocean monitoring which delivers data to a scientist’s desk within 24 hours of sampling.
Celebrations included a series of high-level international presentations by senior scientists involving Dr Wijffels, her Argo co-Chair Prof Dean Roemmich from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, oceanographer Dr Josh Willis from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dr Jim Cummings from the US Naval Research Laboratory.
The Argo array has risen to now number more than 3500 sensors, the largest there has ever been. The average lifetime of the floats has improved in the past decade greatly increasing the efficiency of the operation.
Presently 28 countries contribute to the annual A$25M cost of operating the program. The US is the largest provider of sensors to the network, with Australia, led by CSIRO with the Integrated Marine Observing System and the Bureau of Meteorology, maintaining more than 300 profilers for deployment mainly in the Indian and Southern Oceans, and Tasman Sea.
The 1.5 metre tall robotic sensors cycle vertically every 10 days, sampling temperature and salinity. At the surface, the sensors despatches its data via satellite to national centres across the globe, where analysts then check it, package it and send it to synchronous assembly centres in France and the US. The sensor’s ascent and descent is regulated by a hydraulic pump, powered with lithium batteries. Their life expectancy is between 4-9 years, averaging more than 200 profiles per sensor as they drift with the currents and eddies.
Data are collected at the impressive rate of one profile approximately every four minutes, (360 profiles per day or 11000 per month) and on 4 November 2012 Argo passed the symbolic milestone of collecting its one millionth profile. To put this achievement in context, since the start of deep sea oceanography in the late 19th century, ships have collected just over half a million temperature and salinity profiles to a depth of 1km and only 200000 to 2km. At the present rate of data collection Argo will take only eight years to collect its next million profiles.
Dr Wijffels said almost 1200 scientific papers based on or incorporating Argo data have been generated since the start of the program. Prominent findings include:
- Analysis of ocean salinity patterns that suggests a substantial (16 to 24%) intensification of the global water cycle will occur in a future 2° to 3° warmer world.
- A more detailed view of the world’s largest ocean current, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
- An insight into changing bodies of water in the Southern Ocean and the way in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere.
- Isolating the effect of ocean warming and thermal expansion on the global energy and sea level budget.
Dr Wijffels said Argo data is now also being widely used in operational services for the community, including weather and climate prediction and ocean forecasting for environmental emergency response, shipping, defence, and safety at sea.
Media: Craig Macaulay Ph: +61 3 6232 5219 Mb: 04199 966 465 E: Craig.Macaulay@csiro.au
Carbon dioxide emission reductions required to limit global warming to 2°C are becoming a receding goal based on new figures reported today in the latest Global Carbon Project (GCP) calculations published today in the advanced online edition of Nature Climate Change.
“A shift to a 2°C pathway requires an immediate, large, and sustained global mitigation effort,” GCP executive-director and CSIRO co-author of the paper, Dr Pep Canadell said.
Global CO2 emissions have increased by 58 per cent since 1990, rising 3 per cent in 2011, and 2.6 per cent in 2012. The most recent figure is estimated from a 3.3 per cent growth in global gross domestic product and a 0.7 per cent improvement in the carbon intensity of the economy.
Dr Canadell said the latest carbon dioxide emissions continue to track at the high end of a range of emission scenarios, expanding the gap between current trends and the course of mitigation needed to keep global warming below 2°C.
He said on-going international climate negotiations need to recognise and act upon the growing gap between the current pathway of global greenhouse emissions and the likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
The research, led by Dr Glen Peters from CICERO, Norway, compared recent carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and gas flaring with emission scenarios used to project climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“We need a sustained global CO2 mitigation rate of at least 3 per cent if global emissions are to peak before 2020 and follow an emission pathway that can keep the temperature increase below 2˚C,” Dr Peters said.
“Mitigation requires energy transition led by the largest emitters of China, the US, the European Union and India”.
He said that remaining below a 2°C rise above pre-industrial levels will require a commitment to technological, social and political innovations and an increasing need to rely on net negative emissions in future.
The Global Carbon Project, supported by CSIRO and the Australian Climate Change Science Program, generates annual emission summaries contributing to a process of informing policies and decisions on adaptation, mitigation, and their associated costs. The summaries are linked to long-term emission scenarios based on the degree of action taken to limit emissions.
Media: Craig Macaulay Ph: +61 3 6232 5219 Alt Ph: +61 4 1996 6465 E: Craig.Macaulay@csiro.au
Scientists believe that fish ear bones and their distinctive growth rings can offer clues to the likely impacts of climate change in aquatic environments.
The earbones, or ‘otoliths’, help fish detect movement and orient themselves in the water. Otoliths set down annual growth rings that can be measured and counted to estimate the age and growth rates of fish.
“Otoliths can form the basis of new techniques for modelling fish growth, productivity and distribution in future environments,” said Dr John Morrongiello of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship, lead author of a paper published online in Nature Climate Change.
“They are widely used to support fishery stock assessments, and are beginning to be used to measure and predict ecological responses to ocean warming and climate change.
“Millions of otoliths are archived in research laboratories and museums worldwide, and many fish species live for decades and some, such as orange roughy, live for up to 150 years.
“Their otoliths record variations in growth rates that reflect environmental conditions. Longer-lived fish and older samples take us back as far as the 1800s.”
The paper, co-authored by Dr Ron Thresher and Dr David Smith of CSIRO, builds on earlier research by Dr Thresher that identified the potential of using fish ‘hard parts’ (such as otoliths) and deep ocean corals to understand environmental change. It outlines a framework in which Australian research institutions can analyse hard parts and assess past and future impacts on a range of species.
In the next research phase, scientists at CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Adelaide will study selected species of commercial interest, including tiger flathead, black bream, blue gropers, barramundi and tropical snappers.
“We will use otoliths to investigate the environmental drivers of fish growth for many species around Australia,” Dr Morrongiello said.
“This will allow us to generate a continental-scale evaluation of climate change impacts on Australia’s fishes and help to guide the conservation and management of our aquatic environments into the future.”
Dr Thresher said there had already been extensive use of hard part archives from corals to reflect on climate variability, such as El Niño events, and to reconstruct environmental histories.
“Any change identified in growth and age maturity, especially of commercially-important species, clearly has implications for forecasting future stock states and the sustainable management of fisheries,” Dr Thresher said.
“A better ability to predict such change will greatly enhance our ability to forecast, manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change in marine and freshwater systems.”
Media: Bryony Bennett. Phone: +61 3 6232 5261 Alt Phone: +61 3 6232 5222 Email: Bryony.Bennett@csiro.au
“Why should I care about biodiversity?” This is a valid question, particularly in a world that faces a changing climate. In addition, there are other things to worry about such as global food shortages, getting the kids to school on time and exercising.
What is biodiversity?
One simple but profound answer is that all of us need to breathe, drink and eat. These are all benefits that are fundamentally provided by biodiversity. But the reasons to pause and consider the value of maintaining our country’s biodiversity are broader than this.
First of all, what exactly do we mean by biodiversity? Biodiversity collectively describes the vast array of approximately 9 million unique living organisms (including Homo sapiens) that inhabit the earth, together with the interactions amongst them.
The concept includes every species of bacteria, virus, plant, fungi, and animal, as well as the diversity of genetic material within each species. It also encompasses the diverse ecosystems the species make up and the ongoing evolutionary processes that keep them functioning and adapting.
We can’t get by without it
Without these organisms, ecosystems and ecological processes, human societies could not exist. They supply us with oxygen and clean water. They cycle carbon and fix nutrients. They enable plants to grow and therefore to feed us, keep pest species and diseases in check and help protect against flooding and regulate the climate.
These benefits are known as ecosystem services. A functioning natural world also provides a living for farmers, fishers, timber-workers and tourism operators to name but a few. So biodiversity keeps us alive, but there are other less tangible benefits.
Recreation such as fishing or hiking, the aesthetic beauty of the natural world and our spiritual connection with nature; the cultural values we place on plants and animals such as the kangaroo and emu on the Australian coat of arms – these are all benefits of biodiversity.
Research suggests that natural environments have direct and positive impacts on human well-being, despite the highly-urbanised modern lifestyles that most of us live. Mental-health benefits from exercising in natural environments have been are greater than those gained by exercising in the synthetic environment of the gym. Mood and self-esteem benefits are even greater if water is present.
The value that humans gain from biodiversity reminds us that, despite being predominantly urban, we are still intrinsically part of the natural world. We are a component of and therefore dependent on the ecosystem. This has led to the global concerns around anthropogenic biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity in decline
Changes in surrounding biodiversity affect all of us. Unlike other species however, we have the chance to determine what these effects might be. In considering our role in biodiversity, there is some good news and some bad news.
Let’s start with the bad. Globally, biodiversity is in rapid decline. The explosion of the human population from 2 to 7 billion in just 100 years has caused the extinction of many species.
Scientists agree that the earth is experiencing its first anthropogenic climate-driven global extinction event. They also agree that this is happening at a rate too fast for species to adapt. CSIRO research shows that by 2070, the impacts of climate change on Australia’s biodiversity will be widespread and extreme.
This loss of biodiversity is concerning because of the growing consensus that it goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in the stability and productivity of ecosystems. The result may be that the services on which we rely could be compromised in damaging ways.
We have the science: policy is the next step
And the good news? In Australia, we are well-placed to meet the challenge of biodiversity management head-on. We have substantial national scientific expertise to draw on. On the global scale we have a good record of effective interaction between science and policy. The latter is particularly important.
To halt the decline in biodiversity across the continent, we must translate accumulated knowledge on biodiversity into government policy. This can be done through programs and on-the-ground management. Tough decisions need to be made about where to invest, what to manage, and which approach to take.
These decisions can be emotionally and politically charged. Navigating the complex environmental, economic and political values can be extremely challenging.
Good resources for good policy
Despite these challenges there are things we can do. Australian scientists are actively developing better ways to support good governance and effective investment for improved conservation decision-making.
- The Environmental Decision hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program is tackling gaps in environmental decision-making, monitoring and adaptive management. One of the hub’s projects assessed approaches to species relocation in Australia. Relocation is becoming more prevalent as species experience habitat loss due to impacts such as climate change. The scientists developed guidelines to improve relocation’s success rates.
- The Atlas of Living Australia brings together Australia’s biological information online, making it quicker and easier to undertake biodiversity assessments (or just look up a species you’re interested in). It has 33 million records and is growing by the day.
- A collaborative project between Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) managers, traditional owners, the Australian government, and CSIRO developed guidelines for IPA management plans. These connect traditional knowledge, law and customs with international systems for protected area management.
We urge you to take a moment and consider biodiversity. Debate about the value of biodiversity both globally and to you as an individual will help clarify society’s objectives for biodiversity management. It will ensure that the changes we make help to conserve our natural assets for future generations.
A landmark study has found that climate change is likely to have a major impact on Australia’s plants, animals and ecosystems that will present significant challenges to the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.
The comprehensive study by CSIRO highlights the sensitivity of Australia’s species and ecosystems to climate change, and the need for new ways of thinking about biodiversity conservation.
“Climate change is likely to start to transform some of Australia’s natural landscapes by 2030,” lead researcher, CSIRO’s Dr Michael Dunlop said.
“By 2070, the ecological impacts are likely to be very significant and widespread. Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent. Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.”
Dr Dunlop said climate change will magnify existing threats to biodiversity, such as habitat clearing, water extraction and invasive species. Future climate-driven changes in other sectors, such as agriculture, water supply and electricity supply, could add yet more pressure on species and ecosystems.
“These other threats have reduced the ability of native species and ecosystems to cope with the impacts of climate change,” Dr Dunlop said.
One of the challenges for policy and management will be accommodating changing ecosystems and shifting species.
The study suggests the Australian community and scientists need to start a rethink of what it means to conserve biodiversity, as managing threatened species and stopping ecological change becomes increasingly difficult.
“We need to give biodiversity the greatest opportunity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment rather than trying to prevent ecological change,” Dr Dunlop said.
The study highlights the need to start focussing more on maintaining the health of ecosystems as they change in response to climate change, from one type of ecosystem to another.
‘This could need new expectations from the community, possibly new directions in conservation policy, and new science to guide management,” Dr Dunlop said.
“To be effective we also need flexible strategies that can be implemented well ahead of the large-scale ecological change. It will probably be too late to respond once the ecological change is clearly apparent and widespread.”
The study found the National Reserve System will continue to be an effective conservation tool under climate change, but conserving habitat on private land will be increasingly important to help species and ecosystems adapt.
The team of researchers from CSIRO carried out modelling across the whole of Australia, as well as detailed ecological analysis of four priority biomes, together covering around 80 per cent of Australia.
The study was funded by the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship.
More information and the reports are available from The implications of climate change for Australia’s biodiversity conservation and protected areas.
Ship engine exhaust emissions make up more than a quarter of nitrogen oxide emissions generated in the Australian region according to a recently-published study by CSIRO and the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. Nitrogen oxide is a non-greenhouse gas, unlike similarly named nitrous oxide.
The remainder comes from road and air transport, energy generation, and industrial processes. Global studies indicate that shipping emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulphur contribute to the formation of photochemical smog and particles near land and in ports.
The authors, Dr Ian Galbally from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, and the Australian Maritime College’s Dr Laurie Goldsworthy estimate that approximately 30 per cent of anthropogenic nitrogen oxide emissions and 20 per cent of oxides of sulphur emissions generated in the Australian region may come from shipping.
These are non greenhouse gases which have the potential to affect the air quality near coastal regions, and have consequences for human health and amenity.
Dr Galbally said around 10 per cent of global shipping freight passes through Australian ports annually. “Shipping is a major driver in the Australian economy, with 753 Mt of international exports worth $202 billion passing through Australian ports in 2008-2009.”
“There is limited knowledge about the emissions from ships in coastal regions and ports in Australia, the effects of these emissions on air quality in the surrounding coastal and portside urban regions, or potential effects on human health” he said.
The ports of Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are located where seasonally-prevailing onshore winds dominate and the pollutants from shipping frequently will be carried into the air-sheds of these major urban population centres.
“We’re seeing increasing regulation of land-based emissions but limited regulation of shipping emissions and expect that in the near-future there will be a need to monitor more closely emissions from shipping,” Dr Galbally said.
The authors commenced this study with measurements of ship exhaust emissions on the coastal cement carrier MV Goliath.
Dr Goldsworthy said it is possible to quantify emissions generated based on knowledge of fuel type, fuel origin, engine size, cargo, and speed.
“We know from previous studies and the Australian Pollutant Inventory that ship emissions off the coast of Australia are substantially larger than in-port ship emissions.”
“Nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide emissions at sea are comparable in magnitude with other national sources such as energy generation and industry. They are potentially significant contributors to the air-sheds of major coastal cities,” he said.
The study appeared recently in the journal Air Quality and Climate Change.