What do ants, Darwin and Texas have in common? Why, it’s Fullbright Scholar Israel Del Toro.
Born and raised in Texas and currently studying at the University of Massachusetts, Israel was given the opportunity to work with us in Darwin because of his expertise in ant ecology.
He created statistical and geographical models to predict how our ant communities might react to regional climate change. This information will help us conserve habitats and species across different ecosystems.
Sadly, even our little ants aren’t immune to the warming climate. Around 25 per cent of species in Israel’s study showed major declines in their range and could possibly face extinction as their habitats change over the next 65 years.
Our Darwin lab (informally known as the centre for ants) was the perfect location for Israel to carry out his research. Here we hold the world’s most extensive collection of Australian ants with over 5,000 different species – now that’s something to brag about.
“Working with ants is what got me hooked on ecology research. But ant diversity in the US is quite small compared to the wealth of species found in Australia. So for me, coming here to expand on my research interests was a logical next step in my career.”
Israel has just returned to America to finish his PhD. He plans on defending his dissertation early next year and wants to start a postdoc soon afterwards.
“This year has really opened up new doors for me. Doing research and remote fieldwork in the Top End has been amazing. There’s nothing quite like accessing field sites in helicopters in places like Kakadu National Park.”
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Meet Peter Hoffmann, a young climate scientist from Germany who has recently joined our Climate Adaptation Flagship in Melbourne.
Peter is using his analytical skills to tackle the global issue of climate change. It’s his job to run and analyse results from advanced climate models, which reproduce features of current and past climate changes. This will help us better understand and adapt to the changing climate.
His interest in climate change has taken him all over the world – from America’s Tornado Alley to rural Southeast Asia.
Peter completed his PhD in Meteorology at the University of Hamburg, studying the impact of the urban heat island effect. This occurs when a metropolitan area is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.
And now Peter is continuing his work in Vietnam. Here he is reviewing the impacts of climate change on the country, looking at how heatwaves and droughts are likely to change in the future.
He is also mentoring and training early career scientists to help expand their knowledge in this field.
So why choose a career in climate science?
“I wanted to research something where I can see, feel and experience the effects of what I’m analysing. This work has such practical outcomes,” says Peter.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the forces of nature, so this job is the perfect fit for me.”
Learn more about our work on climate science.
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By Kevin Hennessy, Principal Research Scientist, Marine & Atmospheric Research
Recent fires in New South Wales highlight our current vulnerability, remind us about potential future risks and prompt us to think more strategically about risk management. Some key questions have come to the fore, such as:
Is climate change to blame for the NSW fires?
Bushfires are influenced by many factors including: warmer and drier conditions in preceding months, days with extreme heat, strong winds and low humidity, urban development patterns, fuel loads and management.
Together with accumulated fuel loads over the past few years, this provides conditions that increase fire risk. Other parts of Australia need to prepare for an active fire season.
While it’s almost impossible to attribute an individual extreme weather event to climate change, the risk of fire has increased in south-east Australia due to a warming and drying trend that is partly due to increases in greenhouse gases.
What is fire risk?
Fire is a natural part of the Australian landscape. Fire weather risk can be quantified using the Forest Fire Danger Index (FFDI).
Annual cumulative FFDI, which integrates daily fire weather across the year, increased significantly) at 16 of 38 Australian sites from 1973-2010. The number of significant increases is greatest in the southeast, while the largest trends occurred inland rather than near the coast. The largest increases in seasonal FFDI occurred during spring and autumn, while summer had the fewest significant trends.
This indicates a lengthened fire season.
Fire risk is different to fire weather risk, as fire risk is affected by other factors, such as vegetation and human behaviour, in addition to the weather.
What can we expect in the future?
Climate change over the coming decades is likely to significantly alter fire patterns, their impact and their management in Australia.
An increase in fire-weather risk is likely with warmer and drier conditions in southern and eastern Australia.
The rate of increase depends on whether global greenhouse gases follow a low or high emission scenario. Carbon dioxide emissions have been tracking the high scenario over the past decade.
The number of “extreme” fire danger days in south-east Australia generally increases 5-25% by 2020 for the low scenarios and 15-65% for the high scenarios. By 2050, the increases are generally 10-50% for the low scenarios and 100-300% for the high scenarios. This means more total fire ban days.
Fire danger periods are likely to be more prolonged, so the fire season will lengthen.
What should we do now?
Without adaptation, there will be increased losses associated with the projected increase in fire weather events.
Adaptation in the short-term can lead to greater preparedness, including many well established actions such as fire action plans, vegetation management and evacuations; while adaptation in the long-term can reduce the fire risk experienced by society, through actions such as appropriate building standards and planning regulations in fire-prone areas.
Kevin Hennessy receives funding from the Commonwealth Department of Environment.
Not many people get to spend their student days in the Antarctic, but Nick Roden was one of the lucky few.
Nick is a PhD student working with our Wealth from Oceans team and the University of Tasmania. In 2010 he spent a year at Australia’s Davis Station in East Antarctica looking at how the seawater chemistry is rapidly changing as part of a study that began back in 1994.
Nick’s job was to drill through 1.5 metres of sea-ice, often in temperatures as low as -30°C (yep, that’s cold) to collect seawater samples and test the acidity of the water.
And the recently released results were very surprising.
“The changes in acidity over the last sixteen years were much larger than we expected. It looks like natural and human induced changes have combined to amplify ocean acidification,” says Nick.
About 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere each year dissolves into the global ocean. This causes ocean acidification, which can affect processes in living organisms that are necessary to maintain life as well as the ability of some marine organisms to form shells or other hard structures made of calcium carbonate.”
“This is important considering every second breath we take contains oxygen generated by microscopic life in our oceans.”
But Nick’s scientific endeavours are only part of his story – there is a symphony as well (sorry, it doesn’t involve dancing penguins).
Nick is taking part in an arts/ocean science collaboration called Lynchpin – the Ocean Project. As part of this work he is producing a short film about a Symphony of the Oceans based on the science of the ocean and climate change.
By combining this symphonic work with video footage from his trips to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, Nick hopes to engage people in a new experience of ocean science.
“There are some important messages that science needs to convey to the wider world and I feel a social responsibility to do that in the best way I can, which at the moment is through science and video.”
Check out some of his footage from East Antarctica below:
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The Symphony, ex Oceano – we are from the ocean – the ocean sustains us, will be available on iTunes and by limited edition CD shortly.
Every six years, some of the world’s top scientific thinkers comprehensively assess what is known about climate change. The end result is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Several CSIRO scientists are among the lead authors.
The IPCC reports have been described as perhaps the most heavily scrutinised documents in the history of science. Each report takes several years of work. The latest report on climate science involved multiple phases of review, and more than 50,000 comments from reviewers.
“The scientists that agree to volunteer their time to be part of this effort are people that are pretty committed, and they include some of the best climate scientists in the world,” says Dr Steve Rintoul, a coordinating lead author of the chapter on oceans, and a CSIRO research team leader.
Dr Rintoul led a team of more than a dozen people to draft the oceans chapter.
“So the meetings, when we do actually all meet up face to face, are extraordinary. It’s a wonderful experience to be really thinking through as clearly as we can what we know about climate change.”
Dr Rintoul is a Hobart-based expert on the Southern Ocean, focusing on how and why the Southern Ocean is changing, and the consequences.
The IPCC report assesses what the latest science says about changes in Southern Ocean temperatures, salinities and oxygen concentrations.
“The results from our group and from others show that the Southern Ocean is warming, and it’s warming more rapidly than the global average rate of warming in the ocean,” he says.
Dr Rintoul says the main way that the oceans influence climate is by storing vast amounts of heat and carbon dioxide. If the ocean becomes less effective at soaking up heat and carbon dioxide, the climate changes more rapidly.
“That’s a type of a feedback, and part of our work in the Southern Ocean is trying to determine how likely these feedbacks are, how strong they might be, and therefore how rapidly climate is going to evolve in the coming decades and centuries to come,” he says.
Dr John Church is a Hobart-based CSIRO researcher and coordinating lead author of a team of more than a dozen people, for the chapter on sea-level change. He is a past recipient of the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research and a member of the IPCC team that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
A significant finding in his chapter is a clearer understanding of what has caused sea-level rise.
“This is the first IPCC report where we have an adequate explanation for the observed 20th century sea-level rise,” he says.
His chapter provides estimates of future sea-level rise, depicting scenarios with and without mitigation of greenhouse gases.
Dr Church says the most difficult challenge was consideration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Of critical importance is what is known as the Greenland threshold ‑ the point at which warmer temperatures result in surface melting of ice sheets that is increasing more rapidly than the increase in precipitation.
The exact value of that threshold remains uncertain, Dr Church says. It is somewhere between one and four degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures.
The water locked up in the Greenland ice sheet is equivalent to about seven metres of sea-level rise, although it would take centuries for it to melt.
“For our higher greenhouse gas emissions we could be approaching that threshold or even crossing that threshold late in the 21st century,” he says. “That doesn’t mean sea levels will rise by seven metres during the 21st century, but if we maintain high temperatures we’re committing the world to larger sea levels.”
Dr Rintoul adds that sea levels have been rising more rapidly in the past 20 years than the average over the past century.
“The frequency of flooding events will increase,” he says. “So what used to be a one-in-100-years flood will become one-in-10 years, or what was a one-in-10 years flood will happen every year.”
Carbon and other biogeochemical cycles
Dr Pep Canadell is a lead author on the carbon cycle and budget chapter, and a CSIRO senior research scientist based in Canberra. He was also recognised for the part played in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC in 2007.
His chapter focuses on the long-term perspective – taking an historical look at emissions and the industrial era going back to 1750. He draws on this to bring together the global carbon budget – combining the three main greenhouse gases contributing to global warming: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
Dr Canadell says a key factor driving the concentration of greenhouse gases is natural sinks – mostly the ocean and vegetation – which remove more than half the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“This is like having a contract with nature for a 50 per cent discount on climate change,” he says.
It is critical to understand the dynamic of these natural sinks in the future, to ensure they continue to perform this function.
“It is very important to understand that climate change is like a global problem in the sense that the atmosphere is common for society,” he says. “What we Australians do or somebody else does at the other end of the world actually all gets mixed within a year.”
It is an incredible honour, Dr Canadell says, to work in a team with other top scientists and contribute to the IPCC process – but also very demanding.
“The whole process is about five years, since the inception of putting the teams together, the structure of the new assessment, and bringing the people together,” he says. “Then there’s a very intense three years in which there’s a number of meetings where authors come together to actually work and do the actual writing.”
An unexpected challenge was the review process.
“It seems that everyone in the world knows a lot about carbon cycles,” he says. “It’s a chapter that received the most number of comments – almost 10,000 … You need to address every single comment.”
Dr Church agrees the process was very challenging, with some very difficult issues to consider.
“But also it’s very rewarding when the final report is produced and it’s acknowledged, and people look at it and it has an impact in the world.”
What’s to come?
Five CSIRO scientists have been involved in the Working Group Two report, on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, to be released in March 2014. They are Dr Kathleen McInnes, an expert on the coastal impacts of climate change; Dr Mark Howden, an expert on climate change and agriculture; Dr Francis Chiew, an expert on hydrological science and modelling; Dr Penny Whetton, an expert on regional climate change; and Dr Elvira Poloczanska, an expert on climate change ecology.
Video: Understanding why our Earth system is warming
Dr Steve Rintoul, Dr John Church and Dr Pep Canadell of CSIRO discuss our climate science research to understand how and why the Earth system is warming.
Warming oceans are affecting the breeding patterns and habitat of marine life, according to a three-year international study published today in Nature Climate Change. This is effectively re-arranging the broader marine landscape as species adjust to a changing climate.
Scientific and public attention to the impacts of climate change has generally focused on how biodiversity and people are being affected on land.
In the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2007, less than 1% of the synthesis information on impacts of climate change on natural systems came from the ocean.
Yet marine systems cover 71% of Earth’s surface, and we depend on marine life for food, recreation and half the oxygen we breathe. A key unanswered question is whether marine life is buffered from climate change because of the much more gradual warming in our surface oceans – about one-third as fast as on land.
What’s happening in our oceans?
An international team of scientists from Australia, USA, Canada, UK, Europe and South Africa, and funded by the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, set out to answer this question. They conducted the first global analysis of climate change impacts on marine life, assembling a large database of 1,735 biological changes from peer-reviewed studies.
Just as the medical profession pools information on the symptoms of individual patients from surgeries and hospitals to reveal patterns of disease outbreaks, we pooled information from many studies to show a global fingerprint of the impact of recent climate change on marine life. Changes were documented from studies conducted in every ocean, with an average timespan of 40 years.
Although there is a perception in the general public that impacts of climate change are an issue for the future, the pervasive and already observable changes in our oceans are stunning. Climate change has already had a coherent and significant fingerprint across all ecosystems (coastal to open ocean), latitudes (polar to tropical) and trophic levels (plankton to sharks).
These fingerprints show that warming is causing marine species to shift where they live and alter the timing of nature’s calendar. In total, 81% of all changes were consistent with the expected impacts of climate change.
Moving poleward, breeding earlier
As temperatures warm, marine species are shifting their geographic distribution toward the poles. Most intriguingly, though, they are doing so much faster than their land-based counterparts. The leading edge or front-line of marine species distributions is moving toward the poles at an average of 72 km per decade — considerably faster than species on land that are moving poleward at an average of 6 km per decade. Plankton and bony fish, many of which are commercially important, showed the largest shifts.
Warmer temperatures are also changing the timing of breeding, feeding, and migration events. For marine life, their spring events have advanced by more than four days, nearly twice the figure for land. The strength of response varied among species, but again, the research showed the greatest response — up to 11 days in advancement — was for plankton and larval bony fish.
Currents clearly play a role in the large distribution movements seen in the ocean, but there is a more-subtle phenomenon is also at work. Temperature gradients are more gentle in the ocean than over much of the land, and this has important implications for species movement.
Consider the complex topography on land. Many land plants and animals only need to move short distances up or down mountains to reach different temperature regimes. As the ocean surface is relatively flat, marine plants and animals must move greater distances to keep up with their preferred environments as oceans warm.
Seasonal cycles are also dampened in the ocean, meaning that for a set amount of warming, marine species need to shift their timing much earlier than on land.
Although the study reported global impacts, there is strong evidence of change in the Australian marine environment. Australia’s south-east tropical and subtropical species of fish, molluscs and plankton are shifting much further south through the Tasman Sea. In the Indian Ocean, there is a southward distribution of sea birds as well as loss of cool-water seaweeds from regions north of Perth.
Some of the favourite catches of recreational and commercial fishers are likely to decline, while other species, not previously in the area, could provide new fishing opportunities. Essentially, these findings indicate that changes in life events and distribution of species indicates we are seeing widespread reorganisation of marine ecosystems, with likely significant repercussions for the services these ecosystems provide to humans.
By Jill Rischbieth
Communicating climate science in accessible and meaningful ways is always a challenge. A comical and highly resilient climate crab is now taking on this challenge across the Pacific.
We have teamed up with the Bureau of Meteorology and humanitarian experts from the Red Cross to produce ‘The Pacific Adventures of the Climate Crab’. This animation follows the escapades of a comical and highly resilient crab and aims to help Pacific Island communities better understand El Niño and La Niña and how to prepare for these events.
For people living in small Pacific island countries El Niño and La Niña can have very serious impacts. For example, the 2010/2011 La Niña event resulted in severe droughts in Tuvalu and floods in Fiji. The result can be threats to water quality, food security, infrastructure (like houses and roads), livelihoods and health.
But the good news if people are prepared the impacts can be somewhat mitigated. Weather offices can provide warnings and forecasts to help Pacific Islanders anticipate and prepare for changing risks.
The animation comes with a ‘tool kit’ to help link the information presented in the animation to decision-making and action on the ground.
The films and accompanying resources will be useful those working in fields that address climate risk such as climate change adaptation, disaster risk management, health, education, food security, community planning, environmental protection, agriculture and natural resource management.
The series continues in July with a reggae parrot, the next climate communicator to join the climate crab. For more information, visit http://www.pacificclimatechangescience.org/climatecrab
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.
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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