By Chris Johnson
Today, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) named Dr Mark Stafford Smith, the Science Director of our Climate Adaptation Flagship, as their inaugural Chair of the scientific committee of Future Earth.
Future Earth is a new 10-year international research initiative that will develop the knowledge for responding effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change and for supporting transformation towards global sustainability in the coming decades. It will mobilize thousands of scientists while strengthening partnerships with policy-makers and other stakeholders to provide sustainability options and solutions in the wake of Rio+20.
The scientific committee is made up of 18 members from around the globe. It includes a broad range of disciplines and expertise needed to address global environmental change in all its dimensions, including natural and social sciences, humanities and engineering.
“Future Earth is going to change the way we do science globally. It represents a unique opportunity to provide the research needed to address the biggest challenges of our time on global sustainability, and to do so in partnership with decision-makers,” says Dr Stafford Smith.
Here he is discussing Future Earth in more detail.
Research by Future Earth will address fundamental questions, such as:
- What risks are humanity facing?
- Can we adapt to a warmer world?
- How does global environmental change affect poverty and development?
- How can the world eradicate poverty while achieving global sustainability?
Learn more about the vision behind Future Earth below.
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
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 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
A small team of oceanographers from CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship is using a suite of sensors, radar and video cameras, to monitor beach change at Secret Harbour.
The project is part of Australia’s ocean forecasting system, BLUElink, a joint initiative of CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Royal Australian Navy, that aims to provide forecasts of ocean currents and eddies, and surface and subsurface ocean properties.
“Ultimately, we are trying to build a capability to forecast changes in surf zone sand bars and gutters as sea, wind and wave conditions change,” says CSIRO’s Dr Graham Symonds.
Dr Symonds said Australia’s beaches and shorelines are continually changing with varying wave conditions and sea level.
He said regular beach goers would be familiar with changes in beach shape and shoreline position, for example erosion following storms, or rocky sections exposed during winter and covered with sand during summer. Long term residents may be aware of progressive changes in their local beach over periods of many years.
“In the face of changing sea level, the effects of potential inundation and coastal erosion will continue to be a focus of coastal councils and communities for the foreseeable future.
“Our intention is to harness the data we are acquiring here at Secret Harbour and construct a computer model capable of predicting beach shape and shoreline position under the full range of wave conditions.”
“There’s an immediate application for this research by the Royal Australian Navy with amphibious landings, however it can also be applied to improve beach safety, monitoring coastal erosion and understanding of how beaches might respond to climate change,” said Dr Symonds.
Secret Harbour beach was chosen because it is a relatively straight beach that is typical of some of the Perth metropolitan beaches. In an experiment running since May 2011, the CSIRO science team has constructed a beach tower, installed a radar system, in-water current meters and pressure sensors, and a video camera system, focussing on an area of beach about 1 km long and extending offshore about 500m.
“Waves break over shallow sandbars so video and radar observations of breaking waves provide a measure of the underlying bathymetry. Gaps in the surf zone are associated with deeper water where the waves don’t break and often indicate the location of rip currents.”
Dr Symonds said the laptop-based ocean modelling system for the surf-zone will provide wave and current forecasts several times a day for use by the Royal Australian Navy, and will also be relevant for rescue agencies, environmental protection and recreational marine activities such as fishing and surfing.
The project will help develop a core capacity in wave and near-shore dynamics comparable with that available in ocean and atmosphere dynamics in Australia.
MEDIA: Craig Macaulay. Ph: +61 3 6232 5219. Mb: 0419 996 6465. 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
Sightings of balls of lightning have been made for centuries around the world – usually the size of a grapefruit and lasting up to twenty seconds – but no explanation of how it occurs has been universally accepted by science. Even more mysterious are sightings of balls of lightning forming on glass and appearing in homes and in aeroplanes.
CSIRO scientist John Lowke has been studying ball lightning since the sixties. He’s never seen it, but has spoken to eye witnesses and in a new scientific paper, he gives the first mathematical solution explaining the birth of ball lightning – and how it can pass through glass.
Listen to John Lowke talk about his theory of ball lightning:
Previous theories have cited microwave radiation from thunderclouds, oxidising aerosols, nuclear energy, dark matter, antimatter, and even black holes as possible causes. John disputes these theories.
He proposes ball lightning is caused when leftover ions (electric energy), which are very dense, are swept to the ground following a lightning strike. As for how they pass through glass, he says this is a result of a stream of ions accumulating on the outside of a glass window and the resulting electric field on the other side excites air molecules to form a ball discharge.
According to John ball lightning is rare, but it has been witnessed in Australia many times. People just don’t realise what it is when they see it.
CSIRO scientists are heading to the Ombai Strait and Timor Passage to collect data vital to understanding how an ocean current in the region affects Australia’s climate and weather.
Almost two years ago CSIRO oceanographers deployed moorings in one of Australia’s and globally important ocean currents, the Indonesian Throughflow, which connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans through the complex system of islands.
The moorings will be recovered, their data will be uploaded to the ship’s computers and then they will be returned to the water for a further 18 months.
Leading the research team on board Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel Southern Surveyor, is oceanographer Dr Bernadette Sloyan who is a specialist in ocean circulation with CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship.
“The heat and fresh water carried by the Indonesian Throughflow are known to affect both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and so understanding the physical and chemical make-up is important for the future management of natural resource,” Dr Sloyan said.
“The current consists of several different layers that occur at different depths, which weave their way through the complex island network; where there are a variety of seabed landscapes affecting the currents, from broad shallow shelves to deep basins.
“We know very little about how this ocean current changes across the seasons and this will be the first time we look at data from these moorings, which have been in place for two years.”
The moorings consist of sensors recording temperature, salinity, and ocean current, spanning the region from the continental margin to off-shore in water depths of over three kilometres.
These moorings are part of the Australian Government funded Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). Given the importance of the Indonesian Throughflow to Australia’s climate, IMOS intends to undertake long-term monitoring of the two main passages.
Dr Sloyan said IMOS has provided over $1 million in funding to support this work, which will complement existing IMOS observations being collected from the Northwest shelf, Great Barrier Reef, and the East Australian Current.
The research team will also conduct oceanographic sampling and mapping work to create a three-dimensional image of the sea floor in sections of the Timor Passage and the Ombai Strait in the area of the moorings.
The work is being undertaken with the cooperation of Timor-Leste, who will have two observers on the research voyage.
Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor, is owned and operated by CSIRO, and is available to all Australian scientists.
Southern Surveyor Open for Free Public Tours 12-14 October 2012
Southern Surveyor will return to Darwin on Wednesday 10 October and will be open for free public tours from 12-14 October at Stokes Hill Wharf in Darwin.
Places for tours are strictly limited. Bookings can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Things you need to know before booking:
- While you’re on the tour you need to wear closed-toed shoes like joggers, so bring them along and pop them on before you come on board. Sorry no thongs or sandals.
- No children 10 years of age or under.
- Children 11-15 years must be accompanied by a supervising adult.
- Stairways and gangways throughout the ship are narrow and steep
- Southern Surveyor is air conditioned
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