The ozone hole saga takes a new twist

The ’70s were all about disco, big hair, gold chains and flares… you can smell the hairspray just thinking about it.

Lady spraying her hair with hairspray

You can’t sport a hairstyle like this without hairspray. Image: Indiewire

But while the hairstyles were getting bigger and badder, scientists were busy making a discovery that would put them on a collision course with this emerging fashion.

The atmosphere’s ozone layer was being depleted – and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were responsible. CFCs were one of the main chemicals in hairspray (as well as every other aerosol product) and were used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

When sunlight hits CFC molecules in the upper atmosphere, they break apart, producing a chlorine atom that in turn reacts with ozone molecules and breaks them apart – see this explanation from the Bureau of Meteorology. The ozone layer provides us Earthlings protection from the Sun’s harmful UV rays.

This discovery led to a landmark international agreement known as the Montreal Protocol of 1987, which saw most of the world’s countries sign on to phase out the use of CFCs. This has largely succeeded to date, with CFCs having been almost completely replaced by a related group of chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which don’t deplete ozone (although they do have their own set of problems).

Or so we thought.

In research published in the journal Nature Geoscience this week, scientists revealed that they have detected four new ozone-depleting gases in our atmosphere. More than 74,000 tonnes of three new CFCs and one new hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) – an intermediate form of CFC – have been released into the atmosphere.

While this is a small amount when compared to the peak emissions of other CFCs in the ’80s, these emissions are contrary to what the Montreal Protocol set out to achieve – and so raise questions about where they are coming from.

The team, including our own Dr Paul Fraser, made the discovery by comparing today’s air samples with air trapped in polar firn (compacted snow), providing a natural archive of the atmosphere. They also looked at air samples collected between 1978 and 2012 at our Cape Grim air pollution station in northwest Tasmania.

The source of these new gases remains a mystery.

“We know they are coming from the northern hemisphere, but that is as good as we know at this stage,” Dr Fraser told ABC Science.

“It is good that we have found them quite early and that they haven’t accumulated to a significant degree in terms of ozone-depletion. Now we are hoping to find out where they are coming from so their sources can be switched off.”

Man standing in front of air canisters

Dr Paul Fraser with air samples collected at Cape Grim, Tasmania.

Masking and unmasking of global warming by aerosols

By Leon Rotstayn, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Marine and Atmospheric Research

Climate scientists have established a convincing case for the link between increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and observed warming of the Earth since the 19th century. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated, “Human influence on the climate system is clear.

“This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.” It also concludes that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Aside from carbon dioxide, another human influence on climate comes from aerosols, which exert a cooling effect. Aerosols (that is, atmospheric particles, not propellants used in spray cans) have masked some of the warming that is caused by increasing greenhouse gases.

Without the masking effect of aerosols, global temperatures would have increased more than they have since the 19th century.

I recently led a study that examined the effects of declining aerosols in 21st century climate projections. We found that global warming is likely to accelerate in the next few decades, if the cooling influence of human-generated aerosols declines as predicted.

The role pollution aerosols play in climate change is incredibly complicated. Image: CzechR/Flickr

The role pollution aerosols play in climate change is incredibly complicated. Image: CzechR/Flickr

What are aerosols?

Aerosols are atmospheric particles, which have an overall cooling influence on climate by reflecting sunlight back into space. They also have an indirect effect by making clouds brighter; this further increases the reflection of sunlight back into space. Sources of human-generated aerosols include the use of fossil fuels and burning of vegetation.

Although human sources of aerosols are broadly similar to those of carbon dioxide, there is an important difference.

Emissions of carbon dioxide are intrinsically linked to the energy content of the fuel, so increasing energy use leads to increasing emissions of carbon dioxide. But aerosols are produced as a by-product of the combustion process, and in many cases there are technologies that can reduce emissions of aerosols (or gases that subsequently form aerosols in the atmosphere).

Because aerosols have harmful effects on human health and the environment, such technologies have been deployed in the industrialised world for some time. As long ago as the mid-1970s, emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power stations started to decline in Europe and North America, due to controls that were introduced to combat acid rain, which was destroying forests. These controls also had the effect of reducing sulfate, an aerosol that exerts cooling effects on climate.

More recently, authorities in China recognised the problems caused by aerosol pollution, and began to introduce emission controls, similar to those first seen in the industrialised world in the 1970s. Observations in China show that aerosol pollution peaked in 2006, and has started to decrease since then, despite continuing rapid economic growth. However, high levels of aerosol pollution are still causing serious concerns about health effects in China, suggesting that there is a strong need to further reduce emissions.

In many other developing countries, aerosol emissions are still increasing.

Over the last several years, climate modellers from many research centres carried out new climate projections, which provided input to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. These climate projections are driven by a range of scenarios (or “pathways”), which have different assumptions about changing levels of greenhouse gases.

A common feature of all the pathways is that aerosol emissions decline sharply during the 21st century. The projected decline is based on the assumption that once wealth per capita reaches a certain level in each country, there will be an increased focus on cleaner, healthier air.

In other words, it is assumed that during the 21st century the developing world will follow a path similar to the industrialised world, where aerosol emissions have declined in recent decades.

What happens to climate if aerosols decline?

Whereas increasing aerosols have masked global warming in the past, projected declines in aerosol emissions would unmask the warming effects of increasing greenhouse gases.

We are currently going through a transition. Until recently, aerosols have been acting like a “handbrake” on global warming. Over the next few decades, the decline of aerosols is expected to accelerate global warming, adding to the effects of increasing greenhouse gases.

Results from CSIRO climate modelling suggest that the extra warming effect from a decline in aerosols could be about 1 degree by the end of the century. But the size of this effect is very uncertain, so we compared the results from the CSIRO model with those from a range of international models.

We found that models with a stronger aerosol cooling effect in the 20th century tend to simulate greater warming in the 21st century. In other words, climate models with a stronger aerosol masking effect also have a stronger unmasking effect as aerosols decline.

Understanding aerosol effects is one of the biggest challenges for climate scientists. Aerosol processes are highly complex, and the magnitude of aerosol cooling effects in today’s climate is uncertain.

Every aerosol plume contains a mind-boggling soup of different chemical species; some of these (most notably black carbon) actually exert warming effects on climate, partly offsetting the cooling effects of other species such as sulfate. It is also unclear whether aerosols will really decline as rapidly as assumed in the projections.

Aerosols present an intriguing policy challenge. Concerns about toxic effects of aerosols on health and the environment provide strong reasons to reduce their emissions. But a uniform reduction in aerosol emissions is expected to accelerate global warming.

Based on this research, scientists have suggested that selectively reducing black carbon emissions is a possible option for mitigating global warming that will also have important health benefits.

Leon Rotstayn receives funding from the Australian Government Department of the Environment through the Australian Climate Change Science Programme.

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

More climate news on our Climate Response blog.

Fire and climate change: fire risk needs to be managed

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.

We’ve just experienced Australia’s warmest 12-month period on record, NSW had its warmest January-September on record, and eastern NSW has been very dry.

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.

A farm under a cloud of smoke from a bushfire.

We should be talking about future bushfires. Image: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

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.

The Conversation

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

She’s a social researcher looking to save the planet – and save us money!


Nina’s work has taken her to some breathtaking sites, including Yosemite Falls in California.

Nina Hall is fired up. She wants to contribute to a future that we all want to experience – one that sees good health for ourselves and our environment.

Nina is the leader of EnergySavers, a project aimed at empowering low income individuals to move to energy efficient behaviours and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. This means saving money on power bills, and getting the best value out of the energy that is used.

“The project has been particularly popular among refugee participants who value the interactive introduction to using energy in Australia, and low-income seniors who appreciate the opportunity to better manage their pensions,” says Nina.

Last year, Nina was lucky enough to present the emerging results of the EnergySavers program at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference in California. She even squeezed in a quick trip to Yosemite National Park before coming home.

Nina began her career investigating environmental issues, but as the science on climate change crystallised she moved her focus to climate change and energy consumption.

“I see myself as a change agent, working directly from published work and through a very respected and independent organisation.”

With such a busy role, you’d think she would have little time to relax. But that’s certainly not the case. Nina is a regular bike rider, bushwalker and swimmer – and still manages to find time for her hubby and two kids.

For more information on careers at CSIRO, follow us on LinkedIn.

Climate Crab takes us on a Pacific climate journey

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

Designing a future Earth

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.

What might the future of the Earth look like?

What does the future hold for our 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.

Surf’s up… and down. Wave heights to change as atmosphere warms

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.


A lone surfer. Image: Flickr/stevenworster

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.

Coastal cliffs in Sydney's Royal National Park. Image: Flickr/AndrewBeeston

Coastal cliffs in Sydney’s Royal National Park. Image: Flickr/AndrewBeeston

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:

Breakfast in 2050: feeding a changing world

A farmer in Nicaragua. Image: N. Palmer (CIAT)

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.

When every penny counts

By Kirsten Lea

Man checking the electricity meter

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 or call 1300 119 003.

Ocean science robot revolution hits symbolic millionth milestone

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.

Global locations for Argo robotic sensors – 4 December 2012.

Global locations for Argo robotic sensors – 4 December 2012.

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:

Our changing beaches – scientists look for a break in the surf zone

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.

A suite of sensors are monitoring coastal change at Secret Harbour, near Perth.

A suite of sensors are monitoring coastal change at Secret Harbour, near Perth.

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:

The widening gap between present emissions and the two-degree target

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.

Pep Canadell

Pep Canadell

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:

Goodness, gracious, great balls of lightning

Ball lightning

Great balls of lightning! Image: Joe Thomissen

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.

Looking for link between Indonesian Throughflow and Australian climate

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.

Dr Bernadette Sloyan next to moorings that were deployed along the East Australian Current earlier this year, as part of the IMOS network. The moorings in the Ombai Strait and Timor passage are also part of the IMOS funded network.

“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.

Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, Southern Surveyor.

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
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


Sarah Schofield

03 6232 5197

0417 028 016

Battling pirates, storms and vast oceans in the name of science

A 20-metre South African yacht chartered by CSIRO has completed an epic voyage around the Indian Ocean deploying 55 ocean profiling robots to gather ocean and climate data.

The Lady Amber reached Fremantle last week ending a six-month voyage during which she deployed the profiling Argo robotic sensors that will communicate as mid-ocean climate sentinels for at least the next 5-7 years.

The story of the deployment by the Lady Amber is HERE. If you have Google Earth you can see where the Argo floats are HERE.

Additional sensors have also been deployed during this period by the Royal Australian Navy and US Navy east of the Horn of Africa in a region of the Indian Ocean frequented by pirates. Story HERE.

An Argo float being prepared for deployment from the Lady Amber in the Indian Ocean.

Although the Argo project offers significant shipping and defence benefits, its primary objective is to monitor ocean heat and salinity patterns that drive the climate and monsoonal systems which bring rain to Australia. The Indian Ocean is a critical source of rainfall for southern and western Australia, and CSIRO has responsibility for deployment of the robotic instruments in much of the Indian Ocean.

Argo Animation

Over 30 nations contribute to the multimillion dollar Argo project, in which over 3000 robotic instruments provide near real-time observations of conditions such as heat and salinity in the top 2000 metres of the ocean.

At nearly two metres in length the drifting profilers, or ‘floats’, are programmed to drift at 1000m for 10 days, then descend to 2000m and then sample as they ascend to the surface to upload their data to satellites.

The program is managed through the UNESCO and the World Meteorological Organisation – Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology. CSIRO’s contribution is through the Wealth from Oceans Research Flagship.

The Perth-based head of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission office in Australia, Dr Nick D’Adamo said Lady Amber’s contribution to scientific understanding of ocean and climate processes cannot be overstated.

“National research and operational agencies such as CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and Australian Institute of Marine Science are increasingly reliant on receiving real-time data,” Dr D’Adamo said.

“These Indian Ocean observations also dovetail with Australia’s own Integrated Marine Observing System and play a vital role in supporting State-based marine scientific programs critical for Western Australia, across both public and private industry imperatives.

“Australia is the second largest national contributor to the global Argo program deploying more than 490 sensors in the Indian and Southern Oceans and Tasman Sea and providing an infrastructure cornerstone for this innovative but critical research program.”

CSIRO’s Dr Ann Thresher, who leads the deployment project, said the program is heavily reliant on commercial shipping and research and chartered vessels to deploy the instruments.

“This project has become a significant source of data recording change in ocean conditions relevant to climate but our biggest challenge is finding the vessels from which we can deploy the instruments in locations where we can fill gaps that open up,” Dr Thresher said.

“In this case, the Lady Amber provides us with a flexible option supplementing the support we receive in the region from commercial, naval and research vessels.”

The Master of the Lady Amber, Peter Flanagan,said the yacht and its crew of four had sailed 33,000 nautical miles and deployed 55 Argo robotic sensors since leaving South Africa in December, 2010.

The route of the Lady Amber (red line) across the Indian Ocean.

Captain Flanagan considers the charter voyage as payback for a good life at sea.

“I’ve been on the sea for 48 years and the sea has looked after me,” Captain Flanagan said.

” This is a chance to give something back that will contribute substantially to international science and what we understand of our oceans and how they behave and respond.

“In doing so, we’ve experienced every kind of sea imaginable to fill in the gaps for the Argo program so science can continue receiving real-time ocean information.”

The charter was arranged through French scientist, Mathieu Belbeoch, based in Toulouse, France where he coordinates the global Argo program through JCOMM.

This work is part of the Australian Climate Change Science Program, funded jointly by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Media Requests: Craig Macaulay. Ph: +61 3 6232 5219. Mb: 0419 966 465. E:


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