Around The Web

VIDEO: Are 'killer' hornets heading to the UK?

BBC - Sat, 2016-05-21 18:51
They have been dubbed the killer invaders that target bees and have even caused the deaths of several people in France, but has the deadly Asian hornet made it to the UK?
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The world's largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem

The Guardian - Sat, 2016-05-21 17:00

As Harmony of the Seas sets sail from Southampton docks on Sunday she will leave behind a trail of pollution – a toxic problem that is growing as the cruise industry and its ships get ever bigger

When the gargantuan Harmony of the Seas slips out of Southampton docks on Sunday afternoon on its first commercial voyage, the 16-deck-high floating city will switch off its auxiliary engines, fire up its three giant diesels and head to the open sea.

But while the 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew on the largest cruise ship in the world wave goodbye to England, many people left behind in Southampton say they will be glad to see it go. They complain that air pollution from such nautical behemoths is getting worse every year as cruising becomes the fastest growing sector of the mass tourism industry and as ships get bigger and bigger.

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Sea grass

ABC Environment - Sat, 2016-05-21 10:30
Twenty-seven km offshore from Cairns in Far North Queensland, experiments are conducted 18m under the sea.
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The week in wildlife – in pictures

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-05-20 23:00

A fleeing giraffe, a sleeping racoon and a close encounter with a great white shark are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

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Can America learn to love the big bad wolf? There are signs of change

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-05-20 20:30

They’ve been called ‘the beast of destruction’ and ‘the abortion issue of wildlife’, but efforts to save the wolf’s population – and perception – are worth celebrating

Some species are eliminated through sheer human carelessness, as we clumsily attempt to mould the world in our image. America’s gray wolf, on the other hand, was almost gleefully wiped out, exterminated with a visceral mixture of disgust and fear.

Related: Wolf population reaches new high at Yellowstone park

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Monsanto weedkiller faces recall from Europe's shops after EU fail to agree deal

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-05-20 19:09

Leading Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta products could be withdrawn from shops by July after committee fails to agree on whether glyphosate poses a health risk to humans

Bestselling weedkillers by Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta could be removed from shops across Europe by July, after an EU committee failed for a second time to agree on a new license for its core ingredient, glyphosate.

The issue has divided EU nations, academics and the World Health Organisation (WHO) itself. One WHO agency found it to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” while another ruled that glyphosate was unlikely to pose any health risk to humans, in an assessment shaded by conflict of interests allegations earlier this week.

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Protect Myanmar's marine resources from being pillaged to point of no return

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-05-20 16:00

Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government must safeguard the ocean from illegal fishing that has depleted stocks by 70-90% and is killing endangered sea turtles and dugongs

As Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) engaged in a historic transfer of power in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw in March, my Burmese colleagues and I stood on a deserted beach 170 miles to the southwest, near Gwa on the Rakhine coast. We were speaking to local fishermen about their livelihoods and hearing about the unfortunate death of a young dugong – southeast Asia’s cousin of the manatee.

To the naked eye, the blue sea and miles of white sand with no development or people in sight were a vision of paradise. And yet, as we learned, below the surface things were far from idyllic. The young dugong that accidentally drowned in a fishing net was just one symptom of another tragedy and challenge unfolding in this country – one that, while nearly unnoticed, could have major implications for the future of millions of rural people.

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Carbon dioxide's 400ppm milestone shows humans are rewriting the planet's history «

The Guardian - Fri, 2016-05-20 14:05

Levels of CO2 are pushing beyond 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. The last time they were there, 15 million years ago, the world was very different

Round numbers can trigger all sorts of weird and sometimes irrational responses.

For example, in about 19 years time when I turn 40 there’ll be some sort of celebration at which I’m told I have reached a milestone. The number can also trigger denial in those afflicted (I honestly wouldn’t know*).

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Want to know if the Paris climate deal is working? University divestment is the litmus test

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-05-20 12:26
Green progress? The ANU needs to dig deeper on divestment. Nick-D/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The Paris climate agreement has been praised for sending a strong signal to the world that we are now serious about cutting greenhouse emissions.

Yet despite the diplomatic acclaim, the Paris deal doesn’t offer much in concrete terms. It is a simple global show-and-tell regime with no enforcement – if countries miss their targets they will receive little more than a talking-to.

For many, the deal’s saving grace is the message it sends to investors, businesses and the wider world outside diplomatic and political circles. The Economist has summed up this “investment signal” idea well:

Perhaps the most significant effect of the Paris agreement in the next few years will be the signal it sends to investors… [After Paris] the idea of investing in a coal mine will seem more risky.

The problem is that there is little to no empirical evidence to support this idea. Will hard-nosed financiers change their ways purely on the basis of long-term pledges that are not supported by short-term actions? Will they redirect vast sums of money because of faith in a loose international treaty? In all honesty, we don’t know.

There are clues, however, if we know where to look. If we want to see whether the investment signal from Paris is working, then universities will probably be – for want of a better phrase – the canary in the financial coalmine.

If Paris has truly signalled to the world that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close, then it should put the movement to divest from fossil fuels on steroids.

And universities are better placed to divest than many other types of institution. It therefore follows that the success of Paris can be measured by whether it spurs universities to quit investing in fossil fuels.

Going fossil-free

Fossil fuel divestment is spreading across the world. According to the campaign group Fossil Free, at least 518 institutions, collectively worth US$3.4 trillion, are either fully or partially divesting.

The list includes groups such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, local governments such as the Australian Capital Territory and the cities of Oslo and Copenhagen, among many others.

Meanwhile universities, which currently make up 12% of this list, have become a particular target for the divestment movement. This is because they are forward-looking institutions with progressive, well-educated stakeholders. After all, it was university faculty members across the world who helped to set out the problem of climate change, and young students who will be among the generations most affected by its future impacts.

Just as universities were among the first movers against apartheid, they can set an example to others in the case of climate. Universities, many of which manage multi-billion-dollar endowments, have both the ability and responsibility to exercise financial power and act early on long-term moral problems.

If the Paris investment signal exists, then, we can expect universities to act well in advance of those with much greater inertia and vested interests in the status quo, such as profit-making corporations (which make up just 3% of Fossil Free’s divestment list).

Mixed results

So far the response from universities has been patchy, particularly in Australia. The Australian National University (ANU) provides an informative case study. It shows both the potential of divestment and the limits of the Paris market signal.

In 2014, ANU blacklisted seven resource companies (including two fossil fuel firms, Santos and Oil Search) on the basis of its “socially responsible investment” policy. This triggered a backlash from the likes of the then treasurer, Joe Hockey, and prime minister, Tony Abbott, as well as sustained criticism from the Australian Financial Review.

The outcry showed the power that universities can wield in the climate debate when they put their money where their mouth is. In this case it was a positive impact as it triggered a wider debate on climate policy and investments.

Last month, the ANU updated its policy, announcing a 39% reduction in the carbon intensity of its stock portfolio and pledging to divest from companies that draw more than 20% of their revenue from coal.

However, the policy allows for continued investment in diversified mining companies such as Woodside Petroleum, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. This potentially includes firms with significant fossil fuel holdings (BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance is the largest Australian coal producer, accounting for a quarter of Australian coal exports).

This is partial, not full, divestment – it’s a positive step, but far from the seismic investment shift needed to meet the Paris climate goals.

Importantly, the trigger for change has come from within, rather than from Paris. There has been overwhelming pressure from staff and students to divest fully. Yet the university has resisted these calls. Indeed, ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt last month tweeted that while the “future lies in being part of the transition to low emissions", fossils fuels are “good business for universities” for the time being at least.

There are several counterarguments to this , from the falling costs of renewable energy, to the improving performance of fossil-free investment funds, which often outstrip more conventional ones. But on a basic level it comes down to leadership.

The ANU has branded itself as a place of “thought leadership”. Its current actions show neither long-term thought nor leadership. True leadership would mean showing real belief in the implications of the Paris Agreement.

Widespread, full university divestment from fossil fuels would further pressure national governments to strengthen their commitments – which will be crucial if the Paris Agreement is to meet its goals.

In contrast, continued investment in fossil fuels weakens such pressure and bolsters a belief in the continued relevance of the fossil fuel industry in a post-Paris world.

Universities such as the ANU have not responded swiftly enough to Paris and the signalling of the end of the fossil fuel era. If thought leaders won’t do it, how can we ask the same of governments and banks?

The Conversation

Luke Kemp has received funding from both the Australian and German governments. As a staff member of the ANU he is an active participant of the 'Fossil Free ANU' campaign.

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Hidden housemates: rats in the ranks

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-05-20 11:10
Rats are true natives of our cities. Rat image from www.shutterstock.com

Rats send shudders down many peoples' spines, and may in fact be Sir David Attenborough’s least favourite animal. But despite their poor reputation, rats are astonishingly successful.

Almost everywhere humans have built their cities, rats have set up their homes – to live with us and off us.

Know your rodents

In Australia we have two species of rat that can be considered truly commensal - a species that lives off the resources provided by us.

The black rat (Rattus rattus), or ship rat, is the species of rat that people will most often encounter in their houses in Australia. Then there is the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), also known as the Norway rat (although it doesn’t come from Norway). This is the species that is often kept as pets and used in lab research.

In the northern hemisphere, the much larger brown rats seem to outcompete black rats. But in Australia and New Zealand, black rats are more widespread and common than brown rats, for reasons we don’t fully understand.

Australia also has 60 species of native rodents, including eight species of native Rattus that evolved from from ancestors which arrived about a million years ago. Similar in size to black rats, these native rats have probably prevented the spread of black rats into natural areas, as has happened in New Zealand and Pacific islands which lack native rodents.

It can be hard to tell a black rat from a native bush rat (Rattus fuscipes), but black rats are more slender with longer tails, and bush rats are chubbier. It is easier to pick a brown rat, which is more than twice the size of a black rat.

Arrival

Black rats probably came to Australia with the First Fleet. There are skeletons of black rats in the gun barrels of sunken Dutch ships off Western Australia, but there is no evidence that their invasion of Australia began before the English landed in Sydney, when they literally jumped ship.

The first black rat specimens collected in Sydney were mistaken for native rats.

The Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney has the first recorded black rat specimens. These were initially thought to be a native species and given the name Hapalotis arboricola. In fact, there are loving descriptions of it climbing in local fig trees and entertaining the residents of Mosman. These rats were, however, black rats. They still climb fig trees in Mosman, and are still mistaken for native rodents.

The name black rat is a bit of a misnomer. We have trapped black rats from around Sydney Harbour in many colours, from light fawn, to chestnut brown with white patches, to light grey and sometimes dark grey, and only occasionally black. They can be very cute.

A very long engagement

Remains of black rats have been found in Indus civilisations from 4,000 years ago, and even earlier from Israel and the Middle East. They probably originated in India, and are likely to have adapted to human settlement many times in their history.

The black rat is now one of the most widely distributed animals in the world, perhaps only surpassed by humans and house mice. The live on every continent except Antarctica.

What brings them to our houses? The houses we live in provide rats with the secure, thermally stable homes they need to breed in. They eat a vast range of foods, and so can exploit our waste. The urban environments we have created are also relatively free of predators.

When conditions are ideal, black rats can reach very high numbers, giving birth to up to 12 young every five weeks or so. But the urban myths that there is one rat for every person, or that you are never less than six feet from a rat, have little support. In truth, we have no real idea of how many introduced rats there are in Australian cities.

Unwelcome housemates

Rats are often unwelcome housemates because of the diseases they spread in their urine and faeces, including leptospirosis (Weil’s disease), salmonella, and E. coli. They are also hosts of ticks that transmit bacterial infections and induce allergic reactions.

Black rats are important hosts of the parasites Toxoplasmosis gondii and rat lungworm - both of which can be fatal to native wildlife and humans. Rats are also famous for carrying the plague, which arrived in Australia in the early 1900s but fortunately died out. Australia remains plague-free.

Rat damage infrastructure when building their nests. They chew electrical cables, increasing the risk of house fires, although why they do this is not clear.

But they actually spend less time in our houses than many people think, more often making use of backyards. They seem especially to love aviaries and hen houses, which provides a ready source of spilled food and underground shelter.

Aliens, or just wild?

Just as native rats belong in natural environments, cities are rats' natural habitat. They may be introduced in Australia, but they have evolved in the urban habitats we have imported.

However, black rats can spill over from cities to remnant bushland, entering an environment that has not adapted to them. Here they have the potential to wreak all kinds of havoc.

Black rats are adept climbers and raid birds nests to prey on the eggs of small native birds, which may be one reason why these birds are uncommon in city parks. They also prey on other tree-dwelling wildlife such as small bats, skinks and spiders.

In contrast, native bush rats are clumsy climbers, and the type of lungworm carried by native rats doesn’t seem to have the same impact on wildlife and people.

Black rats are aided in this conquest by humans. Almost 70% of rats living in bushland next to houses have visited those houses sometime in the previous two weeks. This undoubtedly helps to increase rat populations beyond what the natural environmental alone could support. In contrast, native rats rarely visit houses.

So even though black rats are native to our cities, they can still be pests to humans and other wildlife. Killing rats with poison or traps is one option, but the best strategy is to reduce their access to food and shelter. Make sure your neighbours are doing the same, and aren’t providing a refuge for the rats jumping ship from your home.

This article is part of a series profiling our “hidden housemates”. Are you a researcher with an idea for a “hidden housemates” story? Get in touch.

The Conversation

Peter Banks receives funding from The Australian Research Council, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Mosman Council, Rentokil, Bayer, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NZ Ministry of Business, Transport for NSW, The Paddy Pallin Foundation, Manly Council, and The Australian Wildlife Conservancy

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Down sydrome points to key gene responsible for type 2 diabetes

ABC Science - Fri, 2016-05-20 10:07
GENE LINK: One of the key genes responsible for the onset of type 2 diabetes has been identified, opening up possibilities to develop a drug to combat the condition.
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Election 2016: climate politics off to a chilly start, but could still heat up

The Conversation - Fri, 2016-05-20 05:37

One week into the extended federal election campaign, climate has not featured prominently. While prime minister Malcolm Turnbull campaigns on “jobs and growth”, opposition leader Bill Shorten has emphasised education and employment conditions. Climate also warranted no mention in the government’s pre-election budget.

This week’s National Press Club debate between federal environment minister Greg Hunt and his shadow counterpart Mark Butler largely retrod party lines, and received limited coverage.

Yet 2016 could still be a climate election. Here’s why.

Points of difference

There are major climate policy differences between the Coalition government and Labor opposition.

The government has committed to a target of 26% to 28% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030 (relative to 2005), and remains committed to its incentive-only auction scheme for industry to reduce emissions.

By contrast, Labor has committed to a 45% reduction in emissions over the same period, with a 50% renewable energy target. It has also pledged to set up an emissions trading scheme that is more consistent with how other countries are approaching climate policy.

These are substantial differences, especially given criticisms that the government’s Direct Action model is expensive and inefficient and offers no guarantee of achieving its stated targets. So there are opportunities for climate to feature prominently as a point of policy difference.

Public opinion

Public opinion tends to move in favour of the opposition on climate policy. For the past several years, the Lowy Institute has polled Australians on climate policy, among other international issues. It has found, perhaps surprisingly, that Australians tend to be most supportive of strong action when the government of the day is perceived as inactive.

The high point for public support was 2006. Conversely, the low point for public support on strong climate action was 2012, as the Labor government under Julia Gillard introduced the carbon tax.

There is evidence now of a rebound in support for climate policy, with perceptions that the government is dragging its feet on climate change. This clearly creates incentives for Labor to campaign on climate.

Green pressure

The Greens loom as a threat to Labor if it doesn’t emphasise its commitment to climate action. The Greens surprised many by winning the lower house seat of Melbourne in 2010, and Adam Bandt has held it since.

Now the Greens have their sights set on other lower house seats, and perception that it is the party that takes climate action seriously will have damaging effects for Labor in electorates most vulnerable to Greens campaigning.

Political opponents of all stripes have a real opportunity to wedge the prime minister on climate change. It appears likely that prime minister Turnbull is playing a long game and hoping that an election victory will allow him to marginalise those parts of his government that still oppose climate action.

This view involves placing weight on the claims Turnbull made on losing the coalition leadership to Tony Abbott in 2009. Then, he declared that he did not want to lead a party not serious about climate action, and questioned any policy that claimed to be cost-neutral. These statements may come back to haunt him.

Finally, civil society groups are mobilising aggressively on climate change. Groups such as GetUp! will be out in force come election day and are promoting climate action, while environmental groups are pushing hard to ensure that climate change will not be forgotten in the election.

Building on devastating reports of coral bleaching and David Attenborough’s most recent television series, many are using the Great Barrier Reef as a symbol of the need to take climate action seriously.

Dangers of a climate election?

For some analysts, Australia’s 2007 contest could rightly be described as “the world’s first climate election”.

The then Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd rode a wave of support for strong climate action, and took office from a Coalition government perceived as weak on climate change.

In 2013, Coalition opposition leader Tony Abbott declared that the forthcoming election would be a “referendum on the carbon tax”, and in those terms he scored a resounding victory.

In both of these accounts, the role of climate policy in the election result is probably overstated. But it also helps to explain why leaders of both parties appear spooked by the idea of campaigning strongly on their climate policy. It may be easier for Labor to announce its climate position softly, and the government to run a scare campaign on economic costs of any stronger action than its own platform.

Indeed, for some advocates of climate action, a climate election may not be a good thing. The climate consensus that characterises the position of progressive countries has not been reflected in Australia. This undermines policy consistency, economic predictability for business, and public support for climate action.

But it is also the case that Australia’s most recent brief window of bipartisanship on climate policy in 2009 did not end well. The carbon pollution reduction scheme (CPRS) was never enacted. And both the then prime minister Kevin Rudd and current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull lost their jobs, at least partly because of it.

We may well see climate feature prominently in the weeks to come. And while there may be some dangers, it’s hard to think of a climate policy situation in Australia that’s any more problematic than what has come before.

The Conversation

Matt McDonald has previously received funding from the UK's Economic and Social Research Council.

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Why air pollution in schools is such a big deal – and what to do about it | Ian Colbeck

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-05-19 22:14

About 3,000 British schools are in areas where air quality is poor, with those in poorer communities suffering more

Former London mayor Boris Johnson has been accused of holding back negative findings from a 2013 report on the city’s air pollution.

The report stated that 433 of London’s 1,777 primary schools were in areas where nitrogen dioxide concentrations breached EU limits. Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, is an air pollutant that when inhaled can aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis. It has been estimated that in 2010 there were 5,900 deaths in London associated with long term exposure to NO2.

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Understanding Iran

ABC Environment - Thu, 2016-05-19 20:05
Iran in context with two Iranian-American journalists.
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NASA scientist is right: Australia needs CSIRO's aerosol monitoring more than ever

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-05-19 15:57

Atmospheric scientists worldwide are seeking to save Australia’s involvement in a NASA-led global network of instruments that monitor microscopic particles called “aerosols”, which play an important role in cooling and warming the Earth’s climate.

When most people think of aerosols, their mind turns to fly spray or deodorant. But the term has a much broader meaning, covering any microscopic particle that can remain airborne for long periods. Think of household dust floating in a ray of sun through your window. It’s an aerosol. So is smoke, salt spray from the sea, ultrafine sand from beaches and deserts, ash from volcanoes, and the carbon soot emitted from car and truck exhaust pipes.

These aerosols sometimes give us blazing red sunsets. But they are also crucial in controlling the Earth’s climate, acting as both warming and cooling agents. Although, molecular gases like methane and carbon dioxide garner more attention for their strong warming effect.

A stark example of the role atmospheric aerosols can play is the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. The 20 million tonnes of aerosol ejected into the atmosphere by this eruption reduced average global temperatures by 0.5℃ for the following two years.

Crucial monitoring

An important tool in the study of atmospheric aerosols is an international monitoring network, led by NASA, called the Aerosol Robotic Network AERONET. It consists of more than 450 monitoring stations across seven continents, including several sites in Australia.

AERONET’s data help atmospheric scientists worldwide to understand how aerosols influence both the global climate, and the daily weather at local scales. The importance of aerosols in the weather is twofold. In addition to affecting atmospheric heat balance, aerosols are also responsible for seeding the formation of clouds.

CSIRO’s reported plans to withdraw from AERONET has dismayed atmospheric scientists, including NASA’s Brent Holben, lead scientist on the AERONET program. CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall has reportedly justified his planned changes to the agency’s climate science program on the need to divert resources towards a focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A shift in focus towards action is certainly admirable. As any rational citizen knows, climate change is a clear and present danger to our future, and the need for compelling action towards mitigation and adaptation is urgent.

Government action on climate change is highly encouraged by atmospheric scientists. But it’s dangerous to develop climate policies without reference to reliable, up-to-date environmental data on global temperature, carbon dioxide levels and aerosols, just as it would be foolhardy to develop national economic policy without reliable economic data on national debt, government revenue and expenditure, and unemployment figures.

Whether it’s the economy or the climate, without an eye on the data, how can one be sure that policy is having the intended outcome?

Aerosol tracking is vital

Aerosol data of the kind that AERONET provides are vital to the climate change mitigation and adaptation goals upon which CSIRO is now focusing its efforts. Here are two clear reasons why.

A key strategy to reduce greenhouse emissions is the widespread uptake of renewable energy sources, particularly solar energy. Australia, the sunburnt country, has enough sunshine to power not just our own population, but with future storage technologies, enough to export for national profit.

Aerosols have a significant influence on how much sunlight makes it onto the surface of a solar panel. Aerosol particles scatter and absorb the Sun’s rays, and they also help to form clouds which can reduce solar panels' effectiveness. Thus having precise data on atmospheric aerosols in Australian skies is vital to maximising the output, efficiency and stability of our solar energy facilities.

The second reason involves adapting to climate change, rather than mitigating it. Australia’s agriculture industry is highly dependent on rainfall. Droughts and floods are highly damaging, and both are predicted to become more frequent and severe due to climate change.

Once again, aerosols' role in cloud formation is a crucial factor here. Aerosols also affect the properties of existing clouds, such as droplet size, which in turn has a significant impact on rainfall.

Adaptation to changing rainfall patterns and climatic events such as El Niño are vital to continued output and growth in Australian agriculture. Reliable aerosol data – obtained in Australia, by Australia, and specific to the Australian atmosphere – are vital to making informed decisions about how to protect agriculture in the future.

These two examples – one focused on energy and the other concerning agriculture – show how two of Australia’s key economic sectors each rely on atmospheric aerosol monitoring. CSIRO has for many years played a major role in providing these data, and NASA’s Brent Holben, lead scientist on the AERONET program, has rightly urged CSIRO not to stop now.

More broadly, it’s vital to realise that climate monitoring and modelling, and mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. We can’t build proper policy for action without reliable data and forecast models. The government certainly knows this when it comes to the national economy; the same holds when it comes to climate policy.

This article was amended on May 20, 2016 to reflect the fact that the stated views about CSIRO’s involvement in AEROSPAN are those of Brent Holben, AERONET Lead Project Scientist, NASA, rather than of NASA as a whole.

The Conversation

Surya Karthik Mukkavilli receives funding for this PhD from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Australian Postgraduate Award at UNSW, Australia. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and should not be attributed to the official policy or position of any agency the author is associated with at present or in the past.

Merlinde Kay has received funding from ARENA.

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ScienceTalk - wearable power and social networks

ABC Environment - Thu, 2016-05-19 14:06
Bernie Hobbs gets us all excited about the latest advances in embedded solar power we wear like a second skin, and more proof over the limits of our ability to connect to other people in social networks.
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Australian Heritage Council 87th meeting

Department of the Environment - Thu, 2016-05-19 14:05
The Australian Heritage Council held its 87th meeting on 1 April 2016 in Canberra.
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Twenty-one species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act

Department of the Environment - Thu, 2016-05-19 10:34
The Minister has approved the inclusion of the species in the categories below under the EPBC Act effective 5 May 2016.
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Climate change could trigger 'tipping point' for East Antarctic glacier

ABC Science - Thu, 2016-05-19 09:44
MELTING ANTARCTICA: The Totten Glacier in East Antarctica has an unstable area that could collapse and contribute to more than two metres of sea level rise if climate change remains unchecked, say researchers.
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This election is our last chance to save the Great Barrier Reef

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-05-19 05:46
The Great Barrier Reef's health has declined in recent years Reef image from www.shutterstock.com

The Great Barrier Reef has been in the spotlight thanks to severe coral bleaching since March, leaving only 7% of the reef untouched. The bleaching, driven by record-breaking sea temperatures, has been linked to human-caused climate change.

Apart from bleaching, the reef is in serious trouble thanks to a variety of threats. Many species and ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef are in serious decline.

It is now overwhelmingly clear that we need to fix these problems to give the reef the best chance in a warming world. In fact, the upcoming election is arguably our last chance to put in place a plan that will save the reef.

In a recent paper, we estimate that we need to spend A$10 billion over the next ten years - about five times as much as current state and federal governments are spending – to fix up reef water quality before climate change impacts overwhelm it.

Stop water pollution

Poor water quality is one of the major threats to the Great Barrier Reef. Sediment and nutrients (such as nitrogen) washed by rivers onto the reef cause waters to become turbid, shutting out light for corals and seagrass. It can also encourage algal growth and outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

The Queensland and Australian governments have made plans with targets to improve water quality, but the main plan - the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan – is completely inadequate according to the Australian Academy of Science. Its targets are unlikely to be met. And others have suggested ways to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

To provide resilience for the Great Barrier Reef against the current and rapidly increasing climate impacts, water quality management needs to be greatly improved by 2025 to meet the targets and guidelines. 2025 is important as it’s likely that climate change effects will be overwhelming after that date. It is also the target date for the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan.

What needs to be done

In our recent article, we analysed what we need to do to respond to the current crisis, especially for water quality.

  1. Refocus management to the “Greater Great Barrier Reef (GBR)” – that is, include management of Torres Strait, Hervey Bay and river catchments that run into the reef as priorities along with the world heritage area. This area is shown in figure above.

  2. Prioritise management for ecosystems in relatively good condition, such Torres Strait, northern Cape York and Hervey Bay which have the highest current integrity. These areas should still be prioritised despite the recent severe bleaching in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

  3. Investigate methods of cross-boundary management to achieve simultaneous cost-effective terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystem protection in the Greater GBR.

  4. Develop a detailed, comprehensive, costed water quality management plan for the Greater GBR. In the period 2009-16, more than A$500 million was spent on water quality management (with some success) without a robust comprehensive plan to ensure the most effective use of the funding.

  5. Use existing federal legislation (the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) to regulate catchment activities that lead to damage to the Greater GBR, together with the relevant Queensland legislation. These rules were established long ago and are immediately available to tackle terrestrial pollutant discharge.

  6. Fund catchment and coastal management to the required level to largely solve the pollution issues for the Greater GBR by 2025, to provide resilience for the system in the face of accelerating climate change impacts. The funding required is large – of the order of A$1 billion per year over the next ten years but small by comparison to the worth of the Great Barrier Reef – estimated to be of the order of A$20 billion per year.

  7. Continue enforcement of the zoning plan.

  8. Show commitment to protecting the Greater GBR through greenhouse gas emissions control, of a scale to be relevant to protecting the reef (for example those proposed by the Climate Change Authority), by 2025.

Unless immediate action is taken to improve water quality, the onset of accelerating climate change impacts mean there is little chance the current decline in reef health can be prevented.

The Conversation

Jon Brodie has received funding over the last two years from the Australian Government, the Queensland Government, Natural Resource Management groups, WWF, UNEP, Melbourne Water, NSW EPA.

Richard Pearson has in the past received funding from the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council and the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility. He is a member of ACF.

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