Stories from the November 2015 GCI staff newsletter.
On 30 October the Global Change Institute held a special event to congratulate its Board Member Robyn Williams on 40 years of ABC Radio National's The Science Show.
Almost 200 people attended the celebration, which was hosted by well-known ABC personality John Doyle at Customs House.
During the evening, Australia's Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb AC discussed the future of science in Australia; while Sir David Attenborough, Cate Blanchett, The Lord May of Oxford and other internationally recognised scientists sent video tributes.
At the request of the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, climate scientists from eight Australian universities travelled to Canberra in late October 2015 to brief politicians on the science of climate change in the lead up to COP21 in Paris.
The information session and private briefings were well received by elected representatives, while the Backbench Environment Committee provided an opportunity for scientists to speak with climate sceptics.
In all, almost 40 elected representatives attended briefings or requested their advisors to do so.
The information session was well received by members and senators. Many commented the session was one of the best they had attended, with the overviews pitched at a good level for those present.
Questions at the session focused on the impact of climate change on the economy, the ability of coral to recover from global warming and whether the target of 2°C warming was realistic.
A global coral bleaching event expected to heavily impact the Great Barrier Reef has been confirmed by scientists from The University of Queensland and the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration.
UQ Global Change Institute Director and Chief Scientist for the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said it was too soon to predict the full extent of damage on the Great Barrier Reef, as this was only the third recorded global coral bleaching event in history.
The bleaching event, expected to hit the GBR in early 2016, is being driven by the warming effects of El Niño on land and ocean temperatures, which combine with the impacts of climate change.
GCI Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Pim Bongaerts has received an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to continue his work on one of the least known ecosystems on the planet – the deep-water reefs or mesophotic coral ecosystems (between 30–100 m).
His 2016 DECRA research project aims to assess biodiversity at mesophotic depths and evaluate the vulnerability of these deep-water ecosystems to disturbances and environmental change.
Mesophotic coral ecosystems represent an estimated surface area equivalent to that of shallow coral reefs on the Great Barrier Reef (20,000 square kilometres) yet remain largely undocumented (due to their relative inaccessibility) and are not considered in conservation planning. The project aims to characterise the intrinsic (i.e. unique biodiversity) and instrumental (i.e. role in shallow reef recovery) values of mesophotic coral reefs.
GCI’s Climate Change Research Fellow John Cook has won another international plaudit for his efforts debunking climate change denial.
The influential New York based publication Skeptical Inquirer has elected John Cook as a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
The mission of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry is to ‘promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.’ Fellows of CSI are selected for their ‘distinguished contributions to science and scepticism’.
Mangrove forests around the Indo-Pacific region could be submerged by 2070, according to international research published in October.
Even with relatively low sea-level rises, many mangrove forests had a poor outlook, University of Queensland ecologist Professor Catherine Lovelock said.
“Mangrove forests are particularly vulnerable,” she said.
“Mangroves are predicted to be submerged in parts of Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.”
However the outlook in other parts of the world was more positive.
UQ marine scientists have plotted the effects of a recent earthquake to model how coral reefs might behave under a rapid rise in global sea-levels.
Coral reefs play a critical role in the life cycle of countless marine species, and reef fish are a primary food source for millions of people.
With the number of people living on tropical coasts expected to reach more than 1.9 billion by 2050, it was vital to understand the effect a significant rise in sea-level is likely to have on reef ecology, UQ Global Change Institute research fellow Dr Megan Saunders said.
“At our study site in the Solomon Islands, a large earthquake in 2007 caused the land to sink relative to the sea surface – which provided the opportunity to see how the reef adjusted to relative sea-level rise,” she said.
16 Oct 2015
Greg Hunt approves Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, again: experts respond
Lynette Molyneaux, Craig Froome, et al
12 Oct 2015
India chooses electricity and economics over emissions goals
By Craig Froome
9 Oct 2015
The oceans are becoming too hot for coral, and sooner than we expected
By Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
3 Sep 2015
Economic modelling may overplay the costs of Australia’s 2030 climate target
Lynette Molyneaux, Phillip Wild, et al
Climate change will have a major impact on life in Antarctica this century, according to a landmark study published in Nature Climate Change.
University of Queensland researcher Dr Paul Dennis said the study indicated that by 2100 there would be 25 per cent more soil fungal “species” in the most rapidly warming parts of Antarctica.
“While this may bring certain ecological benefits, it may also help invasive species to gain a foothold in this pristine wilderness,” he said
John Cook and Tanya Dodgen travelled to Mexico City in October to attend the National Congress on Climate Change Research at the National Autonomous University – the largest university in Latin America.
John was invited to speak and gave his talk on climate ‘myth busting’ to a multilingual audience. It was translated into Spanish in real time. John and Tanya took the opportunity to conduct more interviews on climate solutions. It was their first chance to get the Latin American perspective and to interview a broader range of speakers working in climate communication and social issues.
For the first time John and Tanya swapped roles – with John operating the camera while Tanya used her Spanish language skills to conduct some interviews.
Tanya conducted four interviews in Spanish with a range of people that included Mexican scientists, a Peruvian politician, and a Mexican radio host. She’ll have her work cut out for her translating and subtitling this new content.
On their free day, Tanya’s family took her and John to Xochimilco, a famous canal district with historical links to the time of Aztecs. The district is also known for its music and traders selling food from colourful boats.
It’s been a busy few months for Dr Ben Neal from the XL Catlin Seaview Survey team, with his recent relocation back to the US. On his journey home, Ben travelled to Europe with his family and presented the XL Catlin Seaview survey project to a full house at the International Congress on Conservation Biology in Paris.
He then travelled to Switzerland, met with Carl Gustav Lundin from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and presented the project to IUCN staff in their offices in Gland. IUCN was one of GCI’s partner organisations on the Maldives expedition in March this year.
Ben has just left his home in Augusta and is now on the latest XL Catlin Seaview Survey expedition to re-survey Hawaii. During the expedition Ben will be doing more presenting – this time to staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and to the local community in Kihei and Lahaina on the island of Maui. There will be no rest for Ben when he returns from this expedition as he and his wife Loren McClenachan are expecting their second child very soon. All the best to Loren and Ben.
The challenges of maintaining water quality, quantity and availability in a high-altitude, arid and remote catchment beside a mine was dissected by three experts at the UQ Latin American Colloquium on 15 October.
The Global Change Institute’s Sustainable Water program hosted a discussion panel ‘Research and corporate partnerships: Protecting water resources in Latin America’ to an audience of 45 Latin American and Australian guests. This included the Uruguayan Ambassador to Australia, Dr Ricardo Varela Fernandez.
Chaired by Associate Professor Eva Abal, the panel was opened by Mr Zimi Meka, CEO of the mining and engineering services giant, Ausenco. Mr Meka described his company’s large-volume copper mining activities in Peru and Chile, their reliance on groundwater or desalinated water pumped from the coast for their energy- and water-hungry ore processing, and their awareness of providing water quality to surrounding communities.
Professor Chris Moran, Director of UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute, followed this presentation to detail of how water passes through every stage of the mining process. He outlined the various risks of water pollution at each stage, including the long-term storage of mine waste in tailings dams. He acknowledged the engagement with communities and the opposition that can arise, which is often based around water access during the mine’s life, and the management of the natural hydrology after the mine closes.
The session was closed by Professor Helen Ross of UQ School of Agricultural and Food Science. She took a wider view of integrated water management, acknowledging the competing demands of agriculture and mining in Latin America. Her team’s research seeks to understand causes of conflict, and to design processes that enable multiple stakeholders to collaborate and benefits from well-managed water catchments around these developments.
This colloquium session occurred ahead of the upcoming UQ mission to Argentina and Uruguay, to discuss UQ’s water research leadership with government, industry and research organisations. AusTrade has invited and organised a busy itinerary in early November that will include GCI’s Eva Abal and Dr Nina Hall, as well as Professor Helen Ross (SAFS), Dr Sue Vink (SMI) and Dr Stephan Tait (AWMC).
At the International River Symposium in Brisbane (21-24 Sep), GCI’s Sustainable Water program hosted a breakfast session on ‘Waterways stewardship for healthy communities’, as part of The University of Queensland’s sponsorship of the symposium.
A key dimension of water resource management is considering the health and well-being of communities living near riparian environments. Stewardship of a water catchment requires consideration of the water needs, uses and waste outputs of these communities for long term sustainability of both the water resource and local population.
Facilitated by Associated Professor Eva Abal, Program Director of the GCI Sustainable Water Program, the panel discussion featured river practitioners and managers from Australia, Bangladesh, Germany and Nepal, to detail the combined needs in this human-ecology intersection, and the opportunities to respond.
The panel included representatives of the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (Nepal), the Asian office of the International Water Association (Bangladesh), the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (Germany), the International Water Centre and the Australian River Restoration Centre (both from Australia).
The breakfast discussion provided a stimulating discussion that brought together both catchment managers as well as community-focused water sanitation and hygiene proponents to describe the ‘whole picture’ of a waterway that supports human and ecological communities. Integrated into this conversation was the consideration of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 6, to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’, that was endorsed by the UN the following day.
Photo: Panellists of the breakfast discussion session: Declan Hearne (International Water Centre), Bushra Nishat (International Water Association, Bangladesh), Ajaya Dixit (Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Nepal), Siwan Lovitt (Australian River Restoration Centre), Eva Abal (GCI) and Nina Hall (GCI).
Australian and Gulf region ambassadors and trade commissioners assembled in Brisbane on 29 October to outline key developments in the Gulf.
Organised by the Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AACCI), GCI was represented at the seminar by Prof. Karen Hussey and GCI Clean Energy Manager Craig Froome.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market is a region that has experienced continued economic growth and is home to more than 450 Australian companies.
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