Monday, 22 May 2017

Giant 19.4m wave recorded in Southern Ocean

A 19.4m wave has been detected south of New Zealand - and the company that recorded the behemoth believes monsters reaching over 20m were probably created by the same storm.

In a collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force, science-based consultancy MetOcean Solutions recently moored the high-tech instrument in the Southern Ocean off Campbell Island, nearly halfway between the South Island and Antarctica.

Persistent westerly winds and an unlimited area for waves to build combine to make Southern Ocean waves among the biggest in the world.

Yesterday, MetOcean Solutions confirmed it had picked up a 19.4m wave - close to the highest wave ever recorded, which was detected rolling through the North Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and the UK last year.

It's expected the buoy may be ultimately register waves 25m high - the height of an eight-storey building - as it continues its real-time readings fixed in 150m of water.

But MetOcean Solutions senior oceanographer Dr Tom Durrant was nonetheless thrilled with Saturday's detection.

"This is one of the largest waves recorded in the Southern Hemisphere," he said.
"This is the world's southernmost wave buoy moored in the open ocean, and we are excited to put it to the test in large seas."

The company's managing director, Peter McComb, told the Herald that waves larger than 20m likely also occurred between the sampling times, which took place for 20 minutes every three hours.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thanks to global warming, Antarctica is starting to turn green

Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Amid the warming of the past 50 years, the scientists found two species of moss undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than 1mm a year, now growing more than 3mm a year on average.

"People will think of Antarctica quite rightly as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener," said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the UK and lead author of the study.

"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human-induced climate change."

The study was published Thursday in Current Biology, by Amesbury and colleagues with Cambridge University, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.

Less than 1 per cent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer - when only about the first 30cm of soil thaws.

The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved because of the temperatures.

Amesbury said that made them "a record of changes over time".

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Orcas are slaughtering sharks for their livers in precise attacks

Great white sharks are being killed in bizarre fashion off the coast of South Africa as carcasses have been found washed up with only their livers missing.

Killer whales are believed to be responsible for the strange predatory pattern, with one expert noting that the organs were removed with "surgical precision".

At least three liver-less white shark carcasses have washed up near the popular tourist town Gansbaai, South Africa, so far in an unprecedented set of killings.

Experts suggest that local killer whales have developed an appetite for squalene - an organic chemical compound found in abundance in shark liver oil.

"Obviously this is a very sad time for us all," Alison Towner, a biologist with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, wrote in a Facebook post after the third carcass was discovered near Gansbaai.

"Nature can be so cruel and the dexterity these enormous animals are capable of is mind blowing... almost surgical precision as they remove the squalene-rich liver of the white sharks and dump their carcass."

Gansbaai is widely considered one of the best regions in the world for shark diving.

Sharks generate millions in tourist revenue for the town, but the killer whales' spree appears to have driven many of the sharks away.

Local shark diving tour companies have complained that their trips are coming up empty.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Climate cycles that could mean we're about to get even hotter

El Nino, and its sister La Nina, have long been one of the key drivers of Australia's weather.

But environmental scientists now suspect they could be little more than the climactic equivalents of cheeky kids at the family barbecue. Instead, a "kindly aunty" and "cranky uncle" could have a far more wide reaching effect on our climate.

With El Nino being the Spanish for "the boy" and La Nina "the girl" scientists have named these overarching systems El Tio meaning, "the uncle," and La Tia "the aunt".

And if the boy and the uncle join forces, things may be about to get hairy. At the very least, you may want to slap on some more sunscreen, reports

Dr Benjamin Henly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, told a prolonged La Tia may have "lulled us into a false sense of security" that global warming had slowed when the reality is climate change could be on the verge of accelerating.

That could spell disaster for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement which aimed to keep the world's average annual temperatures to 1.5C below pre industrial levels.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate cycle operating in the Pacific.

A negative ENSO phase, commonly known as an El Nino, sends hotter weather to Australia and can lead to less rain, sustained droughts and weather extremes. A positive ENSO, La Nina, sees cooler conditions and more rain.

Seven out of the 10 driest Australian summers have coincided with El Nino, including 2016 which was the hottest year on record.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Oceans are at the 'edge' of losing all oxygen

The world's oceans close to being starved of oxygen - and even that could lead to mass sea life extinction which could last a million years.

University of Exeter scientists fear the modern ocean is 'on the edge of anoxia' - when the oceans are depleted of oxygen.

And while this dramatic drop in oceanic oxygen comes to a natural end, it takes about a million years,

Studying what happened during the Jurassic period, they found the drop in oxygen causes more organic carbon to be buried in sediment on the ocean floor.

This eventually leads to rising oxygen in the atmosphere which ultimately re-oxygenates the ocean. But it took a million years to get the balance right again.
Lead researcher PhD student Sarah Baker said it was now 'critical' for modern humans to limit carbon emissions to prevent this.

She said: 'Once you get into a major event like anoxia, it takes a long time for the Earth's system to rebalance.

'This shows the vital importance of limiting disruption to the carbon cycle to regulate the Earth system and keep it within habitable bounds.'

The researchers studied the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, which took place 183 million years ago.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Alaska's tundra is 'filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, worsening climate change'

Even as the Trump Administration weighs withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a new scientific paper has documented growing fluxes of greenhouse gases streaming into the air from the Alaskan tundra, a long-feared occurrence that could worsen climate change.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that frozen northern soils - often called permafrost - are unleashing an increasing amount of carbon dioxide into the air as they thaw in summer or subsequently fail to refreeze as they once did, particularly in late fall and early winter.

"Over a large area, we're seeing a substantial increase in the amount of CO2 that's coming out in the [autumn]," said Roisin Commane, a Harvard atmospheric scientist who is the lead author of the study. The research was published by 19 authors from a variety of institutions, including Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study, based on aircraft measurements of carbon dioxide and methane and tower measurements from Barrow, Alaska, found that from 2012 to the end of 2014, the state emitted the equivalent of 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere from biological sources (the figure excludes fossil fuel burning and wildfires). That's an amount comparable to all the emissions from the US commercial sector in a single year.

The chief reason for the greater CO2 release was that as Alaska has warmed up, emissions from once frozen tundra in winter are increasing - presumably because the ground is not refreezing as quickly.
"The soils are warmer deeper, and as they freeze in the [autumn], the temperature of every soil depth has to come to zero before they hard freeze," Commane said. "The temperature has to come to zero and equilibrate, for the soils to freeze hard through. And through that whole period you have emissions because the microbe are active."

In particular, the research found that since 1975, there has been a 73.4 per cent increase in the amount of carbon lost from the Alaskan tundra in the months of October through December as the climate warmed steadily.

Friday, 5 May 2017

New crack in one of Antarctica's biggest ice shelves could mean a major break is near

Another branch has appeared in a huge crack on one of Antarctica's largest ice shelves, and scientists fear it's only a matter of time before a massive chunk -- potentially containing up to 5200sq km of ice -- breaks away. If this happens, the ice shelf may become increasingly unstable and could even fall apart.
Scientists have been closely monitoring the Larsen C ice shelf, located on the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where a large rift in the ice -- now about 180km long -- has been advancing in rapid bursts in recent years. Between the beginning of December and the middle of January alone, the crack lengthened by about 27km. And since 2011, it has grown by about 80km.

Over the past few months, scientists have noticed that the crack has stopped extending in length but has continued to widen at a rate of more than a metre a day. It's already more than 300m wide.

And now, scientists have noticed a worrying development: A new branch has split off from the main rift, about 10km below the tip of the original crack, and has splintered off in the direction of the ocean. The new branch is about 15km long. Altogether, only about 20km of ice now stands in the way of the whole chunk splitting off into the sea.

Researchers from Project Midas, a British-based Antarctic research project based at Swansea University and Aberystwyth University, observed the new crack in satellite images on May 1.
The biggest concern is not whether the chunk will break off -- that seems to be inevitable at this point -- but what will happen after it does. The break will sweep away about 10 per cent of the ice shelf's total area, and scientists have previously speculated that the shelf will become increasingly unstable after this point.

"We have previously shown that the new configuration will be less stable than it was before the rift, and that Larsen C may eventually follow the example of its neighbour Larsen B, which disintegrated in 2002 following a similar rift-induced calving event," Swansea University professor Adrian Luckman, a leader at Project Midas, said in a statement.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Penguin chick raised by two foster mothers

A penguin chick is being raised by two "mums" at Kelly Tarlton's aquarium in Auckland.
The aquarium fostered the chick with the two female king penguins after the chick's mother, Shaq, was abandoned by her male partner.

The two females, dubbed Thelma and Louise after a 1991 Hollywood road film, are the only same-sex couple at Kelly Tarlton's, but same-sex couples are known in other king penguin populations.

"Usually king penguins will bond with a mate. This can be male-male, female-female or male-female," said Kelly Tarlton's guest experience team leader Ebony Dwipayana.

"King penguins have to incubate their egg on their feet for 55 days, so if you think of all of that stress - you need to eat, bathe and even exercise - Shaq was not able to do it by herself as a single mum.
"Shaq unfortunately had her partner leave her, so instead of being able to swap and change every three days with her partner, she had to incubate the egg by herself.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Wasps' bedroom behaviour under microscope

Kiwi scientists have studied the bedroom behaviour of a parasitoid wasp to reveal its mating habits.
Cotesia urabae is a natural enemy of the eucalypt feeding pest Uraba lugens, an Australian moth whose larvae can cause severe damage to a range of Eucalyptus tree species.

Severe outbreaks of U. lugens have been reported in Western Australia, where more than 250,000 hectares have been affected.

Scientists say a similar outbreak in New Zealand could potentially devastate commercial plantations of Eucalyptus and cost the industry many millions of dollars.

Using a special Y-shaped olfactory tube, scientists from Plant and Food Research, B3 (Better Border Biosecurity), Scion and the University of Auckland investigated how odours emitted by both male and female wasps influenced attraction.

The tube presented the target wasp with a choice of odours emitted down the arms of the tube.

The researchers found that male wasps were overwhelmingly attracted to the odour of virgin females and not previously mated ones.

They also explored how male competition and body size affect mating outcomes.

"We discovered that mating success was more likely and the time taken for mating to commence was lower when two males were competing, as opposed to scenarios involving solitary or non-competing males," Plant and Food Research entomologist Dr Gonzalo Avila said."
We also found that the actual duration of mating was longer when two males had been competing for a female.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Man-made clouds could save bleached Great Barrier Reef

Scientists in Australia are examining the possibility of enlarging and brightening the clouds around the Great Barrier Reef to save it from bleaching.

Making the low-lying clouds off the north-east coast larger and more reflective could cool the waters below and help to stem the widespread coral bleaching that is occurring with growing intensity across vast swathes of the 2415km reserve.

Dr Daniel Harrison, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney, said preliminary testing indicated that cloud brightening was a "plausible" solution.

"If you're in a hot sunny day and a cloud comes across overhead, you can feel right away there's quite a lot less heat coming through," he told ABC News.

Cloud brightening was first proposed as a way to address global warming by British physicist John Latham in a short article in the journal Nature almost 30 years ago.

He proposed deploying fleets of ships to spray tiny particles of salt at low-lying clouds above the ocean. The particles would cause additional droplets to form, producing larger, denser and whiter clouds, which would reflect more heat back into space.

Australian scientists at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science believe cloud brightening could prove to be the most feasible and "environmentally benign" way to try to save the reef.

The institute has awarded a fellowship to Harrison to explore the scheme. The scientists have been meeting for the past six months to discuss the options.

"If we can make just a little bit less heat over the reef for a few months during say, an El Nino year, when it's at most risk of getting bleached, we should be able to cool the water a degree or two, which is enough to prevent most of the damage," he said.

Monday, 24 April 2017

'Happy wife happy life' for New Zealand robins

Male New Zealand robins have worked out a way to keep their mate happy: making sure they bring her the right food.

New research from Victoria University of Wellington shows the wild male birds read their partner's behaviour to make sure they bring her the food she wants.

Dr Rachael Shaw conducted the study on a group of North Island robins based at Wellington's Zealandia.

She said robins were monogamous and food sharing, but the mating pairs still showed an impressive level of communication.

"We found male robins appropriately catered to their mates' desire, even when the female's behaviour was the only cue available to guide their choices.

"This suggests that females can signal their current desires to their mates, enabling males to respond to that."

The researchers first investigated the female robins' eating habits, by feeding them either mealworms or waxworms.

They were then given the choice between the two types of insect larvae. The researchers found the female would pick to eat the other type on the second time around.
They then tested if the male would be able to choose the insect his partner would be likely to want to eat.

They found that, whether or not he'd seen what she'd eaten previously, the male still usually made the approprte choice.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Decline of coral

United States government scientists have found a dramatic impact from the continuing decline of coral reefs: The sea floor around them is eroding and sinking, deepening coastal waters and exposing nearby communities to damaging waves that reefs used to weaken.

The new study, conducted by researchers with the US Geological Survey, examined reefs in Hawaii, the Florida Keys, and the US Virgin Islands, finding sea floor drops in all three locations. Near Maui, where the largest changes were observed, the researchers found that the sea floor had lost so much sand that, by volume, it would be the equivalent of 81 Empire State Buildings.

"We knew that coral reefs were degrading, but we didn't really know how much until we did this study," said USGS oceanographer Kimberly Yates, the lead study author. "We didn't really realise until now that they're degrading enough that it's actually affecting the rest of the sea floor as well."
The work was published yesterday in the journal Biogeosciences.

Coral reefs naturally generate sand as hard coral skeletons die, and their calcium carbonate bodies become the next layer of the sea floor.

Meanwhile, the living tops of coral columns grow taller and taller, which allows them to keep pace in eras of rising seas.

But as corals are subjected to more and more assaults from a combination of global climate change, local pollution, and direct human-caused damage, this natural dynamic appears to have been undermined, and sea floor accretion has swung to erosion.ocesses may well also be afoot - reefs across the world are generally threatened.

Monday, 17 April 2017

New crack in one of Greenland's glaciers

The first photographs of a new and ominous crack in Greenland's enormous Petermann Glacier were captured by a Nasa airborne mission at the weekend.

Nasa's Operation IceBridge, which has been flying over northwest Greenland for the past several days, took the photos after being provided coordinates by Stef Lhermitte, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who had spotted the oddly located chasm by examining satellite images.

The Nasa pictures make clear that a significant new rift has opened near the centre of the glacier's floating ice shelf - an unusual location that raises questions about how it formed. Moreover, this crack is not so distant from another much wider and longer crack that has been slowly extending toward the shelf's centre from its eastern side wall.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Climate change: Turbulence to get a whole lot worse on airplanes

A scary new study has warned one of the worst things about flying is about to get much worse: turbulence.

Bouts of turbulence that are strong enough to toss passengers around the cabin could become up to three times more common - and it's all thanks to climate change, according to

Scientists at the University of Reading in the UK have carried out a first-ever study into the relationship between anthropogenic climate change and clear-air turbulence.

They looked at different strengths of turbulence and how each will change in the future, based on a study of the North Atlantic flight corridor between Europe and the United States.

According to the results, light turbulence in the atmosphere would be likely to increase by about 59 per cent in the future, moderate turbulence would increase by 94 per cent and moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127 per cent.

The strongest kind - severe turbulence - was to increase by a whopping 149 per cent, according to the report.

The scientists found these increases would be caused by climate change generating stronger wind shears within the jet stream, which is a major cause of turbulence.

And while even the scariest jolts are unlikely to cause a plane to fall out of the sky, turbulence does cause injuries, including serious injuries, as a result of loose objects and unbuckled passengers and crew being thrown around the cabin

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

1450km of Great Barrier Reef has bleached badly

Scientists just back from a 8045km aircraft survey of Australia's Great Barrier Reef pronounced a dire verdict: Warm waters have severely bleached large swaths of its corals for the second year in a row in a deadly one-two punch.
In 2016, two thirds of corals in the northern sector of the reef died after severe bleaching from unusually warm waters.

Now this year, researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, who reported the previous findings, say that the reef's central sector has been hit by another year of damaging warmth.
"We've had a back-to-back bleaching for the first time," said Terry Hughes, who directs the centre.
"So we redid our aerial surveys again, which was a bit tough. I was hoping to never have to do it again."

After that first survey, Hughes tweeted: "I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students, And then we wept."

Coral bleaching occurs when unusually warm waters provide a stress to corals that in turn trigger a mass exodus of photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, from their cells. The corals lose colour and turn white, an outward indicator that their metabolism has been upended. The stronger the bleaching and the longer it goes on, the more likely corals are to die.

Cases of severe turbulence to soar thanks to climate change, say scientists

Turbulence strong enough to throw unbuckled passengers around the cabin of a plane could become three times more common due to climate change.

That's according to scientists at the University of Reading, which has conducted a pioneering study into the relationship between anthropogenic climate change and transatlantic clear-air turbulence, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The study examined several different turbulence strengths and looked at how they might change in future.

The results revealed that the average amount of light turbulence in the atmosphere is likely to increase by 59 per cent, light-to-moderate turbulence by 75 per cent, moderate turbulence by 94 per cent, moderate-to-severe by 127 per cent, and severe by 149 per cent.

Climate change is generating stronger wind shears within the jet stream and causing the atmosphere to become more unstable, the report claims.

"Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change," said Dr Paul Williams, who conducted the research.

"For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing.

"However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 per cent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalises air travellers and flight attendants around the world."

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Icebergs cause chaos for freighters

More than 400 icebergs have drifted into the North Atlantic shipping lanes over the past week in an unusually large swarm for this early in the season, forcing vessels to slow to a crawl or take detours of hundreds of kilometres.

Experts are attributing it to uncommonly strong counter-clockwise winds that are drawing the icebergs south, and perhaps also global warming, which is accelerating the process by which chunks of the Greenland ice sheet break off and float away.

As of Tuesday, there were about 450 icebergs near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, up from 37 a week earlier, according to the United States Coast Guard's International Ice Patrol. Those kinds of numbers are usually not seen until late May or early June. The average for this time of year is about 80.

In the waters close to where the Titanic went down in 1912, the icebergs are forcing ships to take precautions. Instead of cutting straight across the ocean, transAtlantic vessels are taking detours that can add around 650km to the trip - a day and a half of added travel time for many large cargo ships.

Close to the Newfoundland coast, cargo ships owned by Oceanex are throttling way back to 5.5-7.5km/h as they make their way to their home port in St John's, said executive chairman Captain Sid Hynes.

One ship was pulled out of service for repairs after hitting a chunk of ice, he said.
"It makes everything more expensive," Hynes said yesterday.

"You're burning more fuel, it's taking a longer time, and it's hard on the equipment." He called it a "very unusual year".

Friday, 7 April 2017

Your flight could be powered by rubbish from Nevada

Cathay Pacific broke new ground when it liked a fuel-from-garbage firm so much that it bought into the company.

Its biofuel manager, Jeff Ovens, says he was presented with a blank canvas in 2009 when the Hong Kong-based airline began looking into new ways of helping to power its fleet.
Back then, a looming European Union emissions trading scheme (ETS) was providing the impetus for airlines to look at what they could do to cut their carbon footprint.

While the ETS was put on ice, within Cathay Pacific there was an acknowledgement that there would be a global scheme covering all airlines - as was signed last year.

Ovens says Cathay developed its own target - carbon-neutral growth from 2020 - and put out feelers for companies making fuels from different kinds of feedstock.

Three years later, it took the unusual step of making an equity investment in United States biofuel developer Fulcrum Bioenergy.

There is also an agreement to take 1.4 billion litres of biofuel over 10 years, starting from 2019, once the manufacturing plant is finished.

"Other airlines were aligning themselves for an offtake agreement and nothing else," says Ovens.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The plight of the brainy bumblebee

For our bumblebees, it seems being smart comes at a cost.

Odd findings just published by Kiwi, UK and Canadian researchers show that bumblebees that learn faster have a much shorter foraging lifespan than their slow-learning co-workers.

They also found that the fast-learning bumblebees collected food at rates comparable to the less cognitively able in the colony and completed a similar number of foraging bouts per day.

"Our results are surprising, because we typically associate enhanced learning performance and cognitive ability with improved fitness, because it is considered beneficial to the survival of an individual or group," said study co-author Dr Lisa Evans, of New Zealand's Plant and Food Research.
"This study provides the first evidence of a learning-associated cost in the wild."

The researchers evaluated the visual learning performance of 85 individual foraging bumblebees across five different colonies - subjecting them to an ecologically realistic colour and reward association task in the laboratory and then monitoring their performance in the wild using radio frequency identification tagging technology.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Expect fewer cyclones, but the ones that form will pack a wallop

There was a point earlier this summer when Aussies in the Top End started to wonder: Where the hell are the cyclones?

The Australian region is usually hit with 11 cyclones each season - which runs from November 1 to April 30 - but only five tropical cyclones have been named in 2016-17. The 2015-16 season was the least active on record, with only three tropical cyclones declared.
In other words, it has been eerily still.

That was until today, when a Category 4 monster will hurtle towards the Whitsundays.
The region is expected to endure destructive winds, gales and a dangerous storm surge when the cyclone hits this morning.

The latest research into cyclones suggests that this will become the norm: fewer cyclones, but the ones that do form will be destructive.

That means stronger winds, more ferocious storms and heavier rain.

Cyclones need a very specific set of conditions in the atmosphere and ocean to form. Climate change has made those conditions harder to find, which is likely to lead to fewer tropical cyclones around the world, according to University of Melbourne cyclone expert Associate Professor Kevin Walsh.

One of the key conditions is sea-surface temperature above 26.5C and cool conditions in the upper part of the troposphere, which is found 15km above sea level.

"Climate change is causing the upper troposphere to heat up even more, and so the atmosphere becomes more stable," Dr Walsh told the university's Pursuit website.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Great Barrier Reef: 'See it while you still can'

A leading Kiwi climate scientist has a message for people wanting to visit Australia's Great Barrier Reef: see it now before it's too late.

Dr Jim Salinger said the "burning, drying and flooding" continent was now experiencing dramatic impacts from climate change.

"The iconic Great Barrier Reef, already badly damaged by global warming during three extreme heatwaves, in 1998, 2002 and 2016, is being yet damaged by a new bleaching event is under way now," said Salinger, currently an honorary research fellow at Otago University's Department of Geography.

"The extreme marine heatwave in 2016 killed two-thirds of the corals along a 700km stretch of the northern Great Barrier Reef, from Port Douglas to Papua New Guinea.

"It caused dramatic change for the reef and that climate change is here now.

"The message is simple - visit it now otherwise if we see more diebacks of corals in the next few years, little if any action on emissions and inadequate progress on water quality, then an 'in danger' listing in 2020 as a World Heritage area."

Salinger said the past summer had brought prolonged and at times extreme heat over New South Wales, southern Queensland, South Australia and parts of northern Victoria.

The three heatwaves across January and early February saw unusually high daily maximum and minimum temperatures for at least three consecutive days over large parts of the country.

During these heatwaves, daily maximum temperatures across southeast Australia exceeded 40C over very large areas and were typically 8C to 12C above the January and February averages.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

NZ's future: Zero emissions by 2100?

Slashing pastoral stock numbers by up to 35 per cent has been suggested among ways to push New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2100.

A cross-party group of MPs have commissioned UK consultants Vivid Economics to look at the options, which have been presented as four bold scenarios for the country in a new report launched today.

Under the first scenario, the country would further slash the emissions intensity of its economic activity through technological advances, such as cost reductions in electric vehicles for freight, electric heating technologies for high temperature applications and a vaccine to reduce methane emissions from pastoral agriculture.

This would be accompanied by a structural shift away from pastoral agriculture - with animal numbers around 20 to 35 per cent lower than today - to less emissions-intensive activity.

The country would instead support a diverse range of land uses, including horticulture and crops, alongside extensive planting of forests, covering an extra million hectares of land by 2050.

This scenario could result in a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in net emissions compared with current levels, however the authors said this option still relied upon breakthroughs like high-grade heat and non-passenger transport, along with extra tech in the agriculture sector.

Under a second scenario, an extra 1.6 million hectares of forest planted by 2050 would "substantially reduce emissions" - a 65 to 75 per cent reduction - and provide opportunities in a significantly enhanced forest products industry.

"However, changed land uses may require a difficult transition for rural economies, as well as represent a lost opportunity to reintroduce native habitat."

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Tackling global warming key to saving Great Barrier Reef

The survival of the Great Barrier Reef rests on cutting global warming, with efforts to improve water quality and fishing doing little to prevent major bleaching, according to a new study.

The study, released in the scientific journal Nature, shows protecting it from fishing and poor water quality is doing little to prevent bleaching.
"Global warming is the number one threat to the reef. The bleaching in 2016 strongly reinforces the urgent need to limit climate change," said co-author David Wachenfeld from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The reef experienced the worst coral bleaching on record last summer with protective efforts making no difference to the amount of bleaching during the extreme weather.

"With rising temperatures due to global warming, it's only a matter of time before we see more of these events," Wachenfeld said.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Half of Arctic sea ice decline due to natural causes, says new study

A new study has found that as much as half of the decline in Arctic sea ice over the last several decades was due to natural causes, rather than human interaction.

And a New Zealand climate expert says the findings show how variability in the Arctic and Antarctica might not be so different after all.

Although human interaction is still a major factor in the decline, the study shows the sea ice is less sensitive to our interactions than initially thought.

"It is well recognised that recent Arctic sea-ice decline has both natural and anthropogenic drivers, but their relative importance is poorly known," said the research, published online in Nature Climate Change.

The study was conducted by Qinghua Ding from the University of California, and his colleagues.
It focused on atmospheric circulation in the summer months and how it influenced the extent of Arctic summer sea ice in September.

"We have provided a plausible mechanism for how circulation changes can impact Arctic sea ice, but it is difficult to determine causality with observational evidence alone, because of the feedbacks between sea ice and the atmosphere," the study said.

Researchers were able to conduct several model experiments to show how high-latitude circulation impacted sea ice.
The researchers found 30 to 50 per cent of the overall decline in September Arctic sea ice since 1979 could be accounted for by natural variability.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Villagers at mercy of rising sea levels

When the waves surrounded her first house Vasney Aitoaea was frightened. She could hear them crashing around her, and she prayed to God she would survive.

"That first house fell down," she says. "So my husband built a second near the same place. And then the waves came again. And so we built a third, and a fourth, each time further up the beach."
She looks out to the ocean, flat and oily in the grey light.

"The first house was over there, where the sun is on the sea."

She is pointing about 40m behind her, to a rock that will be covered by water at high tide, but which used to be the edge of the island Kwai, a tiny atoll in the Solomon Islands suffering the effects of a warming ocean.
Vasney Aitoaea, 71, from the island of Kwai, has had to move and rebuild her home five times due to the rise in sea level. Photo / Mike Scott
Rates of sea-level rise in the Solomons over the past two decades were among the highest in the world, averaging around 8mm a year between 1993 and 2012 - compared to below 2mm per year in New Zealand.

Some of the rise in that time has been attributed to natural climate variability, such as El Nino, and the increase has now flattened to 3.6mm a year. But already five islands in the Solomons, a country of 600,000 in remote Melanesia, have disappeared into the Pacific. A further six are so severely eroded that families have had to be relocated, including a whole village. Others have seen salt-water intrusion to the point crops will no longer grow, according to an Australian study published last year.

Kwai, a tiny, white-sand atoll off the east coast of the island Malaita, is one of those at risk.
Community leader Francis Robeni says the island has been eroded to the point it is now small and crowded.

"This island before was a fairly beautiful island," he says. "It stretched out further, 20 or 30m out that way. But during the cyclones, the big seas, the currents it started to erode.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Exposure to pollution 'kills millions of children'

Exposure to polluted environments is associated with more than one in four deaths among children younger than 5, according to two World Health Organisation reports published today.

Worldwide, 1.7 million children's deaths are attributable to environmental hazards, such as exposure to contaminated water, indoor and outdoor pollution, and other unsanitary conditions, the reports found.

Weaker immune systems make children's health more vulnerable to harmful effects of polluted environments, the report says.

Some of the most common causes of death among children, such as malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia, can be prevented by implementing ways known to reduce environmental risks and exposure to these risks, the first report shows. About one quarter of all children's deaths and diseases in 2012 could have been prevented by reducing environmental risks.

Exposure to polluted environments is also dangerous during pregnancy because it increases the chances of premature birth. Infants and preschool children exposed to indoor and outdoor pollution are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia and chronic respiratory diseases. The likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and stroke also significantly increases with exposure to polluted environments.

The second report quantifies the problem by providing the number of children who died because of exposure to polluted environments.

According to the report, every year:

- 570,000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke - smoke that is released by burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes.

Friday, 10 March 2017

By 2030, half the world's oceans could be reeling from climate change, scientists say

More than half the world's oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests.

By the mid-century, without significant efforts to reduce warming, more than 80 per cent could be ailing - and the fragile Arctic, already among the most rapidly warming parts of the planet, may be one of the regions most severely hit.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications uses computer models to examine how oceans would fare over the next century under a business-as-usual trajectory and a more moderate scenario in which the mitigation efforts promised under the Paris Agreement come into effect. In both scenarios, large swaths of the ocean will be altered by climate change.

Nearly all of the open sea is acidifying because of greenhouse gas emissions. But the researchers found that cutting greenhouse gas emissions could significantly delay future changes, giving marine organisms more time to migrate or adapt.

"Things that live in the ocean are used to regular variability in their environments," said lead study author Stephanie Henson, a scientist at the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton in Britain. "It gets warm in the summer and it gets cold in the winter, and species survive that kind of range in temperature or other conditions perfectly well."

But she noted a warming climate could eventually cause changes in the ocean that have never happened before - hotter temperatures, lower pH or less oxygen than have ever naturally occurred. When this happens, some organisms may no longer be able to tolerate the changed conditions and will be forced to migrate, evolve as a species or face possible extinction.

There's a large degree of uncertainty in the scientific community about how organisms will react. But there's evidence to suggest major challenges ahead. Mass coral bleaching events in the past few years have been largely attributed to unusually warm water temperatures. Large-scale coral death on the Great Barrier Reef last year is thought to be strongly linked to climate change.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rhino tragedy gets too close to home with poaching at zoo

For the past decade, poachers have killed rhinoceroses in the wild and in protected reserves around the world at alarming rates, threatening the survival of four of the world's five rhino species.

The poaching is driven by a demand for rhino horns in southeast Asia that has grown nearly insatiable; so much so, experts say, that any living rhino - anywhere in the world - is now at risk of being killed.

Perhaps no rhino death illustrates that threat more forcefully than the killing of Vince, a 4-year-old male white rhino who was slaughtered this week inside his enclosure at a zoo outside Paris. The rhino - discovered by his keeper at the Thoiry Zoological Park today - now holds the ominous distinction of likely being the first rhino to be killed by poachers inside a zoo, experts said.

"This is the first time we've heard of it," said Crawford Allen, senior director of Traffic North America, a regional office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
"It's certainly the first time it's happened in Europe.

"It's an incredibly shocking and distressing occurrence," he added. "It's also a game-changer for zoos. They've woken up today and realised their world has changed if they have live rhinos in their collection."

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Thoiry Zoological Park, which is 50km west of Paris, said its "entire staff is extremely shocked" by Vince's killing. The animal was born in a zoo in the Netherlands in 2012 and arrived at Thoiry in March 2015, the zoo said.

The zoo pinned the killing on criminals who forced open an outer gate outside the rhinoceros building overnight. The intruders then forced open a second metal door and broke open "an intermediate inner door" that allowed them access to the animal lodges, the zoo said.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Climate change could reverse sharp drop in the number of fatal large-scale disasters in New Zealand - study

Climate change could challenge the downward trend of large-scale fatal disasters in New Zealand.

A University of Otago study in Wellington analysed sudden events in New Zealand between 1900 and 2015 that caused at least 10 deaths.

Its findings were published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

It found a sharp drop in the number of fatal large-scale events, from 21 between 1900 and 1919, to just three between 2000 and 2015.

It also found that earthquakes were our most lethal natural disaster, with an average of four deaths a year over the 115-year period covered by the study.

Public health researcher Professor Nick Wilson, who led the research with associate professor George Thomson, put the drop down to safer transportation.

People had found much safer ways of getting around, he said.

"They were largely driven by the reduction in transport-related events. So, ships sinking, trains crashing, aircraft crashing.

"This transportation category reduction probably reflects a large number of factors, such as improvements in vehicle design, marine and aircraft navigation systems, weather forecasting and safety systems in general."

But the downward trend may not last forever, Wilson said.

"In the future, it's still uncertain, because climate change does seem to be happening rapidly.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

NZ forests could be absorbing 60% more CO2

Our forests and other land areas may be sucking up to 60 per cent more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than previously thought and we can likely thank our native trees for much of it.

That's according to new research led by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) scientists, who further found much of the new-found uptake is occurring in the southwest of the South Island.

Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas and responsible for most of the human-induced warming in the atmosphere.

Globally, carbon sinks, such as oceans and forests, have helped mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing about half the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities during the past few decades.

New Zealand's forest carbon uptake played a key role in meeting our commitments under the Kyoto Climate treaty and is expected to play an important role in meeting the country's climate change commitments under the Paris Agreement.

In the study, just published in scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a team led by Dr Kay Steinkamp and Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher used an "inverse" modelling approach to estimate the amount of carbon uptake.

This was done by measuring the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere at a network of sites, and then using high-resolution weather models to determine what parts of New Zealand the air had passed over before reaching the site.

Simulations from a land model, run by partners at GNS Science, and ocean carbon data, provided further information.

From there, the team calculated the best combinations of sources and sinks to match the data.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Penguins much older than previously thought

Penguins are much older than previously thought and their evolution probably dates back to the days of the dinosaurs, according to research on fossilised remains in Canterbury Museum.

The leg bone and toes from a giant ancient penguin were found by an amateur collector in rocks near Waipara.

A study by Dr Gerald Mayr, of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany, and Canterbury Museum scientists Professor Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri has been published in the The Science of Nature.

The researchers estimate the penguin was about 1.50m tall and say the find is one of the oldest penguin fossils in the world, dating back 61 million years.

The bones differ substantially from previous penguin finds of a similar age and show that the variety of Palaeocene penguins, living between 66 and 56 million years ago, was greater than previously thought.

Friday, 24 February 2017

More blue whales found in South Taranaki

The South Taranaki Bight has New Zealand's only known blue whale foraging ground, Dr Leigh Torres says.

In 2015, the first year of a three-year survey, Dr Torres' group saw 33 blue whales. This year they saw 68 different individuals, in multiple sightings over nine days.

They saw five mother and calf pairs, and two male whales having a race - possibly to show off and attract mates.

The whales looked thinner than they should be, and Dr Torres doesn't know why. Many wore scars from predators or collisions with vessels.

They will undoubtedly be affected if iron-sand mining goes ahead in the bight, Dr Torres told the Environmental Protection Authority hearing on seabed mining this week.

For whales, hearing is more important than sight. Sound from the iron-sand mining operation proposed by Trans-Tasman Resources could disrupt their actions or drive them away.

They feed on the marine crustaceans called krill, at depths of 70m-200m. Mining could increase the amount of fine sediment in the water and affect the presence of krill.

Mining would also increase the number of vessels in the bight. Vessel strike is another danger for the marine mammals.

Dr Torres' researchers have placed five hydrophones in the sea area between Farewell Spit and Cape Egmont. They record whale calls and help trace whale movements.

Recordings from January to July show a fairly constant whale presence, and Dr Torres expects to find the same for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

How did our ancient ancestors face climate change? Scientists peek thousands of years back

Mankind is already adapting to the widespread impacts of future climate change - but how did we do it in the past?

Otago University researchers, along with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Oxford, have gazed thousands of years back into the past to shed light on past human responses to climate change.

It has been argued that some of the earliest human experiments with agriculture worldwide were linked to a changing climate, so the research team studied archaeological deposits at a site in the rainforests of the New Guinea Highlands, in the same ecology where some of the earliest global agricultural behaviours have been documented at the Unesco site of Kuk Swamp.

The researchers analysed the carbon and oxygen isotope in the teeth of 140 small mammals from the site with the aim of producing an environmental record directly reflecting human behaviour in this region.

The team found that the zone where tropical forest and open ecosystems met provided a stable source of subsistence for human hunter-gathers, who continued to hunt bats, cuscus, and possums from 12,000 to 300 years ago, indicating that agriculture was not an inevitable or forced event in this part of the world.

Tropical forests have been frequently perceived as unviable habitats for long-term human forager and agriculturalist occupation and subsistence.

A long period of work in New Guinea has helped to overturn this perception in the anthropological and archaeological literature.

Humans are now known to have occupied areas of this region, covered today in montane rainforest, from 45,000 years ago and some of the earliest evidence for human experiments with agriculture comes from the tropical forested portions of New Guinea.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Why the future doesn't look good for our glaciers

Regional climate variability caused an unusual period in which some of New Zealand's glaciers grew bigger, while glaciers worldwide were shrinking, a new study shows.

The research, carried out by scientists from Victoria University and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa), is published todayin scientific journal Nature Communications.

At least 58 New Zealand glaciers advanced between 1983 and 2008, with Franz Josef Glacier advancing nearly continuously during this time.

"Glaciers advancing is very unusual, especially in this period when the vast majority of glaciers worldwide shrank in size as a result of our warming world," said lead author Associate Professor Andrew Mackintosh, from Victoria's Antarctic Research Centre.

"This anomaly hadn't been satisfactorily explained, so this physics-based study used computer models for the first time to look into it in detail.

"We found that lower temperature caused the glaciers to advance, rather than increased precipitation as previously thought.

"These periods of reduced temperature affected the entire New Zealand region, and they were significant enough for the glaciers to re-advance in spite of human-induced climate change."

Mackintosh said the climate variability, which includes the cooler years, still reflected a climate that's been modified by humans.

"It may seem unusual. This regional cooling during a period of overall global warming but it's still consistent with human-induced climate change."

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Whales, drones and ice: Six bold new Kiwi studies

Whales, toothfish and the enigma that is Antarctica's sea ice will be targeted in six urgent Kiwi studies on the frozen continent and in the Southern Ocean.

The projects, funded by the Christchurch-based New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute (NZARI), aim to gather fresh insights into the effects of climate change on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

"The degree of potential disruption to the coastal and near-shore regions of Antarctica from ocean and climate warming is an overarching theme of the research," NZARI director Professor Gary Wilson said.

"From algae to toothfish, there is a clear focus on the potential for living species to resist the changes in ocean conditions brought about by global warming."

One study, led by Otago University researchers Professor Stephen Dawson and Dr William Rayment, focuses on southern right whales.

Mothers give birth to calves weighing about 1500kg, yet they do not feed for the several weeks they are on the breeding grounds.

This extraordinary demand for energy was met from reserves accumulated in foraging areas, where they fed on copepod crustaceans and small krill, which in turn fed on phytoplankton, the base of the Southern Ocean food web.

Primary productivity was driven by oceanic conditions, which were profoundly influenced by climate change.

Dawson and Rayment will study how climate-driven variations in productivity affects the condition and breeding success of right whales, measured using specially equipped drones, in the sub-antarctic Auckland Islands.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Humboldt penguin is stolen from German zoo; keepers fearful

German police say a Humboldt penguin has been stolen out of its cage from a zoo in the southwestern city of Mannheim, and zookeepers say the bird could easily die if it's not returned soon.

Zookeepers noticed the penguin missing during a routine count on Saturday of the South American birds, the dpa news agency reported yesterday.

After a search of the grounds, zoo personnel were unable to find any signs that the flight-less penguin, which is 50 centimetres tall and weighs 5 kilogrammes, escaped. They concluded it was stolen.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

How we're waking climate change's sleeping giant

A world-leading glaciologist visiting New Zealand says scientists are fast running out of time to fully understand dramatic changes under way in climate change's sleeping giant: Antarctica.

Professor Eric Rignot, based at the University of California, Irvine and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will this week give a free talk in Wellington, outlining growing concerns scientists have about the frozen continent and pressing the urgent case for action on climate change today.

Rignot has studied the world's largest glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica since the early 1990s, when NASA and other international space agencies first started collecting satellite data on them.

He is best known for ground-breaking research in 2014 which revealed the rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appeared to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.

In an interview with the Herald, Rignot said while historical measurements stretched back a century, some of the most worrying discoveries in Antarctica had come only in recent decades.

The first evidence of warmer water causing melting at Pine Island Glacier, now known to be responsible for a quarter of Antarctica's ice loss, was made in 1996.

The glacier is part of the 25 million square kilometre West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which satellite measurements estimate is losing more than 150 cubic km of ice each year.

Rignot further noted the first physical measurements of warmer water affecting the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet, at Totten Glacier, were recorded only in 2015.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

It's so hot in central Queensland you can fry an egg on the bonnet of your car

It is so hot in Queensland at the moment that you can literally fry an egg on the bonnet of your car.

Yesterday afternoon a Queensland police officer demonstrated the infamous trick in a video posted online by the state's police media unit as temperatures soared into the mid 40s.

Much of the East coast of the country has been sweltering in the current heatwave but spare a thought for residents in the tiny rural town of Birdsville, QLD who are suffering through an extraordinary run of heat.

Temperatures in Birdsville has surged into the 40s for 18 straight days with the mercury tipped to reach a whopping 47 degrees today, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

The town's February maximum temperature record of 46.2C is set to be broken, far exceeding the town's average February maximum is 38C.

As a number of QLD towns notched new heat records yesterday, this morning Queensland's police media unit reminded people not to undertake activities that could put emergency workers in danger.

" Call off activities like bushwalking, hiking, climbing in #heatwave. You're putting us (Queensland Fire and Emergency) at risk if we have to rescue you," authorities wrote on Twitter.

As a cooler change blows into Sydney, much of NSW is facing the most catastrophic fire danger in history as a monster hot air mass continues north. While temperatures aren't even tipped to reach 30C in Sydney today, much of NSW will remain above 40, as fire dangers reach unprecedented levels.