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  • richardmitnick 11:58 am on May 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AERONET, , , , U New South Wales   

    FromUNSW: ” Opinion – NASA is right: Australia needs CSIRO’s aerosol monitoring more than ever” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    20 May 2016
    Surya Karthik Mukkavilli
    Merlinde Kay

    1
    Image: shutterstock

    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, both at NASA and in Australia. 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 is right when it urges 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.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

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  • richardmitnick 6:16 am on May 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U New South Wales   

    From CSIRO: “Solar efficiency goes through the roof with UNSW world-first” 

    CSIRO bloc

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

    20th May 2016
    Natalie Kikken

    1
    Who would’ve thought a prism could be so energy efficient? Dr Keevers showcases his research Photo credit: Rob Largent/UNSW

    We love a world-first here at CSIRO. Every day, our scientists are working to crack the next best thing to benefit the nation. Back in 2014 in the energy domain, we were the first to create super critical steam at the hottest temperature ever outside of fossil fuel sources. Instead, we used concentrating solar thermal technology (a field of heliostat mirrors that concentrate heat from the sun). That’s pretty darn impressive as it shines the light on, or in this case, steams up the conversation about the critical role the sun plays for a low emissions energy future in Australia.

    Another world-first was achieved this week by our friends at the University of New South Wales, in particular the researchers’ Professor Martin Green and Dr Mark Keevers, who have found a way to improve the light-gathering ability of solar cells.

    U NSW bloc

    Cutting shapes in the solar stakes

    We’re not sure what sort of shapes the researchers can cut on the dancefloor, but they sure know how to use shapes for the advantage of solar efficiency, in this case, a prism. But how can a prism potentially change the future of solar efficiency we hear you ask?

    Our own Dr Chris Fell of the CSIRO Photovoltaic Performance Laboratory explains.

    “The UNSW device captures light from all directions onto two separate cells, while only taking up the space of a single cell. The cells and the prism work together to extract the maximum energy from sunlight, using a special reflective layer and multi‑junction technology to split the light into four separate colour bands,” he says.

    Easy! Well, not quite.

    2
    Those panels on your roof would’ve started out in a lab, in the form of a solar cell.

    Rooftops are where it’s at

    It may be about 10 years until we may see this technology deployed on rooftops across Australia due to the manufacturing costs. Dr Keevers said, “This encouraging result shows that there are still advances to come in photovoltaics research to make solar cells even more efficient. Extracting more energy from every beam of sunlight is critical to reducing the cost of electricity generated by solar cells as it lowers the investment needed, and delivering payback faster.”

    Advance Australia solar

    Research Group Leader for Solar Energy Systems, Dr Greg Wilson, commenting on the record announcement said, “The UNSW result is a fine example of how Australian R&D is breaking the mould and shaping the future of solar on the international stage. At CSIRO we carry out extensive research across the entire technology chain for solar including new materials discovery, device fabrication and optimisation, materials characterisation and cell performance determination, energy yield and system design.”’

    “The advances made by UNSW build on a long history of breakthroughs in solar photovoltaics led by Professor Green that have helped grow a world-wide industry. Research investment in solar is not only an investment in our future, it’s an investment in innovation for Australia” added Greg.

    3
    Our researchers aren’t holding a purple snake; it’s printable solar cells.

    What’s next for solar cells?

    As the leading research agency in Australia (we like saying that, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy), we have a whole energy business unit dedicated to renewable energy research including two solar research fields to test all the latest whizz-bang developments in large-scale solar technology. Our approach to renewable energy incorporates understanding of the impacts of solar on the electrical grid to ensure we have access to stable electricity, and how to use it in the most efficient way.

    Find out more about our work in renewables and energy on our website.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:52 pm on March 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U New South Wales   

    From UNSW: “Women scientists are here: we need to be seen and heard” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    30 Mar 2016
    Professor Emma Johnston

    1
    Dr Emma Johnston. Photo: Dan White

    When people think of science celebrities, they think of men. Emma Johnston argues that more needs to be done to highlight the role of women in science.

    OPINION: Malcolm Turnbull, our innovation Prime Minister, says there’s never been a more exciting time to be an Australian but I’m only half convinced. The bright light shining on this new innovation age is not illuminating many women.

    And we are here. A great many women are working in science, technology, engineering and math – and we have been for many years. Some science degrees have had 50 per cent female graduates for a few decades and overall we represent about 40 per cent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics staff in universities.

    Yet, unless you’re looking pretty hard, we are apparently just not that easy to find.

    The media severely under-represents women in science, technology, engineering and math. Just look at the big science celebrities internationally. Who do you think of when you think of science in the media? David Attenborough, Brian Cox, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Brian Greene, or Carl Sagan. And in Australia, our stars are the wonderful Robyn Williams, Karl Kruszelnicki and Adam Spencer.

    I’m one of the rare working research scientists who makes television and I’ve heard a commercial TV executive proclaim “women don’t present science, they present cooking shows”.

    This bias is insidious. It reflects how many women scientists we see on our TVs and in our news articles and how we see them.

    When British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, the headlines screamed “Nobel Prize for British wife” and “Grandmother wins Nobel Prize”. Unfortunately, not much has changed. A 2014 study found that when women scientists do appear in the media, there is an unreasonable focus on their appearance, their relationship status, and their status as a parent.

    When researchers interrogated more than 2.3 million articles from more than 950 news outlets they found that even respected organisations like the BBC referred to men 81 per cent of the time.

    In its more than 50 years, only 12 of the 100 or so science speakers at the National Press Club of Australia have been women. My appearance on Wednesday as part of a panel on women in science with mathematician Nalini Joshi and physicist Tanya Monro will increase the representation of women scientists who have appeared at the press club by a quarter.

    Although many have their own set of biases and stereotypes, the problem is often not intended, but the fact the media tends to run to tight deadlines. They want to speak with the most senior experts in a field and they want to do so immediately.

    Even reporters who are consciously trying to address under-representation may struggle if they only talk to the top. Because science has struggled, like most other fields, to increase the number of women in senior roles. Women currently comprise only 16 per cent of the most senior STEM positions (excluding health) in universities.

    This is the crux of our problem: it’s self-reinforcing. It is well established that a lack of visible role models reduces a person’s confidence in their ability to undertake a role. This lack of confidence, in turn, can create stress that reduces performance and, separately, it can result in gender-biased assessments of “merit”. It also reduces the attractiveness of the career as a choice. So the fewer women leads to fewer women leads to fewer women…

    We need something to change. Australia really needs more women to enter, stay, and succeed in STEM areas.

    By turning off girls, by teaching both men and women that while women can study science, they can’t be science leaders, we are hindering our ability to become the smart and agile society we need to be if we are to be truly competitive in a rapidly evolving world.

    We absolutely need to change the structural barriers to gender equality in science. And there’s promising beginnings. Programs like Science in Australia Gender Equity or SAGE, are aiming to fundamentally redress the gender imbalance at the senior levels of science.

    But we must also change the strong negative stereotypes and unconscious biases as well. We must give our girls and women more successful science role models – something grand to aspire to.

    When we see, hear and read people talking about science we need to ensure they accurately reflect the true, full diversity of STEM professionals.

    Of all the serious issues facing women in science today, the lack of visible role models may be the easiest to fix.

    We just need to be given a chance to say we’re here, we do fascinating research, we have wonderful jobs, and we know what we’re talking about.

    Come find us and we’ll break the cycle together.

    Professor Emma Johnston is an award-winning marine scientist at UNSW, Director of the Sydney Harbour Research Program at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and TV presenter for Coast Australia.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:42 pm on March 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U New South Wales   

    From UNSW: “A golden age of ancient DNA science begins” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    22 Mar 2016
    Darren Curnoe

    1
    A reconstruction of a male our evolutionary cousin the Neanderthals (Modified from an image by Cicero Moraes). Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

    OPINION: If I had taken a straw poll among anthropologists 10 years ago asking them how far genetic research would come in the next decade, I doubt anyone would have come close to predicting the big impact fossil DNA work would come to have.

    Back then, this nascent field was bogged down with fundamental issues like distinguishing authentic DNA from contamination. Simply recovering enough nuclear DNA to say anything sensible at all about human origins would have been a really big achievement.

    But following some remarkable technical developments in that time, including next generation sequencing, ancient DNA research is beginning to come of age.

    And it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s dramatically rewriting our understanding of the human evolutionary story and, unexpectedly, resolving some old, seemingly intractable, questions along the way.

    I say ‘beginning’ because despite the remarkable findings over the last half decade or so, many of which I have written about before, ancient DNA, particularly fossil genome research, has really only just begun.

    But, boy, what start!

    Two studies out last week in the journals Science and Nature are characteristic of the coming of age of ancient DNA studies; I’ll return to them shortly.

    As I see it – from the viewpoint of someone who studies the fossils – this field is beginning to provide answers to some big questions we’ve been wrestling with for a long, long, time.

    Here are three big issues which I think geneticists are making headway on, following decades of stalled progress by fossil specialists.

    1. There’s been a shift from merely documenting the occurrence of interbreeding between modern humans and archaic groups, like the Neanderthals and Denisovans, to a focus on the circumstances surrounding it and its consequences for living people.

    A few years back we fossil-jocks couldn’t agree about whether interbreeding had actually occurred or not. The case now seems to be closed thanks to the geneticists.

    Interbreeding occurred, but it wasn’t terribly common. Around 2 per cent of the genome of non-African people was inherited from Neanderthals, with slightly more DNA in Indigenous Oceanic Southeast Asians, New Guineans and Australians coming from the mysterious Denisovans (on top of their Neanderthal inheritance).

    Even among some living African populations, there is evidence for DNA inherited from an archaic species living on that continent perhaps as late as 30 thousand years ago.

    I suspect there will be more evidence found in the future, from other, perhaps as yet unknown, archaic species.

    One of the new studies – led by Benjamin Vernot from the University of Washington – examined 35 new genomes sequenced from people living in 11 locations in the Bismarck Archipelago of New Guinea to get a better handle on gene sharing with our archaic cousins.

    They confirmed evidence for ancient gene flow with the Neanderthals and have better characterised mating with the mysterious Denisovans, by comparing their new genomes with around 1,500 other human samples.

    The New Guinean samples showed between 1.9 and 3.4 per cent of their genomes to be derived from the Deniosvans.

    They also showed that a second ‘pulse’ of interbreeding is seen among living East Asians, Europeans and South Asians that wasn’t shared with New Guineans.

    There were seemingly three separate interbreeding events with the Neanderthals: one with the ancestors of New Guineans and Australians, one with early East Asians and one with the ancestors of South Asians and Europeans.

    Geneticists have now turned their attention to the specific genes that have been inherited by living humans from our archaic cousins and their consequences for understanding human adaptations and disease.

    I’ve looked at some of these previously, like those associated with the human immune system and high altitude adaptation.

    The really exciting area to be explored in the future is whether genes associated with features of the skeleton can be identified, helping us to make a direct connection with the physical changes documented in the fossil record and to understand how and why such changes came about.

    2. Ancient DNA is finally placing a framework around the vexed question, ‘how can we pick a new species from among the fossils’?

    For decades, anthropologists have been locking horns over how many species there might be in the human evolutionary tree; with estimates presently ranging from 5 to more than 25 species.

    So far, we’ve lacked an independent, objective, way to test our ideas. But, surprisingly, this is now emerging from comparisons of the human genome with those of our archaic cousins.

    For example, for over 100 years anthropologists have argued about whether the Neanderthals are a separate species to modern humans, or merely a sub-species of our kind.

    DNA has now given us an answer, and it should satisfy even the more hard nosed of anthropologists; although, experience tells me some of my colleagues will go the grave believing otherwise.

    Neanderthal, Denisovan and other archaic DNA is found unevenly throughout the human genome, occurring in hotspots, with vast deserts separating large stretches of archaic genes.

    One example is the human X-chromosome which is largely free of archaic DNA. This indicates that natural selection weeded out archaic genes, and also that male hybrid offspring of archaic and modern human matings were probably infertile.

    Anyone with a passing interest in the species questions will recognise immediately the importance of such a finding: humans and Neanderthals were different species, even if one applies the very strict criterion of ‘interbreeding’, so widely assumed to be indicative of species differences.

    Now, most anthropologists have considered the Neanderthals to be the closest extinct relative we humans have, regardless of their species status. Yet, DNA work shows they were highly biologically distinct from us, in accordance, as I see it, with their unusual physical features.

    To me, this indicates we should be prepared to recognise and accommodate many more species in the human tree, even after humans and Neanderthal had split.

    You might like to read my article about the complex question of species and their recognition in human evolution studies.

    3. Fossil DNA is now sorting out evolutionary relationships among human species.

    The second study from last week, led by Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, recovered nuclear DNA from two specimens from the Spanish fossil site of Sima de Los Huesos (the ‘pit of bones’).

    These fossils are at least 430 thousand years old, and the new work builds on research by the team published last year where they were able to recover the much smaller and less informative mitochondrial genome from a fossil from the site.

    The mitochondrial DNA was found to be identical to the Deniosvans, but the new nuclear sequences are related to Neanderthals.

    So, the Sima de Los Huesos specimens are either very early Neanderthals or the ancestors of the Neanderthals; retaining the mitochondrial genome of their Denisovan ancestors, or perhaps even acquiring it through interbreeding.

    The work confirms nicely what some anthropologists have thought about the Sima de Los Huesos fossils from their anatomy.

    It also shows that the common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans lived more than 430 thousand years ago; in fact, the molecular clock in this new research indicates a split somewhere in the range of 550-765 thousand years ago.

    This means that the immediate ancestors of living humans evolved for at least 600 thousand years, probably longer, separately from the Neanderthals.

    I take away from this that it takes about 600 thousand years for hybrid sterility to kick in in humans. And, remembering that hybrid sterility is at the end of the process of species formation, we should expect there to be many more, short-lived, species in the human tree than we’ve recognised until now.

    Human evolution should be seen as a bush, with lot’s of twigs, rather than a thickly trunked tree, with only a small number of branches (species). I imagine diversity was the rule as we see in other living primates today.

    We modern humans were just one of many kinds of human, but oddly, the only one to persist today. Perhaps genomics might help us answer this mother of all mysteries in the not too distant future as well.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:57 am on March 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U New South Wales   

    From UNSW: “Size doesn’t matter” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    Size doesn’t matter in Big Data, it’s what you ask of it that counts

    17 Mar 2016
    Malte Ebach

    OPINION: Big Data is changing the way we do science today. Traditionally, data was collected manually by scientists making measurements, using microscopes or surveys. This data could be analysed by hand or using simple statistical software on a PC.

    Big Data has changed all that. These days, tremendous volumes of information are being generated and collected through new technologies, be they large telescope arrays, DNA sequencers or Facebook.

    Big Data UNSW

    ORNL Titan Supercomputer
    Cray Titan Supercomputer at ORNL

    The data is vast, but the kinds of data and the formats they take are also new. Consider the hourly clicks on Facebook, or the daily searches on Google. As a result, Big Data offers scientists the ability to perform powerful analyses and make new discoveries.

    The problem is that Big Data hasn’t yet changed the way many researchers ask scientific questions. In biology in particular, where tools like genome sequencing are generating tremendous amounts of data, biologists might not be asking the right kinds of questions that Big Data can answer.

    Questions

    Asking questions is what scientists do. Biologists ask questions about the living world, such as “how many species are there?” or “what are the evolutionary relationships between rats, bats and primates?”.

    The way we ask questions says a lot about the type of information we use. For example, systematists like myself study the diversity and relationship between the many species of creatures throughout evolutionary history.

    We have tended to use physical characteristics, like teeth and bones, to classify mammals into taxonomic groups. These shared characteristics allow us to recognise new species and identify existing ones.

    Enter Big Data, and cheap DNA sequencing technology. Now systematists have access to new forms of information, such as whole genomes, which have drastically changed the way we do systematics. But it hasn’t changed the way many systematists frame their questions.

    Biologists are expecting big things from Big Data, but they are finding out that it initially delivers only so much. Rather than find out what these limitations are and how they can shape our questions, many biologists have responded by gathering more and more data. Put simply: scientists have been lured by size.

    Size matters

    Quantity is often seen as a benchmark of success. The more you have, the better your study will be.

    This thinking stems from the idealistic view of complete datasets with unbiased sampling. Statisticians call this “n = all”, which represents a data set that contains all the information.

    If all the data was available, then scientists wouldn’t have the problem of missing or corrupted data. A real world example would be a complete genome sequence.

    Having all the data would tell us everything, right? Not exactly.

    From 2004 to 2006, J. Craig Venter led an expedition to sample genomes in sea water from the North Atlantic. He concluded he had found 1,800 species.

    Not so fast. He did, in fact, find thousands of unique genomes, but to determine whether they are new species will require Venter and his team to compare and diagnose each organism, as well as name them.

    So, in answer to the question: “how many species are there in this bucket of water?”, Big Data gave the answer of 1.045 billion base pairs. But 1.045 billion base pairs could mean any number of species.

    Size doesn’t matter, it is what we ask of our data that counts.

    Wrong questions

    Asking impossible questions has been the bane of Big Data across many fields of research. For example, Google Flu Trends, an initiative launched by Google to predict flu epidemics weeks before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made the mistake of asking a traditionally framed question: “when will the next flu epidemic hit North America?”.

    The data analysed were non-traditional, namely the number and frequency of Google search terms. When compared to CDC data, it was discovered that Google Flu Trends missed the 2009 epidemic and over-predicted flu trends by more than double between 2012 and 2013.

    In 2013, Google Flu Trends was abandoned as being unable to answer the questions we were asking of it. Some statisticians blamed sampling bias, others blamed the lack of transparency regarding the Google search terms. Another reason could simply be that the question asked was inappropriate given the non-traditional data collected.

    Big Data is being misunderstood, and this is limiting our ability to find meaningful answers to our questions. Big Data is not a replacement for traditional methods and questions. Rather, it is a supplement.

    Biologists also need to adjust the questions aimed at Big Data. Unlike traditional data, Big Data cannot give a precise answer to a traditionally framed question.

    Instead Big Data sends the scientist onto a path to bigger and bigger discoveries. Big and traditional data can be used together can enable biologists to better navigate their way down the path of discovery.

    If Venter actually took the next step and examined those sea creatures, we could make a historic discovery. If Google Flu Trends asked “what do the frequency and number of Google search terms tell us?”, then we may make an even bigger discovery.

    As we incorporate Big Data into the existing scientific line of enquiry, we also need to accommodate appropriate questions. Until then, biologists are stuck with impossible answers to the wrong questions.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:04 pm on December 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U New South Wales,   

    From UNSW: “In a galaxy not so far away, a star hosts a potentially habitable planet” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    17 Dec 2015
    Deborah Smith

    ESO LaSilla
    ESO/La Silla

    UNSW astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system, orbiting a star just 14 light years away.

    UNSW Australia astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light years away.

    The planet, more than four times the mass of the Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061.

    “It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it might be possible for liquid water – and maybe even life — to exist,” says lead study author UNSW’s Dr Duncan Wright.

    “It is fascinating to look out at the vastness of space and think a star so very close to us – a near neighbour – could host a habitable planet.

    “While a few other planets have been found that orbit stars closer to us than Wolf 1061, those planets are not considered to be remotely habitable,” Dr Wright says.

    2
    The sky area in the constellation of Ophiucus near the red dwarf star Wolf 1061 which includes the impressive, but unrelated, star cluster Messier 104. Wolf 1061 is 14 light years away. Credit: UNSW/The “Aladin sky atlas” developed at CDS, Strasbourg Observatory, France

    The three newly detected planets orbit the small, relatively cool and stable star about every 5, 18 and 67 days. Their masses are at least 1.4, 4.3 and 5.2 times that of Earth, respectively.

    The larger outer planet falls just outside the outer boundary of the habitable zone and is also likely to be rocky, while the smaller inner planet is too close to the star to be habitable.

    The discovery will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The UNSW team made the discovery using observations of Wolf 1061 collected by the HARPS spectrograph on the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6 metre telescope in La Silla in Chile.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla
    ESO/3.6 meter telescope with HARPS at La Silla

    ESO HARPS
    HARPS interior

    “Our team has developed a new technique that improves the analysis of the data from this precise, purpose-built, planet-hunting instrument, and we have studied more than a decade’s worth of observations of Wolf 1061,” says Professor Chris Tinney, head of the Exoplanetary Science at UNSW group.

    “These three planets right next door to us join the small but growing ranks of potentially habitable rocky worlds orbiting nearby stars cooler than our Sun.”

    3
    Wolf 1061 and its orbiting planets. The habitable zone is shaded green. Image supplied.

    Small rocky planets like our own are now known to be abundant in our galaxy, and multi-planet systems also appear to be common. However most of the rocky exoplanets discovered so far are hundreds or thousands of light years away.

    An exception is Gliese 667Cc which lies 22 light years from Earth. It orbits a red dwarf star every 28 days and is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth.

    “The close proximity of the planets around Wolf 1061 means there is a good chance these planets may pass across the face of the star. If they do, then it may be possible to study the atmospheres of these planets in future to see whether they would be conducive to life,” says team member UNSW’s Dr Rob Wittenmyer.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:17 am on December 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U New South Wales   

    From UNSW: “Major innovation boost for UNSW’s quantum mission” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    07 Dec 2015
    Denise Knight

    1
    Professor Michelle Simmons

    UNSW Australia welcomes the federal government’s announcement today of a $26 million investment in the University’s world-leading quantum computing research.

    The major funding boost over five years will support the development of silicon quantum computing technology in Australia in association with the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, headquartered at UNSW.

    It is based on a focused, ambitious and targeted program to build a 10 qubit prototype – demonstrating all the fundamental criteria of a scalable quantum computer – within five years.

    The announcement has been made as part of the federal government’s $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

    “Australia needs to take advantage of and evolve with the rapid pace of this technological change,” the government’s statement said.

    “If Australian researchers are successful in developing a quantum computing capability, it would mean the development of a valuable new industry.

    “Quantum computers have the potential to solve problems in minutes that would take conventional computers centuries. The technology will transform Australian and global business, from banks undertaking financial analysis, transport companies planning optimal logistic routes, or improvements in medical drug design.”

    UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said: “UNSW researchers, led by Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons, are currently leading the global race to build the world’s first quantum computer.

    “I applaud the government’s vision in recognising the global significance of this research. It is a wonderful funding boost and follows a substantial investment by UNSW in this ground-breaking work,” Professor Jacobs said.

    Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology Professor Simmons welcomed the announcement.

    “We are delighted by this news. Quantum computing is a transformational technology in which Australia has an international lead, and there is now an opportunity for translating this research here in Australia. It is based on a focused, ambitious and targeted program to build a 10 qubit prototype – demonstrating all the fundamental criteria of a scalable quantum computer – within five years,” said Professor Simmons.

    “This announcement sends a very powerful message about supporting internationally leading Australian research in areas of breakthrough technology. Our program has had backing from visionary Australian companies who are technology leaders in their space, such as the Commonwealth Bank, who see the long-term benefit to their organisation.”

    Without a boost to public and private investment, Australia would have been at risk of missing out on the long-term benefits of the research conducted at the ARC Centre of Excellence, Professor Simmons said.

    Quantum computing in silicon is an entirely new system at the atomic-scale and Australia leads the world in single atom engineering. In the long term, one of these next-generation quantum computers has the potential to exceed the combined power of all the computers now on Earth for certain high value applications. They will be ideal for searching huge databases much faster than conventional computers, and for performing tasks beyond the capability of even the most powerful supercomputers, such as modelling complex biological molecules for drug development.

    Broader innovation strategy welcomed

    Professor Jacobs said the federal government’s broader strategy to boost the country’s innovation capacity is an important development and recognises the essential role greater collaboration between industry and universities will play in securing future economic and social prosperity.

    “The national Innovation Statement is an important contribution to the ongoing effort by governments, universities, industry and research institutions to scale up innovation and work more collaboratively for a far greater impact.

    “Universities clearly play a key role in that agenda and by working effectively with industry, government and leaders across the entire innovation ecosystem, we have a profound impact,” he said.

    “UNSW welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to major research infrastructure, which supports the entire innovation agenda. We particularly welcome the long-term commitment over a 10-year period for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.”

    This announcement sends a very powerful message about supporting internationally leading Australian research in areas of breakthrough technology.

    UNSW is at the forefront of innovation. It leads nationally in industry-linked research funding under the ARC Linkage Grant scheme; has the largest student start-up program in Australia; and was one of the first adopters of the world-leading easy access IP scheme.

    “We see the creation of intellectual property and knowledge as a national treasure and asset, to be shared with society. We share our knowledge and innovation with industry, government and society through our teaching, consultancy, collaborative and contract research, licensing, company creation, networking and professional development,” Professor Jacobs said.

    The University’s new 10-year strategy, UNSW 2025, includes a bold commitment to significantly scale up our innovation efforts. Some of these commitments include:

    Expanding UNSW industry incubators on campus and 100 more student start-ups per year
    A new Innovation Park adjacent to UNSW Randwick campus by 2020
    Opening an internationally accredited Clinical Health Research Facility
    A new Academic Health Science Partnership (three universities, three local health districts and six medical research institutes)
    1000 new industry internships and a Fellowship Scheme
    Expanding our Easy Access IP model and an Easy Access Innovation Portal
    Vouchers for SMEs, entrepreneurs and start-ups to purchase university engagement.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:11 pm on September 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U New South Wales   

    From UNSW: “Quantum industry needs more Australian government support” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    10 Sep 2015
    Myles Gough

    Australia may win the race to build a revolutionary quantum computer, but UNSW global research leader Michelle Simmons warns that without investment we risk losing the industry offshore.

    1
    Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons addresses the Chief Executive Women annual dinner event in Sydney. Photo: supplied

    Australia may be poised to win the international race to build a quantum computer, but without investment to scale-up and industrialise the technology, the long-term benefits could be lost offshore, says UNSW Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons.

    Two weeks after winning the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science, Simmons is again in the spotlight, delivering a guest lecture at the Chief Executive Women’s 2015 annual dinner in Sydney.

    As the Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, Simmons has been instrumental in positioning Australia as the front-runner in the global race to build a quantum computer based in silicon.

    Addressing more than 900 of the nation’s top female leaders from the public and private sectors, Simmons spoke about her passion for physics and the importance of science education in high schools.

    She also warned that Australia is at risk of missing out on the long-term benefits of her world-leading research conducted in her Centre.

    “We are at risk of all the technology we have developed, and the trained human capital, being transferred overseas with little long-term benefit to Australia. The significance of this work to Australia should not be underestimated.”

    “Australia has established a unique approach [to developing a quantum computer] with a competitive edge that has been described by our US funding agencies as having a two to three year lead over the rest of the world,” says Simmons.

    Despite leading the world, she says “there is no mechanism in Australia to scale-up what we have achieved and to translate it industrially”.

    “We are at risk of all the technology we have developed, and the trained human capital, being transferred overseas with little long-term benefit to Australia. The significance of this work to Australia should not be underestimated.”


    Michelle Simmons, WINNER 2015 Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science
    Download mp4 here.

    Exponential increase

    Quantum computers are predicted to provide an extraordinary speed-up in computational power. For each quantum [bit] added to a circuit, the processing power doubles.

    Instead of performing calculations one after the other like a conventional computer, these futuristic machines – which exploit the unusual quantum properties of single atoms, the fundamental constituents of all matter – work in parallel, calculating all possible outcomes at the same time.

    They will be ideal for encrypting information and searching huge databases much faster than conventional computers, and for performing tasks beyond the capability of even the most powerful supercomputers, such as modelling complex biological molecules for drug development.

    “It is predicted that 40% of all Australian industry will be impacted if we realise this technology.”

    Simmons says an Australian-made prototype system using technologies patented by her team, where all functional components are manufactured and controlled on the atomic-scale, could be ready within five years.

    The Commonwealth Bank of Australia recently invested $5 million into the project and Simmons says she is “negotiating contracts with several other major computing, communications and aerospace industries both here and abroad”.

    3
    “We are at risk of all the technology we have developed, and the trained human capital, being transferred overseas with little long-term benefit to Australia.” NO image credit.

    But the rest of the world is making giant strides, and putting up big money: the UK government recently put forward £270 million and the Dutch government €300 million to support quantum information research.

    “Australia is a fantastic place to innovate,” says Simmons. “We attract the best young people from across the world and we undertake leading international science.

    “Our challenge going forward is how to create the environment, opportunities and industries to keep them here.”

    Choosing Australia

    Simmons can speak from first-hand experience. She came to Australia back in 1999 for two reasons: the first, she says, “was academic freedom to pursue something ambitious and high risk”, and the second “was Australia’s ‘can do’ attitude”.

    In the mid-1990s, Simmons was working as an experimental quantum physicist at the University of Cambridge. She had mastered how to design, fabricate and measure electrical devices, which displayed strong quantum effects, and was looking for a new challenge: “to leapfrog the global IT industry and create devices at the atomic scale.”

    When she was awarded an Australian Fellowship to come to UNSW, she withdrew applications for a fellowship to remain at Cambridge, and another for a faculty position at Stanford University in the US.

    “The UK offered years surrounded by pessimistic academics, who would tell you a thousand reasons why your ideas would not work,” she says. “The US offered a highly competitive environment where you would fight both externally and internally for funds.

    “Australia offered independent fellowships, ability to work on large projects with other academics and the ‘can do’ attitude to give it a go.”

    Once in Australia, she set up a team that is still “unique internationally”.

    “Our goal was to adapt the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) developed by IBM not just to image atoms, but to manipulate them and to make a functional electronic device where the active component is a single atom.”

    4
    Inside the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) at UNSW, where much of the work on the quantum computer is carried out. Photo: ANFF-NSW/Paul Henderson-Kelly

    Critics, including senior scientists at IBM, believed there were at least eight insurmountable technical challenges.

    “The consensus view within the scientific community was that the chances … were near impossible,” she says.

    Simmons also had to combine two technologies in a way that had never been done before – the STM, which provides the ability to image and manipulate single atoms, and something known as molecular beam epitaxy, which provides the ability to grow a layer of material atom by atom.

    “When I told the two independent system manufacturers in Germany about the idea, they said they would make a laboratory to my design, but that there would be no guarantee that it would work. It was a $3.5 million risk.

    “To my delight it worked a factor of six better than I had hoped. And over the past decade we have systematically solved all those eight challenges that were predicted to block our way.”

    Her team has since developed the world’s first single atom transistor, as well as the narrowest conducting wires in silicon.

    5
    “Australia is a fantastic place to innovate. We attract the best young people from across the world and we undertake leading international science”. Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons with Research Associate Bent Webber.

    Finding physics

    Simmons’ foray into physics began, in part, thanks to a chess match.

    Simmons used to watch her father and brother playing intense games in her family’s living room in south-east London in the 1970s.

    One day, the eight-year-old observer asked to play, eliciting a “somewhat dismissive and terse” response from her father, she recalls.

    “A girl! Wanting to play chess. Well, he indulged me and did something that I believe changed the course of my life,” she says.

    A surprise victory over her father, and several more over the coming weeks and months, saw Simmons take-up competitive chess at her father’s behest, ultimately becoming the London girls chess champion at 12.

    Ultimately, it wasn’t her calling, but chess, she says, taught her to challenge herself and other people’s expectations, and to pursue something she truly loved.

    That love ended up being physics: “I decided to pick the hardest thing that I could find that I enjoyed. Something that I could imagine I would always look forward to; would have to struggle to understand and would feel euphoric about when I had mastered it.”

    She also credits an excellent physics teacher who challenged and encouraged her – and even lined up a phone conversation with a US astronaut, after he learned this was Simmons’ dream profession.

    “The significance of having a passionate teacher, well versed in the subject they teach, cannot be underestimated,” she says. “Great teachers with high expectations challenge their students to be the best they can be.”

    Simmons has exemplified that belief. She was named NSW Scientist of the Year in 2012, was awarded an ARCl Laureate Fellowship in 2013, and in 2014 joined the likes of Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein as an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

    “For me, the next challenge is not one of quantum physics but of finding a way working with Australian government, and industries both here and abroad, to establish a high-tech quantum industry in Australia,” she says.

    “To back its brightest and best and to ensure that Australian innovation stays here in Australia.

    “It’s a challenge that I am up for. I fundamentally believe it is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.”

    Based at UNSW, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology is an interdisciplinary, multi-institute centre with more than 180 researchers. In addition to Simmons, key staff members at UNSW include Scientia Professors Andrew Dzurak and Sven Rogge, and Associate Professor Andrea Morello.

    See the full article for additional links.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:00 am on August 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From UNSW: “2015-16 is shaping up to deliver a rollercoaster from strong El Niño to La Niña” 

    U NSW bloc

    University of New South Wales

    18 Aug 2015
    Wenju Cai, Agus Santoso and Guojian Wang

    1
    Warming seas suggest El Niño is on the horizon. dmytrok/Flickr

    The coming El Niño and La Niña double bill could be the strongest since 1998, affecting a vast swathe of the planet from Africa, through Australasia and all the way to the Americas, write Wenju Cai, Agus Santoso and Guojian Wang.

    OPINION: The anticipation is growing that this year’s newly formed will turn out to be very big. All climate models surveyed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology are currently predicting a strong event later this year.

    5
    The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. The white areas off the Tropical Western coasts of northern South and all Central America as well as along the Central-eastern equatorial and Southeastern Pacific Ocean indicate the pool of warm water.

    We’ve been here before – last year, in fact, when fears of a 2014 “super El Niño” proved anticlimactic. But it’s not over yet. The El Niño – Spanish for “the little boy”, which refers to a particular pattern of ocean and atmospheric temperatures across the Pacific – has resumed its growth this year and this time it is not showing any signs of slowing down.

    It’s easy to see why this little boy gets so much attention. First, we are talking about a climate phenomenon that brings drought, rains, floods, heatwaves and other extreme weather events to many parts of the world.

    Second, it is almost 20 years since the previous extreme El Niño. The 1997-98 event was the biggest in modern records and its worldwide catastrophic impacts earned it the infamous description of “the climate event of the 20th century”. A comparable but slightly weaker El Niño occurred in the summer of 1982-83, which was marked by severe drought in eastern Australia and the tragic Ash Wednesday bushfires.

    Third, the latest climate model projections – reviewed by us in a study published today in Nature Climate Change – have shown that Earth will probably experience more super El Niños as the global climate warms. The projections also suggest that the extreme version of La Niña – the sister and “opposite” of El Niño – will also increase in frequency, as will the positive phase of the siblings’ “cousin”, a related phenomenon called the Indian Ocean Dipole. This also includes more successive occurrences of the trio.

    3
    Sea surface skin temperature anomalies in November 2007 showing La Niña conditions

    6
    Water temperatures around the Mentawai Islands dropped about 4° Celsius during the height of the Indian Ocean Dipole in November of 1997. During these events unusually strong winds from the east push warm surface water towards Africa, allowing cold water to upwell along the Sumatran coast. In this image blue areas are colder than normal, while red areas are warmer than normal.

    A family gathering

    This atypical “family gathering” has happened before. A positive Indian Ocean Dipole occurred in the southern spring of 1997, before the El Niño peaked the following summer. A La Niña then followed in the summer of 1998-99. For western Pacific rim countries, the overall result was drier-than-normal conditions in 1997, followed by unusually wet conditions in 1998. A similar series of events also occurred in 1982-83.

    To understand this and to see how global warming spurs such events, we need to understand the physics of El Niño, taking the most recent unfolding events as a start.

    The 2014-2016 chain of events would be interesting in its own right. While the failed 2014 super El Niño left many experts scrabbling for an explanation, its warming remnants in the central Pacific have now transformed into the official 2015 El Niño.

    It is not common that two El Niño events would occur consecutively. The heat accumulated in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that fuels an El Niño is usually discharged, and some of this heat goes into the atmosphere, where it helps to accelerate warming in global surface temperature.

    The discharge is proportional to the intensity of an El Niño. So the stronger the El Niño, the stronger the discharge. Also, the stronger the El Niño, the more dramatic the weakening of the Walker Circulation, with slackened trade winds and equatorial currents. This weakening Walker Circulation extends into the Indian Ocean which tends to induce a positive Indian Ocean Dipole during the southern spring.

    Following the peak of an El Niño in the southern summer, the equatorial Pacific Ocean is depleted of heat and needs to be recharged. Winds associated with La Niña are effective in this recharge, and so an El Niño tends to be followed immediately by a La Niña.

    Clearly the 2014 El Niño conditions were not strong enough for this to happen. Another similar exception occurred during 1986-1988. The 1986-87 El Niño was weak, the Pacific Ocean heat was not completely depleted, allowing for another somewhat stronger El Niño in 1987-88. These two events are considered weak to moderate.

    The impact was mild and confined to northeastern Australia, in part because there were no concurrent positive Indian Ocean Dipole events which also act to channel El Niño’s impact to southern Australia.

    However, after the two consecutive events, the equatorial Pacific was finally depleted of heat. The subsurface ocean was colder, facilitating surface cooling in the central Pacific through a suite of atmosphere-ocean positive feedback processes, leading to the extreme La Niña of 1988-89.
    What is in store?

    In terms of intensity and the growth rate up to July, the 2015 El Niño is second only to corresponding time of the 1997 event, and looks set to outpower the 1982 event. However, the eventual intensity of the 2015 El Niño is still hard to predict. What seems more certain is a La Niña in 2016.

    For Australia, the extent and strength of the impact of the 2015 El Niño to a large extent depends on whether there is a concurrent positive Indian Ocean Dipole. In 2014, there was no positive Indian Ocean Dipole. To date, most models are predicting a positive dipole this year, raising the prospect of a strong El Niño preceded by a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and followed by a La Niña event – exactly as occurred in 1982-84 and 1997-99.

    2
    The pattern of Pacific Ocean temperatures during the last strong El Nino event in 1997. NOAA

    For Australia, the impacts of this sequence could be significant, as attested by the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfire in 1983 over southern Australia and the floods that hit the country’s northeast in early 1984.

    This swing between opposite extremes from one year to the next could have globally damaging consequences too. On the far side of the Pacific, California may get a break from its a prolonged drought, although this hopefully won’t be in the form of intense storms and flooding.
    Climate change bringing extremes

    We cannot be sure if climate change plays a role in an individual event, and climate models are certainly not perfect. Observations need to be sustained to gather and compare robust statistics. But due to recent research we can now say that stronger El Ninos, La Ninas, and positive Indian Ocean Dipoles are all to be expected on a warming planet.

    Climate models project an overall weakening of the Walker Circulation over the 21st century, underpinned by faster warming in the eastern equatorial Pacific (which is favourable for extreme El Niños, and in turn conducive to extreme La Niña). There will also be faster warming in the western than the eastern Indian Ocean, which would tend to promote positive Indian Ocean Dipole events. As a consequence, the sequence of an El Niño preceded by a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and followed by a La Niña event is projected to occur more frequently.

    These sequences of events are likely to affect a vast swathe of the planet, extending from Africa, right through to South Asia and Australasia, and all the way across to the coastlines of the eastern Pacific.

    Guojian Wang is a Postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO.

    Agus Santoso is a Senior Research Associate at UNSW.

    Wenju Cai is a Principal Research Scientist, Wealth from Oceans Flagship at CSIRO.

    This opinion piece was first published in The Conversation.

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:40 am on July 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U New South Wales   

    From livescience: “Chain of Underwater Volcanoes Discovered During Lobster Hunt” 

    Livescience

    July 13, 2015
    Laura Geggel

    1
    During a mission to find larval lobsters, marine researchers unexpectedly found a cluster of extinct, 50-million-year-old volcanoes on the ocean floor near eastern Australia. Credit: Marine National Facility

    The four volcanoes are located about 155 miles (250 kilometers) off the coast of Sydney, the researchers found during the mission, which lasted from June 3 to 18. The scientists immediately recognized them as calderas, a cauldronlike structure that forms after a volcano erupts and collapses into itself, creating a crater. The largest extinct volcano measures about 1 mile (1.5 km) across and towers about 0.4 miles (700 meters) above the seafloor, the researchers said.

    The cluster is a large one, measuring about 12 miles (20 km) long and 4 miles (6 km) wide, they added.

    The discovery will help geoscientists learn more about the geological forces that shaped the region, said Richard Arculus, a professor of marine geology at the Australian National University and an expert on volcanoes.

    “They tell us part of the story of how New Zealand and Australia separated around 40 [million to] 80 million years ago, and they’ll now help scientists target future exploration of the seafloor to unlock the secrets of the Earth’s crust,” Arculus said in a statement.

    The volcano cluster, which sits about 3 miles (4.9 km) underwater, went unnoticed until now because researchers didn’t have adequate tools to measure and map the deep seafloor, Arculus said.

    The sonar on the old research vessel run by Marine National Facility (MNF), a research group funded by the Australian government, only had the ability to map the seafloor to about 1.9 miles (3 km) underwater, he said. A new 308-foot-long (94 m) vessel, named the Investigator, has a greater scope.

    “On board the new MNF vessel, Investigator, we have sonar that can map the seafloor to any depth, so all of Australia’s vast ocean territory is now within reach, and that is enormously exciting,” Arculus said.

    During the Investigator’s latest mission, researchers were looking for the nursery grounds of lobster larvae while simultaneously carrying out a routine mapping of the seafloor.

    “The voyage was enormously successful,” Iain Suthers, a professor of marine biology at the University of New South Wales, said in the statement. “Not only did we discover a cluster of volcanoes on Sydney’s doorstep, we were amazed to find that an eddy off Sydney was a hotspot for lobster larvae at a time of the year when we were not expecting them.”

    During the mission, the Investigator’s crew sent data to a team at the University of New South Wales, who analyzed the information and sent back their results, which included satellite imagery. This allowed the marine crew to chase eddies created by the marine creatures they were tracking.

    “This is the first time we’ve been able to respond directly to the changing dynamics of the ocean and, for a biological oceanographer like me, it doesn’t get more thrilling,” Suthers said.

    The research team found juvenile fish popular among fishermen, such as bream and tailor, about 93 miles (150 km) offshore.

    “We had thought that once they were swept out to sea, that was [the] end of them,” Suthers said. “But, in fact, these eddies are nursery grounds along the east coast of Australia.”

    See the full article here.

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