Inbox and Environment News - Issue 206 

 March 15 - 21, 2015: Issue 206

 Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir, International Women's Day 2015

by Land Water Future - Published on Mar 8, 2015

Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir addresses an International Women's Day brunch hosted by Land, Water, Future at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. The event was to celebrate women working to protect food producing land in NSW. More info:

 New mums more satisfied after giving birth in a public hospital

March 11, 2015 - Women who give birth in a public hospital are more confident parents compared to women who have babies privately, a new Australian study has found. A joint study by Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland, surveyed more than 6400 moms in Queensland, and found women who birth in the public sector were more likely to receive after-hospital health care, in turn boosting their confidence as a new parent, than women in the private system.

Associate Professor Yvette Miller from QUT's Faculty of Health and one of the authors of the study published in BMC Health Services Research said it was a misconception that a private hospital guaranteed better quality care, especially after birth.

"We found that compared to women in a private hospital, women who birthed in the public sector had six times the odds of being telephoned by a care provider, 34 times the odds of being visited at home and five times the odds of visiting a GP within 10 days of being at home."

Professor Miller said in Australia, post-birth care differed greatly between the public and private sector, and the differences are particularly pronounced in Queensland.

"In public hospitals new moms are automatically referred to after-hospital health care and this has a corresponding positive association with maternal satisfaction," she said.

"Women who birthed in a public facility had twice the odds of being satisfied with the amount of postpartum care they received, than moms who birthed in a private facility."

Professor Miller said interestingly the length of hospital stay was not associated with satisfaction.

"It's commonly assumed that the longer length of time that women spend in hospital after a private hospital birth makes up for the lack of postnatal follow-up care in the private system.

"We found that increased length of hospital stay does not compensate for lack of contact following discharge."

Professor Miller said to improve maternal satisfaction with post-discharge postpartum care women should routinely have contact with a health professional within days of being home, regardless of length of hospital stay or sector of birth.

"All women, regardless of whether they birth in a private or public facility, should be able to speak with their GP, a midwife or nurse soon after they are first at home with their baby.

"Providing women with details of a person they can contact 24 hours a day if they have concerns will improve both satisfaction and confidence and is a simple and inexpensive first step to implement."

Wendy Brodribb, Maria Zadoroznyj, Michelle Nesic, Sue Kruske, Yvette D Miller.Beyond the hospital door: a retrospective, cohort study of associations between birthing in the public or private sector and women’s postpartum care. BMC Health Services Research, 2015; 15 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12913-015-0689-3


Earth Hour events tackle climate change

12 Mar 2015

In the lead up to Earth Hour on March 28, Pittwater Council will host three practical events to get involved in and do your bit to fight climate change.

The first event, Are you prepared for coastal storms? is on Tuesday 17 March from 7:30pm until 9:30pm at Avalon Beach SLSC.

Residents are invited to hear Michael Hall, from the Climate Institute narrate his photographic presentation on how climate change is already impacting our planet.

There will also be a presentation from the SES advising how best to prepare for coastal storms.

The Bushcare workshop on Saturday 21 March, from 1 until 4pm at North Narrabeen will provide skills and techniques for protecting our bushland and identifying and removing weeds from your back yard or local reserve and will be split into a theory and practical session.

Cr Townsend said whilst Pittwater Council has a strong body of Bushcare volunteers, we always welcome more help.

“Tending to our native landscape, whether it’s at home or in a local reserve is an important part of looking after our environment,” added Cr Townsend.

Our next event, Ask a Sustainability Expert is on Monday 23 March, from 6-8pm at Mona Vale. It’s a unique opportunity to get free advice from architects, tradies and designers who will be on hand to answer questions about solar, water re-use, green roofs, native bees and more.

Residents will be able to meet with an ‘expert’ for 10 minute consultations and get advice on their upcoming projects.

Cr Townsend invited attendees to bring along their sketches, plans and photographs to gain insights specific to their renovation or build.

All these events are free, and location information and bookings can be made online:

Are you prepared for coastal storms?

Ask a Sustainability Expert         

Bushcare workshop                   

 New carbon accounting method proposed

March 10, 2015 - Established ways of measuring carbon emissions can sometimes give misleading feedback on how national policies affect global emissions. In some cases, countries are even rewarded for policies that increase global emissions, and punished for policies that contribute to reducing them. "We have developed a new method that provides policy makers with more useful information, in order to set national targets and evaluate their climate policies," says Astrid Kander, Professor in Economic History at Lund University, and lead author of the study, published in the latest issue of Nature Climate Change.

Consumption-based accounting, also known as carbon footprints, has been suggested as an alternative to today's production-based accounting. With carbon footprints, each country must account for all emissions that are caused by its final consumption -- regardless of where the goods were produced.

This has been called a fairer way of measuring emissions, potentially avoiding so-called carbon leakage, where rich, developed countries can reduce their domestic emissions by shifting carbon-intensive production abroad.

The new study, a collaboration between researchers in Sweden, Norway and Australia, demonstrates that carbon footprints do not credit countries for cleaning up their export industries. It also punishes countries with more carbon efficient technology than their trading partners for engaging in trade, even if trading leads to a more carbon efficient allocation of production resources, and hence contributes to reducing emissions globally.

The new measure is therefore based on consumption-based carbon footprints, but adjusts for technology differences between countries in their export sectors.

"With the proposed technology adjusted footprint, we explicitly give credits to clean exports," says co-author Daniel Moran, a researcher in the Industrial Ecology Programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

"Heavy industry is also given a more creative role in the struggle to reduce global emissions. Companies that have done their homework and improved carbon efficiency more than their competitors actually make a positive contribution by being commercially successful," says Magnus Jiborn, philosopher at Lund university and co-author of the paper.

Applying the new method, the researchers also calculated carbon accounts for 40 countries, jointly responsible for more than 97 per cent of global GDP, between 1995 and 2010.

"The results challenge the gloomy picture of developed countries outsourcing dirty production. In fact, many countries have managed to reduce their carbon footprints by cleaning up their own production. But under our proposed method they must continue to improve their carbon efficiency faster than world average to lock in those gains," says co-author Tommy Wiedmann, Associate Professor of Sustainability Research at University of New South Wales in Sydney.

New method: how do individual countries fare?

Some highlights:

- For several European countries, technology adjusted footprints are considerably smaller than their standard carbon footprints, and for some even smaller than their production based emissions. This indicates that these countries supply the world market with carbon efficient export goods, and hence contribute to reducing global emissions in a way that standard carbon footprints fail to credit.

- For the US, UK and Australia, technology adjusted carbon footprints remain much larger than their production based emissions. This indicates that these countries do not have carbon efficient export industries and that outsourcing of dirty production is an important factor.

- For China, technology adjusted footprints are larger than their standard consumption based footprints, but substantially smaller than their production based, territorial emissions. This indicates that China is acting as the workshop of the world, providing rich, developed countries with many consumption goods, but with dirty, carbon based technology.

- For some developing coutries, such as Brazil, technology adjusted footprints are substantially smaller than their conventional carbon footprints, suggesting that Brazil, just like much of Europe, provides the world with low-carbon goods.

1. Astrid Kander, Magnus Jiborn, Daniel D. Moran, Thomas O. Wiedmann. National greenhouse-gas accounting for effective climate policy on international trade. Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI:10.1038/nclimate2555

Sunday Morning Birdwatching with PNHA

Would you like to know more about our local birds? Our guides can help you discover the birdlife in these wonderful bushland reserves.

26 April, Warriewood Wetlands, Warriewood

24 May, Chiltern Track, Ingleside

16 August, Chiltern Track (Wildflower study walk with a later start)

20 September, Irrawong Reserve, Warriewood

15 November, Warriewood Wetlands, Warriewood

Our birdwalks start at 7.30 or 8am and last for a couple of hours. Bring binoculars and morning tea for afterwards if you like. Older children welcome.

Contact us to book and get details for each walk. Email or ph: 0439 409 202 / 0402 605 721. 

 Central Coast survey finds 99% support ban on coal seam gas in local drinking-water catchment

10 March, 2015: Nature Conservation Council NSW, Media release

Central Coast locals will today hand to local Gosford MP Chris Holstein's office the results of a community survey that shows overwhelming support for cancelling the coal seam gas exploration licence that covers Central Coast’s drinking-water catchment.

Ninety-nine per cent of the 1000 people surveyed said they wanted no-go zones for coal and coal seam gas in Central Coast water catchments and productive farmlands. The survey was conducted online, at markets, and by door knocking between November 2014 and March 2015.

“We were aware before the poll of broad community support for a ban on coal and gas development in our drinking-water catchment and farmlands, but the depth of feeling we found surprised even us,” said Nature Conservation Council spokesperson Dan Coleman.

“It is clear from this survey that almost everyone on the Central Coast believes their drinking-water catchment should be protected, and not left in the hands of coal and coal seam gas companies.”

Ms Coleman said the government had recently extended a buy-back period for companies that wanted to voluntarily hand over their Petroleum Exploration Licence (PELs), which are the legal basis for coal seam gas developments.

PEL 2, which covers the Central Coast’s drinking-water catchment and the Mountains District, has expired, so the government has a perfect opportunity to act decisively.

“The government has an opportunity to cancel the licence covering our drinking-water catchment right now,” Ms Coleman said.  

“This is a real test for Gosford MP Chris Holstein and his commitment to protecting our catchment. It shouldn’t be left up to AGL, which currently holds the licence, to decide the future of our clean water supply.”

Ms Coleman said the NSW Government yesterday (March 9) bought back PEL 5, which covers almost 400 square kilometres from Wyong to Morisset.

“The government is on a roll with the cancellation of exploration licences,” she said. “Our community deserves protection too.”


 Frackman The Movie OFFICIAL TRAILER

Mar 15: 6:00 PM, BROOKVALE Hoyts, Warringah Mall

Buy tickets at: 

Frackman The Movie coming to cinemas in MARCH

"If you care about our country, see it!” ~ Alan Jones

"No Australian voter should miss this film" ~ Bob Brown

Frackman is like no other Australian film. It aims to spark a broad national conversation about the risks of our headlong rush into massive coal seam gas development. Five years in the making, it not only entertains and engages, it also gives audiences the tools to get involved in what is becoming the largest social movement our nation has seen in decades. It’s a deeply political film, but not the old style that is so badly failing us. This the New Politics, bringing together old and young, city and country, conservative and progressive in a shared effort to prevent an environmental catastrophe. Can we imagine any other issue that would bring together the likes of Alan Jones and Bob Brown? 

See it and find out why. Take a stand with us


Restoring Coastal Headland Ecosystems Grant events

As part of the NSW Environmental Trust ‘Restoring Coastal Headland Ecosystems’ grant, a number of community events are being planned. 

Pittwater Council would like to welcome and encourage any residents who have not attended these events before and all those who have in the past. 

Come along, get to know your neighbours and enjoy the satisfaction of helping your local area!

Free Native Plant Giveaway – Warriewood Beach – Saturday 18 April from 8am to 12pm. To be held opposite the Warriewood Beach cafés and shops on Narrabeen Park Parade. The free plants will be for local residents at Warriewood and Turimetta. Come along and select some local native plants designed to your coastal conditions. 

Community Planting Event – Turimetta Beach – Sunday 26 April from 9am to 12pm. Meet at the main beach track and grass area above Turimetta Beach (opposite 58 Narrabeen Park Parade). Tools, equipment, morning tea and training provided by Council. Come along, wear comfortable clothing, closed shoes and give us a hand!

Warriewood Beach Bushcare Group - please call the Bushcare Officer for dates to be scheduled. 

NEW Mona Vale Basin Bushcare Group - first meeting scheduled for Saturday 7 March from 8am to 11am. Meet in the reserve on the corner of Surfview and Bassett St East. 

Mona Vale Dunes Bushcare Group meets regularly on the 2nd Saturday and 3rd Thursday of each month from 8:30 to 11:30am. Meet at the end of Golf Avenue, Mona Vale. 

For further details regarding the Bushcare groups or events please contact the Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367 or for information regarding the grant project please call the Bushland Management Officers on 9970 1363 or 9970 1390.

Ballina’s Koalas Petition -  International Fund for Animal Welfare - IFAW 

Please help us save the Ballina 200. The Ballina 200 is a critical source population of 200 koalas at Ballina, NSW. It just happens to be right where the State government wants to re-route the Pacific Highway. This route would make this population extinct by 2030. Please download our petition, print it, have as many people sign it as possible and send it back to us here at IFAW at the address on the petition. We need your petitions back by 31 March.

Petitions at HERE

A koala settled in for a little nap. Photo: Friends of the Koala

 Volunteers needed to help with Powerful Owl Surveys

The Powerful Owl Project was established in 2011 and is managed by BirdLife Australia’s Threatened Bird Network (TBN) and Birds in Backyards Program (BIBY). With the aid of citizen scientists, the Powerful Owl Project aims to investigate the distribution and breeding ecology of Powerful Owls in Sydney’s urban landscape and enhance the management of this species. Throughout the duration of the project, over 300 volunteer owl observers have been trained in survey techniques and allocated to a survey site where they monitor breeding activity, in order to map and monitor the breeding success of the Powerful Owl. 

They are looking for new volunteers to help out with the monitoring of known breeding sites around Greater Sydney. Monitoring involves searching for the nest tree (by looking for whitewash or listening for calls) and observing what the owls are doing (courting, in the hollow with chicks, feeding chicks, etc). Sites need to be monitored at least once per month during the Powerful Owl breeding season (March to September) and some sites might involve a walk to the nest site, sometimes over uneven terrain.

No experience is necessary for volunteering, and an all-day training workshop will be provided for new volunteers at North Narrabeen on Saturday 28 March. 

If you are interested in volunteering, please get in touch with BirdLife Australia and they can work out the best site location for you. 

When: Throughout the 2015 Powerful Owl breeding season (March to September)

Location: Various locations throughout the Greater Sydney, more information to come. 

Contact: Caroline Wilson, BirdLife Australia, please contact before 15 March so they can get an idea of numbers for the workshop.

 Loss of underwater posidonia meadows reduces CO2 storage areas and could contribute to gas emissions

February 9, 2015 – The  loss of underwater posidonia meadows poses two problems: these areas can no longer capture and store atmospheric CO2, and, moreover, they can become a source of this gas by eroding and freeing the carbon stored in the meadow during decades or even centuries.

This is one of the main conclusions reached by an international team which included the participation of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia. The team assessed whether the revegetation of underwater meadows is effective in restoring their capacity to act as carbon sinks in relation to the time needed to achieve this (decades). The study was published in the Journal of Ecology.

"The revegetation of meadows prevents the erosion of these organic carbon deposits which have accumulated throughout centuries in meadows which have now disappeared," points out CSIC researcher Núria Marbà from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA).

"Our results indicate that the loss of this ecosystem must have also represented an important loss in the capacity to sequester and store carbon in the sediments of underwater meadows," she adds.

Pere Masqué, at the UAB and co-author of the study, highlights that "the potential areas available worldwide to carry out marine angiosperm revegetation projects is enormous," and adds that "these can help reconstruct carbon sinks, as well as preserve older deposits."

Seagrass meadows are relevant as carbon sinks at a global scale and that is why their conservation and restoration can contribute to mitigating anthropogenic emissions, researchers state. In addition, the results of this study contribute to dispel the doubts which were hindering the development of blue carbon strategies in underwater meadows. Blue carbon is the term given to carbon captured by marine and coastal ecosystems in the form of biomass and sediments.

The researchers explain that the study was conducted at Oyster Harbour, in Western Australia. "This area is colonised by a meadow of Posidonia australis that largely was lost from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. After 1994, the meadow recovered in part thanks to a series of revegetation efforts which went on until 2006 under the direction of Geoff Bastyan, one of the authors of the research."

The study relied on using sediment-dating techniques to quantify the accumulation of carbon in repopulated areas and the erosion of historic carbon in areas that were not revegetated. No other revegetation project has been monitored this long in all the world, Marbà concludes.

Núria Marbà, Ariane Arias-Ortiz, Pere Masqué, Gary A. Kendrick, Inés Mazarrasa, Geoff R. Bastyan, Jordi Garcia-Orellana, Carlos M. Duarte. Impact of seagrass loss and subsequent revegetation on carbon sequestration and stocks.Journal of Ecology, 2015; DOI:10.1111/1365-2745.12370

Above: This image shows a Posidonia australis meadow. Credit: Gary A. Kendrick

 Stop the Chop Code 10/50 NSW

Published on 26 Feb 2015


STOP THE CHOP is a community alliance formed to bring the 10/50 Code to a grinding halt. We want immediate withdrawal of the Code and repeal of the enabling legislation as soon as Parliament returns. We are supported by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, the peak NSW environment group, and at many other wildlife, birding and environmental groups in NSW

Code 10/50 severely sets back urban tree protection and conservation measures fought for by the community over many decades and usurps an effective system of Council assessment and control already in place with cooperation and technical support being provided by the RFS.


Kevin Humphries MP Minister for Natural Resources, Lands and Water Minister for Western NSW 

Minister for Natural Resources, Lands & Water Kevin Humphries is encouraging managers of local parks and reserves, state parks, showgrounds and caravan parks to start preparing applications for funding under the next round of the Public Reserves Management Fund Program. 

Mr Humphries said the 2015/16 round of the PRMFP will open in early March 2015, delivering at least $15 million to improve public reserves across the State. 

“Public reserve managers from across the State will soon be invited to apply for grants and loans to assist them to develop, maintain and improve public reserves,” Mr Humphries said. 

“Public reserves are wonderful assets that are highly valued by local communities. In many cases their ongoing success is vital to local sport and social activities, as well as business and tourism in regional towns.

“The 2015/16 funding program differs from past years as it will be a single round, so it is very important for reserve managers to take note of the application dates when they are announced. 

“Crown reserve caravan parks, local parks and reserves, state parks and showgrounds on Crown land will be eligible for funding, along with freehold showgrounds and schools of arts. “It will be open to a wide range of activities including repairs and maintenance, pest and weed control, recreational infrastructure, environmental initiatives and other capital projects to improve the condition of Crown reserves. 

“Applicants seeking larger amounts, including grants or loans over $500,000, are also encouraged to apply.” 

Mr Humphries said the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government has allocated more than $80 million to the PRMFP over the past four years. 

“The program’s success relies on the good work undertaken at a grassroots level by managers, reserve trusts and local communities, and the NSW Government will continue to ensure that our public reserves continue to be managed by and for the public,” Mr Humphries said. 

“The program is just one example of the NSW Government’s commitment to the cultural, sporting, economic and recreational life of communities across NSW.” 

Information on how to apply this year will be on the Crown Lands website at

 Palaszczuk Govt charts new course for Abbot Point

Premier and Minister for the Arts, The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk and Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines,The Honourable Anthony Lynham

Media Release: Wednesday, March 11, 2015

TOWNSVILLE: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has today announced a new agreement between the Labor Government and major proponents Adani and GVK to put in place an environmentally sustainable and fiscally responsible proposal for the expansion of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal.

Ms Palaszczuk said the agreement reached would see dredge spoil dumped on land on the site known as T2, adjacent to the existing coal terminal, not on the Caley Valley wetlands or within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

“I’ve always said I support the responsible and sustainable development of the Galilee Basin and Abbot Point, and the agreement we’ve reached demonstrates that,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Today my Government sends a clear message: we can protect the Great Barrier Reef, and we can foster economic development and create jobs.

“I am determined to deliver on my election commitments, and that includes no dumping of capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, no dumping of dredge material in the nationally-significant Caley Valley wetlands, and no taxpayer funding for capital dredging and the disposal of dredge spoil.

“The Government will not proceed with the current approvals process. We will withdraw the applications and present a new application centred on the T2 site.

“T2 is the only remaining unallocated industrial land at the Port and the only responsible way to proceed with the Abbot Point development to ensure it is ready for future exports from the Galilee Basin.

“I’d like to thank Adani and GVK for working with us to come up with a sustainable plan that helps us protect the Reef, protect the wetlands and create jobs.”

State Development Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said unlike the previous government’s project, capital dredging costs will not be funded by taxpayers.

“We will ensure that approvals costs will be met by Galilee Basin proponents, with capital dredging costs to be paid for by the proponents to the Galilee Basin projects,” Dr Lynham said.

Dr Lynham said the new project referral under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would involve a full Environmental Impact Statement process, which also allows for a new round of public consultation.

“The Port of Abbot Point development is vital to Queensland’s economic future. That’s why we are prioritising this project and are dedicated to ensuring it progresses in a transparent and environmentally responsible manner," he said.

“We will immediately begin work on providing a robust and informed approval referral to the Commonwealth Government and applications to state approval agencies.

“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to working with local communities and project proponents to deliver good economic and environmental outcomes when it comes to major developments.”


Halt to Abbot Point wetland dump plan a positive move

11 March 2015 - WWF Aust.

WWF-Australia today said the Queensland Government’s action to formally withdraw the proposal to dump dredge spoil on sensitive wetlands at Abbot Point, was a positive move. 

“This shows the Government is listening to people who care about the Reef and the important coastal wetlands, that are precious habitats and act as filters to protect the Reef,” said WWF-Australia Reef campaigner Louise Matthiesson.

“The new Queensland Government is to be commended for following through on its election promise to rule out dumping on the wetlands and to find an alternative location for the sludge. 

“The approved plan to dump 3 million tonnes of dredge spoil into the World Heritage Area, and the proposal to dump on the sensitive Caley Valley Wetlands, have now both been taken off the table as a result of today’s announcement.”

The new proposal, put forward by the Queensland Government and proponents GVK and Adani, is to deposit the spoil on the site of BHP’s now-abandoned Terminal 2 project.

“The T2 site is between the Reef World Heritage Area and the Caley Valley wetlands, so the utmost care must be taken before a final decision is made, and we await the outcome of the full environmental impact assessment by the Federal Government,”  said Ms Matthiesson.

“WWF has repeatedly called for a longer jetty at Abbot Point to avoid the majority of dredging.

“The dredging operation itself will have serious impacts, like destroying seagrass beds, regardless of where the spoil is dumped.

“Given the downturn in the coal industry, it’s time to genuinely review whether the port expansion is really necessary at all,” she said.

“Better utilization of existing ports could deliver the same economic benefits, without unnecessarily damaging the Reef. If existing infrastructure can meet this demand, we should be using it more efficiently.”

Ms Matthiesson said today’s announcement is a positive first step in implementing the Queensland Government’s ‘Saving the Reef’ election policy, and WWF looks forward to further action on other promises such as a ban on the dumping of dredge spoil in the whole World Heritage Area.

“The world’s best Reef deserves the world’s best management,” she said.

 Snappy campaign to protect WA's blue swimmer crabs

Joint media release: 12 March 2015

A community awareness campaign is expected to have enough ‘bite’ to help protect blue swimmer crab habitat in the south west region of Western Australia.

Save The Crabs, Then Eat Them is the theme of the South West Catchments Council’s autumn campaign to educate local communities about the harm excessive fertiliser run-off causes to the marine environment. 

The multi media campaign, which is part of the council’s successful Home River Ocean programme, was officially launced by Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, Bob Baldwin, and Federal Member for Forrest, Nola Marino, today during a visit to Bunbury.

“Every year, rain carries tonnes of fertiliser from suburban lawns and gardens into our waterways, threatening the habitat of important marine species,” Mr Baldwin said.

“Using catchy advertising on local TV, radio, newspapers and online the Save The Crabs, Then Eat Them autumn campaign encourages residents to hold off fertilising when rain is around.

“Protecting their habitat will ensure blue swimmer crabs thrive, both as an important part of our marine system and for the ongoing enjoyment of recreational fishermen and diners, who delight in this delicacy.

“This campaign is an excellent example of how the Australian Government’s $2 billion investment via the National Landcare Programme is helping local communities develop simple, long-term solutions to environmental issues in their own backyards. 

Federal Member for Forrest, Nola Marino said that by fertilising at the right time, residents save money, have more leisure time and improve the health of the iconic estuaries and coast around Busselton, Bunbury and Augusta, and beyond. 

“Rain carries excess fertiliser into stormwater drains, rivers, estuaries and all the way to the ocean,” Ms Marino said.

“This campaign is aimed at encouraging residents, gardeners and landscapers not to fertilise before it rains. It will also increase community awareness about the importance of keeping catchments and waterways healthy for the blue swimmer crabs and other wildlife,” she said. 

Further details on the National Landcare Programme are available

 Ponds are disappearing in the Arctic

March 12, 2015 – Ponds in the Arctic tundra are shrinking and slowly disappearing, according to a new study by University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) researchers. More than 2,800 Arctic tundra ponds in the northern region of Alaska's Barrow Peninsula were analyzed using historical photos and satellite images taken between 1948 and 2010. Over the 62-year period, the researchers found that the number of ponds in the region had decreased by about 17 percent, while pond size had shrunk by an average of one-third.

"The 17 percent is a very conservative estimate because we didn't consider ponds that had divided, or split into two ponds," explained Christian Andresen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at UTEP who led the study. "Some ponds are elongated and as they shrink over time, they can be divided into two or more smaller ponds."

The study, which has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, was conducted by Andresen and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D.

The team points to warming temperatures and encroaching plants as one of the reasons the ponds are disappearing. As temperatures rise, nutrient-rich permafrost -- a frozen layer of soil -- thaws, releasing nutrients into ponds and enhancing plant growth.

"Plants are taking over shallow ponds because they're becoming warm and nutrient-rich," Andresen said. "Before you know it, boom, the pond is gone."

Andresen worries that the geomorphology of the region's landscape will change if these small bodies of water continue to shrink.

"The role of ponds in the arctic is extremely important," he said. "History tells us that ponds tend to enlarge over hundreds of years and eventually become lakes; ponds shape much of this landscape in the long run, and with no ponds there will be no lakes for this region."

Ponds in the Barrow Peninsula also serve as a major food source and nesting habitat for migratory birds, including certain waterfowl on the threatened species list, such as the spectacled eider (Somateria fischeri) and Steller's eider (Polysticta stelleri). If the aquatic system continues to shift toward a drier community, their vital summer feeding and nesting grounds could disappear, affecting the future of these and many other migratory species.

Christian G. Andresen, Vanessa L. Lougheed. Disappearing Arctic tundra ponds: Fine-scale analysis of surface hydrology in drained thaw lake basins over a 65 year period (1948-2013).. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2015; DOI:10.1002/2014JG002778


Environment Events, Workshops and Bushcare in Pittwater - Jan/Feb 2015

Mona Vale Dunes Bushcare Group

Recent weed control funding has enabled a large area to be replanted with local native species on the Mona Vale dunes behind the Mona Vale Golf Course. This work may have encouraged a recent visit from a family of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. The Bushcare group was given a lovely insight into the birds’ family life, where the mother listened for sounds of caterpillars in dead wattle branches while a juvenile begs nearby. Meanwhile the father sat up on a higher branch keeping watch. 

If you’d love the opportunity to see these beautiful birds up close and personal or just want to give some of your time to help keep Pittwater beautiful, then please contact Council’s Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367.

The Mona Vale Dunes Bushcare Group meets regularly on the 3rd Thursday and 2nd Saturday of each month from 8:30 – 11:30am at the end of Golf Avenue. New volunteers are always welcome!

Bushcare Workshops 

Saturday 28 March, 1 – 4pm

Are you new to Bushcare in Pittwater or thinking about Headland Ecosystems getting involved? Or are you simply looking for some skills and techniques for identifying and removing weeds from your backyard? If you answered ‘Yes’ then this is an essential workshop to learn the tips, tricks and identification skills to conduct bushregeneration work in our local reserves or your native garden.

The workshop will be split into two components - a theory session and a field trip to nearby bushland. In the theory session participants will be guided through a provided booklet in order to learn some of the most common weeds and native plants, including those extra tricky ‘look-a-like plants’. Some live samples of plants will help aid the learning process.

Correct removal techniques for specific weeds will also be shown, along with some of the core principles of bush regeneration and conducting safe work practices in the bush.

The field trip will put this newly found knowledge into practice, identifying natives and weeds in a bushland setting, and discussing strategies for managing weed infested areas.

Where: North Narrabeen – location provided upon booking.

This is a free workshop for Pittwater residents only - Online person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen or Phone: 1300 000 232 (Reception - Option 1)

Ask a Sustainability Expert  

23 March 2015 - 6pm to 8pm

Architects, tradies and designers will provide free advice on solar, water re-use, green roofs, native bees and more! 23 March 2015 - 6pm to 8pm Mona Vale Memorial Hall, 1606 Pittwater Rd, Mona Vale Book:

 Exercise bike pedals hope for people with MS

9 March 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have designed an innovative exercise system that allows people with multiple sclerosis to workout their paralysed leg muscles in the hope of improving symptoms and slowing the disease progression.

The specially designed exercise bike uses electrical stimulation to activate contractions in the major leg muscles, which forces the pedals to rotate.

Lead researcher Dr Ché Fornusek, an expert in biomedical engineering from the Faculty of Health Sciences, said people with multiple sclerosis benefit from regular exercise, but the progression of the disease meant many people gradually lose their ability to walk and stay active.

"Inactivity isn't good for any of us, but for people with MS it exacerbates health problems and can put them at greater risk of conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease," Dr Fornusek said.

Multiple sclerosis is an incurable disease which causes scarring on the central nervous system, leading to muscle paralysis and reduced quality of life.

The research team has a long history in world-leading research in electrical stimulation exercise and for this study adapted a bike they previously developed for people with spinal cord injuries. They are now undertaking testing to assess the benefits that can be gained for those with advanced multiple sclerosis.

Dr Fornusek said early trials show a lot of promise and the researchers were eager to see just how effective the exercise treatment could be.

"I'm confident we can improve the condition of people's legs and make tasks like transitioning to and from a wheelchair easier which is great. But I'm also keen to know if this exercise can improve the immune function and ultimately slow the progression of MS," he said.

The study is funded by a grant from MS Research Australia. Chief Executive Officer Dr Matthew Miles said the project highlights the importance of researchers continuing to seek new and innovative treatments for people in the advanced stages of the disease.

"This study has the potential to make a real difference to the quality of life for many people currently living with severe multiple sclerosis," Dr Miles said.

 100 stories reflect 100 years of Anzac

11 March 2015: Media Release  

Australian Defence Force members have recorded personal messages that reflect what the Centenary of Anzac means to them.

One hundred stories, reflecting on 100 years of Anzac, will be published throughout 2015 to highlight the significance of the Anzac Centenary to current serving members of the ADF.

Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said the Anzac Centenary was an opportunity for servicemen and women to remember those who had gone before them.

“The first Anzacs played a significant role in forging Australia’s national identity and defined our national character. They left a strong and enduring legacy that is carried forward by the men and women of the ADF today,” VADM Griggs said.

“These personal messages provide an insight into the significance of the Anzac Centenary to the men and women who continue to serve Australia and its national interests today.”

Commencing today, three messages will be published each week, and will be disseminated on the various Defence social media including @DeptDefence and @VCDF_Australia twitter accounts.

 Gallipoli Letter inscribed on UNESCO Register

March 5, 2015

One of the National Library of Australia’s greatest treasures, the 8000-word Gallipoli Letter, written by Keith Murdoch to Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, was today inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Australian Register.

Murdoch, a journalist, wrote the letter on 23 September 1915, after a brief visit to Gallipoli. A frank report of a catastrophic campaign and a place of national sacrifice, it played a major role in the withdrawal of the troops thus ending the campaign which, in just eight months, had led to the loss of more than 8,700 young Australian lives.

The letter is the copy retained by Keith Murdoch after it was cabled to Prime Minister Fisher. It was given to the National Library in 1970 by his son, Rupert Murdoch.

Director-General of the National Library of Australia, Ms Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, said she was proud that the Gallipoli Letter had been recognised by UNESCO.

‘Although the Gallipoli Letter was intended as a private report from a trusted friend to the Australian Prime Minister of the time, it became the first, uncensored public statement by an Australian which reflected the terrible truth of the Gallipoli campaign,’ Ms Schwirtlich said.

‘Keith Murdoch’s letter helped create the notion of Gallipoli as the place of sacrifice and legend that persists today. It shows that, in his opinion, the Gallipoli campaign could not be won even though the ANZAC troops were ‘determined and dauntless men’.

As an eyewitness account by a young journalist observing and hearing about the horrors of modern warfare for the first time, the letter’s impact was profound. It led to greater inclusion of the Australian Government in decisions affecting Australian troops under British command.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register was founded in 2000. Its aim is to identify documents of significance and ensure they remain in the international memory. James Cook’s Endeavour Journal and the papers of Edward Koiki Mabo, both treasures of the National Library, have previously been inscribed on UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register.

The Gallipoli Letter, Endeavour Journal and the Mabo papers are on show in the National Library’s Treasures Gallery.

High-res images of the Gallipoli Letter are available here

 Face-to-face bullying worse than cyber-attacks, students say

March 11, 2015 – “you see their smile, hear their laugh, see their face, see you break down," girl student, 12. "Because you can't block face-to-face bullying," boy student, 16.

Both children were among 156 students who participated in an Australian study, led by QUT, to describe their perceptions of being bullied.

The research, led and supervised by Professor Marilyn Campbell from QUT's Faculty of Education, investigated the students' responses to both cyber and face-to-face bullying and asked which was more hurtful.

The study was published February issue of the Journal of School Violence titled "Students' Perceptions of Their Own Victimization: A youth voice perspective."

Professor Campbell said the findings indicated significantly more victims perceived traditional bullying to be more harsh and cruel than cyberbullying.

"It clearly indicates the feelings of the children and the very real threat they have of being physically harmed by another child," she said.

She said earlier studies found Australian school students reported the highest prevalence of peer aggression among OECD countries.

Professor Campbell said the study showed 59 percent of the children participants felt face-to-face bullying was worse for them than being cyberbullied.

Twenty-six per cent reported that both forms of bullying were equally hurtful and the remaining 15 per cent perceived cyberbullying to be worse.

"Children reported being scared and very worried by the attacks but it was interesting to find a majority of them were embarrassed that others were witnessing their victimisation as it occurred," Professor Campbell said.

She said recent Australian studies have reported traditional victimisation prevalence rates of between 16 and 40 per cent among students.

She also said a 2008 survey of about 40 countries found Australian primary schools had the highest reported incidence of bullying in the world.

She also said a review of Australian studies found a conservative prevalence estimate for being cyberbullied in a 12-month period was approximately 20 per cent of children aged between eight to 17.

The participants, involved in the latest research, were drawn from a larger case study sample of 3,112 students from across 29 different schools in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

She said the focus of the research was to give "voice" to students who reported being targeted by both traditional bullies and cyberbullies.

"Few studies have directly examined the perceptions of students who have experienced both forms of bullying and explored which form was worse for them," she said.

Professor Campbell said the perceptions of the students challenged a number of suppositions presented in other literature that attempted to explain why cyberbullying was associated with more negative outcomes than traditional or face-to-face bullying.

She said many students noted that it was their ability or inability to take some form of action in response to their victimisation that was a defining reason as to why they perceived their experiences as they did.

Professor Campbell said taking action against the person who cyberbullied them took the form of deleting a message or 'blocking' a bully.

A girl, 12, said: "I was upset that the person who cyberbullied me hid behind the computer like a coward."

And a boy, 15, said: "Because being physically abused is a lot worse than being abused by a pathetic loser over the Internet."

She said other students referred to the distance created by technology and indicated that traditional bullying was worse than cyberbullying because: "It was real, live communication, not done digitally, it cuts deeper," girl, 14.

"These students specifically referred to the proximity of the bully during the incidents which suggests proximity makes it more emotionally impacting than when it is buffered by the distance that the online setting provides," Dr Campbell said.

She said the children's reactions included feeling hurt, depressed, frightened, anxious, embarrassed and worthless.

Professor Campbell said based on these responses it appeared that when students felt significantly helpless to act in response to their victimisation, it affected their interpretation of which form of bullying was worse.

She said the study had ramifications for schools and guidance counsellors.

"It is also important to involve students and student leaders in anti-bullying programs as teachers are already dealing with a crowded curriculum," she said.

Emma-Kate Corby, Marilyn Campbell, Barbara Spears, Phillip Slee, Des Butler, Sally Kift. Students’ Perceptions of Their Own Victimization: A Youth Voice Perspective. Journal of School Violence, 2014; 1 DOI:10.1080/15388220.2014.996719 

 Historian will co-chair Australian Studies at Harvard

11 March 2015

Professor Penny Russell from the Department of History at the University of Sydney has been jointly appointed to the prestigious Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University for the 2016-2017 academic year.

"We are delighted to see such strong appointments to the Chair," said Professor Stuart Macintyre, Chair of the Australian Nominating Committee. "That Harvard has made it possible to invite two scholars for the 2016-2017 academic year testifies to their outstanding quality."

As co-chair with Professor John Gascoigne from the University of New South Wales, Professor Russell will commence in September 2016 and will join the ranks of esteemed Australians who have previously held the chair since its inception in 1978. They include former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, historians Charles Manning Clark and Geoffrey Blainey, scientist Tim Flannery, and Indigenous Australian barrister Mick Dodson.

"It's a great privilege to be invited to spend a year in the History Department at Harvard," said Penny Russell, Bicentennial Professor of Australian History at the University of Sydney, "and to pursue my research on honour in colonial societies in the company of historians who have been an inspiration to my own work."

"I can think of no better way to understand Australian history and Australian habits than to view them from the outside for a while, and I look forward to teaching and learning in such a stimulating environment."

Professor Russell's work has illuminated the patterns of sociability that shaped colonial society, and opened new ways of understanding the manners and customs used to negotiate class, gender and racial relations in nineteenth-century Australia. Her year at Harvard will assist her to pursue research in the codes of honour that operated in different colonial settings.

She will work alongside fellow Chair, Professor John Gascoigne, who is a Scientia Professor in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales. Through his studies of Joseph Banks, Pacific exploration and the Enlightenment in colonial Australia, he has provided new perspectives on the mentality of those involved in establishing European Australia. At Harvard he will continue his work on culture contact in the Pacific with particular emphasis on the interaction between early American whalers and the peoples of the Pacific.

"Being based in the History of Science Department at Harvard will provide a very appropriate academic environment in which to pursue further my interests in the links between science and exploration and science and the state," Professor Gascoigne said.

Professor Gascoigne's most recent works are Captain Cook: Voyager Between Worlds (2007), winner of the Frank Broeze prize for maritime history, and Encountering the Pacific in the Age of the Enlightenment (2014), winner of the NSW Premier's general history prize.

Professor Russell is currently chair of the History Department at the University of Sydney, and also a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her most recent book, Savage or Civilised? (2011) was recognised by the New South Wales Premier's Award for Australian History. She was co-editor of History Australia between 2008 and 2012, and is renowned for teaching and supervision of research.

The Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair in Australian Studies was made possible by a gift from the Australian Government in 1978 and Professor Russell and Professor Gascoigne will be required to present a report for the Prime Minister at the end of their Harvard tenure.

 ACCC releases draft prices access seekers will pay to use Telstra's copper network

11 March 2015

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued its draft decision on the prices that other operators pay Telstra to use its copper network to provide telecommunications services to consumers.

The NBN is replacing Telstra’s legacy network as the infrastructure over which Australians receive fixed line voice and broadband communications. This structural change has significant implications for how Telstra’s fixed line assets are used during the transition and for the issues that the ACCC has dealt with during its inquiry to date.

The draft decision covering 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2019 is for a one-off uniform fall in access prices of 0.7 per cent for the seven access services. This compares with a one-off price increase of 7.2 per cent covering the same period that Telstra sought in October 2014.

“The draft decision on prices ensures nominal price stability in the wholesale market for telecommunications services and will promote competition in the transition to the NBN,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“Given current inflation however, this uniform price fall means the prices access seekers pay will decline in real terms over the next four years by around 12 per cent.”

“There are two conceptual underpinnings to this decision. First, Telstra will no longer bear all the costs of declining consumer demand for fixed line services. Second, however, access seekers will only pay for the assets needed to supply them, and not for any under utilisation caused by the NBN,” Mr Sims said.

On the one hand, the ACCC is adopting a revised approach to the way the costs of Telstra’s copper network are allocated between users. The change means that there will be a full allocation of costs across all services supplied over the network and that Telstra will no longer bear all of the costs of declining consumer demand for fixed line services. Instead, these costs will be shared across all users of the network, including access seekers.

On the other hand, the ACCC is implementing the approach on the treatment of NBN effects of arrangements outlined in its 22 October 2014 position statement. The cost allocation framework allocates costs to NBN Co for its use of leased assets, while assets that are decommissioned or used less because of the NBN are removed from the cost base for the fixed line services. The ACCC is also not allowing Telstra to pass on the costs of capital expenditures that are incurred in making ready for the NBN.

“This means that the prices that access seekers pay do not include a component for the migration of customers off the legacy copper network and onto the NBN or NBN Co’s use of Telstra assets,” Mr Sims said.

“In addition, NBN rollout creates a higher degree of uncertainty about future demand and the costs used to estimate the draft prices than is usual for network industries. The ACCC is addressing this uncertainty by detailing how we will respond if the NBN rollout deviates from current forecasts.”

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the draft price decision in addition to the approach taken on cost allocation and NBN arrangements.

“An important factor is the decline in the cost of capital driven largely by lower interest rates. Additional factors contributing to lower prices include further depreciation of the asset base and lower operating costs due to the decline in the use of the network,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC recognises that Telstra has made considerable efforts to provide the information needed to form a view on whether its forecasts represent the prudent and efficient costs of supplying services over its copper network. However, the ACCC does not yet have all the information on costs needed to form a final view on efficient costs and has requested further information from Telstra in this regard.

The issue of efficient costs is one of three issues that the ACCC will consider further before reaching a final decision. Another area is whether to make an additional adjustment for the effect of the NBN; the ACCC is considering whether rising unit operating costs due to the loss of economies of scale on Telstra’s network as customers migrate to the NBN should be excluded from the prices that access seekers pay. The third area where the ACCC is still considering its position is the verification of some of the cost allocations within the revised approach.

The ACCC invites stakeholder views on its draft decision on the primary price terms to be included in the final access determinations for the next regulatory period, including reasons for those views. Submissions are due by 5pm on Thursday 30 April 2015. The ACCC intends to release its final decision at the end of June 2015. Draft decisions on connection charges and the non-price terms and conditions will be released later this month.

The ACCC’s Draft decision on the primary price terms for the fixed line services is available at: Fixed line services FAD inquiry 2013

A confidential consultant’s report commissioned by the ACCC to provide expert opinion on the efficient costs of supplying the regulated access services is available to access seekers under confidentiality arrangements.

 Find out what your apps are really doing

March 10, 2015 - Apps, these tiny programs on Internet-connected mobile phones are increasingly becoming entryways for surveillance and fraud. Computer scientists have now developed a program that can show users whether the apps on their smartphone are accessing private information, and what they do with that data. This year, the researchers will present an improved version of their system again at the CeBIT computer fair in Hanover.

RiskIQ, an IT security-software company, recently examined 350,000 apps that offer monetary transactions, and found more than 40,000 of these specialized programs to be little more than scams. Employees had downloaded the apps from around 90 recognized app store websites worldwide, and analyzed them. They discovered that a total of eleven percent of these apps contained malicious executable functions -- they could read along personal messages, or remove password protections. And all this would typically take place unnoticed by the user.

Computer scientists from Saarbrücken have now developed a software system that allows users to detect malicious apps at an early stage. This is achieved by scanning the program code, with an emphasis on those parts where the respective app is accessing or transmitting personal information. The monitoring software will detect whether a data request is related to the subsequent transmission of data, and will flag the code sequence in question as suspicious accordingly. 

"Imagine your address book is read out, and hundreds of lines of code later, without you noticing, your phone will send your contacts to an unknown website," Erik Derr says. Derr is a PhD student at the Graduate School for Computer Science at Saarland University, and a researcher at the Saarbrücken Research Center for IT Security, CISPA. An important feature of the software he developed is its ability to monitor precisely which websites an app is accessing, or which phone number a text message was sent to.

To conclusively detect these functional relationships between the data source and the recipient, the researchers use contemporary methods of information flow analysis. They set their program up in advance with a list of suspicious code combinations that access programming interfaces, so that it would learn to differentiate between "good" and "evil" apps, and additionally fed it with details of currently known attacks. "So it can be helpful, for instance, to know the telephone numbers of these expensive premium services. Say one of these numbers is dialed without the consent of the user, then the fraud is obvious," Derr explains. 

Since his method is computationally demanding and also requires a lot of memory space, the software is run on a dedicated server. "It takes our software an average of 25 minutes per app," Derr says. So far, his research team has tested around 23,000 apps in this manner. And of course, consumers will benefit most from this approach. "The app could be analyzed on our server, and the results would be displayed on your smartphone. Or ideally, the evaluation process could be integrated directly into the app store websites," explains Derr. This is one of the reasons the Saarbrücken researchers are already discussing the issue with US online retail company Amazon. "But Google would certainly be an option as well,," says Derr.

The above story is based on materials provided by University Saarland. 


History's most important document?

The History Council of NSW is delighted to announce our involvement in the celebration of the 800th Anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. This symposium has been organised in conjunction with the Magna Carta Committee, the Rule of Law Society and the State Library of NSW.

The signing of Magna Carta in 1215 marked an important step in the movement away from arbitrary, monarchical rule towards responsible, constitutional government. By the end of the eighteenth century Englishmen had come to believe strongly in the principles of trial by jury and no taxation without representation-even if the latter took the form of virtual representation. These principles were carried to the colony of NSW and were at the heart of the movements to establish trial by jury and representative (or at least consultative) institutions, which commenced within two decades of the founding of the colony.

The 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 2015 provides the appropriate opportunity to re-examine this document and its role in British and Australian history. In this day long symposium, five speakers, including Prof Nick Cowdery, Prof David Clark, Prof John Hirst, Dr Rosemary Laing and Dr Andrew Tink, will explore the historical and contemporary significance of this groundbreaking document.

This event will take place on Thursday May 7 2015. This event is free but bookings are essential!

See more at HERE

 Saturn moon's ocean may harbor hydrothermal activity, spacecraft data suggest

March 11, 2015 - NASA's Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities. "These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe."

Hydrothermal activity occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution, a natural occurrence in Earth's oceans. According to two science papers, the results are the first clear indications an icy moon may have similar ongoing active processes.

The first paper, published this week in the journal Nature, relates to microscopic grains of rock detected by Cassini in the Saturn system. An extensive, four-year analysis of data from the spacecraft, computer simulations and laboratory experiments led researchers to the conclusion the tiny grains most likely form when hot water containing dissolved minerals from the moon's rocky interior travels upward, coming into contact with cooler water. Temperatures required for the interactions that produce the tiny rock grains would be at least 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius).

"It's very exciting that we can use these tiny grains of rock, spewed into space by geysers, to tell us about conditions on -- and beneath -- the ocean floor of an icy moon," said the paper's lead author Sean Hsu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) instrument repeatedly detected miniscule rock particles rich in silicon, even before Cassini entered Saturn's orbit in 2004. By process of elimination, the CDA team concluded these particles must be grains of silica, which is found in sand and the mineral quartz on Earth. The consistent size of the grains observed by Cassini, the largest of which were 6 to 9 nanometers, was the clue that told the researchers a specific process likely was responsible.

On Earth, the most common way to form silica grains of this size is hydrothermal activity under a specific range of conditions; namely, when slightly alkaline and salty water that is super-saturated with silica undergoes a big drop in temperature.

"We methodically searched for alternate explanations for the nanosilica grains, but every new result pointed to a single, most likely origin," said co-author Frank Postberg, a Cassini CDA team scientist at Heidelberg University in Germany.

Hsu and Postberg worked closely with colleagues at the University of Tokyo who performed the detailed laboratory experiments that validated the hydrothermal activity hypothesis. The Japanese team, led by Yasuhito Sekine, verified the conditions under which silica grains form at the same size Cassini detected. The researchers think these conditions may exist on the seafloor of Enceladus, where hot water from the interior meets the relatively cold water at the ocean bottom.

The extremely small size of the silica particles also suggests they travel upward relatively quickly from their hydrothermal origin to the near-surface sources of the moon's geysers. From seafloor to outer space, a distance of about 30 miles (50 kilometers), the grains spend a few months to a few years in transit, otherwise they would grow much larger.

The authors point out that Cassini's gravity measurements suggest Enceladus' rocky core is quite porous, which would allow water from the ocean to percolate into the interior. This would provide a huge surface area where rock and water could interact.

The second paper, recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, suggests hydrothermal activity as one of two likely sources of methane in the plume of gas and ice particles that erupts from the south polar region of Enceladus. The finding is the result of extensive modeling to address why methane, as previously sampled by Cassini, is curiously abundant in the plume.

The team found that, at the high pressures expected in the moon's ocean, icy materials called clathrates could form that imprison methane molecules within a crystal structure of water ice. Their models indicate that this process is so efficient at depleting the ocean of methane that the researchers still needed an explanation for its abundance in the plume.

In one scenario, hydrothermal processes super-saturate the ocean with methane. This could occur if methane is produced faster than it is converted into clathrates. A second possibility is that methane clathrates from the ocean are dragged along into the erupting plumes and release their methane as they rise, like bubbles forming in a popped bottle of champagne.

The authors agree both scenarios are likely occurring to some degree, but they note that the presence of nanosilica grains, as documented by the other paper, favors the hydrothermal scenario.

"We didn't expect that our study of clathrates in the Enceladus ocean would lead us to the idea that methane is actively being produced by hydrothermal processes," said lead author Alexis Bouquet, a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bouquet worked with co-author Hunter Waite, who leads the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) team at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Cassini first revealed active geological processes on Enceladus in 2005 with evidence of an icy spray issuing from the moon's south polar region and higher-than-expected temperatures in the icy surface there. With its powerful suite of complementary science instruments, the mission soon revealed a towering plume of water ice and vapor, salts and organic materials that issues from relatively warm fractures on the wrinkled surface. Gravity science results published in 2014 strongly suggested the presence of a 6-mile- (10-kilometer-) deep ocean beneath an ice shell about 19 to 25 miles (30 to 40 kilometers) thick.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini CDA instrument was provided by the German Aerospace Center. The instrument team, led by Ralf Srama, is based at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Hsiang-Wen Hsu, Frank Postberg, Yasuhito Sekine, Takazo Shibuya, Sascha Kempf, Mihály Horányi, Antal Juhász, Nicolas Altobelli, Katsuhiko Suzuki, Yuka Masaki, Tatsu Kuwatani, Shogo Tachibana, Sin-iti Sirono, Georg Moragas-Klostermeyer, Ralf Srama. Ongoing hydrothermal activities within Enceladus.Nature, 2015; 519 (7542): 207 DOI: 10.1038/nature14262

Below: This cutaway view of Saturn's moon Enceladus is an artist's rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon's subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA's Cassini mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.