Inbox and Environment News: Issue 408

June 9 - 15, 2019: Issue 408

PNHA Bird Walk June 2019

Sunday June 2nd, PNHA Bird Walk and Talk - PNHA photo

So many birds, and swamp wallabies, in Warriewood Wetland on our guided bird walk this morning. Still mild weather really helps us find birds, and so we did, 37 species in all. Our group included two young boys, bird conservationists of the future, we hope.

We were surprised to see several Royal Spoonbills foraging out in the open and flying about – an unusually close view for us. We watched one sweep its sensitive broadtipped bill swiftly from side to searching by feel for invertebrate prey. 

Royal Spoonbill - photo by AJG

Another highlight was a pair of Rose Robins, near the Jim Rivett walk on the western side of Garden St.  

Male Rose Robin - photo by Gunjan Pandey

$1.16 M For Local Government Climate Change Response Grants

June 6 2019: OE&H
The $1.16 million second round of funding in the NSW Government’s Increasing Resilience to Climate Change (IRCC) grants scheme to support local councils will open on 1 July 2019.

OEH Director Climate Resilience and Net Zero Emissions, Stephen Bygrave, said: 'This is part of the $3.5 million IRCC package aimed at assisting councils until June 2022 to help manage the risks of climate change in their communities.

'The IRCC grants are being delivered in partnership with Local Government NSW and will range between $30,000 – $120,000 for individual councils to implement specific climate change adaptation and resilience projects.

'These projects include asset or building upgrades to minimise climate impacts like extreme heat and floods, community engagement programs that build capacity and awareness, detailed cost benefit analysis, specifications to support implementation of adaptation actions.

'Grants from $50,000 to $300,000 are also available for proposals to coordinate climate adaptation and resilience projects across several council areas because a regional response enables collaboration, capacity building and adaptation actions to be shared across councils dealing with similar climate change impacts in their communities.' 

In the grant round which closed in March, 10 councils including Bega Valley, Blacktown, Central Coast, Lake Macquarie, Tweed, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), and Wingecarribee, received funding totalling $1,011,300.

This is helping deal with coastal inundation, reducing impacts of urban heat, using recycled water to maintain gravel roads during drought, and engaging communities in better design and planning to build their resilience to climate change.

Dr Bygrave said: 'I’m urging councils to apply for these grants as they have a frontline role in managing climate change risks as councils are responsible for many services likely to be heavily impacted by climate change.

'These include local roads, stormwater, community buildings, parks and playgrounds, development and planning, environmental management and public health and safety.

'The IRCC program enables the Government to support local council capacity to reduce the impacts of climate change on our communities by embedding climate risks into existing council risk management plans.'

The IRCC grants follow the successful Building Resilience to Climate Change program which distributed $1.5 million to councils for projects such as a climate adapted bus shelter in Penrith, a blackwater treatment system to water local parklands in Blacktown, protecting IT transmission stations to secure emergency communications in Albury and a climate resilient masterplan for Cobar’s airport.

More Shellabrations For Rare Turtles

June 5th, 2019:OE&H
Manning Valley community members can celebrate today as a new survey has found thriving populations of the endangered Manning River Helmeted Turtle.

Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) researcher, Andrew Steed, said the survey’s results brought the number of the turtles to 275 at 86 sites over two years which meant there was a good future for the turtles.

Mr Steed said: “This is very good news for the species which have been around for over 55 million years and is the ancestor of virtually all Australian Turtles.

Mr Steed said: “With great community support, three ecologists in 2018 surveyed the river and its tributaries, including remote areas not previously checked and found 87 turtles.

“This year’s surveys in March and April found a further 188 turtles at 47 sites, including a new location upstream of Gloucester in the south of the Manning valley”

“This means turtles are living in new locations, a good sign that they are defying the odds and populating different river systems, making the species less susceptible to extinction”.

“The Barnard River in the west of the Manning valley appears to be the stronghold for the Manning River Helmeted Turtle, with many healthy populations consisting of both young and old male and female turtles. The Mummel and Rowleys rivers in the north of the Manning valley were also supporting healthy populations.”

“The turtles were also recorded in four conservation reserves, three of which are new locations for the Manning River Helmeted Turtle.”

The NSW Government’s Saving our Species program has provided $80,000 over 2018 and 2019 for these surveys. This funding has increased OEH’s ability to understand the threats to these endangered turtles and ensure the development of positive conservation actions.

Over 75 landowners in the valley kindly gave permission for researchers to access the river through their properties helping to make the surveys a success.

“The community will be very happy to hear these positive results. Residents of Manning Valley are committed to the protection of the Manning River Helmeted Turtle, and have formed the Manning River Turtle Conservation Group,” Mr Steed said.

A conservation workshop will take place in Wingham, NSW on June 6-7 to develop management strategies to secure the turtle’s long-term future. This workshop is supported by OEH, Hunter Local Land Services and the MidCoast Council.

The Manning River Helmeted Turtle was listed as endangered in 2017 when the population declined due to threats from foxes, pigs and other forms of habitat degradation.

Manning River helmeted turtle (Myuchelys purvisi), Rowleys River Photo: Bruce Chessman

Cruel Kangaroo Massacre Occurring Since 'Rule Change' For Non-Commercial Kangaroo Killing

In the Upper House of the NSW Parliament this week, Animal Justice Party MP, The Hon. Mark Pearson, brought to the attention of those present the result of a rule change by the NSW DPI which is leading to some distressing practices.

On August 8th 2018 the New South Wales Government changed the rules to make it easier to shoot kangaroos for non-commercial purposes. As a result of the changes, those carrying out the shooting no longer need a licence to kill. 

"The few checks and balances that were in place to ensure a minimum level of accountability by shooters and the welfare of the animals have now gone. The changes brought in by the Government have created a culture of anything goes when it comes to killing these gentle, native wild animals. My office has been inundated with accounts from distraught members of the public who have witnessed the horrific treatment of these animals and their young since the changes came into effect." Mr. Pearson stated this week

"We have heard how killing sprees happen everywhere and all the time. The latest report came in this week. A New South Wales citizen told of the people living opposite who are:

… intent on wiping out every kangaroo on the place. Shooting almost every night ... Yesterday I witnessed them run down a kangaroo with their tractor, pin the animal against the fence and kill the animal before picking up the carcass in the front bucket of the tractor and dumping it in a ditch. It's tragic—there was a lovely big mob of kangaroos down there. I have been onto the police and basically received a "Oh, well, it's his property and he can kill kangaroos if he likes"' response.

Another report told of a kangaroo found with:

… multiple festering and stinking injuries resembling gunshot wounds to both shoulders, left bicep and forearm, left side ribs, chest and left rump. Wounds were maggoty; he was also being eaten alive by European wasps (on the wounds). Prognosis by the vet—"poor".

"We have received gruesome images also from wildlife carers who are called out to rescue injured young joeys with bullet entry points in the neck and chest or in the abdomen via thighs; kangaroos shot in the base of the tail and then run over; kangaroos with jaws shot out; kangaroos shot with arrows; and joeys left to die in the pouch of their shot mother. These are the images we can find words to describe. Other scenes are so horrific they are beyond description, except to say that they would have caused immense suffering from slow and painful deaths. 

It is difficult to avoid the view that the Government's changes to the rules for the non-commercial killing of kangaroos have encouraged a complete disregard for the welfare of one of our most cherished native animals and is vindicating what is becoming a virtual genocide of this species. I call upon the Government to review the current administrative regime allowing the indiscriminate wounding and killing of kangaroos on private property. The suffering caused to individual animals is unacceptable." Mr. Pearson said.

Trees Are Our Best Allies Against Air Pollution

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now," says a Chinese proverb. Now is also a great time to stop deforestation and restore damaged ecosystems, and bring back these living air purifiers into our daily lives...

June 6th, 2019: UN - for World Environment Day
In our all-too-hectic urban lives, a city park is a great place to unwind. Trees and green spaces have mental health and well-being benefits, on top of being great for relaxation and recreation.

Trees also help reduce air pollution. According to the study Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States, particulate matter, which is particularly damaging to lungs, is retained on tree surfaces, while leaves act as filters, absorbing polluting gases.

But the study also warns that while trees can mitigate the effect of air pollution, deposits of air pollutants on leaves can also affect photosynthesis “and therefore potentially affect pollution removal by trees”. As with everything, balance is key.

The cooling effect of trees
Trees can also significantly cool temperatures in cities. In hot climates, tree cover can reduce energy expenditure on air conditioning, while driving down the consumption of air polluting fossil fuels that power these cooling systems. 

Experimental investigations and modelling studies in the United States have shown that shade from trees can reduce the air conditioning costs of detached houses by 20–30 per cent.

“Trees could reduce temperatures in cities up to 8°C, lowering use of air conditioning and related emissions by up to 40 per cent,” says Simone Borelli, an Agroforestry and Urban/Periurban Forestry Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“When part of a wider landscape mosaic, large green patches within and around cities would also reduce emissions through avoided sprawl and excess mobility requirements,” he adds.  

Urban tree-planting has to be done right. Species planted should be ones that are most effective at trapping pollution, typically those with large leaves. Officials also need to account for things like wind patterns and tree spacing. 

If water is scarce, they’ll want to consider drought-tolerant varieties, and avoid trees that increase pollen and allergies.

Action is all the more important given that urbanisation is accelerating—the proportion of people living in cities will be 60 per cent in 2030 and 66 per cent in 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia. 

To address the impacts of this rapid growth and the related challenges, a large-scale effort is needed.

Angophora costata - shedding old bark

Building the Great Green Wall of Cities
Nearly 8,000 km long and 15 km wide, the Great Green Wall is an African-led movement of epic proportions initiated in 2007 to green the entire width of northern Africa, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal to Djibouti. A decade in and roughly 15 per cent under way, the initiative is slowly bringing life back to some of Africa’s degraded landscapes, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path. 

An initiative of this nature in urban areas is being developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and other partners in preparation for the UN Climate Summit in September 2019. It aims to create up to 500,000 hectares of new urban forests and restore or maintain up to 300,000 ha of existing natural forests in and around 90 cities of the Sahel and Central Asia by 2030. Once established, this “Great Green Wall of Cities” would capture 0.5–5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year and stock carbon for centuries. 

On March 1st 2019 the UN General Assembly established the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, which should give further impetus to tree-planting efforts.

“UN Environment promotes the planting of trees as a key way to mitigate climate change and boost land-based biodiversity, 80 per cent of which is in forests,” says Tim Christophersen, head of UN Environment’s Freshwater, Land and Climate Branch, and Chair of the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration. “We are working with partners across the planet to boost tree planting for ecosystem restoration. There is scope for planting one trillion more trees, in addition to the 3 trillion that already exist on Earth. But it has to be done right; planting indigenous trees, supported by local communities, is a good way to go.”

Spotted Gums at Palm Beach

Let the stones gather some moss
In those forest ecosystems, trees are not alone in cleaning the air. An ambitious project by Greencity Solutions in Berlin, Germany, seeks to marry high-tech applications with another natural air purifier: moss.

“The ability of certain moss cultures to filter pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides from the air makes them ideal natural air purifiers,” says Greencity Solutions.

“But in cities, where air purification is a great challenge, mosses are barely able to survive due to their need for water and shade. This problem can be solved by connecting different mosses with fully automated water and nutrient provision based on unique Internet of things technology,” it explains.

Or by planting more trees that will provide the cover and humidity, that will help moss take hold and grow.

Air pollution was the theme for World Environment Day on 5 June 2019. The quality of the air we breathe depends on the lifestyle choices we make every day. Learn more about how air pollution affects you, and what is being done to clean the air. What are you doing to reduce your emissions footprint and #BeatAirPollution?

The 2019 World Environment Day was hosted by China.


National Tree Day 2019

National Tree Day started in 1996 and has grown into Australia's largest community tree-planting and nature care event.
It’s a call to action for all Australians to get their hands dirty and give back to the community. ​​​

While every day can be Tree Day, we dedicate celebration of Schools Tree Day and National Tree Day to the last Friday and last Sunday in July. In 2019 Schools Tree Day is Friday 26th July and National Tree Day is Sunday 28th July.

How All Religious Faiths Advocate For Environmental Protection

Photo by All Africa Conference of Churches
Science and religion are often thought of as being at odds on many issues.  On the question of the environment, however, there's widespread agreement.

From Buddhism to Christianity to Hinduism to Islam, various faiths acknowledge the need for environmental stewardship and their holy texts urge adherents to be caretakers of the Earth and its biodiversity.

On 31 May, the United Religions Initiative, Africa and the All African Conference of Churches in collaboration with UN Environment organised an Interfaith World Environment Day celebration in Nairobi, Kenya.

The celebration called for action on the theme “Faiths for Earth—We stand together to save Mother Earth and Together we can Beat Air Pollution”. It also promoted the Green Rule (treat nature as you would like to be treated).

“Without air there is no life and polluted air has become an invisible killer. Annually, about 7 million people die as a direct result of poor air quality. We need to act, and communicate, about the environmental challenges we face and how we can fix them in order to meet our Sustainable Development Goals,” said Gary Lewis, Director of Policy and Programme Division at UN Environment.

“About half of the schools on our planet are owned by faith-based institutions, therefore they play a crucial role in arming the society with knowledge about the damage we are doing to our environment and how we can turn things around,” Lewis said.

In November 2017, following a series of initiatives and conventions organised in partnership with faith-based organisations, UN Environment launched the Faith for Earth Initiative. The initiative engages with faith-based organisations and partners with them to collectively achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfil the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

As part of the 2019 celebrations, members of various faiths will plant trees and hold an inter-faith forum for youth on 8 June at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.

“We are putting the planet under enormous pressure by depleting scarce natural resources and polluting the air and water. Faith-based organisations play a significant role at the global, regional and local level in addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” said Ambassador Mussie Hailu, Director of Global Partnership, United Religions Initiative.

As the world marks the 45th World Environment Day, the following are twelve quotes from different religious texts which remind us how faith is connected to the environment:

Baha’i: “Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.” (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 142)

Buddhism: “Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we now know is the case only if we care for it.” (Dalai Lama, 1990a)

Christianity: “"The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but sojourners and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land." Leviticus 25:23-24
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." John 1-5.

Confucianism: “… sustainable harmonious relationship between the human species and nature is not merely an abstract ideal, but a concrete guide for practical living.” (International Confucian Ecological Alliance, 2015)

Hinduism: “There is an inseparable bond between man and nature. For man, there cannot be an existence removed from nature.” (Amma, 2011)

Islam: “Devote thyself single-mindedly to the Faith, and thus follow the nature designed by Allah, the nature according to which He has fashioned mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah.” (Qur’an 30:30)

Jainism: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." (Mahavira)

Judaism: “And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed—to you it shall be for food.” (Gen 1:29)

Shintoism: “I will give over to my child the rice-ears of the sacred garden, of which I partake in the Plain of High Heaven.” (Nihongi II.23)

Sikhism: “You, yourself created the Universe, and You are pleased… You, Yourself the bumblebee, flower, fruit and the tree.” (Guru Granth Sahib, Maru Sohele, page 1020)

Taoism: “This original nature is the eternal law. To know the nature’s law is to be enlightened. He who is ignorant of the nature’s law shall act recklessly, and thus will invite misfortune. To know the constant law of nature is to be generous. Being generous, one is impartial. Being impartial, one is the sovereign. Sovereign is the nature itself.” (Lao-Tzu,Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16)

New UN Decade On Ecosystem Restoration Offers Unparalleled Opportunity For Job Creation, Food Security And Addressing Climate Change

  • The United Nations General Assembly declared 2021 – 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
  • Restoration could remove up to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • UN Environment and FAO will lead the implementation.
March 1st 2019, New York – The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, declared today by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.

“We are pleased that our vision for a dedicated Decade has become reality,” said Lina Pohl, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador, a regional restoration leader. “We need to promote an aggressive restoration program that builds resilience, reduces vulnerability and increases the ability of systems to adapt to daily threats and extreme events.”

Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

“The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will help countries race against the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). “Ecosystems are being degraded at an unprecedented rate. Our global food systems and the livelihoods of many millions of people depend on all of us working together to restore healthy and sustainable ecosystems for today and the future.”

“UN Environment and FAO are honored to lead the implementation of the Decade with our partners,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. “The degradation of our ecosystems has had a devastating impact on both people and the environment. We are excited that momentum for restoring our natural environment has been gaining pace because nature is our best bet to tackle climate change and secure the future.”

The Decade, a global call to action, will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration from successful pilot initiatives to areas of millions of hectares. Research shows that more than two billion hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded landscapes offer 
potential for restoration.

The Decade will accelerate existing global restoration goals, for example the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030 – an area almost the size of India. Currently 57 countries, subnational governments and private organisations have committed to bring over 170 million hectares under restoration. This endeavour builds on regional efforts such as the Initiative 20x20 in Latin America that aims to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020, and the AFR100 African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that aims to bring 100 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030.

Ecosystem restoration is defined as a process of reversing the degradation of ecosystems, such as landscapes, lakes and oceans to regain their ecological functionality; in other words, to improve the productivity and capacity of ecosystems to meet the needs of society. This can be done by allowing the natural regeneration of over-exploited ecosystems, for example, or by planting trees and other plants.

Ecosystem restoration is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly those on climate change, poverty eradication, food security, water and biodiversity conservation. It is also a pillar of international environmental conventions, such as the Ramsar Convention on wetlands and the Rio Conventions on biodiversity, desertification and climate change.

Currently, about 20 per cent of the planet’s vegetated surface shows declining trends in productivity with fertility losses linked to erosion, depletion and pollution in all parts of the world. By 2050 degradation and climate change could reduce crop yields by 10 per cent globally and by up to 50 per cent in certain regions.

About FAO
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes that sustainable food systems can be the common thread that links the different challenges the world faces in building a sustainable future. FAO is the custodian UN agency for 21 of the Sustainable Development Goals’ indicators and is a contributing agency for a further four. In this capacity, FAO is supporting countries’ efforts in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

About UN Environment
The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. Its mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory December 2018 Quarterly Report Released

MEDIA RELEASE: 6 June 2019 - The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction 
Today the Morrison Government has released the December 2018 Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. The report shows that emissions per capita and the emissions intensity of the economy were at their lowest levels in 29 years in the year to December 2018.

Emissions per capita in the year to December 2018 have fallen 38.2 per cent since 1990, while the emissions intensity of the economy has fallen 61.4 per cent.

The report shows national emissions were 14.2 per cent below the peak recorded in the year to June 2007 and 11.9% below emissions in 2005 (the baseline year for the Paris agreement).

In the year to December 2018, emissions rose 3.5 Mt CO2-e, up 0.7 per cent on the previous year.

Strong growth in Australia’s emissions intensive traded commodities more than accounted for this outcome, including growth in LNG exports (3.5 Mt CO2-e), steel production and aluminium exports (0.9 MT CO2-e).

Australia’s total LNG exports have the potential to lower emissions in importing countries by around 148 Mt CO2-e in 2018 by displacing coal consumption in those countries.

While emissions increases from the rapid growth of LNG exports are included in Australia’s emissions in the report, the success of this industry means that it has potentially reduced global emissions by up to 27% of Australia’s annual emissions in the year to December 2018.

This is a substantial global contribution to be proud of. The Morrison Government is not going to trash successful Australian export industries that are reducing global emissions, in order to reduce Australian emissions.

Electricity sector emissions are down by 6.5 Mt CO2-e, or 3.5 per cent, in the year to December 2018, which reflects a decrease in demand in the National Electricity Market and fuel switching flowing from a 31.1 per cent or 7.9 TWh increase in renewable generation in the year to December 2018.

The Morrison Government’s $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package is our fully costed plan to deliver on our 2030 emission reduction commitments. We have mapped out, to the last tonne, how we will achieve the 328 million tonnes of abatement needed to meet our Paris 2030 target.

Our national target is achievable, balanced and responsible. We will meet our international commitments while keeping power prices down, keeping the lights on, and keeping our economy strong.

Download the report:

Whichever Way You Spin It, Australia’s Greenhouse Emissions Have Been Climbing Since 2015

June 6, 2019 - by Tim Baxter, Fellow - Melbourne Law School; Associate - Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne
Let me explain how to see through the spin on Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions figures.

With the release today of Australia’s emissions data for the December 2018 quarter, Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor has been more forthcoming than usual about the rising trend in Australia’s emissions.

There’s one small issue, though. Despite Taylor’s comments in which he sought to explain away Australia’s 0.7% year-on-year rise in emissions as a product of increased gas investment, actual emissions in the December quarter were in fact down relative to the September 2018 quarter. This is due mainly to the fact that people use much more energy for heating in the July-September period than they do during the milder spring weather of October-December.

Taylor, meanwhile, was discussing the “adjusted” data, which reveals an 0.8% increase between the two quarters.

This might all sound like minor quibbling. But knowing the difference between quarterly and annual figures, and raw and adjusted data – and knowing what’s ultimately the most important metric – is crucial to understanding Australia’s emissions. And it might come in handy next time you’re listening to a politician discussing our progress (or lack thereof) towards tackling climate change.

Read more:  Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)

Highlighting the difference between quarters is problematic, because emissions data are what statisticians describe as “noisy”. Emissions levels jump around from period to period, which can obscure the overall trend.

Quarterly data is important for understanding how Australia is tracking more generally towards doing its fair share on reducing its emissions. But too much stock is put on the noise, and not enough on the underlying trend.

The charts below compare our estimated actual emissions on a quarterly basis (top) with the cumulative emissions for the year leading up to that quarter (here described as the “year-to-quarter emissions” and shown in the lower chart).

Quarterly emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.) Dept Environment and Energy (data)

Year-to-quarter emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.) Dept Environment and Energy (data)

These charts, both built on today’s data, make a few things clear.

Quarterly emissions are noisy
The first thing to note is that saying that our emissions are down compared with the previous quarter is hardly remarkable, or worth patting ourselves on the back for. This is especially true if we are comparing the December quarter data, released today, with the data for the preceding quarter.

September quarter emissions are almost always higher than the rest of the year. This is because, while September itself is in spring, the September quarter also covers July and August.

Our winter heating needs are generally met using fossil fuels, whether through electric heaters or natural gas, which is why the September quarter has the highest emissions. In the December quarter, which covers most of spring, our need for heating drops, and so do our emissions.

But if you look beyond the difference between quarters, as in the second chart above, you can see the underlying rising trend in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Cherrypicking the best metric
Readers who follow climate politics may remember the spectacular moment in March when Taylor appeared on ABC’s Insiders opposite Barrie Cassidy.

Many journalists, including those on the Insiders panel that day, responded at the time that Taylor’s claim that emissions had dipped over the preceding three months was true but not meaningful, in the context of an annual rising trend.

But it was not even necessarily true. As is visible in the quarterly chart, emissions were not lower in the September quarter of 2018 than they were in the preceding quarter.

Specifically, Taylor claimed that “total emissions are coming down right now”. This is only true if we are talking about “seasonally adjusted, weather-normalised total emissions”. The adjusted data are shown above. While the adjusted data went down between quarters, the actual emissions went up.

The process of adjustment is not unprincipled, and is used to see through the noise of our emissions data. “Seasonal adjustment” and “weather normalisation” are two separate processes.

Seasonal adjustment refers to the process of adjusting the emissions figures to account for the predictable seasonal fluctuations described earlier. Weather normalisation does the same, but takes into account individual temperature extremes, both hot and cold, during any given period, and adjusts accordingly.

Much as a golf handicap lets us compare the performance of golfers of differing abilities, these data adjustments tell us whether our emissions are tracking higher or lower than we might expect.

But if a golfer with a handicap of 10 goes around the course in 82 shots, we don’t declare that they have actually hit the ball only 72 times.

This is essentially what Taylor did in his interview with Cassidy. It is not correct to refer to these adjusted emissions data as our “total emissions”.

What does data adjustment mean?
Building on this, it is important to note that the adjusted data and actual data often disagree on whether emissions have increased between quarters. Since the Coalition took office in 2013, there have been 21 quarterly emissions data releases.

The actual quarterly emissions have increased nine times between quarters. The adjusted data says there have been 12 of these increases. And they have only agreed on whether there was an increase six times.

When one form of the data shows an increase and the other does not, the minister has a choice about which figure to highlight.

In the September quarter, the actual emissions gave bad news (an increase), and the adjusted emissions gave good news (a reduction). Taylor chose to refer to the adjusted data, as did the then environment minister Melissa Price, who had portfolio responsibility for emissions reduction at the time.

Today, this was flipped. The actual emissions showed good news (a reduction) and the adjusted data showed bad news (an increase).

It’s refreshing, then, to see Taylor choose to focus on the adjusted emissions data this time around, when he could have chosen the spin route and focused on the fact that the raw data showed a decrease between quarters.

So what does it all mean?
What we can say without any equivocation at all is that since 2015, in the wake of the carbon price repeal the preceding July, Australia’s greenhouse emissions have increased. On the government’s own projections , this trend is not expected to change.

Even if the government’s Climate Solutions Package delivers the amount of emissions reductions that have been promised (and it is unclear that it will), the overall effect will be to stabilise emissions rather than bring them down. This is because the government intends to use Kyoto carryover credits to help meet its Paris Agreement goal, rather than using fresh carbon reductions to deliver in full.

Read more:  Australia has two decades to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change

Stabilisation is not enough. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its Special Report on 1.5℃ last year, deep cuts are required to ensure a safe climate. The Paris Agreement, while calling on all nations to do their part, says rich countries such as Australia should take the lead.

The need to reduce emissions is pressing. And while the raw emissions figures may be down this quarter, this is not meaningful progress. Far more meaningful is the fact that Australia has no effective policy to limit our impact on the global climate.

Theis Artcile originally was published in The Conversation. Republished under Creative Commons licence.

We’re Taking Practical Action This World Environment Day

MEDIA RELEASE: 5 June 2019 - The Hon Sussan Ley MP, NEW Federal Minister for the Environment
Australians generate about 67 million tonnes of waste a year, and that figure is growing.
The Australian Government is taking practical action on waste, to better manage it here in Australia and ensure that our valuable resources are recycled and reused over and over again.

As part of our commitment to a $167 million Australian Recycling Investment Plan, $1.6 million is earmarked for a new Circular Economy Hub – an online market place to match sellers of recyclable materials with buyers.

This important initiative will drive innovation, make it easier for manufacturers to find and buy recycled materials, and grow demand for our recyclable resources.

A $20 million Product Stewardships Investment Fund will also help to fast track new recycling schemes. These schemes, like MobileMuster, will be led by manufacturers to improve recycling of their products.

Our $167 million plan also includes:
  • $100 million Australian Recycling Investment Fund through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, supporting energy efficient recycled products such as recycled content plastics.
  • $20 million for a Cooperative Research Centre grants to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste.
  • $16 million to combat plastics and other waste in our oceans through the Pacific Ocean Litter Project – because we know that plastic litter is a global problem, as well as one we need to address here at home.
This builds on the commitments of all Australia’s environment ministers in 2018 to a new National Waste Policy. This Policy has set a new unified direction for waste and recycling in Australia and is bringing all Australia’s governments together to solve Australia’s waste management problems – including plastic pollution, developing Australia’s recycling and waste management industry, and building markets for recycled materials.

This year’s World Environment Day is focusing on air pollution. In Australia we are fortunate our air quality rates among the world’s best. We want to make sure it stays that way.

Under the National Clean Air Agreement, we’re improving air quality via Product Emissions Standards. These standards were introduced in July last year to stop high-emitting products from coming in to Australia.

Since last July, more than 1.2 million engines and equipment have been imported that are compliant with these new standards. Regulating emissions from these small petrol engines will avoid $1.7 billion in health costs over 20 years.

World Oceans Day

MEDIA RELEASE: 7 June 2019 -  The Hon Sussan Ley MP, NEW Federal Minister for the Environment

Did you know that 70% of the planet is an ocean?

Did you also know 70% of our oxygen comes from the world’s oceans?

Saturday 08 June is United Nation’s World Oceans Day, to remind everyone of the major role the oceans have in everyday life. They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe.

This year, I want to highlight the impact of plastic waste is having on the health and productivity of the waters surrounding our nation.

From every day household use as well as industry and fishing, more than 13 million tonnes of plastic is estimated to enter oceans every year—causing untold damage and killing around 100,000 marine animals annually.

Recognising the importance of working with the global community to address a global problem, the Australian Government is tackling the amount of plastic waste seeping into our oceans each year with a $167 million Australian Recycling Investment Plan.

Through Australian Aid we are also providing $16 million to the new Pacific Ocean Litter Project to provide financial resources and technical support to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), as it coordinates Pacific nation efforts to implement the Regional Marine Litter Action Plan.

We are also protecting the second largest marine park network in the world after our government agreed to protect an additional 2.3 million square kilometres through a new national network of marine reserves – and we’ve done this while minimising impacts on recreational and commercial fishers.

The clean-up and protection of Australia’s coasts, oceans and waterways is a priority for our $100 million Environment Restoration Fund, along with $500 million allocated in the 2019/20 Budget to secure the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

Congratulations to every community and individual across Australia, in our region and around the world doing their bit to protect our oceans on World Oceans Day and throughout the year.

You can show or tell us what you are doing to protect our oceans by tagging @envirogov on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

For more information please visit the World Oceans Day website: 

Whale On!

During the past few weeks Readers have reported sighting humpback whales, southern right whales and even minke whales off our coasts, whether spotting them from the shores or from boats while out on the water.

It may be early but the ORRCA Whale Census Day is scheduled for June 30th this year and this will be the 20th Whale Census.
For those of you who like spotting whales, this may be an activity you would like to get involved in. Visit HERE.

Catch A Glimpse Of A Humpback Whale

Visit a coastal NSW national park to spot a humpback whale, as they start their annual migration north.

From May to November 2019, over 30,000 humpback whales will migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica to the warmer waters off north east Australia to mate and give birth before heading south again.

Vantage spots for whale watching include national parks with lookouts, headlands and foreshores.

Southern right and minke whales may also be spotted off the NSW coast during migration season.

Keen whale-watchers can download the free Wild About Whales mobile app, which helps users find the best locations for spotting whales, get real-time notifications of nearby sightings, and record their sightings.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the app is a great tool for the whole family to learn more about whales, while also contributing to a citizen science project.

“Citizen science volunteers and other organisations such as ORRCA do an amazing job of monitoring the number of whales migrating along the NSW coast each season,” Mr Kean said.

Find whale watching vantage points

Learn about approaching marine mammals in NSW

Bees Can Link Symbols To Numbers, Study Finds

June 5th, 2019: RMIT University
We've learned bees can understand zero and do basic math, and now a new study shows their tiny insect brains may be capable of connecting symbols to numbers.

Researchers have trained honeybees to match a character to a specific quantity, revealing they are able to learn that a symbol represents a numerical amount.

It's a finding that sheds new light on how numerical abilities may have evolved over millennia and even opens new possibilities for communication between humans and other species.

The discovery, from the same Australian-French team that found bees get the concept of zero and can do simple arithmetic, also points to new approaches for bio-inspired computing that can replicate the brain's highly efficient approach to processing.

The RMIT University-led study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said while humans were the only species to have developed systems to represent numbers, like the Arabic numerals we use each day, the research shows the concept can be grasped by brains far smaller than ours.

"We take it for granted once we've learned our numbers as children, but being able to recognise what '4' represents actually requires a sophisticated level of cognitive ability," Dyer said.

"Studies have shown primates and birds can also learn to link symbols with numbers, but this is the first time we've seen this in insects.

"Humans have over 86 billion neurons in our brains, bees have less than a million, and we're separated by over 600 million years of evolution.

"But if bees have the capacity to learn something as complex as a human-made symbolic language, this opens up exciting new pathways for future communication across species."

Bees on honeycomb (stock image). Credit: © The physicist / Adobe Stock

Mini brains, maximum potential: what the bees learned
Studies have shown that a number of non-human animals have been able to learn that symbols can represent numbers, including pigeons, parrots, chimpanzees and monkeys.

Some of their feats have been impressive -- chimpanzees were taught Arabic numbers and could order them correctly, while an African grey parrot called Alex was able to learn the names of numbers and could sum the quantities.

The new study for the first time shows that this complex cognitive capacity is not restricted to vertebrates.

The bee experiment was conducted by Dr Scarlett Howard, formerly a PhD researcher in the Bio Inspired Digital Sensing-Lab (BIDS-Lab) at RMIT and now a fellow at the Research Center on Animal Cognition, University of Toulouse III -- Paul Sabatier, CNRS.

In a Y-shaped maze, individual bees were trained to correctly match a character with a number of elements.

They were then tested on whether they could apply their new knowledge to match the character to various elements of the same quantity (in the same way that '2' can represent two bananas, two trees or two hats).

A second group was trained in the opposite approach, matching a number of elements with a character.

While both could grasp their specific training, the different groups were unable to reverse the association and work out what to do when tested with the opposite (character-to-number or number-to-character).

"This suggests that number processing and understanding of symbols happens in different regions in bee brains, similar to the way separate processing happens in the human brain," Howard said.

"Our results show honeybees are not at the same level as the animals that have been able to learn symbols as numbers and perform complex tasks.

"But the results have implications for what we know about learning, reversing tasks, and how the brain creates connections and associations between concepts.

"Discovering how such complex numerical skills can be grasped by miniature brains will help us understand how mathematical and cultural thinking evolved in humans, and possibly, other animals."

Studying insect brains offers intriguing possibilities for the future design of highly efficient computing systems, Dyer said.

"When we're looking for solutions to complex problems, we often find that nature has already done the job far more elegantly and efficiently," he said.

"Understanding how tiny bee brains manage information opens paths to bio-inspired solutions that use a fraction of the power of conventional processing systems."

The paper, "Symbolic representation of numerosity by honeybees (Apis mellifera): Matching characters to small quantities" with co-authors Aurore Avarguès-Weber (University of Toulouse), Jair Garcia (School of Media and Communication, RMIT) and Professor Andrew Greentree (ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale Biophotonics, RMIT), is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scarlett R. Howard, Aurore Avarguès-Weber, Jair E. Garcia, Andrew D. Greentree, Adrian G. Dyer. Symbolic representation of numerosity by honeybees (Apis mellifera): matching characters to small quantities. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2019; 286 (1904): 20190238 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0238

Forster Tuncurry Yesteryear Exhibition

Courtesy of Great Lakes Historical Society, Club Forster has a permanent display of some great images depicting Forster Tuncurry of yesteryear. Music courtesy of

Are You Koalified To Report Wildlife Sightings?

By NSW Office of Environment & Heritage

NSW communities are being asked to share where they have seen wildlife around New South Wales, over the last 2 years, as a new online Community Wildlife Survey launched 24 May.

"We want to know about your sightings of brushtail possums, foxes, platypus, wombats, koalas, spotted-tailed quolls, kangaroos, deer and dingos," said Dr Tom Celebrezze, Science Director, Office of Environment and Heritage.

"Whether you see a possum, a wombat whilst out working, or a koala during your holiday, every sighting helps to understand where in New South Wales these animals are living and how their populations are faring.

"Community wildlife sightings are hugely valuable to researchers and they give local communities a chance to share what is happening with the wildlife in their area.

Koala, Macquarie Nature Reserve - Photo credit John Spencer, OEH

"This rich data source helps scientists to get a better view of wildlife across New South Wales and gain a clearer understanding of where these animals are, their health, and any threats," said Dr Celebrezze.

The survey, conducted by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), asks contributors to record sightings of 10 key animals, over the last 2 years, wherever they have been seen across New South Wales.

Mr Celebrezze said the survey also draws on community knowledge, asking contributors if they think populations are increasing, decreasing or staying the same in their local area.

"Scientists will use the data to look at how the populations of the 10 animals have changed since the last survey in 2006," said Dr Celebrezze.

"Back in 2006 more than 16,000 people shared their wildlife sightings and the data generated played a vital role in understanding more about the location and status of animals in New South Wales, helping to shape research and conservation priorities for the State.

"We are keen to get a similar number of survey participants this year, if not more.

"The survey is being funded as part of the $44.7 million NSW Koala Strategy, that will help secure the future of koalas in the wild. Data from this year's survey can help identify sites for priority action under the NSW Koala Strategy as well as forming part of koala monitoring across the State.

"I encourage every NSW resident who has seen one of the 10 animals over the past 2 years in New South Wales, to share their sightings and wildlife information through the survey.

"It only takes 10 to 20 minutes to complete. It's a great opportunity to help build knowledge about wildlife in your local area," said Dr Celebrezze.

Access the new wildlife survey here: Community wildlife survey

The Bacteria Building Your Baby

June 5th, 2019
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

They carefully collected amniotic fluid samples from 50 healthy women undergoing planned caesarean deliveries, and found that nearly all (36/43 viable samples) contained bacterial DNA. What's more, all 50 newborns had bacteria in their first poop.

Published in Frontiers in Microbiology, the study used uniquely rigorous contamination controls to confirm that exposure to bacteria begins in the womb -- and could help to shape the developing fetal immune system, gut and brain.

The not-so-sterile womb
"Over the last decade, numerous studies have detected bacterial DNA in amniotic fluid and first-pass meconium [baby's first poop], challenging the long-held assumption that the womb is sterile," explains lead author Lisa Stinson, of the University of Western Australia. "However, some argue that the results are false positives -- contaminants in the reagents used in DNA analysis."

It is important to conclusively determine whether the healthy womb harbors bacteria, say the researchers, because this 'fetal microbiome' would likely have a significant impact on the developing immune system, gut, and brain.

The fetal microbiome
To settle the issue, Stinson and colleagues took strict measures to eliminate bacterial contamination when analyzing amniotic fluid and meconium samples. For example, they purified the reagents used to amplify traces of bacterial DNA in the samples, by adding an enzyme which digests DNA remnants from biomanufacturing.

"Despite these measures, we still found bacterial DNA in almost all samples," reports Stinson.

"Interestingly, the meconium microbiome varied hugely between individual newborns. The amniotic fluid microbiome for the most part contained typical skin bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus species."

A developmental role
But what might these bacteria be doing in the womb?

None of these women or their babies had any sign of infection. In fact, the fetal microbiome may prove to be a beneficial regulator of early development.

"We found that levels of important immune modulators in meconium and inflammatory mediators in amniotic fluid varied according to the amount and species of bacterial DNA present. This suggests that the fetal microbiome has the potential to influence the developing fetal immune system."

There is one small caveat -- technically, the DNA in these samples could have come from bacteria that were already dead in the womb.

"Here we've proven that bacterial DNA is present in the womb, but the next step will be to show whether these are alive and constitute a true microbiome," concludes Stinson.

Lisa F. Stinson, Mary C. Boyce, Matthew S. Payne, Jeffrey A. Keelan. The Not-so-Sterile Womb: Evidence That the Human Fetus Is Exposed to Bacteria Prior to Birth. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.01124

Physical Inactivity Proved Risky For Children And Pre-Teens

June 4th, 2019
Cardio-respiratory capacity in children has dropped by 25% in 20 years, according to a study by the University of Adelaide in Australia. 

There are multiple reasons for this, from the social environment and the decreasing number of play areas to a more academic approach towards teaching physical education and the spread of new technologies. But at what age do children lose the desire to exercise? Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, followed 1,200 Geneva pupils, aged 8 to 12, for two years. The team found out that from the age of 9, the positive reasons for exercising -- it's fun and good for your health -- begin to be replaced by more displaced incentives: to get a good mark or improve your image with others. These results, which are published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, call for a more detailed analysis of how PE is taught in schools to counter physical inactivity leading to a sedentary lifestyle from an early age.

Society today is characterized by an increasingly sedentary way of life and a decline in physical activity, which is reflected in the growing number of overweight children (16% of children aged 6 to 12 in Switzerland). In an earlier study, UNIGE researchers noted that the recommendations issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the amount of exercise undertaken by school-age children were not being met, namely: children should be active for at least 50% of the time devoted to physical education lessons in primary school. In reality, they move on average only 38% of the time. And as children grow older, the percentage drops. Why?

Positive motivations decline as the child grows older
The UNIGE researchers tracked 1,200 Geneva pupils aged 8 to 12 for two years. The children had to complete a questionnaire every six months to measure their motivation levels according to a seven-point scale based on different motivational controls related (or not) to practising the actual activity: enjoyment, learning, health, grades, satisfying other people, integration, avoiding guilt or shame, and so forth. "Our results showed for the first time that there is a sharp drop in positive motivations for physical activity (with good motivational qualities), such as pleasure or health, over a child's time at primary school from age 9 onwards," explains Julien Chanal, a researcher in the Psychology Section of UNIGE's Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (FPSE). "And we've never observed this decline at such a young age!" On the other hand, motivations considered counterproductive (with poor motivational qualities) -- such as undertaking the activity to get a good grade or to send a positive image to one's classmates -- increase as a child gets older. "It's true that harmful motivations do also mean that a child is physically active but these motivational qualities are only positive in the short term, which is counter-productive for a child's physical development. In fact, we know that if children are motivated by good reasons when they're young, then they'll remain active when they're adults," continues Chanal. But what can be done to fight against the early decline of positive motivations?

Reforming education to increase physical activity
Given that nine years is a crucial age to establish good, healthy and long term physical activity, the way PE is taught at primary school needs to be analysed, since compulsory education is the only place where every child can be reached. "In recent decades," says Chanal, "PE teaching has changed enormously. Classes are more academic, with children learning about rules, motor functioning, mutual support, etc." But this approach has a direct cost for the child since it reduces the actual time dedicated to moderate to vigorous physical activity, which is already rare outside school.

The UNIGE researchers are now working with the Haute École Pédagogique in the canton of Vaud (HEP Vaud) on teaching physical education in primary classes. The aim is to develop autonomy and cooperation among pupils, and to work on the curriculum, course structure and teacher involvement to help them keep or boost their positive motivations for physical education. "Now that children don't move as much as before outside school, it's vital that the periods earmarked for PE maximize the time they spend moving," adds Chanal. "This is especially the case since, once again, we fall below the standards prescribed by the WHO. Their recommendation is 150 minutes of physical education per week, while students in Geneva only have 135 minutes available, or three periods of 45 minutes each." Teaching physical education has an important role to play in this new global health problem, which affects children at a younger age.

Julien Chanal, Boris Cheval, Delphine S. Courvoisier, Delphine Paumier. Developmental relations between motivation types and physical activity in elementary school children. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2019; 43: 233 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.03.006

Downpours Of Torrential Rain More Frequent With Global Warming

June 3rd, 2019
The frequency of downpours of heavy rain -- which can lead to flash floods, devastation, and outbreaks of waterborne disease -- has increased across the globe in the past 50 years, research led by the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has found.

The number of extreme downpours increased steadily between 1964 and 2013 -- a period when global warming also intensified, according to research published in the journal Water Resources Research.

The frequency of 'extreme precipitation events' increased in parts of Canada, most of Europe, the Midwest and northeast region of the U.S., northern Australia, western Russia and parts of China, (see maps and graphics).

"By introducing a new approach to analysing extremes, using thousands of rain records, we reveal a clear increase in the frequency extreme rain events over the recent 50 years when global warming accelerated," said Simon Papalexiou, a hydro-climatologist in USask's College of Engineering, and an expert in hydroclimatic extremes and random processes.

Papalexiou, who led the research, added: "This upward trend is highly unlikely to be explained by natural climatic variability. The probability of this happening is less than 0.3 per cent under the model assumptions used."

The USask study of over 8,700 daily rain records from 100,000 stations monitoring rain worldwide found the frequency of torrential rain between 1964 and 2013 increased as the decades progressed.

Between 2004 and 2013, there were seven per cent more extreme bouts of heavy rain overall than expected globally. In Europe and Asia, there were 8.6 per cent more 'extreme rain events' overall, during this decade.

Global warming can lead to increased precipitation because more heat in the atmosphere leads to more atmospheric water which, in turn, leads to rain.

Torrents of rain not only lead to flooding, but can threaten public health, overwhelming sewage treatment plants and increasing microbial contaminants of water. More than half a million deaths were caused by rain-induced floods between 1980 and 2009.

Heavy rain can also cause landslides, damage crops, collapse buildings and bridges, wreck homes, and lead to chaos on roads and to transport, with huge financial losses.

Co-author Alberto Montanari, professor of hydraulic works and hydrology at the University of Bologna and president of the European Geoscience Union, said:

"Our results are in line with the assumption that the atmosphere retains more water under global warming. The fact that the frequency, rather the magnitude, of extreme precipitation is significantly increasing has relevant implications for climate adaptation. Human systems need to increase their capability to react to frequent shocks."

The researchers screened data for quality and consistency, selecting the most robust and complete records from the 100,000 stations worldwide monitoring precipitation. Regions in South America and Africa were excluded from the study, as records for the study period were not complete or robust.

Papalexiou said planning for more frequent 'extreme' rain should be a priority for governments, local authorities and emergency services.

"If global warming progresses as climate model projections predict, we had better plan strategies for dealing with frequent heavy rain right now," said Papalexiou. "Our study of records from around the globe shows that potentially devastating bouts of extreme rain are increasing decade by decade.

"We know that rainfall-induced floods can devastate communities, and that there are implications of increasing bouts of heavy rain for public health, agriculture, farmers' livelihoods, the fishing industry and insurance, to name but a few."

Simon Michael Papalexiou, Alberto Montanari. Global and Regional Increase of Precipitation Extremes under Global Warming. Water Resources Research, 2019; DOI: 10.1029/2018WR024067

New Polymer Tackles PFAS Pollution

June 5th, 2019: Flinders University
The problem of cleaning up toxic polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) pollution -- commonly used in non-stick and protective coatings, lubricants and aviation fire-fighting foams -- has been solved through the discovery of a new low-cost, safe and environmentally friendly method that removes PFAS from water.

In The US, contamination by PFAS and other so-called "forever chemicals" has been detected in foods including grocery store meats and seafoods by FDA tests, prompting calls for regulations to be applied to humanmade compounds. Consistent associations between very high levels of the industrial compounds in peoples' blood and health risks have been reported but insufficient evidence has been presented to prove the compounds as the cause.

In Australia, PFAS pollution -- which does not break down readily in the environment -- has been a hot news item due to the extensive historical use of fire-fighting foams containing PFAS at airports and defence sites, resulting in contaminated ground water and surface water being reported in these areas.

Researchers from the Flinders University Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology have -- on World Environment Day -- revealed a new type of absorbent polymer, made from waste cooking oil and sulfur combined with powdered activated carbon (PAC).

While there have been few economic solutions for removing PFAS from contaminated water, the new polymer adheres to carbon in a way that prevents caking during water filtration. It works faster at PFAS uptake than the commonly used and more expensive granular activated carbon method, and it dramatically lowers the amount of dust generated during handling PAC that lowers respiratory risks faced by clean-up workers.

"We need safe, low-cost and versatile methods for removing PFAS from water, and our polymer-carbon blend is a promising step in this direction," says Flinders University's Dr Justin Chalker, co-director of the study. "The next stage for us is to test this sorbent on a commercial scale and demonstrate its ability to purify thousands of litres of water. We are also investigating methods to recycle the sorbent and destroy the PFAS."

During the testing phase, the research team was able to directly observe the self-assembly of PFOA hemi-micelles on the surface of the polymer. "This is an important fundamental discovery about how PFOA interacts with surfaces," explains Dr Chalker.

The team demonstrated the effectiveness of the polymer-carbon blend by purifying a sample of surface water obtained near a RAAF airbase. The new filter material reduced the PFAS content of this water from 150 parts per trillion (ppt) to less than 23 parts per trillion (ppt), which is well below the 70 ppt guidance values for PFAS limits in drinking water issues by the Australian Government Department of Health.

The core technology for this PFAS sorbent is protected by a provisional patent.

"Our canola oil polysulfide was found to be highly effective as a support material for powdered activated carbon, enhancing its efficiency and prospects for implementation," says Nicholas Lundquist, PhD candidate at Flinders University and first author in the ground-breaking study.

Nicholas Lundquist, Martin Jay Sweetman, Kymberley Scroggie, Max Worthington, Louisa Esdaile, Salah Alboaiji, Sally E Plush, John Dominic Hayball, Justin M. Chalker. Polymer supported carbon for safe and effective remediation of PFOA- and PFOS-contaminated water. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.9b01793

Lifting Education Standards And Opportunities Across NSW

June 4th, 2019
Every student across NSW will have the opportunity to accelerate their learning and study at higher levels, under a NSW Government plan to lift academic performance at all public schools.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell unveiled the plan today at Alexandria Park Community School where they also announced a new selective school will be built in southwest Sydney.               

Ms Berejiklian said the plan was part of the Government’s ambition for more opportunities, for more students.

“I was a product of a quality public education and would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the excellent teachers who inspired me,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“I want to ensure every child in NSW has the opportunities to be best they can be, no matter where they live or what their circumstances may be.”

Ms Berejiklian said the new selective school in southwest Sydney will provide another option for families in the key growth area.

“We know many students are travelling long distances to attend selective schools,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“There is strong demand for selective schools, with around 15,000 applications for only 4200 places. This new school will provide another convenient local option for these students and their families.”

Ms Berejiklian and Ms Mitchell also outlined two performance-lifting initiatives that will be rolled out in every public school across the State. 

The new High Potential and Gifted program will identify students who will benefit from being challenged in areas where they show talent. Under the program, students will have access to a personalised learning approach depending on their ability, and will give them the chance to learn above their age. 

In addition to this, the NSW Government’s Bump It Up program will be expanded statewide, providing every school in NSW with tailored targets for improving performance.

Bump It Up is currently in place in 137 schools that have the greatest potential for lifting literacy and numeracy and has been an important part of the Premier’s Priorities to raise academic performance.

The program has already lifted academic performance significantly, with more than a quarter of the first 137 schools achieving their targets in the first year alone.

Under today’s announcement, Bump it Up will be offered in every school and its targets will be expanded to focus on five key areas – literacy, numeracy, wellbeing, equity and attendance.

Ms Mitchell said all students should have equitable access to the support they may need to reach their academic potential.

“These programs not only will help lift academic results, they will help prepare young people for rewarding careers and ventures in the future,” Ms Mitchell said.

“NSW is the largest provider of public education in Australia, and we are committed to ensure that every student – from Gunnedah to Gordon – has access to a top quality education.”

The High Potential and Gifted program will be operating in all public schools in NSW by Day 1, Term 1 2021, and Bump it Up by 2020.

Geoscience Data Group Urges All Scientific Disciplines To Make Data Open And Accessible

June 4th, 2019
Institutions, science funders, data repositories, publishers, researchers and scientific societies from all scientific disciplines must work together to ensure all scientific data are easy to find, access and use, according to a new commentary in Nature by members of the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee.

The Enabling FAIR Data project, convened by AGU and funded by Arnold Ventures, brought together hundreds of partners from across the geoscience community to make geoscience data more open and accessible. The scientific data underlying published studies is often difficult to find and access, potentially hindering new scientific research, according to Shelley Stall, senior director of data leadership at AGU and program manager for the project.

The Enabling FAIR Data project worked over 18 months to adopt a set of principles to ensure data connected to scholarly publications are FAIR -- findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. More than 100 repositories, communities, societies, institutions, infrastructures, individuals and publishers in the Earth, space and environmental sciences have already signed onto the Enabling FAIR Data Commitment Statement for handling data based on these principles.

In the new commentary in the journal Nature, the Enabling FAIR Data Steering Committee is calling on the entire scientific community across all scientific disciplines to sign onto this commitment statement. The group also lays out a set of changes necessary to shift research culture more broadly.

"This paper lays out three primary areas where we need help to change the culture around research data -- making depositing data in repositories a priority, recognising and incentivizing open data practices, and funding global infrastructure to support open data." said Stall, lead author of the new commentary. "We are saying to every single science community out there, let's work together to coordinate efforts."

The Enabling FAIR data project demonstrated stakeholders can make significant progress by working together across traditional boundaries of publishing, repository curation and geoscience disciplines, said Lynn Yarmey, director of community development for the Research Data Alliance, a partner organisation in the Enabling FAIR Data project and project manager for the effort.

Rather than coming up with a single solution, the Enabling FAIR Data project realised all stakeholders needed to adjust their data practices together, with the biggest opportunities for advancement coming from alignment across publishers and data repositories, said Yarmey, who is a member of the steering committee and a co-author of the new commentary.

"This project brought together critical stakeholders from publishing and repository curation from across geoscience disciplines. We found alignments in the excellent work from these communities to move the whole of the domain forward." Yarmey said "Working together was key, and we encourage others to adopt this approach to data."

Making data open and accessible
Supporting data for only about 20 percent of published papers are available in scientific repositories where they can be easily accessed and used. The rest of these data are scattered with varying levels of management, curation and openness. Data are often left sitting on a researcher's computer or stored on old disks or on paper. Limited funding and support for support for sharing and curating data have added to the challenges.

Changing how data are handled by working with FAIR-aligned repositories will open up new scientific opportunities, according to the authors of the commentary. For example, weather prediction can benefit from accessing meteorological and other data from around the world, and observational Earth science data gathered today could be used by researchers decades from now in new types of research yet to be developed.

"If you consider the scientific process, just about every research project is centered around data," Stall said. But the cost of getting that data can be very expensive. Anecdotally, a researcher can spend about 80 percent of their time on discovering, creating, and preparing data for research, she said.

"If we can flip that around such that 80 percent of a scientist's time is on their research, then all of a sudden we've significantly increased opportunities for new research outcomes," Stall said. "It really is an investment in the future."

Enabling FAIR Data
The Enabling FAIR Data project began in 2017 and involved participation from more than 300 stakeholders across the Earth, space and environmental sciences. Key partners on the project included publishers, repositories, data communities, librarians, data infrastructure providers and others. These include Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), Research Data Alliance (RDA), Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academies (PNAS), National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), AuScope, Australian Research Data Commons, Center for Open Science and other groups.

The goal of the project was to align practices and adopt common approaches to enable findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) data across the Earth, space and environmental sciences. The project adopted the FAIR data principles that recommend scientific data be findable by anyone using common search tools, accessible so that the data can be examined, interoperable so that comparable data can be analyze and integrated together, and reusable by other researchers and the public.

The group formalised a set of objectives and high-level practices into the Enabling FAIR Data Commitment Statement that has tenets directed at each stakeholder group: repositories, publishers, societies, communities, institutions, funding agencies and organisations, and researchers.

"Earth and space science data are a world heritage, said AGU CEO/Executive Director Chris McEntee. "Properly documented and archived, they will help all scientists understand the Earth, planetary, and heliophysics systems, and accelerate discoveries and solutions. The Enabling FAIR Data commitment statement is the critical first step toward developing best practices for publishing and sharing scientific data."

Shelley Stall, Lynn Yarmey, Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Brooks Hanson, Kerstin Lehnert, Brian Nosek, Mark Parsons, Erin Robinson, Lesley Wyborn. Make scientific data FAIR. Nature, 2019; 570 (7759): 27 DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-01720-7

Ear-Generated Doppler Shifts In Bat Biosonar

June 4th, 2019
Anybody who has been passed by an ambulance at high speed has experienced a physical effect called the Doppler shift: As the ambulance moves toward the listener, its motion compresses the siren's sound waves and raises the sound pitch. As the ambulance moves away from the listener, the sound waves get dilated and the pitch is lowered. A listener wearing a blindfold could use this Doppler shift pattern to track the motion of the ambulance.

In a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors, Rolf Mueller, professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, and his doctoral student, Xiaoyan Yin, demonstrate that the ears of bats come with a "built-in ambulance" that creates the same physical effect. Yin and Mueller think the study of ear-generated Doppler shifts in bat biosonar could give rise to new sensory principles that could enable small, yet powerful sensors. An example of this type of sensor would be for drones that can operate in dense foliage or autonomous underwater vehicles navigating near complex underwater structures.

"The animals move their ears fast enough so that sound waves that impinge on the ears are transformed by the motion of the ear surfaces and shifted to higher or lower frequencies," said Mueller. "In fact, the bat species studied (horseshoe bats and Old World Roundleaf bats) can move their ears so fast that Doppler shifts of around 350 Hz can be created. This is about seven times larger than the smallest Doppler shift the animals haven been shown to be able to detect."

Doppler shifts have long been known to play an important role in the biosonar system of bats such as the species studied by Mueller and Yin. The bats have the enviable ability to hunt in very dense vegetation, but to accomplish this, they have to solve the problem of how to distinguish a moth, their preferred prey, from hundreds of leaves that surround it.

"The solution these two types of bats have come up with has been to tune in on the Doppler shifts that are produced by the wing beat motion of their prey," Mueller explained. "These 'good Doppler shifts' serve as a unique identifying feature that sets prey apart from static distractors, such as leaves in foliage."

Researchers became aware early on that the bats' own flight motion also produces Doppler shifts that would interfere with the perception of the prey-induced Doppler shifts. In the late 1960s a solution to this conundrum was discovered when it was found that horseshoe bats decrease their emission frequency by an amount that is carefully controlled to exactly eliminate any of the "bad Doppler shifts" caused by the bats' flight velocity.

"Since these groundbreaking discoveries, the general belief in the scientific community has been that the role of Doppler shifts in the biosonar systems of these animals has been completely understood," said Mueller. "Doppler shifts due to prey motions are 'good Doppler shifts' that the animals' entire hearing system is optimized to detect, whereas Doppler shifts due to the bats' own flight motion are 'bad Doppler shifts' that the animals eliminate through feedback control of their emission."

While Mueller and Yin found speculation in the literature of the early 1960s that bats may be producing Doppler shifts with their own ear motions, the idea was never followed up with experimental work.

The work conducted by Mueller and Yin has measured the motion of the ear surfaces carefully using stereo-vision based on high-speed video cameras, and the authors were able to predict how fast surfaces move in different portions of the ear. They also estimated the angle between the directions of the ear motions and the direction the bat has its biosonar pointed in and found that motion speeds and directions were aligned to maximize the Doppler shifts produced.

To show that Doppler-shifted signals entered the ear canal of the biomimetic pinna and would be accessible to bats, the researchers built a flexible silicone replicate of a bat ear that could be made to execute fast motions by pulling on an attached string.

The final piece in the research has been to find possible uses for the ear-generated Doppler shifts.

"We were able to show that the Doppler shifts produce distinct patterns over time and frequency that can be used to indicate the direction of a target," said Mueller. "In the context of these bat species' biosonar systems, they typically concentrate and emit most of their ultrasonic energy in a narrow frequency band. However, for telling the direction of a target, it is usually convenient to look at how multiple frequencies are transmitted by the ear and the 'spectral color' that results. The Doppler shift patterns produced by the ear motions could give these bat species the option to concentrate their energy in a narrow frequency band yet be also able to tell target direction."

Xiaoyan Yin, Rolf Müller. Fast-moving bat ears create informative Doppler shifts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201901120 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1901120116

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