Inbox and environment news: Issue 539

May 22 - 28, 2022: Issue 539

Bush Regeneration Field Day On North Narrabeen Headland

When: Sunday May 29, between 8am and 12 noon.
Where: meet at the end of Peal Place, Warriewood ( see map) where track enters the reserve.

Calling bush lovers!
The Council received a $25300 grant from the Crown Reserves Improvement Fund for contract bush regeneration on the Crown Land area of the headland. 
Several volunteer field days will contribute to the project.
Can you lend a hand? 

Wear/Bring: long sleeves, long pants, enclosed shoes, bring light gardening gloves. 
Tools and morning tea provided. 

If in doubt about the weather please contact Karin Nippard, Bushland Management Officer, m. 0417 040 945
PNHA was delighted to provide community support for the grant application because this is such an important area, in need of weeding. Come and see for yourself!

Photos: where to meet + Turimetta Beach from North Narrabeen headland. Photo: Joe Mills

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Forum: May 2022 - Speaker - Prof. Dennis Foley On The Aboriginal Heritage Of The Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment

Visit: to find out more and book a space at this forum

Annual Whale Migration Makes A Splash

The first sightings of whales off the NSW east coast have been recorded as the annual migration from Antarctica to warmer northern waters begins.
Minister for Environment James Griffin said the first of about 40,000 humpback whales have started their long swim towards tropical waters.

'The whale migration is one of the longest journeys of any animal species and we are so lucky to be able to witness it right on our doorstep,' Mr Griffin said.

'We have more than 880 national parks and reserves in New South Wales, many of which are on the coast and provide excellent viewing opportunities for these oceanic giants.

'After declining to an estimated few hundred whales in the early 1960s, the recovery of the humpback whale population is a great conservation success story and one we can all be proud of as we enjoy watching these majestic creatures make their way up the coast.'

Whales cover about 10,000 kilometres during their annual round trip from Antarctic waters, at a migratory speed of about six kilometres per hour.

Most of the whales that travel past the NSW coast are humpback whales; however, other whale species include southern right whales, dwarf minke whales, tropical whales and even blue whales.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) marine fauna expert Shona Lorigan said humpback whales are easily recognisable and their behaviours, like breaching and rolling, always put on a show for whale watchers.

'Later in the year, we’ll be able to see theses whales heading south again, many with their newborn calves,' Ms Lorigan said.

Regulations require all vessels to remain at least 100 metres away from whales, aircraft can fly no closer than 300 metres, and drones must not be operated closer than 100 metres.

Whales in distress can be reported to the NSW NPWS on 13000 PARKS or ORRCA Whale and Dolphin Rescue’s 24 hour hotline on (02) 9415 3333.

Photos: A J Guesdon

Residents Warned Of Barmah Forest Virus Risk

Council is advising residents to take extra precautions against mosquitos after Barmah Forest Virus was detected in mosquitos trapped at Narrabeen Lagoon.

Council partners with NSW Health to trap mosquitoes at key locations on the Beaches, to monitor the numbers and types of mosquitoes present and determine if they are carrying viral infections. Traps are set at Warriewood Wetlands and Deep Creek near the Narrabeen Lagoon trail.

Higher than average rainfall due to La Niña has created the perfect conditions for mosquitos to multiply and have meant numbers are up on previous years.

Barmah Forest Virus is spread by the bite of infected female mosquitoes. Many people who are infected will not develop symptoms; however, some people may have flu-like symptoms that include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, stiffness and pain, especially in the mornings. A rash may also develop or a feeling of tiredness or weakness.

Symptoms usually develop about 7-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

There is currently no vaccine against Barmah Forest Virus. However, you can protect yourself and your family from getting bitten by taking the following steps:
  • Always wear long, loose-fitting clothing to minimise skin exposure
  • Choose and apply a repellent that contains either Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Be aware of peak mosquito times at dawn and dusk
  • Keep your yard free of standing water like containers, birdbaths, kids toys and pot plant trays where the mosquitos can breed.
Visit NSW Health for more tips on how to control mosquitoes around the home.

For more information on what Council is doing to reduce the risk of mosquitoes you can view the Northern Beaches Council Mosquito Management Plan.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue And Care Course: June 2022

The next Sydney Wildlife Rescue and Care Course starts on 4 June 2022, so you can learn how to rescue, rehabilitate and release our sick, injured and orphaned native birds and animals – just like these Pacific Black Ducklings which were saved by our volunteer Tracey.

The course involves two parts:

Part 1 is a self-paced online course over 3 weeks which should take about 12 hours to complete.

Part 2 is a practical hands-on, in person, instructional training session conducted over a half-day on a weekend.

We urgently need volunteers across the Sydney metropolitan area, so if you’re wildlife-loving and would like to meet like-minded people to help our native birds and animals, please consider enrolling. More information is available on this link:

And you can read how our volunteer Tracey saved these ducklings on our website:

Local Wildlife Rescuers And Carers State That Ongoing Heavy Rains Are Tough For Us But Can Be Tougher For Our Wildlife:

  • Birds and possums can be washed out of trees, or the tree comes down, nests can disintegrate or hollows fill with water
  • Ground dwelling animals can be flooded out of their burrows or hiding places and they need to seek higher ground
  • They are at risk crossing roads as people can't see them and sudden braking causes accidents
  • The food may disappear - insects, seeds and pollens are washed away, nectar is diluted and animals can be starving
  • They are vulnerable in open areas to predators, including our pets
  • They can't dry out and may get hypothermia or pneumonia
  • Animals may seek shelter in your home or garage. 

You can help by:

  • Keeping your pets indoors
  • Assessing for wounds or parasites
  • Putting out towels or shelters like boxes to provide a place to hide
  • Drive to conditions and call a rescue group if you see an animal hit (or do a pouch check or get to a vet if you can stop)
  • If you are concerned take a photo and talk to a rescue group or wildlife carer

There are 2 rescue groups in the Northern Beaches:

Sydney Wildlife: 9413 4300

WIRES: 1300 094 737

Please be patient as there could be a few enquiries regarding the wildlife. 

Generally Sydney Wildlife do not recommend offering food but it may help in some cases. Please ensure you know what they generally eat and any offerings will not make them sick. You can read more on feeding wildlife here 

Information courtesy Ed Laginestra, Sydney Wildlife volunteer. Photo: Warriewood Wetlands Wallaby by Kevin Murray, March 2022.

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) Autumn 2022 Newsletter

Our PNHA Newsletter 91 is now on our website. We've been busy! 
Below: Pastel Flower Pseuderanthemum variabile flowers can be white, pink or mauve, about as big as a violet. It is a tiny herb of shady rainforest or wet eucalyptus forest, north of Bega in NSW. It spreads by seed and rhizomes. More: in: 
This one is in Spotted Gum forest at Newport.

Photo: PNHA

Cassia Flowering Now: Dispose Of This Weed To Stop The Spread

Cassia (Senna pendula). Also known as Senna and Arsenic Bush. Originating in South American, Cassia is a perennial sprawling multi-stemmed shrub or tree up to 5m tall. 

This weed replaces native vegetation and establishes in a wide range of native plant communities, including coastal heath and scrubland, hind dunes and riparian corridors. The large seed pods are eaten by birds and other animals. You may be seeing this bright burst of yellow everywhere as it is currently flowering - please pull out and get rid of if you have in your garden.

Darkinjung Plans For 600 Homes On Central Coast's Lake Munmorah Now On Exhibition: Closes May 24

April 22, 2022
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has announced a proposal to build up to 600 homes and help Aboriginal people take greater control of their land on the Central Coast, is now on exhibition for community feedback.

The Department’s Executive Director of Local and Regional Planning Malcolm McDonald said the community could help shape Lake Munmorah’s growth, by sharing its views on the Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council project.

“Showcasing this proposal to the public represents a significant milestone in Darkinjung’s journey, to use its land to reap economic rewards for local Aboriginal people and deliver much-needed new homes,” Mr McDonald said.

“The 55-hectare site lays the foundations for a new park and up to 600 homes at various price points, close to existing services and jobs, not just for the Traditional Owners but everyone on the Central Coast.

“The proposal balances development with environmental conservation by protecting 21-hectares of untouchable bushland, home to wildlife such as the masked owl.”

Mr McDonald said progressing the rezoning proposal marked another step toward reconciliation.

“This proposal is a gamechanger for Lake Munmorah, boosting housing supply, promoting cultural heritage, strengthening self-determination, and locals are encouraged to have their say,” he said.

“We will continue to work with Darkinjung to identify how its land can best be planned, managed, and developed.

“This is one of three Darkinjung projects currently being assessed under a streamlined planning system, to support the local Aboriginal community. It follows the 2020 approval for an industrial hub in Wallarah, with the potential to create 1,200 new jobs.”

Darkinjung is the largest non-government landowner on the Central Coast and is one of 120 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW.

Following the application of avoidance and mitigation measures, the BAM assessment identified the following biodiversity credits required to offset the impacts of the Project:
• 1407 credits for swift parrot,36 credits for wallum froglet, and 857 credits for black-eyed Susan.
• 577 credits for PCT 1636 Scribbly Gum – Red Bloodwood – Angophora inopina heathy woodland on lowlands of the Central Coast.
• 225 credits for PCT 1638 Smooth- barked Apple – Red Bloodwood – Brown Stringybark – Hairpin Banksia heathy open forest of coastal lowlands.
• 48 credits for PCT 1724 Broad- leaved paperbark – Swamp Oak – Saw Sedge swamp forest on coastal lowlands of the Central Coast and Lower North Coast.

Swift Parrot Conservation status in NSW: Endangered - Commonwealth status: Critically Endangered
On the mainland they occur in areas where eucalypts are flowering profusely or where there are abundant lerp (from sap-sucking bugs) infestations. Favoured feed trees include winter flowering species such as Swamp Mahogany Eucalyptus robusta, Spotted Gum Corymbia maculata, Red Bloodwood C. gummifera, Forest Red Gum E. tereticornis, Mugga Ironbark E. sideroxylon, and White Box E. albens. Commonly used lerp infested trees include Inland Grey Box E. microcarpa, Grey Box E. moluccana, Blackbutt E. pilularis, and Yellow Box E. melliodora.

Swift Parrot Photo: Gunjan Pandey

For more information and to provide your feedback on the plan by midday 24 May 2022, visit the Lake Munmorah/Crangan Bay, Rezoning land at Pacific Highway and Kanangra Drive page at:

Dendrobium Mine Extension Project: Have Your Say (Again)

Plans for the extension of the Dendrobium longwall mine in the Illawarra are now being publicly exhibited. The NSW government has relisted this as a “State Significant Development” - despite the Independent Planning Commission refusing permission because it would cause damage to our water.
It’s right underneath the Greater Sydney water catchment.

This will involve Longwall mining which is known to damage reservoirs, cracks rock beds and increases the presence of heavy metals in our water. That’s why nowhere else in the world allows longwall mining underneath their publicly owned water catchments.

The expansion will also damage local biodiversity and threatened ecological communities, and cause irreversible damage to 58 identified Aboriginal cultural artefacts.

The Project proposes to extend the mine life at the Dendrobium Mine to the end of 2041.

Political Stitch Up Over Dendrobium Abandons Community, Climate, And Water, Favours Coal Mining Company Residents State

May 4, 2022
Illawarra residents opposed to coal mining beneath the drinking water catchment and their supporters have labelled the revised Dendrobium coal mine expansion a “political stitch up” after the Independent Planning Commission’s earlier rejection of the project was overruled.

In response to the IPC’s rejection of the destructive project, the NSW Government took the unprecedented step of declaring the coal mine “state significant infrastructure”.

South32 has today released a revised Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which claims the mine’s direct impacts will be reduced, but shows the project would still threaten nationally significant upland swamps and the drinking water catchment relied on by Illawarra and Sydney residents.

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Nic Clyde said a decision about the project would go straight to NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts without the transparent scrutiny that would occur if it were to return to the IPC for consideration.

“South32 could write that magical fairies will protect our drinking water and it wouldn’t matter because the assessment of this project is now a political decision, rather than assessment that undergoes a considered and transparent process by independent commissioners,” he said.

“This is the only coal mine in the state’s history that has been declared state significant infrastructure. This is a mine being assessed on a political basis, not a scientific one, and Sydney’s drinking water is not safe as a result. 

“The NSW Government’s political intervention has removed the community’s objection rights and that’s outrageous and undemocratic.

“The IPC previously rejected South32’s claim that coal from Dendrobium was needed for the continuation of the Bluescope steelworks. This erroneous claim was the justification the NSW Government used to declare it state significant infrastructure, and is contrary to the findings made by the IPC.

“South32 still refuses to consider the less damaging bord and pillar method of mining, despite the IPC, NSW Government, and Wollongong Coal considering it an acceptable method just eight kilometres north at Russell Vale.

“As the saying goes, you can roll a turd in glitter, but it’s still a turd. South32’s revised Dendrobium proposal puts the security of Sydney’s drinking water catchment at risk and that stinks.”

Deidre Stuart, from Illawarra grass roots network fighting the Dendrobium extension Protect Our Water Catchment Incorporated, said, “Our group is already in the NSW Land and Environment Court defending the IPC refusal decision of the original expansion proposal.  And now at the same time, the NSW Government has introduced a new, fast-track process for South32 to have its new proposal assessed, side lining the IPC.

“We in the community operate in good faith and we feel utterly betrayed by our government over its handling of a coal mine expansion that was rightfully rejected by the IPC. 

“What’s undeniable is that this proposal will still trash Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, drain upland swamps that are recognised as nationally significant, and threaten our drinking water. 

“The Perrottet Government must not risk all this just so a private company can continue to mine coal in our drinking water catchment area.

“The Dendrobium expansion will be responsible for more than 87 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the world cannot afford to burn any more fossil fuels if humanity wants to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis.

“Our drinking water must be protected at all costs. It is more important than coal, and must be protected from any expansion of Dendrobium, particularly one that is not subject to the same degree of scrutiny as the former, already rejected proposal.”

Aviaries + Possum Release Sites Needed

Pittwater Online News has interviewed Lynette Millett OAM (WIRES Northern Beaches Branch) needs more bird cages of all sizes for keeping the current huge amount of baby wildlife in care safe or 'homed' while they are healed/allowed to grow bigger to the point where they may be released back into their own home. 

If you have an aviary or large bird cage you are getting rid of or don't need anymore, please email via the link provided above. There is also a pressing need for release sites for brushtail possums - a species that is very territorial and where release into a site already lived in by one possum can result in serious problems and injury. 

If you have a decent backyard and can help out, Lyn and husband Dave can supply you with a simple drey for a nest and food for their first weeks of adjustment.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Community Reminded About Safe Baiting Of Mice

May 16, 2022
Recent reports of increased mouse numbers in regional communities have NSW farmers on high alert and ready to take swift action after last year’s devastating mouse plague.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) understands the community want to act quickly to protect their properties and families if mouse numbers increase but warn baiting should be done with care.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said some people may have already started mouse baiting to get numbers under control ahead of the breeding season in Spring.

“We’ve seen the advice that farmers should monitor and act but anyone baiting should ensure they are doing it safely and correctly. Be vigilant and take care to follow the directions on the label,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Misusing baits can put your family, neighbours, pets and wildlife at risk – especially the practice of mixing and blending pesticides.”

All pesticide users should only use the recommended amount of bait and think carefully about where they are placed.

Anyone with a concern, knowledge of an incident involving pesticide misuse, or seeking further information can contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.

If you suspect a family member has been affected by a pesticide product, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

Avoid touching sick or dead wildlife and if more than five dead animals of the same species are identified where baiting has occurred, you can make a report to the EPA’s 24-hour Environment Line.

The EPA has three baiting fact sheets to assist farmers that can be found at the below links:

NSW And Denmark Join Forces On Road To Net Zero

May 16, 2022
New South Wales is teaming up with Denmark on ways to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
NSW Treasurer Matt Kean and the Danish Ambassador to Australia, Her Excellency Ms Pernille Dahler Kardel, today announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share their expertise and research on decarbonising the economy.

Mr Kean said the agreement will support collaboration between the governments of New South Wales and Denmark on innovation, policy and program design and trade, investment and technology transfer.

'By sharing our knowledge we can accelerate our progress towards net zero emissions by 2050 and set ourselves up to prosper in the global economy of the future,” Mr Kean said.

Denmark is a world leader in clean energy, with wind and solar supplying 50 per cent of Denmark’s electricity. Danish companies are also at the forefront of global clean energy technology development.

'This MoU provides a framework not only for New South Wales to learn from Denmark, but for Denmark to benefit from our experiences developing Renewable Energy Zones, the Peak Demand Reduction Scheme and the Energy Security Safeguard.'

Ms Kardel said collaboration on energy exports is another priority for the two governments, as well as integrating renewables and deploying transmission infrastructure and energy storage.

'New South Wales and Denmark already have ambitious policies in place to decarbonise our electricity grids but we can learn from each other’s experiences and address some of our trickiest challenges together,' Ms Kardel said.

The NSW Hydrogen Strategy sets out New South Wales' ambition to become a global hydrogen leader, while Denmark is looking to export its wind-generated power by building two ‘energy islands’ in the North Sea.

Her Excellency Ms Pernille Dahler Kardel and The Hon Matt Kean MP, NSW Treasurer. Photo: NSW Government/ Matt Kean MP Facebook page

First Standard Biodiversity Certification For Yass Valley Housing Development

May 17, 2022
Applied for the first time in New South Wales, biodiversity certification will provide up-front protection for the environment at the Woodbury Ridge Estate housing development near Sutton.
Allison Treweek from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment said the standard certification under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 gives everyone certainty on how biodiversity values will be protected while achieving an economically viable housing estate.

'What makes bio-certifications different is that the required environmental protections and offsets are in place over the entire property, before the development is approved,' said Ms Treweek.

'Rather than assess the potential environmental impacts on each block or site, the entire proposed development now has overarching guidelines on how the biodiversity and natural values of the area will be managed.

'All areas of potential development are clearly defined and mechanisms to manage biodiversity are already in place, providing certainty to developers and the local community,' Ms Treweek said.

The Woodbury Ridge Estate will see the development of up to 66 residential lots, as well as the retention of 130 hectares that contain biodiversity values such as the critically endangered box-gum woodland and superb parrot habitat.

Julie Rogers from Yass Valley Council worked in partnership with the Department of Planning and Environment to develop the biodiversity certification for the approved housing estate at 2090 Sutton Road, Sutton on the NSW–ACT border.

'The biodiversity certification gives everyone involved confidence as to which environmental values need protecting, and how the proponent will do so now and as the estate develops,' said Ms Rogers.

'The certification is a much more streamlined way to do things. It’s a way of protecting our natural environment, while at the same time providing housing for our growing community.'

For more information on biodiversity certification and the application process, go to the NSW Department of Environment's Biodiversity Certification webpage.

Search And Rescue Operation For Illawarra's Endangered Plants

May 18, 2022
An emergency services training operation in Budderoo National Park unfolded into a real-life search and rescue mission for the threatened and rarely seen waterfall greenhood orchid.
Lauren Hook, a Saving our Species ecologist, joined the canyon rescue training to access the park’s remote waterfalls where this native orchid was last seen around 7 years ago.

'This was such a perfect opportunity to get safe access into these remote canyons so we could confirm if this small green, water-loving orchid is still surviving,' said Ms Hook.

'And the results were better than we could have imagined.

'During the 10-hour expedition we saw around 300 orchids growing on mossy rocks right at the water’s edge.

'What started as search and rescue training quickly turned into a spot-the-orchid mission and by the end of the day NSW Police Rescue, SES and Ambulance crews were also coming across new, thriving orchid populations.

'One site along the canyon hosted around 55 plants, which is extraordinary when you think that only one plant was recorded there in 2015 and only one before that in 1954.

'For now the orchids are safe. We will use the location data to support the management of the canyons and to minimise threats to the plant’s survival.

'If there is an opportunity to go again next year, we will try to collect seeds and propagate the plant, another strategy to help secure this species in the wild,' said Ms Hook.

National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger Team Leader Jen Bean said the orchid-find just shows the incredible and unique biodiversity of the Illawarra region.

'It was such a good mission for so many reasons,' said Ms Bean.

'Not only did the emergency services brush up their rescue skills, we got access into parts of the park that are normally inaccessible.

'There are species just like this orchid that are not found anywhere else in the world, and that’s what makes our local parks and reserves so precious,' Ms Bean said.

The Saving Our Species program is investing almost $100,000 into orchid conservation in the Illawarra and surrounding regions.

This funding supports experts like Lauren and Jen to commit resources towards weed control, fencing, signage, surveys, hand pollination and seed collection, all of which help secure species like the waterfall greenhood orchid into the future.

For more information on the waterfall greenhood orchid, visit the species' profile webpage.

Waterfall greenhood orchid (Pterostylis pulchella). Credit: Alan Stephenson

Statement On Collection Of Threatened Species From Barrington Tops National Park

May 12, 2022
National Parks and Wildlife Service has recently become aware of a social media post and correspondence by Aussie Ark that suggests it has trapped and collected threatened broad-toothed rats from within the World Heritage listed Barrington Tops National Park.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) understands the social media post made by Aussie Ark suggests that the collection of broad-toothed rats from Barrington Tops National Park was undertaken in partnership with the NSW Government. This is incorrect.

The collection of a threatened species from a national park is permitted only in limited circumstances, including where authorised under the NSW Biodiversity and Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act) and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act).

The NPWS has directed an investigation into alleged offences under the BC Act and the NPW Act following reports of the capture and taking of a threatened species from a World Heritage listed National Park.

Compliance officers have seized 135 traps that were discovered in the national park.

The matter may also be referred to the Commonwealth to consider whether any breaches of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) have occurred.

The broad-toothed rat is listed as vulnerable (threatened) under both the BC Act and the EPBC Act.

The broad-toothed rat population in Barrington Tops was impacted by the 2019–20 bushfires, and NPWS is supporting its recovery through intensive feral animal control and targeted measures to reduce future risks.

Broad-toothed rat (Mastacomys fuscus). Credit: Magnus Kjaergaard

Perrottet Government’s Support For Glencore Expansion Untenable After Heritage NSW Admits Ravensworth’s Historical Significance

May 16, 2022
The NSW Perrottet Government must heed the stunning new admissions from Heritage NSW concerning the historical significance of the Ravensworth Estate and reject Glencore’s attempts to mine the site, says Lock the Gate Alliance.

Despite previously downplaying the historical significance of the site, and suggesting its heritage values could be retained if the homestead was relocated, a recently published Independent Planning Commission transcript reveals Heritage NSW now believes those “significant values” would be lost if the homestead was relocated.

The NSW Planning Department initially recommended the expansion be approved, and a decision by the Independent Planning Commission was due today. Lock the Gate Alliance now understands that decision will be delayed in light of Heritage NSW’s new statements.

Members of the Wonnarua Plains Clan group expressed deep concern during the recent IPC hearings into Glencore’s plans that their cultural heritage would be obliterated if the expansion was given the green light. Wonnarua Plains Clan members and various historians cite the Ravensworth Estate as being a tremendously significant place of colonial era violence.

The recently published transcript also shows the Ravensworth Estate’s historical significance was likened to that of World War One battlefields in Europe, and Tasmanian World Heritage convict sites.

Wonnarua Plains Clan Traditional Owner Rob Lester, whose ancestors Augustus Lester and Alister Roy Lester fought and died in the second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, said, “This is part of an open wound that has been going on for 240 years. It’s never going to heal until people open up and talk about it properly.”

Lock the Gate Alliance National Coordinator Georgina Woods said, “The NSW Planning Department’s support of Glencore’s destructive Glendell coal mine expansion is now untenable.

“Heritage NSW has finally admitted the historical and cultural values of the Ravensworth Estate will only remain intact if the property is left in-situ.

“Australia honours the battlefield of Villers-Bretonneux and the Ravensworth Estate is equally significant for telling the story of frontier conflict and the violent transformation of Wonnarua country brought by colonists. 

“If its Planning Department ignores all the evidence now before it, and again recommends approval for Glencore, then the NSW Government will be complicit in an abhorrent act of cultural and historical destruction.”

NSW Government Should Refuse Potentially Unlawful Coal Exploration Applications In The Namoi

May 11, 2022
The NSW Perrottet Government could be in breach of its own mining laws if it grants Whitehaven Coal two exploration licences for the area known as “Gorman North” near Narrabri, according to a legal review of the application.

At Lock the Gate’s request, the Environmental Defenders Office reviewed the circumstances behind Whitehaven’s two exploration licence applications in the region. The "Gorman North" area was opened to coal mining as a result of the government’s strategic statement on coal.

According to the EDO's findings, the application is potentially unlawful because:
  • The large size of the two connected exploration licences would breach the government’s own size limit for its so-called “operational allocation” framework, which allows an extension of coal exploration only over a limited area connected to a current mine and;
  • An advertisement placed by Whitehaven in the Sydney Morning Herald misled readers because it incorrectly stated “comments received that relate to mining will not be considered in this process”
A letter (available here) identifying these breaches was recently sent to the Deputy Secretary, Mining, Exploration and Geoscience Department of Regional NSW. 

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW coordinator Nic Clyde said the revelations showed the NSW Perrottet Government appeared ready to bend or break its own mining laws at the request of Whitehaven Coal.

“Whitehaven Coal has made an unlawful application to expand its coal operations in the Namoi without going through the Strategic Release Framework that would give the community a proper say. The Perrottet government needs to stand up for rural people and refuse these applications. 

“This company is a repeat environmental vandal with a criminal rap sheet a mile long. We’re not surprised to see this company bending the law again to sneak huge new coal exploration licences through the back door without community input. 

“The Perrottet Government must give the residents living in this part of the state the same opportunity afforded to those near Rylstone whose homes were also threatened by new coal mining areas. Any further coal exploration near Narrabri must go through the full Strategic Release Framework. 

“Just last week Deputy Premier Paul Toole made the welcome move to cancel a further two coal release areas near Wollombi and Rylstone. But this hodgepodge approach to coal in NSW is saving some while sacrificing others and creating planning uncertainty.”

NSW Government Takes Water From Coastal Wetlands And Gives To Big Agribusiness

May 13, 2022
he NSW Government today gave big agribusiness companies east of the Great Dividing Range rights to billions of litres of publicly owned water, absolutely free. 

The Harvestable Rights (coastal-draining catchments) Order 2022 issued under the Water Management Act 2000 gives landholders the right to harvest 30% of all rainfall runoff on their property (see Section 6a of the Order). 

“This government has just put another nail in the coffin of coastal wetlands that are already facing a host of threats — coastal development, water pollution, climate change, including bushfire and rising sea levels,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We will do everything we can to have this decision reversed to prevent the serious and lasting damage it could do to coastal wetlands, which are among the most important biodiversity hotspots in NSW. 

“This Order transfers millions of dollars’ of publicly owned water straight into private hands for free. 

“It is probably the single most harmful policy ever instituted against the health of coastal river ecosystems and wetlands. We can’t let this stand. 

“It is extraordinary the government announced this policy the same day researchers warned the world has lost 2000 square kilometres of coastal wetlands over the past 20 years. [2]  

“The situation for NSW wetlands is dire. All the key indicators are heading in the wrong direction. There are fewer wetlands and they are smaller than just a few years ago, waterbird numbers have crashed. 

“The Coalition government in NSW seems determined to destroy coastal river systems the same way they have the Barwon-Darling River system.” 

The NSW State of the Environment 2021 report stated:  

“Water availability is the most significant pressure on the health of many wetland ecosystems. Altered flows from water extraction and the building of dams, levees and diversion structures have had long-term and ongoing negative effects on water availability, especially for important waterbird breeding sites…” [3] 

Today’s Order allows landholders to build dams as close as 3100m upstream from internationally listed Ramsar wetlands. 

[2] Dramatic loss of globe’s wetlands, James Cook University, Embargoed until 4am AEST, Friday 13 May, 2022,  

[3] Wetland area index of eastern Australia 104,015 hectares in 2020, below the long-term median of 224,794 ha. 

More Security For Coastal Farmers

May 13, 2022: NSW Government Department of Planning
Farmers and landholders who have coastal-draining properties will have greater water security following the NSW Government’s harvestable rights increase coming into effect today.

Minister for Lands and Water, Kevin Anderson, said some landholders would now be able to capture more of the rainfall runoff from their properties, boosting their operations and helping them better prepare for droughts and bushfires.

“When it comes to managing water my view is healthy rivers, healthy farms and healthy communities, not one or the other. The NSW Government is committed to growing the economy and this is great news for our coastal farms and businesses,” Mr Anderson said.

“As of today landholders, under strict conditions, can store more water for stock watering, domestic use and certain types of agriculture, supporting farming, local jobs and regional economies.

Water captured through increased harvestable rights will be restricted to certain uses. There are limitations on where new dams can be built to balance the needs of the environment and downstream water users.

The increase allows farmers to capture rainfall runoff, subject to specific safeguards including that any increase is used only for domestic and stock use and extensive agricultural activities. It comes after a NSW Government review which included hydrological modelling and extensive community consultation.

“We know drought will come again which is why we’re acting now. This rule change means coastal landholders can capture water in farm dams during wet times, to get them through dry spells when water is scarce,” Mr Anderson said.

“We’re listening to the community and delivering water security where it’s needed most, but we must get the balance right.”

For more information on coastal harvestable rights, eligibility and requirements, visit: Coastal-draining catchments.

NSW Leads Discussions For Proposed Changes To Menindee Lakes Operations

May 4, 2022
The NSW Government will begin discussions immediately with the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Basin jurisdictions on how to improve the way water in the Menindee Lakes is stored and managed.

Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson said NSW is seeking to improve water conservation in the Lakes and maximise the availability of water in Lakes Wetherell and Pamamaroo as the Lakes return to NSW control.

“This will improve the longevity of water stored in the upper lakes and keep the Lower Darling running for longer,” Mr Anderson said.

“The NSW Government is committed to Menindee’s water system and understands the importance of water storage. When it comes to managing water, my view is healthy rivers, healthy farms and healthy communities. Not one or the other.”

The rules under the Murray Darling Basin Agreement allow water in the Menindee Lakes to be used in the River Murray system when storage levels increase above 640 GL until they drop below 480 GL, which is when the Lakes return to NSW control.

The location of where water is stored in the Menindee Lakes, when it falls below 480 GL, has a significant impact on NSW and its ability to access water including how long this critical drought reserve can meet the demands of the community and environment.

“We have listened carefully to community concerns about the way the Menindee Lakes storage is being managed which is why we are taking action,” Mr Anderson said.

“NSW is currently reviewing the way the Lakes operate and investigating ways to increase the volume of water that is accessible for local and downstream communities when the Lakes return to NSW control.

“Addressing these issues is complex and challenging as the rules set out in the Murray Darling Basin Agreement clearly outline how the Lakes are required to be operated and implementing any changes will require approval by other Basin jurisdictions.

“That is why we are initiating discussions with other states and the MBDA to identify the most effective short and long-term solutions that will balance the needs of the environment, community and irrigators while improving drought security.

“This includes maximising the drawing of water from the lower lakes of Cawndilla and Menindee and retaining water for as long as possible in the more efficient and accessible upper lakes of Wetherell and Pamamaroo.”

Conversations will also canvas options to formalise arrangements that would enable operational water, that would otherwise become stranded and evaporate when Lake Cawndilla starts to dry and disconnects from Lake Menindee, to be released down the Great Darling Anabranch.

We hope these changes will enable around 100 GL of water that would otherwise be inaccessible to be better used to meet the needs of the Lower Darling and Menindee communities.

This will also provide environmental benefits arising from improved drought refuge for fish in a drying climate as well as allowing any fish stranded in Lake Cawndilla to move down to the River Murray.

“I understand the importance of the Menindee Lakes to both the local and downstream communities which is why I will be sitting around the table with my Basin colleagues to push for changes to how the Lakes are operated,” Mr Anderson said.

“With recent record water flows into the Lakes, this is the ideal time to carry out new modelling and work through options to enable us to act quickly when water levels drop and the next drought hits.

“Our focus is now on improving the ways we can protect and prolong inflows into the Far West system including improving water security for the Menindee Lakes.”

NSW will begin discussions with Basin jurisdictions this month, with meetings to be held throughout the year.
Photo: Sunset over Menindee Lakes.

Canaries in the coal mine: why birds can tell us so much about the health of Earth

A Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) sighting suggests a productive oak tree is nearby. Andy Jenner/Shutterstock
Stuart ButchartUniversity of Cambridge

Following a deadly explosion in a Welsh coal mine in 1896, an engineer called John Haldane invented a type of bird cage that allowed canaries to accompany miners into the depths. The small songbirds are much more sensitive than humans to the deadly carbon monoxide gas found underground.

A sudden halt to their singing would warn workers to evacuate the pit – and rescue the canary by closing its cage door and opening a valve to pump oxygen inside. Remarkably, it was only in 1986 that canaries were relieved of their duties detecting noxious gases in UK coal mines.

As rising temperatures and habitat loss degrade the natural world, bird species everywhere play the role of mine canaries for the whole planet. Trends in the size of their populations inform us of the extent and patterns of environmental change, providing a kind of early warning system.

There are a number of reasons why birds are excellent indicators of the status of other wildlife groups and the health of the wider ecosystem. For one, birds are found all over the world, in all countries and in nearly all habitats. From ivory gulls and emperor penguins on the polar ice caps to birds of paradise in tropical rainforests, and from albatrosses cruising the remote open ocean to desert larks in the Sahara.

Birds are found on the highest mountains and some fly to extraordinary heights: a Rüppell’s vulture collided with an aircraft at an altitude of 11,300 metres. Certain seabirds feed at remarkable depths: one emperor penguin was recorded diving to 564 metres where it is almost completely dark and the pressure is 50 times stronger than at the ocean’s surface.

There are enough bird species that the patterns in their distribution and numbers closely reflect variation in the environment, with over 11,000 species in total, and over 400 species on average in each country.

A vulture about to take off.
Higher flyers: a Rüppell’s vulture (Gyps rueppelli) in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. Snowmanradio/WikipediaCC BY-SA

Birds make good indicators because of their biology. Typically feeding towards the top of food webs, bird populations are an eye-catching gauge of changes further down the food chain, such as declines in the abundance of the things they eat. Fewer bug-eating birds like flycatchers may be a tell-tale sign of shrinking insect populations, something more difficult to measure but itself indicative of deteriorating natural habitats.

Birds also tend to move in response to environmental changes, with their local abundance reflecting changes in the climate or how land is used. Bird population trends often mirror those of other species.

For example, other groups of organisms such as butterflies, dung beetles and reptiles (which may be more difficult to study than birds) have mirrored the declines in abundance of farmland birds in the UK since the 1970s. This has been driven largely by the intensification of food production such as the increased use of pesticides.

Similarly, distribution patterns for birds broadly reflect those of many other wildlife groups, meaning that conservation efforts targeted at birds can typically be trusted to benefit a wider array of species.

One Million Records A Month

There are also not so many species as to make identifying birds too difficult. The taxonomy, distribution, ecology and life history of birds are well understood. Over 16,000 scientific papers on bird biology are published each year.

Being relatively large, conspicuous, and generally easy to identify, birds are popular and engage the public. It has been estimated that 20% of people in the US and 30% in the UK watch or feed birds regularly.

An army of birdwatchers worldwide collects data on birds, whether on an ad hoc basis, or as part of more formal surveys and monitoring schemes. The eBird platform, where people can log their bird records, now holds more than one billion observations from over 200 countries, with over one million checklists submitted each month.

And some datasets on bird trends go back many decades, rendering them valuable for tracking environmental trends over time. Birds act as ambassadors for nature, capable of symbolising complex ecological communities while managing to resonate with most people.

A woman in a grey coat watches a bare tree with binoculars in winter.
Citizen scientists keep us abreast of changing ecosystems with their bird observations. DJTaylor/Shutterstock

Of course, birds tend to be less specialised within very specific types of habitats, such as coastal dunes or lake margins than insects or plants. They are less representative of freshwater and marine habitats than land-based ones, and are scarce or totally absent from some environments, such as the deep ocean or cave systems.

Nevertheless, it is still hard to beat birds as living indicators of environmental change. We must listen to the message they are sending us about the state of nature, and the pressures upon it. Like canaries in the coal mine, they tell us that it is time to act. Our lives may depend upon it.

Imagine weekly climate newsletter

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Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation

Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist, BirdLife International & Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Material Can 'Capture Toxic Pollutants From Air'

May 17, 2022
Researchers at University of Limerick, Ireland have developed a new material that has the ability to capture toxic chemicals from the air. The material is capable of capturing trace amounts of benzene, a toxic pollutant, from the air and crucially use less energy than existing materials to do so, according to the researchers.

The sponge-like porous material could revolutionise the search for clean air and have a significant impact in the battle against climate change, the researchers believe.

Professor Michael Zaworotko, Bernal Chair of Crystal Engineering and Science Foundation of Ireland Research Professor at University of Limerick's Bernal Institute, and colleagues developed the new material, with findings reported in the prestigious Nature Materials journal.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene are a class of toxic pollutants that cause severe environmental and health issues. Developing technologies to remove benzene from air at trace concentrations and doing it with a low energy footprint are both challenges that have not been overcome until now.

"A family of porous materials -- like sponge -- have been developed to capture benzene vapour from polluted air and produce a clean air stream for a long working time," explained Professor Zaworotko.

"These materials could be regenerated easily under mild heating, making them candidates for air purification and environmental remediation.

"Our materials can do much better in both sensitivity and working time than traditional materials."

Professor Zaworotko and Dr Xiang-Jing Kong from the Department of Chemical Sciences at UL, along with colleagues from leading universities in China, developed the new porous material which has such strong affinity for benzene that it captures the toxic chemical even when present at just 1 part in 100,000.

This material resembles Swiss cheese because it is full of holes and it is these holes that attract the benzene molecules, according to the researchers.

In terms of energy, because the capture process is based upon physical rather than chemical bonding, the energy footprint of capture and release is much lower than previous generations of materials.

"Breaking up gas mixtures is hard to do. This is especially true for the minor components that comprise air, which include carbon dioxide and water. The properties of our new material show that breaking up is no longer hard to do for benzene," explained Professor Zaworotko.

Earlier work from Professor Zaworotko's lab resulted in leading materials for carbon capture and water harvesting. The water harvesting material has such favourable properties for capturing and releasing water from the atmosphere that is already being used in dehumidification systems.

Dr Xiang-Jing Kong explained: "Based on smart design, our materials do well in addressing challenges of both technical and social relevance, such as trace benzene removal from air. This is hard for conventional materials, and thus highlights the charm of porous materials."

Overall, these results suggest that a new generation of bespoke porous materials of the type invented at UL can enable a general approach to the capture of toxic chemicals from air.

"Aromatic isomers are difficult to separate in their mixtures with traditional methods, which are always energy-intensive," Dr Xiang-Jing Kong explained.

"This research opened up possibilities to design porous materials for efficient separation of these chemicals with low energy input as well as removal of other trace pollutants from air."

The study was funded by the European Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland.

Tao He, Xiang-Jing Kong, Zhen-Xing Bian, Yong-Zheng Zhang, Guang-Rui Si, Lin-Hua Xie, Xue-Qian Wu, Hongliang Huang, Ze Chang, Xian-He Bu, Michael J. Zaworotko, Zuo-Ren Nie, Jian-Rong Li. Trace removal of benzene vapour using double-walled metal–dipyrazolate frameworks. Nature Materials, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41563-022-01237-x

Native Plant Gardening For Species Conservation

May 18, 2022
Despite global efforts to protect biodiversity, many plant species are still declining. In Germany, this includes 70 percent of all plant species, with almost a third (27.5 percent) threatened, and 76 species are already considered extinct. Much of this loss can be attributed to the decline in natural habitats, in part due to increasing urbanisation. Ten percent of the total area of Germany, for example, is settlement area.

However, it is precisely these settlement areas that hold enormous -- albeit untapped -- potential for nature conservation. After all, these areas include millions of private gardens, balconies and green roofs, as well as parks and other public green spaces. Researchers from iDiv, the Universities of Halle and Leipzig and other institutions propose using these potentially available areas for conservation gardening.

This horticultural practice specifically encourages the planting of declining native species. Native plants are plants that occur naturally in their habitat, where they have adapted to specific environments and have co-evolved with other species. Although critical to the functioning of our ecosystems, native plants are most affected by decline and are in need of conservation. "Gardeners have always played a role in distributing plant species, so why not also help bring back the many native species that are disappearing," says lead author Josiane Segar, researcher at iDiv and MLU. Public and private gardens and green spaces could play a central role in conserving plant diversity, but this would require a major rethinking of the horticultural industry in order to do so."

According to the researchers, the economy for conservation gardening, as well as the ability to redesign the industry already exists. Horticulture is a commercially important sector in many countries: In Germany, for example, 8.7 billion euros were spent on plants in 2018, and the trend is rising. During the corona pandemic, per capita spending on plants increased by a record-breaking 9 percent. Furthermore, public awareness of the decline in biodiversity has risen sharply. Planting declining native species would also have clear advantages. Many of them are adapted to dry soils and would cope better with droughts in the wake of climate change than many of the species currently used in gardening. The authors posit that these factors could lead to increased demand for conservation gardening appropriate plants if they could be made widely available in garden centres.

The researchers, therefore, propose that a key approach to promoting conservation gardening would be to create a stronger link between the mainstream horticultural industry and the domestic native seed market. Certified native seed production and marketing should be promoted through financial mechanisms and policy support, e.g., in the form of reduced VAT. Product labels in garden centres could help to point out the benefits of conservation gardening and influence the demand curve. Appropriate criteria for awarding public contracts to horticultural companies could also help encourage the use of declining native plant species in public green spaces. Funding applied research to develop region-specific lists of declining plant species, as well as planting concepts and seed mixtures for these species could foster a science-driven approach to gardening. In addition, key players such as botanical gardens, universities, nature conservation associations, neighbourhood cooperatives and public administrative bodies could spread essential knowledge about the cultivation and care of declining native plants.

"Conservation gardening would facilitate a targeted, structural change in conventional gardening and horticulture. Large scale implementation does not require extensive changes to the existing conservation architecture," says senior author Dr Ingmar Staude from iDiv and Leipzig University. "In fact, it uses existing, economically viable structures to encourage the use of declining species when planting green spaces. In an increasingly urban world, this could foster a tangible and inclusive form of nature conservation for citizens."

Josiane Segar, Corey T. Callaghan, Emma Ladouceur, Jasper N. Meya, Henrique M. Pereira, Andrea Perino, Ingmar R. Staude. Urban conservation gardening in the decade of restoration. Nature Sustainability, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00882-z

Farm vehicles now weigh almost as much as heaviest dinosaurs – here’s why that’s a problem

Braslavets Denys/Shutterstock
Jess DaviesLancaster University and John QuintonLancaster University

What does a modern combine harvester and a Diplodocus have in common? One answer, it seems, may be their big footprints on the soil. A new study led by researchers from Sweden and Switzerland has found that the weight of farming machinery today is approaching that of the largest animals to have ever roamed the Earth – the sauropods.

Depicted as the giant, friendly “veggiesaurus” in the movie Jurassic Park, sauropods were the biggest of the dinosaurs. The heaviest were thought to weigh in at around 60 tonnes – similar to the weight of a fully laden combine harvester. Tractors and other machinery used on farms have grown enormously heavier over the past 60 years as intensive, large-scale agriculture has become widespread. A combine harvester is almost ten times heavier today than it was in the 1960s.

The weight of animals or machines matters because soils can only withstand so much pressure before they become chronically compacted. They may not look it, but soils are ecosystems containing fragile structures – pores and pathways which allow air to circulate and water to reach plant roots and other organisms. Tyres, animal hooves and human feet all apply pressure, squashing the pores, not just at the surface but deeper down too.

Soil compaction can cut plant growth and harvests, and increase the risk of floods as water runs off the land and reaches waterways more quickly. The scientists involved in the new study took a look at how much compaction is being caused by these giant farming machines and compared it with the sauropods who lived over 66 million years ago. They found both to be big culprits of compaction.

Under Pressure

The study points out that as the weight of farm machinery has grown, tyre sizes have ballooned too, adjusting the area of contact between the vehicle with the soil to reduce the pressure on the surface and help avoid sinking. It seems that animals evolved with a similar strategy – increasing foot size with weight to help avoid sinking into the soil.

A red tractor with large wheels carries a crate which a harvester siphons silage into.
Big wheels (or feet) help distribute the body’s weight on the soil surface – but the damage continues deeper down. Smereka/Shutterstock

Overall, pressure at the soil surface has remained fairly constant as farm machinery has gained weight. But the authors suggest that stresses on the soil continue to increase below the surface and penetrate deeper as vehicles (or animals) get heavier. Farm machinery today (and the sauropods of the past) are now so heavy that they irreparably compact soil below the first 20 cm, where it isn’t tilled. Aside from restricting how deep the roots of crops can grow to seek water and nutrients further down in the soil, this can also create low-oxygen conditions that are not good for plants or the organisms they share the soil with.

Where Did The Dinosaurs Go For Dinner?

This creates a “sauropod paradox”, as the researchers call it. The dinosaurs and the loads transmitted through their feet were so large that they would have likely caused significant subsurface damage to soils wherever they roamed, potentially destroying the soil’s ability to support the plants and ecosystems they would have relied on as their food source.

The image of sauropods roaming widely and foraging freely as depicted by Jurassic Park seems unlikely, as they would have had an unsustainable influence on their environment. So how did they survive?

The scientists behind the study speculate that they may have kept to well-trodden paths, limiting their impact while browsing the canopy with their long necks. How exactly a sauropod could live in equilibrium with the soil remains a mystery for now.

Big Food For Thought

A more pressing conundrum is how to reconcile soil compaction by farming vehicles with sustainable food production today. The risk of soil compaction varies with the type of machinery and the way it’s used, as well as the type of soil and the moisture bound up in it.

The study estimates that 20% of croplands globally are at high risk of losing productivity because of subsoil compaction by modern agricultural vehicles, with the highest risks in Europe and North America where it’s relatively moist and there are more large farms using the largest machines. Clearly, this is an issue in arable landscapes, but the problem also extends to grasslands where silage is baled, and urban landscapes where the movement of construction vehicles on green space is not well controlled.

Soil with tyre marks imprinted on it.
Compacted soil cannot easily absorb water. Aisyaqilumaranas/Shutterstock

The authors call for design changes to machinery to help maintain the soil’s structure. We suggest another option. To reduce their impact on the soil, we could reduce the need for such large machines in the first place by growing food using smaller machines on smaller parcels of land, particularly in high-risk zones. Finding ways to break up vast monoculture landscapes makes sense for many other reasons. For example, wildflower field margins, hedgerows and trees can help sequester carbon, manage water quality and support biodiversity.

Soil can only withstand so much pressure – whether from compaction or other threats such as continual harvesting, erosion or pollution. Humans must act to reduce pressures on soils, or we risk going the way of the dinosaurs.The Conversation

Jess Davies, Chair Professor in Sustainability, Lancaster University and John Quinton, Professor of Soil Science, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lismore faced monster floods all but alone. We must get better at climate adaptation, and fast

Johanna NalauGriffith UniversityHannah Melville-ReaNew York University, and Mark HowdenAustralian National University

Australia is no stranger to disasters like droughts, floods, bushfires and heatwaves. The problem is, they’re going to get worse. And then worse again. As the global temperature ratchets up, these disasters will grow in size, frequency and intensity. We will have to get much better at adapting, and do this even as we phase out fossil fuels to stop climate change getting worse.

Climate adaptation is about working with our new reality, rather than clinging to the way things were done in the past. We must accept our climate and environment has already changed, with more major upheavals on the way. If we don’t, we’ll be caught napping by “unprecedented” events which just keep on coming.

While local and state governments have led the way on climate adaptation to date, we have much more to do, as the worrying lack of preparation for the floods that devastated Lismore makes clear.

Do Both: Climate Adaptation And Emissions Reduction

Many people believe climate adaptation is a red herring, diverting resources and attention away from emissions.

This is simply not true. We must do both. The world has already warmed 1.2℃ since the industrial age began, and is heating up by just under 0.2℃ per decade. There is also a lag time between fossil fuels burned today and the extra warming this causes.

Climate change is already here, and will only intensify. We must urgently slash emissions while also helping our communities be ready. The good news is adaptation often helps lower emissions, and vice versa.

It can be hard to picture what climate adaptation looks like. So take the hard-hit town of Lismore as an example. Official warnings did not reach this Northern Rivers community. When these monster floods hit, these communities were largely left to save themselves. If it hadn’t been for neighbours undertaking rooftop rescues, the death toll would likely have been much higher. In the aftermath, many residents have been living in tents and caravans while struggling to find affordable housing.

To be ready for the next floods, Lismore would benefit from:

  • rebuild using flood-resistant designs and materials
  • coordinating community preparations
  • exploring land-swap or changing land-use planning for high-risk areas
  • better coordination between government agencies
  • better warnings delivered sooner.

As soon as you consider the problem, it becomes clear there is no silver bullet. We need to plan ahead of time, rather than try to scramble to respond to disasters as they grow in size and frequency. Preparing and planning saves lives and cuts costs.

Drawing on local community strength is vital, as the Northern Rivers has shown Australia. But it is not enough by itself. Movements like Resilient Byron and Resilient Lismore show how locally led adaptation can assist communities. They could do more, with directed long-term investments and support.

What Have We Done So Far?

The knowledge we already have about surviving in the world’s most arid inhabited continent is a start. First Nations communities have a sophisticated understanding of caring for country, while Australian farmers are among the best climate-risk managers globally, after a rocky start.

To date, most government-led climate adaptation happens at local and state levels. Highly innovative approaches have come from local governments, such as a council-led land-swap to get people permanently out of flood plains in the Lockyer Valley. Victoria’s state government has a climate adaptation program to help the natural resources sector prepare for possible futures, while Queensland has a strategy for local governments to find the greatest risks to coastal areas and plan for adaptation.

While these are welcome, we must do much more at a national level. In this area, we seem to be going backwards. In 2007 the federal government invested heavily in climate adaptation, but these initiatives were progressively dismantled after the 2013 election. Today, disaster spending is focused on recovery rather than preparation. While that might be politically rewarding, it is extraordinarily expensive.

On a national scale, our current climate adaptation strategy lacks clear targets and timelines. Not only that, it does not connect the dots between the levels of adaptation required and different scenarios for cutting emissions. We hope the new framework being produced by the National Reconstruction and Recovery Agency will better incorporate adaptation.

What Does Well-Adapted Look Like?

Our political parties differ substantially on climate adaptation efforts. Liberal and National Party policies barely mention climate adaptation. Labor has disaster preparation policies, such as up to A$200 million per year on disaster prevention and recovery, while the Greens are most ambitious with plans to both slash emissions and boost adaptation through initiatives such as making housing better able to cope with floods and cyclones.

Climate adaptation pays dividends – regardless of who takes government. Active climate adaptation would save Australia A$380 billion in gross domestic product over the next 30 years.

We cannot let climate adaptation be the plaything of day-to-day politics. To have any chance of success, we need a robust bipartisan strategy. We should look to countries such as the UK which has laws requiring a national climate risk assessment every five years as well as a program coordinating and reporting adaptation actions across the country.

There is support for these measures in Australia, with 72% of us in favour of introducing national climate risk assessments giving our state and local governments access to up to date information on flood projections, neighbourhoods most vulnerable to heatwaves and expected levels of sea level rise. Crucially, this would let us pick out the best ways we could adapt.

Australia also needs a national climate adaptation hub, a one-stop shop offering advice to all levels of government, communities, non-governmental organisations and the private sector on the adaptation strategies available and ways to scale up the best approaches.

We must act now to make the best of the future coming towards us. We know a great deal about what we’ve set in motion by heating up our planet. Now we must prepare for what this brings. And we have to do it together.The Conversation

Johanna Nalau, Research Fellow, Climate Adaptation, Griffith UniversityHannah Melville-Rea, Research Fellow, Climate Resilience, Environmental Arts & Humanities, New York University, and Mark Howden, Director, ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bucking the trend: Is there a future for ultra long-haul flights in a net zero carbon world?

Susanne BeckenGriffith University and Paresh PantGriffith University

This year, Qantas announced two plans in direct conflict. In March, Australia’s largest airline group went public with the admirable goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2030 by using new clean fuels, boosting efficiency and using carbon offsets. For the aviation industry, this was a watershed moment, containing world-leading detail and bold links between executive pay and improved sustainability.

But only two months later, Qantas confirmed its order for 12 new Airbus planes capable of ultra long-distance flights, making possible non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London or New York.

What’s the conflict? These long distance flights must carry substantially more fuel and, as a result, fewer passengers, making them markedly less efficient.

If the aviation industry heads down this route, it will be a backwards step in the fight against climate change. While Qantas intends these flights to be carbon neutral, this will have to involve carbon offsets given there are no other options at present.

As the world gets more serious about climate action, flights like this will come under scrutiny.

Flying The Furthest Comes With A Carbon Cost

For decades, Qantas has hoped to overcome Australia’s tyranny of distance, beginning ultra long-haul test flights as early as 1989. These tests didn’t translate into regular flights, however, leaving the door open to key competitor Singapore Airlines, which currently has the world’s top two ultra long flights.

Qantas seems determined to change that. In 2025, the carrier’s new Sydney-London non-stop flight will cover 17,800km non-stop to become the world’s longest flight.

While it might seem like a single flight would produce less emissions, the opposite is true.

The most efficient flights (based on fuel burned per kilometre) are those between 3,000 and 5,000km, depending on aircraft type. By contrast, non-stop ultra long haul flights produce more carbon emissions than two shorter journeys with a stop-over.

The reason is simple physics. Planes flying ultra long distances must carry lots of fuel, especially at take-off, to cover the later stages of the journey. For the new planes Qantas has ordered, it takes about 0.2kg of fuel to transport a kilo a thousand kilometres.

Given the long distance, this means it’s not a very efficient use of fuel. Not only that, but the high fuel load means there is less space for passengers.

That gives an even less favourable result based on the metric of carbon dioxide emitted per passenger-kilometre. For example, the non-stop flight from Auckland to Dubai of 14,193km produces 876kg of CO2 per person in economy class, whereas the same journey with a stop-over in Singapore would produce 772kg. Exact emission rates may differ due to flight paths, freight weight, and weather, among other issues.

So while a typical A350-900 seats between 300 and 350 passengers, Singapore Airline’s existing marathon flights using these planes can only carry half that, namely 161 passengers. Similarly, the planned Qantas flights would have just 238 passengers, 112 to 172 seats fewer than what Airbus recommends.

As you’d expect, less passengers increases the ticket cost and makes these flights more exclusive, adding to the problem that a small wealthy elite have a disproportionately high environmental impact.

Can Long-Haul Ever Be Low Carbon?

Marathon non-stop flights stand in the way of a wider shift towards a low-emissions world. If airlines are serious about tackling their sector’s growing contribution to fossil fuel emissions, they must look to research into alternative fuels and technologies by programs like the EU’s Clean Sky.

These programs have shown sustainable fuels and new technologies are much better suited to shorter flights. Electric aircraft, for instance, are becoming viable for short flights in the near-term future. In Sydney, electric seaplanes will soon enter the short-hop sector, while hybrid-electric technology has the potential to support flights of up to 1500km, depending on progress in battery technology.

electric plane
Electric planes are shaping up as a good solution for short flights. Mark Mitchell/AP

So what about long distance? We have two options. One is hydrogen and the other is sustainable aviation fuels.

While there is a huge amount of hype around clean hydrogen at present, the reality is green hydrogen derived from renewable electricity currently makes up just 1% of all hydrogen we produce. We would need a monumental effort to scale up to fill the demand from aviation.

Another challenge is hydrogen’s low energy density, which will restrict flying range to an estimated maximum of 7,000km by 2040.

That leaves sustainable aviation fuel as the only option for long-haul flights. The airline industry is pinning their hopes on fuels derived either from biological feedstocks (used cooking oils or oil derived from algae) or produced synthetically.

The sustainability of these fuels depends on the feedstock, the production process (which, again, will demand large amounts of renewable energy) and a detailed understanding of impacts on the atmosphere from any gases emitted. That suggests these fuels will likely be expensive, with volumes hard to secure to fully replace fossil fuels. Even so, these fuels will have to be part of aviation’s future.

Algae in a test tube
Algae-derived oil is one possibility for sustainable aviation fuels. Shutterstock

New Ways Of Travel

The way we think about flying is changing, with climate impact front of mind for many travellers.

In response, some countries have begun to ramp up their focus and infrastructure spending on rail travel, to encourage new travel patterns. The growing regenerative tourism movement – which emphasises deeper engagement with place and people – signals there is real potential to shift mass travel away from far-and-fast destinations to close-and-deep.

The role of flying in tourism is already changing, and it will change more in coming years. You can already glimpse this in the trends towards more climate-friendly travel closer to home. Soon, electric and hybrid planes will encourage shorter flights in a carbon-constrained world.

As for ultra long-haul flights, it is difficult to picture how these are compatible with the goal of net-zero emissions.The Conversation

Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism and Director, Griffith Institute for Tourism, Griffith University and Paresh Pant, PhD Candidate and Sessional Academic, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pittwater Reserves: Histories + Notes + Pictorial Walks

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Boathouse In Governor Phillip Park  Part Of Our Community For 75 Years: Photos From The Collection Of Russell Walton, Son Of Victor Walton
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers 
Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham Beach by Barbara Davies
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek by Joe Mills
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Iluka Park, Woorak Park, Pittwater Park, Sand Point Reserve, Snapperman Beach Reserve - Palm Beach: Some History
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
Lucinda Park, Palm Beach: Some History + 2022 Pictures
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Resolute Track at West Head by Kevin Murray
Resolute Track Stroll by Joe Mills
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Tranquil Turimetta Beach, April 2022 by Joe Mills
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Wilshire Park Palm Beach: Some History + Photos From May 2022
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Maths The Solution To Future Careers

May 18, 2022
New maths resources are set to open the door to a world of possibilities for NSW public school students.

Singer Mahalia Barnes, Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell and The Block star Dan Reilly. Photo: NSW Dept. of Education

Exciting new ambassadors are showing students where maths can take them in their future careers, as part of a NSW Government campaign to change perceptions of maths among young people

Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said maths was more than just a subject learned in school as she joined The Block star Dan Reilly and singer Mahalia Barnes to kick start the new phase of the campaign.

“Having strong maths skills opens a world of possibility for young people,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Maths develops capabilities for life and provides students with lasting fundamental skills in problem-solving, analysis and reasoning, which are relevant to most careers.”

The latest campaign links parents to new resources within the Everyday Maths hub, bringing new maths solutions, challenges, games and fun experiences into students’ homes.

“These new resources encourage and support parents, carers and students from various backgrounds to think and act mathematically outside the school gates,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Parents do not need to be a maths whizz to help their children succeed, taking a positive and proactive attitude to the maths at home leads to better grades in the classroom.”

A new feature of the hub is a dedicated culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) section across five different languages and more than 30 new pieces of content related to financial literacy, mathematics in careers, and mathematics in the modern world.

Dan Reilly said things like working out angles, lengths and areas are essential on The Block and that it’s maths skills like these that make a career in building and construction possible.

Mahalia Barnes said helping her daughters with their relationship to maths is essential to their music.

“I’m helping them along their journey as they discover the patterns and progressions we see in maths that helps us with our music,” Mahalia said.

The #MathsTrainsBrains campaign is part of the NSW Mathematics Strategy, a seven-year program aimed at helping students develop the mathematical skills and understanding they need to succeed in life.

Recently, feedback on the Year 3-10 Mathematics syllabuses was provided during public consultation as part of NSW’s vital Curriculum Reform agenda.

The draft syllabuses continue to strengthen mathematics and numeracy skills across every year level and build on the fundamental work already being implemented in Kindergarten to Year 2 mathematics.

The final syllabuses will be available to schools later in 2022 for implementation from 2023.

Parents and carers can visit the Everyday Maths hub to engage with their children on mathematics in everyday life.

NSW Health Seizes More Than $1 Million Of Illegal Nicotine Vapes

May 16, 2022
NSW Health has seized more than $1 million worth of illegal e-cigarettes and liquids containing nicotine since January 2022.

The seizures so far this year bring the total amount of illegal product seized since 1 July 2020 to more than $3 million.

NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said retailers were being put on notice, if they are acting illegally, they will face the consequences.

"We are cracking down on the illegal sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and liquids and taking a zero-tolerance approach to those who sell them," Dr Chant said.

"NSW Health regularly conducts raids on retailers across the state to protect young people from these harmful devices. You will be caught, illegal items will be seized, and you could face prosecution, resulting in being fined or even jailed."

"The harmful impacts of vaping on young people cannot be underestimated. People think they are simply flavoured water but in reality, in many cases they are ingesting poisonous chemicals that can cause life threatening injuries."

Since 1 October 2021, products containing nicotine are only available for people over the age of 18 when prescribed by a medical practitioner for smoking cessation purposes. These products are only available from an Australian pharmacy or via importation into Australia with a valid prescription.

For all other retailers in NSW, the sale of e-cigarettes or e-liquids containing nicotine is illegal.  This also includes online sales. The maximum penalty for illegally selling them is $1,650 per offence, six-months in prison or both, under the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act.

Retailers and individuals can also be prosecuted for selling e-cigarette products to minors, with maximum penalties:
  • For individuals, up to $11,000 for a first offence, and up to $55,000 for a second or subsequent offence;
  • For corporations, up to $55,000 for a first offence, and up to $110,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
NSW Health is committed to reducing the prevalence of e-cigarette and tobacco use, and in 2021-22 has invested $18.3 million towards tobacco and e-cigarette control.

Raids are being stepped up on the back of the 'Do you know what you're vaping?' information campaign which was launched in March 2022 by the NSW Government. The campaign raises awareness of the harmful chemicals found in vapes including those found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and insecticide.

To accompany the information campaign which appeared on buses as well as online social channels, a vaping toolkit was launched. The toolkit comprises factsheets and other resources for young people aged 14 to 17 years, parents and carers, teachers and schools, to educate about the harms of vaping.

Major Milestone For Fee-Free Training In NSW

May 16, 2022
NSW is enjoying a fee-free training boom with more than 200,000 enrolments recorded under JobTrainer, a program helping people get skilled for in-demand jobs.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the NSW Government’s strong economic management means we can deliver programs such as JobTrainer to equip people with the skills they need to get their first job, a new job or a better job.

“The NSW Government is turbocharging the take-up of vocational education and training to create a strong pipeline of skilled and qualified workers, which is helping secure a brighter future for NSW families,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Our record infrastructure program is creating enormous demand for jobs and our investment in fee-free training is helping meet that demand so we can continue to build what matters to make daily life better.

“The success of the JobTrainer program is helping strengthen our economy, which means more money for services, community amenity and less pressure on households.”

Training under the program is fee-free and fully funded for eligible people wanting to upskill or reskill.

The NSW Government has expanded the eligibility criteria for the program to target more in-demand industries, including construction, manufacturing, transport, logistics, aged care, disability care, childcare and digital skills.

JobTrainer has also supported more than 5,000 women into construction-related courses through the Built for Women initiative.

Minister for Skills and Training Alister Henskens said the number of people commencing apprenticeships and traineeships in NSW has sky-rocketed since the launch of the program.

“JobTrainer is all about helping people get the skills they need for the job they want, while helping drive our economic recovery from the pandemic,” Mr Henskens said.

“Whether you’re a young person exploring your career or someone wanting to re-skill for an in-demand industry, JobTrainer can provide the fee-free training to help you kick-start your journey.”

JobTrainer is a joint State and Federal funded program, which is injecting $637 million into the NSW skills and training market.

Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards 2022: Entries Close June 30th

Details and more at:

There's also a special History page running this Issue for you - the Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar, after whom the Electorate of Mackellar is named, had a house here in Pittwater at Lovett Bay.

 “Our poets are encouraged to take inspiration from wherever they may find it, however if they are looking for some direction, competition participants are invited to use this year’s optional theme to inspire their entries.”

In 2022, the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society has chosen the theme “In My Opinion.” 

As always, it is an optional theme. The Society encourages students to write about topics and experiences that spark their poetic genius (in whatever form they choose.)




Primary school and secondary school entries can be submitted anytime during the competition period. Visit:

Local Women Named In Australian Gridiron Squad

Newport rugby's Kirisitiana Osborne has been named to play for Australia in the Australian Women’s Outback Travel Squad for the Women’s World Championship of Gridiron to be played in Finland in July 2022. Kirisitiana is one of three Northern Sydney Gridiron Club Rebels players named this week as part of a 45 women Australian squad, with Keira Boots and Brooke Mugridge being the other Rebels players.

Kevin Wilson, Head Coach of the Australian Women's Outback, made the announcement on Thursday May 5th, stating;

''I am confident these athletes will uphold with pride, the honour of being an Australian representative and will conduct themselves as ambassadors for the sport in true Australian spirit.''

Gridiron Australia is the recognised governing body of American Football in Australia. Ter are, to date, 121 teams and 3175 players of this sport across Australia in all places except the Northern Territory.

The 2022 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship, is taking place in Vantaa, Finland from July 28-August 8. 

The lineup will include the host nation and defending European Champion Finland, along with the reigning World Champions, Team USA. They will be joined by the 2017 World Championship silver and bronze medallists, Canada and Mexico, as well as the 2019 European silver and bronze medallists, Sweden and Great Britain, the 2015 European bronze medallists, Germany, and Australia, which was coached at the 2017 World Championship by Dr. Jen Welter. Dr. Welter became the NFL’s first female coach in 2015.

The Northern Sydney Gridiron club's website states the club was founded in 2014 by former club president Stephen Armstrong. Stephen grew up on the Northern Beaches, but moved to Perth after school. He had a successful stint playing football in WA for the Perth Blitz before relocating home to NSW in 2013.  After playing one season with the UNSW Raiders he decided to start his own football club. 

Stephen sent a proposal to the sports governing body, Gridiron NSW, and was put in contact with a man by the name of Scott Davoren. Scott was a former North Western Predator who had been out of the game for a few years but was more than willing to help establish a new club. The word was put out in early 2014 on the clubs newly formed Facebook page and after a hugely successful first turn out the founding members of the club made the decision to push forward and get on the pitch for the upcoming season.

The club considered several names including The Spartans, Saxons, Owls and even the Redbacks in honour of the historical Manly side from the 1990s. In the end it was unanimously decided to settle on the mantle of the Rebels. 

Fast forward to today, and the club has moved forward in leaps and bounds. The Division 1 men's team was the first team to record a win in their initial season in GNSW history, and have since had playoff berths in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, barely missing out on a spot in the Waratah Bowl in 2017. The club has grown exponentially since its inception, developing its colts and women's programs to the same level of success, as can be seen from this week's announcement.

If you want to try it out there's an event coming up locally in a few weeks time:

Young Writers’ Competition 2022

Young people across the Northern Beaches are encouraged to enter this year’s Young Writers’ Competition for their chance to be published.  

Now in its 13th year, the annual competition is open to students from kindergarten to grade 12 who live or go to school on the Northern Beaches. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘rise’.

“The Northern Beaches is home to some very talented young writers, and I continue to be blown away by the creativity and skill of entrants in our annual Young Writers’ Competition,” Mayor Michael Regan said.

“It’s time for young writers to once again rise and shine and show us what they’ve got. More than 500 stories were submitted in last year’s competition, and we suspect this year will be just as competitive.”

Entrants can write on any topic or theme but must include a derivation of the word ‘rise’. Entries will be grouped by age and judged according to characterisation, originality, plot, and language.

Four finalists will be chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night on Wednesday 10 August, where a winner, runner-up, and two highly commended prizes are awarded.

Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook which is added to the Northern Beaches Council Library collection.  

Entries close Tuesday 31 May 2022.  Entrants must be members of the Northern Beaches Council Library Service.  

Complete the online entry form and attach your story as a Word document. If your story is hand-written, then a clear, readable photo or scanned PDF can be submitted. 

Not a member of the library? Don't worry, Council will use this form to create a membership for you. Just mark 'no' under the library member field in the online form. If you are a member and unsure of your library card number, just mark 'yes' in the library member field in the online form and Council will find your library membership number. 

Entries are judged according to characterisation, originality, plot and use of language and arranged into six different age group categories.

Four finalists are chosen in each age category and invited to a presentation night where a winner, runner-up and two highly commended prizes are awarded. Finalists from each category will have their stories published in an eBook that will be added to Council's collection. 

For more information visit Council's library.  

Word Of The Week: Breathe

Word of the Week returns in 2022 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix.

1. to take in oxygen from (the surrounding medium, esp air) and give out carbon dioxide; respire. 2. (intransitive) to exist; be alive 3. (intransitive) to rest to regain breath, composure, etc 4. (intransitive)
(esp of air) to blow lightly 5. (intransitive) machinery a. to take in air, esp for combustion b. to equalise the pressure within a container, chamber, etc, with atmospheric pressure 6. (transitive) phonetics
to articulate (a speech sound) without vibration of the vocal cords 7. to exhale or emit 8. (transitive) to impart; instil 9. (transitive) to speak softly; whisper 10. (transitive) to permit to rest 11. (intransitive) (of a material) to allow air to pass through so that perspiration can evaporate

Word origin - 13th Century from Breath - from Middle English brethen < breth, breath, ‘to burn’, from Old English braeth, related to braedan ‘to burn’, Old English brǣth ‘smell, scent’, from Old English ēþian and orþian (“to breathe”); as well as Middle English anden, onden, from Old Norse anda (“to breathe”), of Germanic origin; related to brood. Old High German bradam ‘heat, breath’. 

The Corrs - Breathless [Official Video]

Breathless is the first single by The Corrs from their third studio album, In Blue, released 2009.

Air That I Breathe – The Hollies, 1974

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Breathless

Jimi Hendrix - The Wind Cries Mary(Live In Stockholm 1967)

Louis Armstrong - What A Wonderful World (Original Spoken Intro Version) ABC Records 1967 - Take A Deep Breath And Just Exhale!

Sydney Pro Junior At Manly Beach: Ellie Harrison And Levi Slawson Win

Sunday, May 15, 2022
Report by World Surf League
Ellie Harrison (AUS) and Levi Slawson (USA) have won the  Harvey Norman Sydney Pro Junior Women's and Men's divisions at Manly Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches. The finals day enjoyed high performance clean 2 to 3 feet surf  and both finals saw high scores and multiple lead changes. 

As a lead in to the Challenger Series event which began on Tuesday, almost 100 competitors turned out vying for WSL Pro Junior points as they look to lock in a spot at the 2022 World Surf League (WSL) World Junior Championships later this year.

For Victoria's Ellie Harrison, today's win sees her increase her lead on the Australian Pro Junior Series rankings and the young surfer who turns 17 years of age later this week is superbly placed to qualify for the WSL World Junior Finals at the end of the year. The top two ranked surfers from each region qualify for the finals and with Sierra Kerr (Gold Coast/Qld) placing runner-up today, she also improved her overall 2nd placed ranking and both Ellie and Sierra are strongly positioned to hold down these qualifying positions.

Ellie Harrison. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers 

"My goal for this year has always been to win the Pro Junior Series and qualify for the WSL World Junior Finals and today's result certainly get me closer to getting there but there's still a few events remaining so I have to remain focused" said Harrison. "This has been a fun event and the waves are small but they are also quite good allowing for plenty of scoring potential so it's pleasing to take a win in Sydney."

Isabella Caldow (Qld/Sunshine Coast) and Jesse Starling (NSW/North Narrabeen) placed 3rd and 4th in today's final.

Jesse Starling. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers 

Men's Pro Junior winner Levi Slawson (USA) only gained a late entry into this event when a spot became vacant in the draw yesterday. The talented exciting Californian surfer is here to surf the main WSL Challenger Series event which begins on Tuesday but used the opportunity to surf the Pro Junior to warm-up for the main event.

"Surfing against Australia's top Pro Juniors was the ideal way for me get familiar with the waves at Manly Beach" said Slawson. "Every heat has been hard fought and the final was amazing with all four of us scoring big and all a chance of winning right to the end - I'm stoked to take the win and I'm ready for the Challenger event."

Levi Slawson. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers 

Slawson defeated Marlon Harrison (Qld/Gold Coast) in a high quality final with Taj Stokes (Qld/Sunshine Coast) 3rd and Ty Richardson (Qld/Gold Coast) in 4th.

Marlon Harrison. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers

For more information head to or on the Free WSL App. 

Sydney Pro Junior at Manly Beach Harvey Norman Pro Junior Winners. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers 
Sydney Pro Junior at Manly Beach Harvey Norman Pro Junior Winners. Credit: WSL / Cait Miers 

Cluttercore: Gen Z’s revolt against millennial minimalism is grounded in Victorian excess

Andreas von Einsiedel/Alamy
Vanessa BrownNottingham Trent University

Have you heard maximalism is in and minimalism is out? Rooms bursting at the seams with clashing florals, colourful furniture and innumerable knick-knacks, this is what defines the new interiors trend cluttercore (or bricabracomania).

Some say it’s a war between generation Z (born 1997-2012) and minimal millennials (born 1981-1996), symptomatic of bigger differences. Others say it’s a pandemic response, where our domestic prisons became cuddly cocoons, stimulating our senses, connecting us with other people and places. But what really lays behind the choice to clutter or cull?

Why do some people revel in collections of novelty eggcups? Or have so many framed pictures you can barely see the (ferociously busy) wallpaper? And why do those at the other end of the spectrum refuse to have even the essential stuff visible in the home, hiding it behind thousands of pounds’ of incognito cupboards?

Quarter life, a series by The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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One important reason for the clash between minimalism and maximalism is simple: the relentless pendulum swing of fashion. Whatever psychological or cultural rationale pundits may suggest, fashion is always about the love of what strikes us as new or different.

This struggle might seem new but it is just history repeating itself, encapsulated in the interior struggle between less and more that began between class-ridden Victorian commodity culture and modernism’s seemingly healthy and egalitarian dream.

A Lot Of Stuff

Victorians liked stuff that they could put on display. These things communicated their status through solid evidence of capital, connectedness, signs of exotic travel and colonial power. Think inherited antique cabinets and Chinese ivory animals. Then imagine the labour required to not only create, but polish, dust, manage and maintain these myriad possessions.

But this deluge of stuff was made possible for more people as mass-produced commodities – especially those created from synthetic materials – became cheaper.

All this created a novel and lasting problem: how to choose and how to organise a world with so much aesthetic possibility – how to make things “go together”. The 19th and 20th-century guardians of culture and the “public good” were just as concerned about the spiritual chaos of too much clutter as modern “organisational consultants” like Marie Kondo.

In response, they set up design schools and educational showcases, like the Great Exhibition of 1851, the 1930 New York World’s Fair and the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Very Little Stuff

The minimalist mantra “less is more”, courtesy of German art school the Bauhaus was established in the 1920s. For some modernists, “needless decoration” was a sign of an “uncivilised” (read feminine and non-white) mind. They nevertheless also looked to “primitive” cultures for bold aesthetics and authenticity superior to western excess.

Modernists believed that simplicity and elegant functionality, enabled by mass production and cost-effective new materials (like tubular steel and plywood), could promote social equality in interior design. They had a point. Without staff, what working person can, realistically, keep “curated” clutter looking cool (and clean)?

A mid-century modern room with desk and bookcase.
Modernists revolted against the interior excess of the Victorians, favouring sleek design with clean lines.

But, what about “cosiness”? That feeling, described in the 1990s as “cocooning or providing a "warm welcome” to guests?

1980s American study found that the “homeyness” desired in interiors was achieved by successive circles of stuff – from the white picket fence, to the wisteria on the exterior walls, the wallpaper, pictures and bookshelves lining the interior walls and then furniture arranged also in roughly circular formations.

These layers would then be overlain with decorations and texture, making symbolic entry points as well as enclosures. “Homey” was aesthetically the total opposite of modern minimalism, whose “functionality” was perceived as cold, unsympathetic and unwelcoming.

Despite this popular rejection, modernism was the postwar default for European “good taste”, seen in design HQs and high-end interiors magazines. But wasn’t it all not just uncomfortable, but also a bit boring? And, unfortunately, every bit as unforgiving without a lot of cash and a team of cleaners?

Modernism on the cheap is just depressing (see the concrete blocks of 1960s UK council flats). Sleek built-in cupboards cost a lot. And smooth, unadorned surfaces show every speck of dirt.

Rebelling against modernist mantras, 1980s design sought to put “the fun back into function” for sophisticates. However, ordinary people were always buying fun stuff, from plastic pineapples to granny chic knick knacks.

The Impossibility Of It All

Nowadays, the “safe” and default mainstream option is a broadly-defined “modern” look characterised by Ikea. But it’s not really minimalist. This look encourages an accumulation of stuff that never quite functions or fits together and which still fills a room according to the ethos of homeyness – even though each object may “look modern”.

It fails to tell a convincing story of the self or remain tidy, prompting further purchases of “storage solutions”. Minimalists strip this back to a minimum of objects with a neutral palette. Fewer mistakes equals less chucking out. Less stuff equals less to change when you tire of it.

But minimalism is more difficult than ever. We are powerless against the tides of half-wanted incoming consumer stuff – especially if you have children – which makes achieving minimalism all the more impressive. People who do achieve it frame their shots with care and they chuck a lot of stuff away.

Making a more elastic aesthetic look good is also difficult, maybe more difficult. Clutter lovers range from sub-pathological hoarders, to upper middle-class apers of aristocratic eclecticism, to ethical “keepers”. An aesthetic mess can look like an accidental loss of human control, identity or hope. It takes a lot to make harmony out of all that potential noise – and keep it tidy.

Cluttercore is perfect for now, a vehicle to display the curated self, the “interesting” and “authentic” self so demanded by social media. And it hides behind the idea that anything goes, when in fact, maybe some things must.The Conversation

Vanessa Brown, Course Leader MA Culture, Style and Fashion, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Loch Ness monster: a modern history

The so-called ‘surgeon’s photograph’ taken by gynaecologist Robert Wilson (actually made from a toy submarine) first published in the Daily Mail in 1934. Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Charles PaxtonUniversity of St Andrews

Reports of Loch Ness monster sightings keep coming. The latest report, accompanied by a video, is of a 20-30ft long creature occasionally breaking the water’s surface. Although the video clearly shows a moving v-shaped wake it does not reveal the underlying source. The witnesses certainly saw something, but what?

There have been over 85 theories of what the Loch Ness monster is, ranging from the prosaic (wind slicks, reflections, plant debris and boat wakes) to the zoological implausible (anacondas, killer whales and the ocean sunfish) to the frankly bonkers (ghost dinosaurs). The people who came up with these theories were not necessarily that familiar with the loch.

Many early suggestions by foreign zoologists implied they thought the loch was saltwater, which explains suggestions of sunfishes, whales, sharks and rays. Some theories have been reinvented independently, showing the ingenuity of each generation of Nessie inventors. For example, the idea that the Loch Ness monster was originally a swimming elephant from a visiting circus, resurfaced three times, in 1934, 1979 and 2005. Each time, the person claimed the idea was original.

Nessie The Reptile

However, it was the notion of the Loch Ness monster as a prehistoric reptile that really captured the public’s imagination in the 1930s. Nessie’s modern genesis really started in April 1933. The first eyewitness reports of a strange animal in the loch started in 1930.

Yet it would only be in August of 1933 that witness George Spicer, who saw Nessie on land, first suggested that the creature was a reptile. Until then informed commentators assumed that if there was an animal in the loch, it was some sort of vagrant freshwater animal like a seal that had made its way from the Moray Firth. Spicer just described it as a prehistoric reptile. He claimed it had a long neck which allowed a journalist five days later to suggest it was a plesiosaur, a type of long-necked marine reptile from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. One (but not the only one) popular image of the Loch Ness monster was born.

The fact that the plesiosaur image of Nessie arose in August 1933 casts doubt on Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero’s (2013) theory Nessie originated with the highly popular 1933 King Kong film with its portrayal of a man-eating, long-necked, swamp-dwelling reptile. It’s more likely that King Kong only influenced rather than created the modern Nessie. The very first sightings of the Loch Ness monster were in 1930 and although there were more sightings in 1933, they started in April before King Kong was screened in Scotland.

She’s Complicated

Most reports of the Loch Ness monster don’t feature long necks. Biochemist (and Nessie investigator) Roy Mackal said in 1976 there were over 10,000 reports of the Loch Ness monster but gave no evidence to back this, and a table in his book Monsters of Loch Ness only contains 251 reports. I know of 1,452 distinct encounters. Only about 20% of the reports mention a neck of any length, so it is not the monster’s normal form. Also less than 1% of creatures in the reports are described as reptilian or scaly. So I think it reasonable to assume that whatever the reported phenomena of the Loch Ness monster is founded on, it is not based on glimpses of a prehistoric reptile.

Artist's impression of the Loch Ness Monster
Yulia Bogomolova/Shutterstock

In reality, the Loch Ness monster has multiple identities. It may not be a walrus, moose, camel or visiting extra-terrestrials, as some have suggested, but could be a myriad of anthropogenic (boats, wakes, debris) and natural (animals, vegetation mats) and physical phenomena (wind effects, reflections). The Loch Ness monster can vary in colour from pink to black, it can be matt or glossy, furry or scaly. It can have humps and manes, it can have horns and travel at great speed or not move at all. No one identity captures the variety of Nessie’s reported features.

This suggests that Nessie is a function of human psychology rather than nature. And perhaps it is human psychology rather than nature that has sustained the idea of Nessie since the 1930s.

So what did the latest witnesses see? The reality is we have too little information to reach a firm conclusion about what was happening in the video footage. The problem with the vast majority of Nessie reports, is that they simply lack details you need to identify an animal. And any details that are reported may be misinterpretations. The fact that the visible wake moves indicates it was an actual animal (rather than snagged vegetation). But was it a 20-30ft animal or some waterfowl or an otter under the water that created a large wake in smooth water? We will simply never know.The Conversation

Charles Paxton, Research Fellow, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A fossil tooth places enigmatic ancient humans in Southeast Asia

Fabrice Demeter (University of Copenhagen / CNRS Paris)Author provided
Kira WestawayMacquarie UniversityMike W MorleyFlinders University, and Renaud Joannes-BoyauSouthern Cross University

What do a finger bone and some teeth found in the frigid Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai mountains have in common with fossils from the balmy hills of tropical northern Laos?

Not much, until now: in a Laotian cave, an international team of researchers including ourselves has discovered a tooth belonging to an ancient human previously only known from icy northern latitudes – a Denisovan.

The find shows these long-lost relatives of Homo sapiens inhabited a wider area and range of environments than we previously knew, confirming hints found in the DNA of modern human populations from Southeast Asia and Australasia.

Who Were The Denisovans?

Little is known about these distant cousins of modern humans, except that they once lived in Asia, were related to and interacted with the better-known Neanderthals, and are now extinct.

The first traces of Denisovans were only found in 2010, with the discovery of an innocuous finger bone in remote Denisova Cave. The extreme cold of the cave meant some ancient DNA was preserved in the bone – and the DNA revealed the finger had belonged to an unknown species of human.

This discovery changed the course of human evolutionary studies, and the newly discovered humans were named Denisovans after the cave where the fossil was found.

The first traces of the Denisovans were found at Denisova Cave in Siberia in 2010. Mike Morley (Flinders University)Author provided

Fossilised teeth from Denisovans were later discovered in the same cave. Two upper and one lower molar were found in sediments that were dated to between 195,000 and 52,000 years ago.

Meanwhile, it was found that genes from Denisovans survived in modern day people from Southeast Asia and Australasia. This implied that the Denisovans had dispersed over a far larger area than anticipated.

The Hunt For More Fossils

The hunt was on to find more evidence of these humans outside Russia, but scientists had no idea what they actually looked like. For the first time in history we knew more about a human’s DNA than their anatomy!

The next twist came when a 160,000-year-old Denisovan jawbone surfaced on the Tibetan Plateau, giving the scientific community a tantalising glimpse of what the bodies of these ancient humans were like and where they lived.

But questions remained: just how far did they spread in Asia, and how did their genetic imprint survive in Southeast Asians and Australasians?

Clearly Denisovans could live in the cold environments of Siberia and Tibet, but could they have also occupied a completely different ecological niche and adapted to a tropical climate?

Tam Ngu Hao 2 (Cobra Cave)

Enter a new cave found by an international (Laos–French–American–Australian) team in northern Laos in 2018, close to the famous Tam Pa Ling cave where 70,000-year-old modern human fossils were found.

The site, named Tam Ngu Hao 2 (or Cobra Cave), was found high up in the limestone mountains and contained remnants of old cave sediment packed with fossils.

The cave sediments contained teeth from giant herbivores, such as ancient elephants and rhinos that liked to live in woodland environments. The teeth were likely washed into the cave during a flooding event that deposited the sediments and fossils.

These sediments were covered by a layer of very hard rock called flowstone, which is formed by water flowing over the cave floor. The sediments and fossils were dated by this study to provide an age for the time of deposition in the cave, and by association a minimum age for the death of the animals.

A Young Girl’s Tooth

A human tooth (a lower permanent molar) was found in the cave sediments, but we could not initially identify what species of human it came from. The humid conditions in Laos meant that the ancient DNA was not preserved.

This tooth likely belonged to a young Denisovan girl who lived around 150,000 years ago. Fabrice Demeter (University of Copenhagen / CNRS Paris)Author provided

We did however find ancient proteins that suggested the tooth came from a young, likely female, human – probably between 3.5 and 8.5 years old.

After very detailed analysis of the shape of this tooth, our team identified many similarities to the Denisovan teeth found on the Tibetan Plateau. This suggested the tooth’s owner was most likely a Denisovan who lived between 164,000 and 131,000 years ago in the warm tropics.

An Ancient Human Hotspot

This fossil represents the first discovery of Denisovans in Southeast Asia, and shows that Denisovans were at least as far south as Laos. This is in agreement with the genetic evidence found in modern day Southeast Asian populations.

They may have been just at home in the balmy tropical climates of Laos as the icy conditions of northern Europe and the high-altitude environments of the Tibetan Plateau. This suggests the Denisovans were very good at adapting to diverse environments.

It would seem that Southeast Asia was a hotspot of diversity for humans. At least five different species set up camp there at different times: Homo erectus, the Denisovans/Neanderthals, Homo floresiensisHomo luzonensis, and Homo sapiens.

How many of these species overlapped and interacted? Another fossil discovered in the dense network of Southeast Asian caves could provide the next clue to understanding these complex relationships.The Conversation

Kira Westaway, Associate professor, Macquarie UniversityMike W Morley, Associate Professor, Flinders University, and Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Associate Professor, Southern Cross University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wrong, Elon Musk: the big problem with free speech on platforms isn’t censorship. It’s the algorithms

Kai RiemerUniversity of Sydney and Sandra PeterUniversity of Sydney

Imagine there is a public speaking square in your city, much like the ancient Greek agora. Here you can freely share your ideas without censorship.

But there’s one key difference. Someone decides, for their own economic benefit, who gets to listen to what speech or which speaker. And this isn’t disclosed when you enter, either. You might only get a few listeners when you speak, while someone else with similar ideas has a large audience.

Would this truly be free speech?

This is an important question, because the modern agoras are social media platforms – and this is how they organise speech. Social media platforms don’t just present users with the posts of those they follow, in the order they’re posted.

Rather, algorithms decide what content is shown and in which order. In our research, we’ve termed this “algorithmic audiencing”. And we believe it warrants a closer look in the debate about how free speech is practised online.

Our Understanding Of Free Speech Is Too Limited

The free speech debate has once more been ignited by news of Elon Musk’s plans to take over Twitter, his promise to reduce content moderation (including by restoring Donald Trump’s account) and, more recently, speculation he might pull out of the deal if Twitter can’t prove the platform isn’t inundated with bots.

Musk’s approach to free speech is typical of how this issue is often framed: in terms of content moderation, censorship and matters of deciding what speech can enter and stay on the platform.

But our research reveals this focus misses how platforms systematically interfere with free speech on the audience’s side, rather than the speaker’s side.

Outside the social media debate, free speech is commonly understood as the “free trade of ideas”. Speech is about discourse, not merely the right to speak. Algorithmic interference in who gets to hear which speech serves to directly undermine this free and fair exchange of ideas.

If social media platforms are “the digital equivalent of a town square” committed to defending free speech, as both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Musk argue, then algorithmic audiencing must be considered for speech to be free.

How It Works

Algorithmic audiencing happens through algorithms that either amplify or curb the reach of each message on a platform. This is done by design, based on a platform’s monetisation logic.

Newsfeed algorithms amplify content that keeps users the most “engaged”, because engagement leads to more user attention on targeted advertising, and more data collection opportunities.

This explains why some users have large audiences while others with similar ideas are barely noticed. Those who speak to the algorithm achieve the widest circulation of their ideas. This is akin to large-scale social engineering.

At the same time, the workings of Facebook’s and Twitter’s algorithms remain largely opaque.

How It Interferes With Free Speech

Algorithmic audiencing has a material effect on public discourse. While content moderation only applies to harmful content (which makes up a tiny fraction of all speech on these platforms), algorithmic audiencing systematically applies to all content.

So far, this kind of interference in free speech has been overlooked, because it’s unprecedented. It was not possible in traditional media.

And it is relatively recent for social media as well. In the early days messages would simply be sent to one’s follower network, rather than subjected to algorithmic distribution. Facebook, for example, only started filling newsfeeds with the help of algorithms that optimise for engagement in 2012, after it was publicly listed and faced increased pressure to monetise.

Only in the past five years has algorithmic audiencing really become a widespread issue. At the same time, the extent of the issue isn’t fully known because it’s almost impossible for researchers to gain access to platform data.

But we do know addressing it is important, since it can drive the proliferation of harmful content such as misinformation and disinformation.

We know such content gets commented on and shared more, attracting further amplification. Facebook’s own research has shown its algorithms can drive users to join extremist groups.

What Can Be Done?

Individually, Twitter users should heed Elon Musk’s recent advice to re-organise their newsfeeds back to chronological order, which would curb the extent of algorithmic audiencing being applied.

You can also do this for Facebook, but not as a default setting – so you’ll have to choose this option every time you use the platform. It’s the same case with Instagram (which is also owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta).

What’s more, switching to chronological order will only go so far in curbing algorithmic audiencing – because you’ll still get other content (apart from what you directly opt-in to) which will target you based on the platform’s monetisation logic.

And we also know only a fraction of users ever change their default settings. In the end, regulation is required.

While social media platforms are private companies, they enjoy far-ranging privileges to moderate content on their platforms under section 230 of the US’s Communications Decency Act.

In return, the public expects platforms to facilitate a free and fair exchange of their ideas, as these platforms provide the space where public discourse happens. Algorithmic audiencing constitutes a breach of this privilege.

As US legislators contemplate social media regulation, addressing algorithmic audiencing must be on the table. Yet, so far it has hardly part of the debate at all – with the focus squarely on content moderation.

Any serious regulation will need to challenge platforms’ entire business model, since algorithmic audiencing is a direct outcome of surveillance capitalist logic – wherein platforms capture and commodify our content and data to predict (and influence) our behaviour – all to turn a profit.

Until we are regulating this use of algorithms, and the monetisation logic that underpins it, speech on social media will never be free in any genuine sense of the word.The Conversation

Kai Riemer, Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, University of Sydney and Sandra Peter, Director, Sydney Business Insights, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stimulating Brain Circuits Promotes Neuron Growth In Adulthood; Improving Cognition And Mood

May 16, 2022
We humans lose mental acuity, an unfortunate side effect of aging. And for individuals with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, the loss of cognitive function often accompanied by mood disorders such as anxiety is a harrowing experience. One way to push back against cognitive decline and anxiety would be to spur the creation of new neurons. For the first time, University of North Carolina School of Medicine scientists have targeted a specific kind of neuron in mice to increase the production of neural stem cells and spur on the creation of new adult neurons to affect behaviour.

Targeting these cells, as reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, modulated memory retrieval and altered anxiety-like behaviours in mice. Essentially, the UNC scientists boosted the electrical activity between cells in the hypothalamus and the hippocampus to create new neurons -- an important process called neurogenesis.

"Targeting the hypothalamic neurons to enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis will not only benefit brain functions," said senior author Juan Song, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology, "but also holds the potential to treat cognitive and affective deficits associated with various brain disorders."

Most neurons we carry for life were created before we were born and get organized during early childhood. But such neurogenesis continues into adulthood and throughout life. In fact, one of the reasons for cognitive decline and anxiety, and even diseases such as Alzheimer's, is the suspension of neurogenesis.

Song, a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center, has been studying the detailed interplay between brain cells that keep neurogenesis chugging along. She knew that adult hippocampal neurogenesis plays a critical role in memory and emotion processing, and that neural circuit activity -- think 'electrical activity' -- regulates this process in a constantly changing manner.

What no one knew is whether this neural circuit activity could be manipulated to spur neurogenesis to such a degree that the effect would be seen as a changed behaviour, such as better memory or less anxiety.

To see the effect of modulating neural activity, the Song lab conducted experiments led by co-first authors Ya-Dong Li, PhD, and Yan-Jia Luo, PhD, both postdoctoral fellows. They used optogenetics -- essentially a method using light to trigger neuronal activity -- in a small brain structure called supramammillary nucleus (SuM). The SuM is located inside the hypothalamus region of the brain; it helps manage things from cognition to locomotion and sleep/wakefulness.

When Song's researchers chronically stimulated the SuM neurons, they discovered a robust promotion of neurogenesis at multiple stages. They observed increased production of neural stem cells and the creation of new adult-born neurons with enhanced properties. Optogenetic stimulation of these new neurons then altered memory and anxiety-like behaviors.

"We also show that the SuM neurons are highly responsive when the mice experienced new things in their environment," Song said. "In fact, in a new environment, mice require these cells for neurogenesis."

Impaired adult hippocampal neurogenesis correlates with many pathological states, such as aging, neurodegenerative diseases, and mental disorders. "Therefore," Song added, "targeting the hypothalamic neurons to enhance adult hippocampal neurogenesis will not only benefit brain functions but also holds the potential to treat cognitive and affective deficits associated with various brain disorders."

Ya-Dong Li, Yan-Jia Luo, Ze-Ka Chen, Luis Quintanilla, Yoan Cherasse, Libo Zhang, Michael Lazarus, Zhi-Li Huang, Juan Song. Hypothalamic modulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis in mice confers activity-dependent regulation of memory and anxiety-like behavior. Nature Neuroscience, 2022; 25 (5): 630 DOI: 10.1038/s41593-022-01065-x

New Tool To Create Hearing Cells Lost In Aging

Hearing loss due to aging, noise and certain cancer therapy drugs and antibiotics has been irreversible because scientists have not been able to reprogram existing cells to develop into the outer and inner ear sensory cells -- essential for hearing -- once they die.

But Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a single master gene that programs ear hair cells into either outer or inner ones, overcoming a major hurdle that had prevented the development of these cells to restore hearing.

The study was published in Nature May 4.

"Our finding gives us the us the first clear cell switch to make one type versus the other," said lead study author Jaime Garcia-Anoveros, professor of anesthesia, neurology and neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It will provide a previously unavailable tool to make an inner or outer hair cell. We have overcome a major hurdle."

About 8.5 percent of adults aged 55 to 64 in the U.S. have disabling hearing loss. That increases to nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, scientists can produce an artificial hair cell, but it does not differentiate into an inner or outer cell, which provide different essential functions to produce hearing. The discovery is a major step towards developing these specific cells.

"It's like a ballet" as cells crouch and leap
The death of outer hair cells made by the cochlea are most often the cause of deafness and hearing loss. The cells develop in the embryo and do not reproduce. The outer hair cells expand and contract in response to the pressure of sound waves and amplify sound for the inner hair cells. The inner cells transmit those vibrations to the neurons to create the sounds we hear.

"It's like a ballet," Garcia-Anoveros says with awe as he describes the coordinated movement of the inner and outer cells. "The outers crouch and jump and lift the inners further into the ear.

"The ear is a beautiful organ. There is no other organ in a mammal where the cells are so precisely positioned. (I mean, with micrometric precision). Otherwise, hearing doesn't occur."

The master gene switch Northwestern scientists discovered that programs the ear hair cells is TBX2. When the gene is expressed, the cell becomes an inner hair cell. When the gene is blocked, the cell becomes an outer hair cell. The ability to produce one of these cells will require a gene cocktail, Garcia-Anoveros said. The ATOH1 and GF1 genes are needed to make a cochlear hair cell from a non-hair cell. Then the TBX2 would be turned on or off to produce the needed inner or outer cell.

The goal would be to reprogram supporting cells, which are latticed among the hair cells and provide them with structural support, into outer or inner hair cells.

"We can now figure out how to make specifically inner or outer hair cells and identify why the later are more prone to dying and cause deafness," Garcia-Anoveros said. He stressed this research is still in the experimental stage.

Jaime García-Añoveros, John C. Clancy, Chuan Zhi Foo, Ignacio García-Gómez, Yingjie Zhou, Kazuaki Homma, Mary Ann Cheatham, Anne Duggan. Tbx2 is a master regulator of inner versus outer hair cell differentiation. Nature, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04668-3

Dementia: the quality of your night’s sleep can affect symptoms the next day – new research

It hasn’t been known until now to what extent your night’s sleep affects short-term dementia symptoms. 1113990/ PixabayCC BY
Sara BalouchUniversity of Brighton and Derk-Jan DijkUniversity of Surrey

We’ve probably all experienced how a poor night’s sleep can make us feel tired, irritable and have difficulty concentrating the next day. But while the odd night of poor sleep has no impact on our health, research shows that prolonged sleep disturbances predict cognitive decline – and are also a risk factor for dementia. Disrupted sleep is also known to be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia.

But while we know that poor sleep is connected to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on a long-term scale, until now it was unknown to what extent night-to-night variation of sleep affects dementia symptoms in the short term (such as the following day). This is something we tried to answer in our recently published study.

We found that nightly variations in sleep (such as sleeping too long or waking up in the night) had a greater effect on some aspects of brain function (such as memory and mood) the next day in people with Alzheimer’s disease compared to those with mild cognitive impairment or no cognitive impairment.

Trouble Sleeping

To conduct our study, we looked at 15 participants with Alzheimer’s, eight with mild cognitive impairment and 22 with no signs of cognitive impairment to compare the relationship between sleep and daytime function.

For two weeks, participants reported their sleep quality and how long they slept using a sleep diary. We also used an activity monitor to record objective sleep measures such as how long participants slept during the night or how long it took them to fall asleep.

To see whether the previous night’s sleep had an effect on their cognitive ability, we also phoned participants every morning to test things like their thinking ability and memory. For example, participants were asked to count backwards in sevens (calculation ability), or to recall a list of words (memory).

In addition to this, participants completed daily measures of their mood (such as how alert they were feeling) and whether they’d experienced any memory problems (such as forgetting an appointment) during a daily telephone session. To ensure that none of the participants with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s forgot to complete these tasks, we invited caregivers to help remind them. Caregivers also documented participants’ daily patterns of behaviour.

We found that greater sleep continuity (waking up fewer times during the night) was generally better for daytime performance. Participants with Alzheimer’s had improved alertness the next evening and made fewer memory errors during the day. Both participants with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment also had fewer observable behavioural problems (such as crying, aggression or asking repeated questions) the next day following higher sleep continuity.

Elderly woman sitting up in bed, unable to sleep during the night.
Waking up during the night also had an impact on behaviour. amenic181/ Shutterstock

Surprisingly, we also found that for all participants, regardless of whether they had cognitive impairment or not, greater sleep continuity was actually related to worse calculation ability the next day.

These findings persisted even when we adjusted for other factors that might impact results – such as sex, age and years of education. We also excluded participants with conditions, such as anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, which affect sleep and cognitive ability, and thus could have influenced the results.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Though our study was small, our findings seem to be in line with what other research has shown: that there’s an optimal level of sleep when it comes to some cognitive functions. This optimal level is likely to be different for each person.

Although our study didn’t look at why sleep continuity was important for next day function, one potential mechanism suggested by other research states that sleep helps clear the buildup of amyloid (a type of protein) deposits from the brain. If enough amyloid deposits aren’t removed from the brain by deep, continuous sleep, they can clump together as plaques in brain areas linked with memory and cognitive function. Amyloid plaques are also one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

But it’s still unclear why increased sleep continuity led to poorer performance in the calculation task. It may be that because the task took place in the morning, participants were experiencing sleep inertia (grogginess and cognitive impairment felt immediately after waking). Further research, where assessments are scheduled at different times of day, would need to be conducted to rule out the effects of sleep inertia.

The findings of our study also need to be interpreted with caution, given we only looked at a small number of participants – though the repeated testing if each individual meant that collectively there were about 500 opportunities for collecting data overall. It will be important for larger studies to be conducted to see whether our results can be replicated.

In future, we’d also like to measure brain waves and other physiological signals, such as body temperature and eye movement. This will help us to better identify how long people spend in different sleep stages – such as slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, which are shown to be important for learning and memory. This will help us better understand exactly what type of sleep is most important for daytime function.

Though it will be important for researchers to continue investigating this, our research makes a first step in showing just how important even a single night’s sleep is when it comes to dementia symptoms. This may very well mean it could be possible to optimise how much time a person living with dementia spends in bed and sleeping to improve their symptoms.The Conversation

Sara Balouch, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Brighton and Derk-Jan Dijk, Professor of Sleep and Physiology and Director of Surrey Sleep Research Centre, University of Surrey

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ultra-Powerful Brain Scanners Offer Hope For Treating Cognitive Symptoms In Parkinson's Disease

May 16, 2022
Ultra-powerful 7T MRI scanners could be used to help identify those patients with Parkinson's disease and similar conditions most likely to benefit from new treatments for previously-untreatable symptoms, say scientists.

Both Parkinson's disease and a related disorder, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), are progressive brain diseases that not only affect movement but also damage motivation and cognition. These latter symptoms can have a major impact on a patient's outcome, affecting their survival and general wellbeing, as well as the stress and costs for families.

To understand the causes of these cognitive symptoms, researchers at the University of Cambridge used a new ultra-high strength '7T' MRI scanner at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre to measure changes in the brains of people with Parkinson's disease, PSP, or in good health. 7T refers to the strength of the magnetic field; most MRI scanners tend to be 3T or below.

The results are published today in the journal Movement Disorders.

Patients with Parkinson's disease and PSP are often treated with drugs such as L-DOPA, which compensate for the severe loss of dopamine. But, dopamine treatment does little for many of the non-motor symptoms. That is why scientists have begun to turn their attention to noradrenaline, a chemical that plays a critical role in brain functions including attention and arousal, thinking and motivation.

Professor James Rowe from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: "Noradrenaline is very important for brain function. All of our brain's supply comes from a tiny region at the back of the brain called the locus coeruleus -- which means 'the blue spot'. It's a bit like two short sticks of spaghetti half an inch long: it's thin, it's small, and it's tucked away at the very base of the brain in the brain stem."

A study last year from Professor Rowe's team, examining brains donated to the Cambridge Brain Bank, found that some people with PSP had lost as much as 90% of the noradrenaline-producing locus coeruleus.

The question the team wanted to answer was: how could this tiny region be studied in patients who are still alive? Previous MRI scanners have not had the resolution to measure the region in living patients.

"The locus coeruleus is a devil to see on a normal scanner," said Professor Rowe. "Even good hospital scanners just can't see it very well. And if you can't measure it, you can't work out how two people differ: who's got more, who's got less? We've wanted MRI scanners to be good enough to do this for some time."

While most scanners can show structures at the level of detail of a grain of rice, 7T scanners, which have ultra-strong magnetic fields, can provide resolution at the size of a grain of sand. The scanners allowed the team to examine the locus coeruleus of their subjects and confirm that the greater the level of damage to this region, the more severe their symptoms of apathy and the worse they performed at cognitive tests.

The findings offer the hope of new treatments for these symptoms. A number of drugs that boost noradrenaline have already been through clinical trials for other conditions and hence have been shown to be safe and well tolerated. Professor Rowe and colleagues are now leading a clinical trial at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to see if these drugs alleviate symptoms in PSP.

Dr Rong Ye from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, the study's joint first author, said: "Not every PSP or Parkinson's patient is going to benefit from noradrenaline-boosting drugs. They're more likely to benefit those people with damage to their locus coeruleus -- and the greater the damage, the more benefit they're likely to see.

"The ultra-powerful 7T scanner may help us identify those patients who we think will benefit the most. This will be important for the success of the clinical trial, and, if the drugs are effective, will mean we know which patients to give the treatment to. In the long term, this will prove more cost-effective than giving noradrenaline boosters to patients who ultimately would see no benefit."

It is thought that in PSP, damage to the locus coeruleus is caused by a build-up of the junk protein tau. When noradrenaline breaks down, it appears to trigger changes in the tau protein that lead to its build-up. This then damages the same cells that produce noradrenaline, leading to a vicious circle. A similar situation may occur in Parkinson's disease

The research was supported by Parkinson's UK, the Cambridge Centre for Parkinson-Plus, the China Scholarship Council, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Fitzwilliam College, the Association of British Neurologists, Patrick Berthoud Charitable Trust, the Medical Research Council, James S. McDonnell Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Rong Ye, Claire O'Callaghan, Catarina Rua, Frank H. Hezemans, Negin Holland, Maura Malpetti, P. Simon Jones, Roger A. Barker, Caroline H. Williams‐Gray, Trevor W. Robbins, Luca Passamonti, James Rowe. Locus Coeruleus Integrity from 7 T MRI Relates to Apathy and Cognition in Parkinsonian Disorders. Movement Disorders, 2022; DOI: 10.1002/MDS.29072

Higher Antioxidant Levels Linked To Lower Dementia Risk

People with higher levels of antioxidants in their blood may be less likely to develop dementia, according to a study published in the May 4, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study found that people with the highest levels of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin in their blood were less likely to develop dementia decades later than people with lower levels of the antioxidants. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and peas. Beta-cryptoxanthin is found in fruits such as oranges, papaya, tangerines and persimmons.

"Extending people's cognitive functioning is an important public health challenge," said study author May A. Beydoun, PhD, MPH, of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, Maryland. "Antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage. Further studies are needed to test whether adding these antioxidants can help protect the brain from dementia."

The study involved 7,283 people who were at least 45 years old at the beginning of the study. They had a physical exam, interview and blood tests for antioxidant levels at the beginning of the study. They were then followed for an average of 16 years to see who developed dementia.

The participants were divided into three groups based on their levels of antioxidants in the blood. People with the highest amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin were less likely to develop dementia than those with lower levels. Every standard deviation increase in lutein and zeaxanthin levels, approximately 15.4 micromols/liter, was associated with a 7% decrease in risk of dementia. For beta-cryptoxanthin, every standard deviation increase in levels, approximately 8.6 micromols/liter, was associated with a 14% reduced risk of dementia.

"It's important to note that the effect of these antioxidants on the risk of dementia was reduced somewhat when we took into account other factors such as education, income and physical activity, so it's possible that those factors may help explain the relationship between antioxidant levels and dementia," Beydoun said.

A limitation of the study is that antioxidant levels were based on one measurement of blood levels and may not reflect people's levels over their lifetime.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.
May A. Beydoun, Hind A Beydoun, Marie T. Fanelli-Kuczmarski, Jordan Weiss, Sharmin Hossain, Jose Atilio Canas, Michele Kim Evans, Alan B. Zonderman. Association of Serum Antioxidant Vitamins and Carotenoids With Incident Alzheimer Disease and All-Cause Dementia Among US Adults. Neurology, 2022; 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200289 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200289

Treating sleep apnoea can improve memory in people with cognitive decline

Camilla HoyosUniversity of Sydney

There is increasing recognition of the important role sleep plays in our brain health. Growing evidence suggests disturbed sleep may increase the risk of developing dementia.

I and University of Sydney colleagues have published a new study showing treating sleep apnoea in older adults with mild cognitive impairment can improve memory, but not other areas of cognition, in the short term.

As there is no current treatment or cure for dementia, increasing efforts have focused on developing novel approaches to slow its progression. Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal ageing and the more serious decline of dementia.

In mild cognitive impairment, the individual, family and friends notice cognitive changes, but the individual can still successfully carry out everyday activities. Mild cognitive impairment is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia in subsequent years.

Researchers believe this is the optimal time to intervene to help prevent a future dementia diagnosis. Finding new ways to slow cognitive decline in those with mild cognitive impairment is therefore important.

How Is Sleep Important For Our Brain Health?

Sleep optimises the ability of our brains to stabilise and consolidate newly learned information and memories. These processes can occur across all the different stages of sleep, with deep sleep (also known as stage 3 or restorative sleep) playing a key role.

We also now know the glymphatic system, or the waste management system of the brain, is highly active during sleep, especially during deep sleep. This process allows waste products, including toxins, our brain has built up during the day to be cleaned out.

Toxins in the brain include beta-amyloid, one of the key proteins in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Disturbing sleep could disrupt this cleaning process and lead to more accumulation of beta-amyloid in the brain.

The important role of sleep in these vital processes has led to the investigation of whether sleep disruption, including sleep disorders, could be associated with changes in our cognition when we age, and a possible link to the development of dementia.

Older woman holding hands with young person
Sleep is important for our brain health, so researchers are looking at disrupted sleep and dementia. Shutterstock

What Is Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep apnoea is estimated to affect 1 billion people worldwide. In Australia, 5-10% of adults are diagnosed with the condition. Sleep apnoea causes the throat (also called the upper airway) to close either completely (an apnoea) or partially (a hypopnoea) during sleep.

These closures or obstructions can range from ten seconds up to one minute and can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels. To start breathing again, a short awakening occurs without the individual being aware.

In a person living with severe sleep apnoea this process can happen 30 times or more an hour, causing very fragmented sleep. People with sleep apnoea may snore, toss and turn, and others may notice them stopping breathing, choking or gasping for air during sleep. These repeated disruptions to sleep can cause sleepiness and reduce alertness during the day which, for some people, leads to difficulties performing tasks.

Does Sleep Apnoea Increase Our Risk Of Dementia?

The sleep fragmentation, as well as the drops in blood oxygen at night time, are a double blow in dementia risk. Studies have shown sleep apnoea to be associated with a 26% increase in the development of cognitive impairment, as well as greater amounts of beta-amyloid in the brain. However, it is not clear if treating sleep apnoea could reduce this risk.

The gold-standard treatment for sleep apnoea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, commonly known as CPAP, in which a mask connected to a pump blows continuous air down the upper airway, keeping it open. When the machine is being used it stops the airway from closing. It is not known whether treating sleep apnoea will reduce the risk of dementia. Our new research, however, shows CPAP could be beneficial for memory in the short term.

Man in bed with mask on his face and tubes linked to a machine.
CPAP machines force the airways to stay open. Shutterstock.

Our study aimed to understand whether treating older adults with both sleep apnoea and mild cognitive impairment could improve thinking and memory skills in the short term.

The trial assessed the effect of CPAP treatment on memory and thinking skills compared to no treatment. This was a crossover study, which means all participants had both CPAP and no treatment during the trial, but at different times. Some had CPAP first, then swapped. The others had no treatment first, then swapped. Trained staff helped participants get established with the therapy, and after using it for three months, participants underwent a series of cognitive tests.

The researchers found that compared to not treating sleep apnoea, thinking skills were not improved with CPAP, whereas some improvements in memory were observed. This suggests treating sleep apnoea could potentially improve outcomes in the short term, but it is unknown whether it would have any impact on long-term cognitive decline.

A previous study suggested CPAP could slow cognitive changes over one year in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and sleep apnoea. However, studies of longer duration are needed before we can say what the long-term effects look like.The Conversation

Camilla Hoyos, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Gambling and homelessness in older age: hidden and overlooked, but preventable

Erik Mclea/UnsplashCC BY-SA
Brian VandenbergMonash University

Gambling and homelessness are clearly linked. Australians over 50 are particularly vulnerable. They have high rates of regular gambling, and are the fastest-growing age group of Australians experiencing homelessness.

Data from homelessness services across Australia reveals older service users have the highest rates of gambling problems.

Until now, little attention has been given to the issue. For example, there’s no mention of gambling in any current state or territory homelessness strategy. This is a startling oversight, especially given Australia ranks highest globally for gambling losses per capita, according to 2016 data.

To better understand this issue, myself and a research team at Monash University studied how gambling and homelessness are linked in older adults.

We found gambling and homelessness often occur together, but the problem is generally hidden and not well measured in Australia. So it’s often overlooked by policymakers and service providers.

Higher Rates Of Harmful Gambling

We reviewed the international research on how commonly gambling and homelessness occur together, and explored the possible reasons for this in older Victorians.

Research suggests up to 60-80% of the general population gambled in the past year in countries including Australia (64%), New Zealand (86%) and the United States (82.2%). But studies find less than 30% of people experiencing homelessness report any gambling.

Person sports betting
Research consistently finds up to 80% of people have gambled. Shutterstock

However, the prevalence of harmful gambling is higher in people experiencing homelessness (10–20%) compared to the general population (approximately 1–7%). Harmful gambling is repetitive gambling resulting in recurring harms. These include financial problems, addiction, and mental health issues.

This paradox – of lower rates of past-year gambling among people experiencing homelessness but higher rates of harmful gambling – was evident across the dozen countries we examined.

The body of research we reviewed also shows the rate of experiencing periods of homelessness is disproportionately high in people who gamble harmfully.

On average, around one in six people who gamble harmfully experience housing problems or periods of homelessness.

Two-Way Relationship

To more deeply understand the relationship between gambling and homelessness in older age, we interviewed 48 workers in health care, financial counselling, gamblers’ help and homelessness services across Victoria. We looked for reasons why gambling and homelessness often occur together and what can be done to prevent the harm.

We found experiencing homelessness into older age is often accompanied by gambling. We also found gambling can contribute to older adults becoming homeless.

However, the link between gambling and homelessness in older age is often complex and indirect. Frequently, it depends on personal circumstances and societal factors outside an individual’s control.

For example, a key factor is the isolation and hardship of homelessness for older adults. This makes gambling seem attractive.

Often added to this is a mix of individual vulnerabilities, including early life adversity, substance use, mental health disorders, and relationship breakdown. The fact that gambling is readily available also contributes, along with poverty and housing insecurity.

This aligns with previous research showing gambling during homelessness is sometimes motivated out of desperation and in the hope of financial gain.

Studies also show the psychological effects of poverty, such as chronic stress, can create a feedback loop of behaviours and economic decision-making that reinforces disadvantage. For example, in our research we heard basic necessities such as shelter, food and medications were sometimes forgone because an individual had lost all of their money gambling. As one participant, who works for Gambler’s Help, said:

[…] They become that desperate that even if they have $20 left, that they can use on food, they’d rather put that in there to double it up or make some sort of jackpot.

For some people, gambling also contributes to becoming homeless for the first time in their lives at an old age. As another Gambler’s Help worker said:

[…] I’ve come across people who specifically blame their entire homelessness on gambling and basically say “I’m homeless because I gamble”. It’s pretty much just as straightforward as that.

Often, those who experience homelessness for the first time later in life have had significant, rapid losses from high-intensity gambling such as online betting or pokies.

Major life events and changes can also trigger harmful gambling in older adults, including bereavement, job loss, or relationship difficulties. Recognising these as potential markers for increased risk of gambling and homelessness in older age is important for prevention.

We found the design of high-intensity gambling products, especially pokies, and the conduct of gambling operators and creditors, can accelerate financial harm from gambling.

Person experiencing homelessness
Gambling during homelessness is sometimes motivated out of desperation. Shutterstock

What Can Be Done?

Moves signalled by Victoria’s regulators to introduce new pre-set time and loss limits on Crown Casino pokies may be a step towards preventing harm.

There’s also a need for developing and testing interventions on an individual level for people who are experiencing homelessness and gamble. However, this can be challenging, because gambling is often hidden in older homeless adults, in part because of the stigma and shame that surrounds it. This can hinder service providers’ attempts to effectively identify gambling issues and offer help.

A related challenge is that homelessness services sometimes neglect tackling gambling issues because they lack the capacity to respond, or view it as a lower priority for older homeless adults with many other pressing needs.

The recent Victorian parliamentary inquiry into homelessness acknowledged more should be done to measure how many people gamble and experience homelessness. The inquiry’s final report echoed our call to expand routine screening and early detection of gambling issues in the homeless population.

The state government’s response to the inquiry is now overdue.

Meanwhile, cuts to JobSeeker and the coronavirus supplement have seen a jump in people seeking help for homelessness nationally. And gambling losses have risen sharply since gambling venues re-opened.

It’s time to strengthen policies and improve services that can prevent and reduce the substantial but avoidable harm from gambling and homelessness in older age.The Conversation

Brian Vandenberg, Research Fellow, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Numbers Don't Lie: Australia Is Failing At Maths And We Need To Find A New Formula To Arrest The Decline

May 17, 2022
Divide, subtract, add, multiply: whatever way you cut it, Australia is heading in one direction when it comes to global maths rankings -- downwards. From an OECD mathematics ranking of 11 in the world 20 years ago, Australian secondary students are now languishing in 29th place out of 38 countries, according to the most recent statistics.

The sliding maths rankings have created widespread debate over whether curriculum changes are needed in our schools, but a new international paper co-authored by University of South Australia cognitive psychologist Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos could provide part of the solution.

In the latest edition of Integrative Psychology and Behavioural Science, Dr Marmolejo-Ramos and researchers from China and Iran explain why simple gestures such as hand motions are important in helping students understand mathematical concepts.

"Many people struggle with mathematics and there is a lot of anxiety around it because it is an abstract topic," Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says. "You see the numbers, equations and graphs, but unless you engage human motor and sensory skills, they can be very difficult to grasp."

To get maths concepts across, it is important to bring together language, speech intonation, facial expressions and hand gestures, particularly the latter, the researchers say.

"Using your hands to create triangular, spherical, circular shapes and straight lines, reflecting the formulas you are trying to explain, is vital. It helps our brain better understand the concepts and commit them to memory."

Gestures are body movements that are learnt from infancy, usually before speech, so they are ingrained in humans as a way of processing and acquiring new knowledge.

Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says hand gestures are more relevant in teaching mathematics than other subjects because they engage our sensorimotor skills to help students interpret numbers more effectively.

The shift from face-to-face teaching towards online learning in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging for maths students, Dr Marmolejo-Ramos says.

"When the only input you have is from a screen and a set of headphones, it is more difficult to use tools and gestures on screen. It's not impossible, however, and if online learning is going to become more widespread, then hand gestures should be incorporated into the online teaching."

"People struggle with mathematics for several reasons. It's progressively demanding but if you grasp the basics, the curve is not as steep."

"Gestures Enhance Executive Functions for the Understanding of Mathematical Concepts" is published in the Integrative Psychological and Behavioural Science journal. It is authored by Omid Khatin-Zadeh from the University of Electronic Science and Technology, China; Dr Zahra Eskandari from the Chabahar Maritime University, Iran; and Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos from the University of South Australia.
The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) assesses 15-year-olds' maths, science and reading skills every three years. The most recent assessment in 2019 show that Australia's performance in maths has been declining since 2003.

On average, Australian maths students are 14 months behind than where they were 20 years ago, with 46 per cent of 15-year-olds failing to meet the national standard of proficiency in mathematics.

Omid Khatin-Zadeh, Zahra Eskandari, Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos. Gestures Enhance Executive Functions for the Understating of Mathematical Concepts. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s12124-022-09694-4

Desktop Air Curtain System Prevents Spread Of COVID-19 In Hospital Settings

May 17, 2022
In efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, miniaturizing air curtains for hospital wards, labs, and other health care settings is gaining traction as a viable solution to inadequate face masks or when social distancing is not a realistic option.

In AIP Advances, published by AIP Publishing, researchers in Japan developed a desktop air curtain system (DACS) that blocks all incoming aerosol particles.

"We envisage this system will be effective as an indirect barrier for use in blood-testing labs, hospital wards, and other situations where sufficient physical distance cannot be maintained, such as at a reception counter," co-author Kotaro Takamure said.

An air curtain, or air door, is a fan-powered ventilation system that creates an air seal over an entryway. Hospitals use them to prevent ambulance fumes and other contaminants from reaching the inside of an emergency room.

One challenge in developing smaller air curtains is fully blocking emitted aerosol particles over time because it is difficult to maintain the air wall over a long distance. As a result, the devices gradually lose air-discharge intensity, creating a turbulent flow that allows infected aerosol particles to escape into the surrounding environment.

The DACS contains a discharge and suction port to help address this problem. A generator at the top of the DACS produces the airflow, which is guided to the suction port at the bottom of the device. This prevents airflow dispersion, thus leading to the collection of all the aerosol particles at the suction port. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can be installed inside the suction port for air purification.

The researchers are developing an accompanying virus inactivation system equipped with ultraviolet light that connects to the suction port. After the air is sanitized with the UV light, it is recirculated to maintain airflow of the air curtain and air pressure in the room.

The researchers tested their device by using an air compressor connected to a mannequin to simulate breathing. Dioctyl sebacate, a widely used solvent that spreads easily, was added to the airflow to create aerosol particles. Particle image velocimetry and high-speed cameras were used to determine the DACS's blocking effect.

The aerosol particles approaching the DACS abruptly bent toward the suction port, signifying that air curtain flow fully blocked all incoming aerosol particles.

When the researchers placed the mannequin's arm through the DACS to imitate a blood-collection scenario, they found the airflow above the arm was disrupted. However, the aerosol blocking performance remained unaffected.

The DACS was tested on patients during blood collection at Nagoya University Hospital. The researchers are looking at lowering the suction port, so the arm can be placed below the heart for proper blood collection.

DACS tested on patient at Nagoya University Hospital CREDIT: Junki Mikami (FUIGO)

Kotaro Takamure, Yasuaki Sakamoto, Tetsuya Yagi, Yasumasa Iwatani, Hiroshi Amano, Tomomi Uchiyama. Blocking effect of desktop air curtain on aerosols in exhaled breath. AIP Advances, 2022; 12 (5): 055323 DOI: 10.1063/5.0086659

Improved Wind Forecasts Save Consumers Millions In Energy Costs

May 17, 2022
Wind energy is occupying an increasingly large share of the energy landscape, which comes with an increasing reliance on the intermittent nature of wind.

Utilities must be able to predict wind patterns accurately and far in advance to determine how much additional energy they must produce from other sources. A bad prediction can cost the utility a lot of money, and those costs are then passed on to consumers. Conversely, a good prediction can result in substantial savings for those same customers.

In Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, by AIP Publishing, scientists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that by increasing the accuracy of weather forecasts over the last decade, consumers netted at least $384 million in energy savings during that time.

The researchers based their predictions on NOAA's High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model, which continuously provides daily weather forecasts for every part of the United States. Part of these forecasts include wind speed and direction data, which utilities can employ to gauge how much energy their turbines will produce.

Every few years, NOAA releases an updated version of the HRRR model and spends a year testing it out while keeping the previous model in place. During that testing year, NOAA researchers compare each model's forecasts to actual conditions to measure just how much each model improved over its predecessor.

"We were able to compare these models, side by side, and see when one model makes a better prediction than the other," said author Martin Shields. "And what we see over time is that the models get better at predicting wind, and that generates additional savings for utility consumers."

As expected, the newer models performed better, but the team wanted to quantify just how much better. Every difference between a predicted wind speed and a measured wind speed has a cost associated with it, from either needless operational costs or the price of extra electricity from the wholesale market.

By looking at the difference in errors from each model, the researchers were able to put a dollar amount on each upgraded model.

During the overlap model period in 2015 and again in 2017, the team calculated that if utilities had been using the newer model instead of the older one, they would have saved millions, most of which would have been passed on to consumers.

"The researchers at NOAA have been struggling for a long time to put a value on their forecast," said Shields. "They know their models are getting better, they know that people use those in important economic decisions, but they have a hard time quantifying exactly what the value of that is."

The researchers plan to turn their attention to HRRR's cost savings due to cloud cover forecasts on solar power.

Hwayoung Jeon, Brad Hartman, Harvey Cutler, Rebecca Hill, Yuchen Hu, Tao Lu, Martin Shields, David D. Turner. Estimating the economic impacts of improved wind speed forecasts in the United States electricity sector. Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, 2022; 14 (3): 036101 DOI: 10.1063/5.0081905

MRNA Vaccines Like Pfizer And Moderna Fare Better Against COVID-19 Variants Of Concern

May 17, 2022
A comparison of four COVID-19 vaccinations shows that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines -- Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna -- perform better against the World Health Organization's variants of concern (VOCs) than viral vector vaccines -- AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen. Although they all effectively prevent severe disease by VOCs, the research, publishing May 17 in the open access journal PLOS Medicine, suggests that people receiving a viral vector vaccine are more vulnerable to infection by new variants.

By March 2022, COVID-19 had caused over 450 million confirmed infections and six million reported deaths. The first vaccines approved in the US and Europe that protect against serious infection are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which deliver genetic code, known as mRNA, to the bodies' cells, whereas Oxford/AstraZeneca and J&J/Janssen are viral vector vaccines that use a modified version of a different virus -- a vector -- to deliver instructions to our cells. Three vaccines are delivered as two separate injections a few weeks apart, and J&J/Janssen as a single dose.

Marit J. van Gils at the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues, took blood samples from 165 healthcare workers, three and four weeks after first and second vaccination respectively, and for J&J/Janssen at four to five and eight weeks after vaccination. Samples were collected before, and four weeks after a Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

Four weeks after the initial two doses, antibody responses to the original SARS-CoV-2 viral strain were highest in recipients of Moderna, followed closely by Pfizer-BioNTech, and were substantially lower in those who received viral vector vaccines. Tested against the VOCs -- Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron -- neutralizing antibodies were higher in the mRNA vaccine recipients compared to those who had viral vector vaccines. The ability to neutralize VOCs was reduced in all vaccine groups, with the greatest reduction against Omicron. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster increased antibody responses in all groups with substantial improvement against VOCs, including Omicron.

The researchers caution that their AstraZeneca group was significantly older, because of safety concerns for the vaccine in younger age groups. As immune responses tend to weaken with age, this could affect the results. This group was also smaller because the Dutch government halted use for a period.

van Gils concludes, "Four COVID-19 vaccines induce substantially different antibody responses."

Marit J. van Gils, Ayesha Lavell, Karlijn van der Straten, Brent Appelman, Ilja Bontjer, Meliawati Poniman, Judith A. Burger, Melissa Oomen, Joey H. Bouhuijs, Lonneke A. van Vught, Marleen A. Slim, Michiel Schinkel, Elke Wynberg, Hugo D. G. van Willigen, Marloes Grobben, Khadija Tejjani, Jacqueline van Rijswijk, Jonne L. Snitselaar, Tom G. Caniels, Alexander P. J. Vlaar, Maria Prins, Menno D. de Jong, Godelieve J. de Bree, Jonne J. Sikkens, Marije K. Bomers, Rogier W. Sanders. Antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants induced by four different SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in health care workers in the Netherlands: A prospective cohort study. PLOS Medicine, 2022; 19 (5): e1003991 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003991

Early Earth: Tungsten Isotopes In Seawater Provide Insights Into The Co-Evolution Of Earth's Mantle And Continents

May 17, 2022
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Andrea Mundl-Petermeier and Sebastian Viehmann of the Department of Lithospheric Research at the University of Vienna have demonstrated that a new geochemical archive -- 182Tungsten in banded iron formations -- can be used to simultaneously trace both the evolution of the Earth's mantle and continents throughout Earth's history. This offers new opportunities to better understand the Precambrian Earth in the future.

In order to investigate how the Earth's mantle developed in the early Earth period, the short-lived 182Hafnium-182Tungsten isotope system has been in the focus before: 182Tungsten indicates, among other things, how much the Earth was exposed to intense meteorite impacts towards the end of its formation and how quickly Earth's mantle mixed and homogenized with these meteoritic components throughout Earth's history.

However, until now, magmatic rocks from different, but very limited relicts of ancient continents -- for example, Australia or South Africa -- had to be studied for these isotopes. Andrea Mundl-Petermeier and Sebastian Viehmann from the Department of Lithospheric Research at the University of Vienna and colleagues at the University of Cologne and Jacobs University Bremen, now discovered a new geochemical archive published it in the journal Nature Communications: tungsten isotope signatures in banded iron formations (BIFs), which predominantly formed in the Precambrian, i.e., between 3.8 billion and about 540 million years ago.

Evolution of the Earth's mantle and the continents
Using the 2.7 billion-year-old iron formation from the Temagami greenstone belt in Canada, the team was able to reconstruct that iron- and silica-rich layers deposited from seawater can simultaneously record the evolution of the Earth's mantle and crust. With state-of-the-art instruments from the GeoCosmoChronology group and the new Geoscience Solid State Mass Spectrometry (GeoIsotopes) Core Facility at the Department of Lithospheric Research, the research team obtained high-precision isotope measurements of individual bright quartz and dark iron layers.

"With the help of high-precision measurement methods, we were able to resolve small but distinct differences in 182W of individual layers," says Andrea Mundl-Petermeier from the Department of Lithospheric Research. 

The new approach now tackles the long-standing questions regarding mantle and crust evolution from a seawater perspective: banded iron ores are formed by chemical deposition from the ocean. 

"The BIFs studied from the Temagami area thus directly represent seawater chemistry 2.7 billion years ago," explains geologist Sebastian Viehmann: "We are looking at the Earth at that time from the perspective of the ocean."

Using the 2.7 billion-year-old iron formation from the Temagami greenstone belt in Canada, the team was able to reconstruct that both iron- and silica-rich layers of the BIF deposited from seawater provide information on the evolution of the Earth's mantle and crust, respectively. © Sebastian Viehmann

A. Mundl-Petermeier, S. Viehmann, J. Tusch, M. Bau, F. Kurzweil, C. Münker. Earth’s geodynamic evolution constrained by 182W in Archean seawater. Nature Communications, 2022; 13 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30423-3

In text Image (top): In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Andrea Mundl-Petermeier and Sebastian Viehmann from the Department of Lithospheric Research have demonstrated that a new geochemical archive - 182Tungsten in banded iron formations - can be used to simultaneously trace both the evolution of the Earth's mantle and continents through Earth’s history. © David Diekrup 2011

What We're Still Learning About How Trees Grow

May 13, 2022
What will happen to the world's forests in a warming world? Will increased atmospheric carbon dioxide help trees grow? Or will extremes in temperature and precipitation hold growth back? That all depends on whether tree growth is more limited by the amount of photosynthesis or by the environmental conditions that affect tree cell growth -- a fundamental question in tree biology, and one for which the answer wasn't well understood, until now.

A study led by University of Utah researchers, with an international team of collaborators, finds that tree growth does not seem to be generally limited by photosynthesis but rather by cell growth. This suggests that we need to rethink the way we forecast forest growth in a changing climate, and that forests in the future may not be able to absorb as much carbon from the atmosphere as we thought.

"A tree growing is like a horse and cart system moving forward down the road," says William Anderegg, an associate professor in the U's School of Biological Sciences and principal investigator of the study. "But we basically don't know if photosynthesis is the horse most often or if it's cell expansion and division. This has been a longstanding and difficult question in the field. And it matters immensely for understanding how trees will respond to climate change."

The study is published in Science and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability II.

Source vs. sink
We learned the basics in elementary school -- trees produce their own food through photosynthesis, taking sunlight, carbon dioxide and water and turning it into leaves and wood.

There's more to the story, though. To convert carbon gained from photosynthesis into wood requires wood cells to expand and divide.

So trees get carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This is the trees' carbon source. They then spend that carbon to build new wood cells -- the tree's carbon sink.

If the trees' growth is source-limited, then it's limited only by how much photosynthesis the tree can carry out and tree growth would be relatively easy to predict in a mathematical model. So rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should ease that limitation and let trees grow more, right?

But if instead the trees' growth is sink-limited, then the tree can only grow as fast as its cells can divide. Lots of factors can directly affect both photosynthesis and cell growth rate, including temperature and the availability of water or nutrients. So if trees are sink-limited, simulating their growth has to include the sink response to these factors.

The researchers tested that question by comparing the trees' source and sink rates at sites in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. Measuring carbon sink rates was relatively easy -- the researchers just collected samples from trees that contained records of growth. "Extracting wood cores from tree stems and measuring the width of each ring on these cores essentially lets us reconstruct past tree growth," says Antoine Cabon, a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Biological Sciences and lead author of the study.

Measuring carbon sources is tougher, but doable. Source data was measured with 78 eddy covariance towers, 30 feet tall or more, that measure carbon dioxide concentrations and wind speeds in three dimensions at the top of forest canopies, Cabon says. "Based on these measurements and some other calculations," he says, "we can estimate the total forest photosynthesis of a forest stand."

Wood cores prepared for measuring ring width. PHOTO CREDIT: Antoine Cabon

The researchers analysed the data they collected, looking for evidence that tree growth and photosynthesis were processes that are linked, or coupled. They didn't find it. When photosynthesis increased or decreased, there was not a parallel increase or decrease in tree growth.

"Strong coupling between photosynthesis and tree growth would be expected in the case where tree growth is source limited," Cabon says. "The fact that we mostly observe a decoupling is our principal argument to conclude that tree growth is not source-limited."

Surprisingly, the decoupling was seen in environments across the globe. Cabon says they did expect to see some decoupling in some places, but "we did not expect to see such a widespread pattern."

The strength of coupling or decoupling between two processes can lie on a spectrum, so the researchers were interested in what conditions led to stronger or weaker decoupling. Fruit-bearing and flowering trees, for example, exhibited different source-sink relationships than conifers. More diversity in a forest increased coupling. Dense, covered leaf canopies decreased it.

Finally, coupling between photosynthesis and growth increased in warm and wet conditions, with the opposite also true: that in cold and dry conditions, trees are more limited by cell growth.

Cabon says that this last finding suggests that the source vs. sink issue depends on the tree's environment and climate. "This means that climate change may reshape the distribution of source and sink limitations of the world forests," he says.

A new way to look forward
The key takeaway is that vegetation models, which use mathematical equations and plant characteristics to estimate future forest growth, may need to be updated. "Virtually all these models assume that tree growth is source limited," Cabon says.

For example, he says, current vegetation models predict that forests will thrive with higher atmospheric carbon dioxide. "The fact that tree growth is often sink limited means that for many forests this may not actually happen."

That has additional implications: forests currently absorb and store about a quarter of our current carbon dioxide emissions. If forest growth slows down, so do forests' ability to take in carbon, and their ability to slow climate change.

Other authors of the study include Steven A. Kannenberg, University of Utah; Altaf Arain and Shawn McKenzie, McMaster University; Flurin Babst, Soumaya Belmecheri and David J. Moore, University of Arizona; Dennis Baldocchi, University of California, Berkeley; Nicolas Delpierre, Université Paris-Saclay; Rossella Guerrieri, University of Bologna; Justin T. Maxwell, Indiana University Bloomington; Frederick C. Meinzer and David Woodruff, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Christoforos Pappas, Université du Québec à Montréal; Adrian V. Rocha, University of Notre Dame; Paul Szejner, National Autonomous University of Mexico; Masahito Ueyama, Osaka Prefecture University; Danielle Ulrich, Montana State University; Caroline Vincke, Universit. Catholique de Louvain; Steven L. Voelker, Michigan Technological University and Jingshu Wei, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Antoine Cabon, Steven A. Kannenberg, Altaf Arain, Flurin Babst, Dennis Baldocchi, Soumaya Belmecheri, Nicolas Delpierre, Rossella Guerrieri, Justin T. Maxwell, Shawn McKenzie, Frederick C. Meinzer, David J. P. Moore, Christoforos Pappas, Adrian V. Rocha, Paul Szejner, Masahito Ueyama, Danielle Ulrich, Caroline Vincke, Steven L. Voelker, Jingshu Wei, David Woodruff, William R. L. Anderegg. Cross-biome synthesis of source versus sink limits to tree growth. Science, 2022; 376 (6594): 758 DOI: 10.1126/science.abm4875

New University Of South Australia Micro Device Injects A Boost To IVF Success

May 16, 2022
A research team led by the University of Adelaide, in partnership with medical technology company Fertilis, has delivered a ground-breaking new micro-device to streamline the only fertility treatment procedure available for men with low sperm counts.

The first-of-its-kind device will allow more IVF clinics to offer Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) as a treatment, while several IVF procedures, such as embryo culture, embryo cryopreservation and in vitro maturation, will also be improved by using the device.

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) device. Image: UniSA

ICSI is a slow and difficult procedure which involves the injection of a single sperm into an egg for fertilisation, and it can only be carried out by experienced embryologists.

This new technology -- smaller than a pinhead in size -- holds up to 10 eggs in segregated positions for quicker injection, making it easier for embryologists to track and avoid the risk of errors.

Lead researcher Dr Kylie Dunning, from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute, said the device will cut treatment time in half, require less training for embryologists with less expensive equipment than current ICSI treatment and improve access to the procedure for more patients.

"The development of this new, innovative approach is an important breakthrough for people wanting to start a family who haven't been able to due to male infertility," Dr Dunning said.

"By removing the need for the pipette that normally holds the unfertilised egg in position during ICSI, this device simplifies the injection process, reduces dependency on a high level of technical experience and will dramatically improve embryo production.

"This discovery removes significant barriers to treatment for people with infertility and will improve IVF success."

Dr Kylie Dunning. Photo: UniSA

Device inventor and Fertilis co-founder, Professor Jeremy Thompson, said his company is excited to bring the breakthrough device to market.

"Where IVF science has excelled, technology has tended to stagnate -- until now," Professor Thompson said.

"ICSI hasn't changed since its discovery 30 years ago. Continued innovation in the IVF lab like this is the only way we will boost success and reduce the financial and emotional burden for patients."

The device will undergo global clinical trials in 2022.

This cutting-edge development would not have been possible without the support of the Australian Research Council and The Hospital Research Foundation Group.

Paul Flynn, Chief Executive Officer of the Hospital Research Foundation Group, said the organisation has been proud to support Dr Dunning's research during the past three years to improve IVF success rates.

"This device is set to be a game changer for thousands of hopeful parents who need to rely on ICSI," Mr Flynn said.

Primary author, Suliman Yagoub, is a PhD candidate in the School of Biomedicine at The University of Adelaide.

Suliman H. Yagoub, Jeremy G. Thompson, Antony Orth, Kishan Dholakia, Brant C. Gibson, Kylie R. Dunning. Fabrication on the microscale: a two-photon polymerized device for oocyte microinjection. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s10815-022-02485-1

Validation Brings New Predictive Capability To Global Megafire Smoke Impacts

May 17, 2022
Satellite- and ground-based observations of Australia and British Columbia blazes help increase resolution of models.
New research modelling smoke from two recent megafires sets the stage for better forecasting of how emissions from these global-scale events will behave and impact temperatures. As huge wildfires become more common under climate change, increased attention has focused on the intensity and duration of their emissions, which rival those of some volcano eruptions.

Megafires in British Columbia in 2017 and Australia in 2019-2020 injected massive amounts of smoke into the stratosphere, allowing first-ever detailed satellite- and ground-based measurements of such cataclysms. Using that data for validation, a Los Alamos National Laboratory-led team modelled the behaviour and impacts of the smoke as it rose from the lower atmosphere into the high-riding stratosphere, then circulated the globe. The research appeared in the Journal of Geophysical Research -- Atmospheres.

"This is the only time we've tracked the global scale smoke phenomenon with satellite- and ground-based observations, which allows us to improve the model and understand the impact," said Manvendra Dubey, project lead and co-author of the paper published this week in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. "The models and measurements are coming together to enhance predictability."

"As fire regimes change and enter new paradigms of behaviour under future climate change, data from past fires can't be used for prediction and assessment," said Gennaro D'Angelo, a co-author on the paper and research scientist at Los Alamos.

"The models are the only way you can forecast their smoke effects," Dubey said. "For instance, observations of the Australian fire showed that black carbon got a boost from solar heating and rose to 30 kilometers in the stratosphere, which made the plume last longer, about 16 months. Our model accounts for this self-heating phenomenon predicted by the late Robert C. Malone at Los Alamos in the 1980s -- and our new study unequivocally validates it."

Plumes have cooling effect
The 2019-2020 Australian megafire injected huge amounts of smoke and soot into the atmosphere that were observed, with global impacts on temperature as this study shows. Shading from the Australian plume lasted a few months. That effect lowered temperatures in the southern hemisphere about 0.2 degrees Celsius, information that has implications for global climate change models.

The smaller plume from the 2017 British Columbia fires did not trigger similar cooling. The study highlights when and how megafire smoke impacts global climate, much like volcanic sulphate and ash injections do.

Recent megafires in Australia and British Columbia have injected unprecedented amounts of smoke into the stratosphere. Modelling led by Los Alamos National Laboratory will help predict the effects of similar future events. Credit: David Peterson, FIREX-AQ

Gennaro D’Angelo, Steve Guimond, Jon Reisner, David A. Peterson, Manvendra Dubey. Contrasting Stratospheric Smoke Mass and Lifetime From 2017 Canadian and 2019/2020 Australian Megafires: Global Simulations and Satellite Observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 2022; 127 (10) DOI: 10.1029/2021JD036249

Scientists Identify Characteristics To Better Define Long COVID

May 17, 2022
A research team supported by the National Institutes of Health has identified characteristics of people with long COVID and those likely to have it. Scientists, using machine learning techniques, analyzed an unprecedented collection of electronic health records (EHRs) available for COVID-19 research to better identify who has long COVID. Exploring de-identified EHR data in the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C), a national, centralized public database led by NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the team used the data to find more than 100,000 likely long COVID cases as of October 2021 (as of May 2022, the count is more than 200,000). The findings appeared May 16 in The Lancet Digital Health.

Long COVID is marked by wide-ranging symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, headaches, "brain fog" and other neurological problems. Such symptoms can last for many months or longer after an initial COVID-19 diagnosis. One reason long COVID is difficult to identify is that many of its symptoms are similar to those of other diseases and conditions. A better characterization of long COVID could lead to improved diagnoses and new therapeutic approaches.

"It made sense to take advantage of modern data analysis tools and a unique big data resource like N3C, where many features of long COVID can be represented," said co-author Emily Pfaff, Ph.D., a clinical informaticist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The N3C data enclave currently includes information representing more than 13 million people nationwide, including nearly 5 million COVID-19-positive cases. The resource enables rapid research on emerging questions about COVID-19 vaccines, therapies, risk factors and health outcomes.

The new research is part of a related, larger trans-NIH initiative, Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER), which aims to improve the understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19, called post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). RECOVER will accurately identify people with PASC and develop approaches for its prevention and treatment. The program also will answer critical research questions about the long-term effects of COVID through clinical trials, longitudinal observational studies, and more.

In the Lancet study, Pfaff, Melissa Haendel, Ph.D., at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and their colleagues examined patient demographics, health care use, diagnoses and medications in the health records of 97,995 adult COVID-19 patients in the N3C. They used this information, along with data on nearly 600 long COVID patients from three long COVID clinics, to create three machine learning models to identify long COVID patients.

In machine learning, scientists "train" computational methods to rapidly sift through large amounts of data to reveal new insights -- in this case, about long COVID. The models looked for patterns in the data that could help researchers both understand patient characteristics and better identify individuals with the condition.

The models focused on identifying potential long COVID patients among three groups in the N3C database: All COVID-19 patients, patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and patients who had COVID-19 but were not hospitalized. The models proved to be accurate, as people identified as at risk for long COVID were similar to patients seen at long COVID clinics. The machine learning systems classified approximately 100,000 patients in the N3C database whose profiles were close matches to those with long COVID.

"Once you're able to determine who has long COVID in a large database of people, you can begin to ask questions about those people," said Josh Fessel, M.D., Ph.D., senior clinical advisor at NCATS and a scientific program lead in RECOVER. "Was there something different about those people before they developed long COVID? Did they have certain risk factors? Was there something about how they were treated during acute COVID that might have increased or decreased their risk for long COVID?"

The models searched for common features, including new medications, doctor visits and new symptoms, in patients with a positive COVID diagnosis who were at least 90 days out from their acute infection. The models identified patients as having long COVID if they went to a long COVID clinic or demonstrated long COVID symptoms and likely had the condition but hadn't been diagnosed.

"We want to incorporate the new patterns we're seeing with the diagnosis code for COVID and include it in our models to try to improve their performance," said the University of Colorado's Haendel. "The models can learn from a greater variety of patients and become more accurate. We hope we can use our long COVID patient classifier for clinical trial recruitment."

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and colour-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (NIAID)

Emily R Pfaff, Andrew T Girvin, Tellen D Bennett, Abhishek Bhatia, Ian M Brooks, Rachel R Deer, Jonathan P Dekermanjian, Sarah Elizabeth Jolley, Michael G Kahn, Kristin Kostka, Julie A McMurry, Richard Moffitt, Anita Walden, Christopher G Chute, Melissa A Haendel, Carolyn Bramante, David Dorr, Michele Morris, Ann M Parker, Hythem Sidky, Ken Gersing, Stephanie Hong, Emily Niehaus. Identifying who has long COVID in the USA: a machine learning approach using N3C data. The Lancet Digital Health, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/S2589-7500(22)00048-6

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.