SMC Heads-Up: Drought and climate science, superdiversity
SMC Heads-Up: Drought and climate science, superdiversity and shark questions answered
Issue 221 8-14 March 2013
More droughts could be new normal
As a lack of rainfall in the North Island increases pressure on farmers struggling to feed their animals, a senior climate scientist has warned that drought in New Zealand will likely be a more frequent occurrence in a warming world.
Drought is an "insidious threat" says climate scientist and Victoria University associate professor James Renwick, because it doesn't involve sudden, attention-grabbing extreme weather events, just days of endless "good" weather.
The golden weather that has delighted city-dwellers will haunt the country as a whole as it takes its toll on the economy to the tune of at least $1 billion, according to ANZ Bank.
Since the droughts of 2007 - 2009, which cost the country an estimated $2.8 billion, farmers have been urged to build more drought resilience into their farming systems. These measures could include paying more attention to water storage and irrigation, shifts in production timing, experimenting with different pasture species, forage crops or moving operations to less severely-affected regions.
NIWA models suggest that by the middle of the century, farmers in most North Island regions, as well as those in eastern regions of the South Island - especially Canterbury and eastern Southland, will be spending 5-10 per cent more of the year in drought.
"This means that if you spend an average of 10 per cent of your time in drought at the moment, by 2040, you might expect to spend as much as 20 per cent - although this figure will naturally vary from year to year".
Drought will likely become the "new normal" in parts of eastern and northern New Zealand, says Prof. Renwick.
"The persistent high pressure systems typical of the subtropics are already moving our way and this trend looks set to continue," he writes in this column published in The Press.
"The 'subtropical high pressure belt' is where the world's deserts are located, and that belt is edging our way as the tropical region expands outwards under a warming climate."
NIWA's 2011 report on drought is available for download here.
On the science radar...
Shark attack questions answered
How do you fight off a shark? Does peeing in the ocean attract sharks? What about underwater photography? In the wake of the fatal shark attack at Muriwai beach last week, one of New Zealand's leading shark researchers has shared his his expertise with the public online.
Dr Malcolm Francis is a fisheries scientist with NIWA and has spent years studying the biology and behaviour of sharks. In 2008 he was awarded the prestigious New Zealand Marine Sciences Society Award for his "continued outstanding contribution to marine science in New Zealand."
This week he fielded questions from New Zealand Herald readers as part of the papers Ask an Expert series.
And he also took part in an hour-long live chat with Stuff.co.nz readers on Wednesday.
His responses offer a fascinating insight to the oft-hyped world of the shark.
In addition to providing advice to swimmers and divers about dealing with sharks in the water, Dr Francis also dispels some misconceptions about sharks and shark attacks (which are very rare in New Zealand).
He also shares some of his own experiences with sharks (he has never been bitten by a live one) and personal preferences (favourite shark: Rig).
And if you were wondering about the questions posed above, Dr Francis answers: Punch it in the nose or gills (if you have time); maybe; no.
NZ's linguistic 'superdiversity'
New Zealand is 'superdiverse', having
seen unprecedented increases in the ethnic, cultural, social
and linguistic diversity in the last few decades. But how
do we, as a nation, deal with the numerous language issues
that this diversity creates?
But how do we, as a nation, deal with the numerous language issues that this diversity creates?
A new policy paper, launched this week by the Royal Society of New Zealand, outlines the importance of language in a country as ethnically diverse as New Zealand and calls for a national language policy, similar to those already in place in other developed countries.
You can access the full paper and view interactive maps of New Zealand's language distribution here.
Dr Sharon Harvey, Head of the School of Language and Culture at AUT University and member of the Society's Social Sciences and Humanities Advisory Panel, said in a media release:
"There are a number of increasingly urgent language issues in New Zealand such as: the uncertain trajectory of Te Reo Maori; the endangered languages of the New Zealand Pacific Realm; minimal recognition for community languages in the education system; and the paucity of support in New Zealand government departments for multilingual citizens, to name but a few.
"This paper helps us understand how we might address them and what the national picture looks like."
You can read a round up of media coverage of the paper on the Science Media centre website.
Quoted: New Zealand Herald
"You cannot redesign a cow as readily as you can redesign a car."
- Economics Editor Brian Fallow on NZ's emissions targets.
New from the SMC
HIV 'cure': UK experts respond to reports of an HIV-positive baby cured of their infection as questions remain regarding significance of this single success.
Shark attack: Shark expert Dr Malcom Francis answers questions for the NZ Herald and Stuff.co.nz
Diabetes:New research has highlighted the increasing prevalence of diabetes in NZ, and found that the numbers are likely to rise further in the future.
Languages: The Royal Society of New Zealand's Policy paper on languages has been widely covered in the media.
Callaghan Innovation: In the latest issue of Idealog Pattrick Smellie takes a critical look at the history and current state of Callaghan Innovation.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:
Photographic tips and advice - Check out Adrian Bass' amazing photography of Antarctic wildlife from his trip down south
Field Work: Antarctic Voyage
Census 2013: That religion question - Your religion - or lack thereof - might be less clear cut than you think, writes Ken Perrott.
Monday Micro - smart viruses - Siouxsie Wiles waxes lyrical about one of her favourite viruses, the bacteriophage.
Otago Bioethics: Downs Edition - Eric Crampton takes a look a some recent discussion over pre-natal testing and Down's Syndrome.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Bees get caffeine buzz: Scientists have found that caffeine improves a honeybee's memory and could help plants recruit more bees to spread its pollen. Researchers showed that honeybees feeding on a sugar solution containing caffeine, which occurs naturally in the nectar of some flowers, were three times more likely to remember a flower's scent than those feeding on just sugar.
Science Arctic shipping thaws:
Arctic shipping thaws:Shipping lanes through the Arctic Ocean are set to to become more accessible than ever imagined due to the melting of unprecedented amounts of sea ice during the late summer, new US research shows. By mid-century, even ordinary shipping vessels will be able to navigate previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean, and they will not need icebreakers to blaze their path as they do today, the researchers found.
PNAS Mars' buried waterways:
Mars' buried waterways:New radar maps of the Mars landscape show for the first time buried channels below the surface of the red planet. Understanding the source and scale of the channels present in Elysium Planitia -- an expanse of plains along the equator, and the youngest volcanic region on the planet -- is essential to comprehend recent Martian hydrologic activity and determine if such floods could have induced climate change.
Science Web searches reveal drug
Web searches reveal drug problems:Researchers have revealed that the Internet search history of consumers is a gold mine of information on the unreported side effects of drugs or drug combinations. By analyzing 12 months of Google, Bing and Yahoo search history from 6 million Internet users, the researchers were able to pinpoint an interaction between two drugs that was unknown at the time of data collection.
Journal of the American Medical Informatics
Association Life or death?:
Life or death?:Subtle changes in messaging can have a profound impact on the effectiveness of charitable messages such as calls for blood donations, according to new research. Scientists collaborating with the Red Cross found that on a college campus, describing blood donations as a way to "prevent a death" rather than "save a life" significantly increased the rate of donations.
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
Kyoto submissions sought: Consultation on the options for carry-over of Kyoto units under the ETS is now open. Closing date for submissions is 29 March.
R&D grants: Callaghan Innovation has allocated over $25 million worth of grants to businesses to help them speed up the development of innovative products and services and get them to the market faster.
Cleaning up water: A 10-year, $20m partnership between the Department of Conservation and Fonterra to restore waterways in several areas has been officially confirmed.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Victoria University Coastal Ecology Lab open day - 9 March, Wellington.
• Emergency Management Summer Institute 2013 - 11 March, Wellington.
• If it's good for the heart, it's good for the brain - Public lecture from Dr Phil Wood - 11 March, Queenstown.
• Climate science and future climate governance - Prof David Frame's inaugural professorial lecture - 12 March, Wellington.
• Evolution of Human Languages - Public lecture series from Mark Pagel (UK) - 12 March, Auckland; 13, Hamilton; 15, Wellington; 18, Dunedin; 20, Christchurch.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.