SMC Heads-Up: Polar blast and the SMC in the headlines
Issue 236 21 - 27 June 2013
Polar blast freezes New Zealand
New Zealand is in the icy grip of a winter storm, with cold southerlies from Antarctica bringing snow, wind and hail.
Earlier in the week, MetService Meteorologist Daniel Corbett commented,"This winter storm will have quite a bit of bark and bite, and is expected to bring widespread severe weather for much of New Zealand."
Severe Weather Warnings from MetService are still in place for most of the country.
"While snow will be a major issue for those in the South Island, wind and hail will affect many North Island districts," Corbett said.
The SMC contacted experts for comment on the cold snap.
Assoc Prof James Renwick from Victoria University of Wellington, explained:
"To get an event like this, which is pretty extreme, we need the westerly wind that normally blow across New Zealand and the southern oceans to slow down and to buckle into a series of big meanders, north-south waves around the hemisphere. This is more likely to happen in the negative phase of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and we have just gone into negative SAM territory in the past few days."
Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Director, He Kainga Orang/Housing and Health Research Programme at University of Otago, Wellington, noted the importance of good housing in cold weather:
"Cold can kill, but heat is the medicine. New Zealand villas and bungalows, as the names suggest, are built for temperate climates, increasingly uncertain with climate change driving extreme weather events, such as snow storms. Our houses are made of relatively light-weight materials and in winter most of them are colder than recommended by the WHO for health and well-being. Only a third of our existing houses have had insulation retrofitted."
Citizen Snow Science
NIWA researchers are braving the cold conditions to monitor snowfall in the South Island and the public can help them gather data by measuring the snowfall in areas of low elevations around their homes as part of the initiative How Deep is the Snow at your Place?
You can read more commentary and safety advice on the Science Media Centre website.
On the science radar this week...
SMC global network profiled
The work of Science Media Centres around the world has been highlighted in a series of articles in a leading journalism magazine.
The series, published in the Columbia Journalism Review features SMC staff and high profile journalists exploring the work of the SMCs through articles written in a back-and-forth format, with authors providing an opening statement based on an initial question and responding to each others points.
The Review, a highly regarded journalism magazine, covers news and media industry trends and explores the stories behind the news.
With independent Science Media Centres now operating in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, it is unsurprising that the network of SMCs has gained attention from media commentators.
In the first article of the series the Director of the UK SMC, Fiona Fox, addresses the question, Does the UK model help journalists? Co-author Connie St Louis, President of the Association of British Science Writers, offers a different perspective on how the SMCs should approach their mandate.
"By facilitating more scientists to enter the fray, we have made it much easier for journalists to access the best science in a timely manner," writes Fiona Fox.
"During crises like Fukushima, or on complex and politicized stories like 'Climategate', the SMC proactively offers great experts for interview, quotes from leading scientists, reliable factsheets, and press briefings where journalists can question experts in the middle of an unfolding story."
The second article in the series features Australian SMC Director Susanah Elliot and SMC NZ Manager Peter Griffin, writing in collaboration with Reuters reporter Kate Kelland, responding to the question, How did the SMCs perform during the Fukushima nuclear crisis?
Kate Kelland writes, ."[...] the best that reporters stuck in London, New York, or other far-away cities could do was ensure the scientists we talked to were the best kind of experts giving their best judgement on the best levels of information they could get hold of at the time."
"The SMC made that happen. And we could not have done the same without them. "
Quoted: Dominion Post
"They might actually decide that if it's safe, it's bloody boring and not cool to do."
University of Otago researcher Brent Caldwell rejects the idea that nicotine inhalers might used by children as a gateway drug to tobacco.
New from the SMC
Gene patents: Australian experts respond to a US court decision on gene patenting.
Polar blast: Experts comment on the cold weather brought in by Antarctic southerlies.
McKibben on climate: US climate campaigner Bill Mickibbon wraps up his lecture tour of New Zealand.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:
Optimal airports - Eric
Crampton looks at the economics of plans to extend the
Wellington airport runway - at the cost of a million dollars
a meter. Dismal Science
'Gene Patents' What's the Fuss? In the wake of a recent US court decision, Doug Calhoun takes a look at gene patenting.
Better environmental campaigns from Big Data - Big data can be harnessed to win votes and help the environment writes Wayne Linklater.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Endangered native plants: New research from DOC scientists has highlighted the endangered nature of native cabbage plants in the Lepidiums genus - famously eaten by Captain Cook and other early explorers to fend off scurvy. Botanists have undertaken an extensive study of Lepidiums species, discovering ten new species - one of which is already extinct, identified only by historical samples.
The costs of concussion: An analysis of ten years worth of ACC concussion claims in sports shows that moderate-to-severe concussion (MSC) accounts for the lion's share of costs. From 2001-2011 there were over 20,000 sport-related ACC concussion claims from seven sports codes, costing $16.5 million. MSC represented 6.4% of the total claims but 78.8% of the costs. The authors note that Maori, rugby union players, females and those aged 30-39 might benefit the most from targeted MSC prevention initiatives.
3D 'BigBrain' most detailed reconstruction yet: A landmark three-dimensional digital reconstruction of a complete human brain, called the BigBrain, now for the first time shows the brain anatomy in microscopic detail-at a spatial resolution of 20 microns, smaller than the size of one fine strand of hair-exceeding that of existing reference brains presently in the public domain.
Living-dead cabbage:Even after being picked, harvest fruits and vegetables still respond to daily cycles which affect their metabolism and chemical content. Researchers found that light-dark cycles had a significant effect on pest resistance and nutrition in vegetables for days after being picked. The authors suggest we should be storing our vegetables and fruits under light-dark cycles and timing when to cook and eat them to enhance their health value.
3D room mapping with sound: Inspired by echolocation in bats and dolphins, researchers have devised a computer algorithm that can reconstruct the shape of a room by "listening" to the echoes from a simple sound source, such as a finger snap. With additional research, the authors suggest, the method can be expanded to determine the shape of a room and reveal the location of a person using a cellphone within the room.
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
Joyce in EU: Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce was in Europe this week to strengthen NZ's science, innovation and international education links with the EU.
Aerosol consultation: The EPA is welcoming people to have their say on proposed changes to the site and storage conditions for aerosols.
Online scams: Consumer Affairs has launched a new guide to educate seniors about online scams, coinciding with Fraud Awareness Week.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Future of Healthcare in New Zealand - 2013 Healthcare Congress -25-26 June, Auckland.
• Getting on with it - the effects of genetic testing - Café Scientifique - 27 June, Lower Hutt.
• For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.