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Science Deadline: another hot year, fibre's benefits, 1080

In this issue: 2018 another hot year, more evidence for fibre's benefits, and 1080 debate continues.

2018 another hot year for NZ

2018 has tied for the second hottest year on record, according to NIWA's latest annual climate summary.

Boosted by last summer’s marine heatwave in the Tasman Sea, 2018 kicked off with January being the hottest month on record, and another five months were above average temperature.

Released on Tuesday, the data from NIWA's seven-station series - which has been running since 1909 - marked that 2016 remained the hottest year on record, with 1998 and 2018 tied in second place.

Last year also marked a new record for the warmest minimum temperatures, previously held by 2016.

Dr Jim Salinger said the summary "confirms that we are experiencing the warmest group of years in our recorded climate history in the 2010s".

"This together with a similar situation with the most above average group of years for sea surface temperatures around New Zealand shows that global heating is having its influence in this very oceanic region."

MetService meteorologist Lisa Murray said it had been a busy year for the organisation, with numerous severe weather warnings and two damaging ex-tropical cyclones: Fehi and Gita.

She said the year ended with widespread thunderstorm activity - there was a total of 119,696 recorded lightning strikes in December over New Zealand and coastal waters. "December 14th saw 33,218 lightning strikes in just 24 hours!"

Victoria University of Wellington's Professor James Renwick said that though last year was warm, its temperatures "would be classed as cold in another 50 years' time, if climate change continues unabated through this century".

"Unless New Zealand and the global community takes urgent action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we will see ever-increasing exposure to the sorts of extremes seen in 2018, with major implications for coastal infrastructure, agricultural production, economic damage, and public wellbeing."

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the annual summary.

Quoted: RNZ

"The rain in the hills is a deep, orchestral type of instrument and on the plains it's more like a glockenspiel or a doorbell."

NIWA hydrodynamics scientist Dr Graeme Smart on creating a musical score written by nature.

The case for eating carbs

A new study has strengthened the evidence for the benefits of eating fibre.

Published today in The Lancet, the meta-analysis considered 40 years' of data to help inform new global recommendations on fibre intake.

Led by University of Otago researchers Dr Andrew Reynolds and Professor Jim Mann, the review found that people with a diet high in fibre and whole grains had lower rates of a range of chronic diet-related diseases.

Rates of heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes were lower in people who eat at least 25g of fibre each day - and benefits increased with intake.

"Our findings provide convincing evidence for nutrition guidelines to focus on increasing dietary fibre and on replacing refined grains with whole grains," said Professor Mann.

"We were all told dietary fibre was good for us, but until now we didn't know how good for us it was," he told the Otago Daily Times.

AUT Professor of Nutrition Elaine Rush said another argument for eating more plants "is that it will also help reduce carbon emissions and improve water supplies – and keep our planet healthier and inhabitable".

University of Auckland nutritional epidemiologist Dr Kathryn Bradbury said the evidence that whole grains were linked to a lower risk of bowel cancer was "particularly relevant for New Zealand, because we have one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world".

"Also, with the rise in popularity of so-called Paleo and low carbohydrate diets, this study reminds us that dietary fibre (from fruit, vegetables and wholegrains) reduces the risk of chronic disease," she told the Herald.

The study was commissioned by the World Health Organization to inform new recommendations for optimal daily fibre intake.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.

SPCA spurs 1080 debate

The toxin 1080 has been back in the headlines this week after the SPCA put out a statement calling for a ban on its use.

The SPCA statement called for a ban on poisons such as 1080 based on the level of suffering caused "and the nature of their use". The position was widely condemned by conservation groups, including Forest & Bird whose chief executive Kevin Hague wrotethat "banning 1080 would rapidly lead to the total annihilation of nearly all our treasured native land animals".

University of Auckland conservation biologist Associate Professor James Russell told RNZ “banning 1080 immediately would probably increase overall suffering of all animals in New Zealand".

"With 25 million birds being killed a year by those species and one rat or one stoat able to kill hundreds of animals a year, I think that’s where most of the suffering is occurring at the moment."

The debate comes at the same time that the Department of Conservation is preparing for a "mega mast" year, according to DOC scientist Graeme Elliott. He told RNZ that based on current predictions and historical climate records, it was looking like the most extreme mast - when beech trees fruit heavily at the same time - in 20 years.

"We've had a series of masts over the last few years and it's bigger than those and, going back in time, the next one that's similar in size is 1999 - and I remember that one, and it was a whopper."

In response, DOC will undertake its biggest ever series of 1080 operations, expected to cover about one millions hectares of native forest.

"The places that we're most worried about are particularly around Arthur's Pass," Dr Elliott said. "Where there are small populations of mohua and rock wrens hanging on, and there are the remnants of the orange-fronted parakeet population. We're really worried about those, that they could really take a hit."

On the other hand, a big mast year could be positive for kākāpō breeding as they're reliant on the rimu mast. "So I think we're expecting another whopper - for kākāpō breeding," Dr Elliott said.

Policy news & developments

Emergency messages: Almost twice as many people received the test Civil Defence emergency alert in the latest test.

Tsunami recovery: New Zealand is contributing $1.5 million to help recovery efforts following the tsunami that struck the Sunda Strait in Indonesia.

Scientists honoured: A number of scientists received New Year's Honours, including microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, seabird conservationist Dr Kerry-Jayne Wilson and sea-ice expert Professor Pat Langhorne.

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