Issue 196 31 August - 6 September
In This Issue
New from the SMC
'Jaw dropping' Arctic ice loss
The record breaking loss of Arctic sea ice announced this week has scientists around the globe expressing concern.
Satellite data released by the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)and NASA this week revealed that Arctic sea ice is at its lowest recorded level ever.
The new data shows that sea ice extent in the Arctic has already shrunk to 4.1 million square kilometres -70,000 below the previous record low in 2007 -with two or three weeks in the melt season still left to go.
"It used to be the Arctic ice cover was like a big block of ice," said Walt Meier, a research scientist with the NSIDC during a press conference. "Now it's become crushed ice and that is a lot easier to melt and melt more quickly. Parts of the Arctic have become like a giant slushie."
The increasing loss of Arctic sea ice is predicted to have wide-ranging impacts on climate and fisheries.
Commenting on the announcement, Prof James Renwick, Victoria University Wellington, said to the SMC:
"At the time of most rapid melt in the first week of August, around 200,000 square km was disappearing every day! Nearly the area of New Zealand, every day. It is just jaw-dropping."
"This event unfolding in the Arctic Ocean right now should be a wake-up call to governments world-wide, that climate change is a serious threat, and it is not distant menace, it is on our doorstep today."
Read further expert commentary on the
Science Media Centre website.
On the science radar...
Cyborg tissue, space sugar, happiness gene, hot bees, coral repairing robots and science at the Paralympic Games.
Teen dope leads to IQ decline
Heavy cannabis smoking as teenager could have long-lasting effects on the mind, according to the latest research to come out of the long-running Dunedin cohort study. A team of researchers from New Zealand, the UK and the US analysed data from over 1,000 individuals enrolled in the Dunedin Cohort study and found that individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years afterwards showed an average decline in IQ of 8 points when their age 13 and age 38 IQ tests were compared.
The effect was specific to pot-smokers who began in their teens, as cannabis users who started in adulthood (> 18 years) did not appear to experience the same IQ decline as a result of persistent cannabis use.
In an article published this week in PNAS, the researchers conclude, "Prevention and policy efforts should focus on delivering to the public the message that cannabis use during adolescence can have harmful effects on neuropsychological functioning."
Dr Simon Adamson, a Senior Lecturer at the National Addiction Centre, University of Otago at Christchuch, agreed with the authors, telling the SMC:
"The results of this study suggest adult onset regular cannabis use does not lead to cognitive decline, instead it was the individuals in the study who were already using heavily by age 18 who experienced impairment, with the decline remaining even if they had subsequently ceased or reduced cannabis use.
"This is important information for policy formation. Clearly we must focus energy on reducing the prevalence of cannabis use in adolescence."
Read more expert commentary on the Science Media Centre website. The study has received extensive media attention in New Zealand (see SMC round up) and overseas (e.g. CNN, BBC, ABC)
Media skills for
The Science Media Centre is launching a series of media and communications skills workshops for scientists and researchers.
The first Science Media Savvy workshop, sponsored by 2011 Prime Minister's Science Media Communication award winner, Dr Mark Quigley, will run over two days in Christchurch (29-30 October 2012) and will be the pilot for an expanded national programme of workshops in the major centres in 2012/13.
Designed specifically to orient scientists and researchers to realities and opportunities within the current media market, the workshops will focus on encouraging effective engagement, building expressive skills and confidence, and enabling scientists to navigate a range of media encounters with success.
There will be a particular focus on bridging the cultures of the newsroom and the research bench, with substantial involvement and feedback from working journalists as a unique strength of the programme.
Canterbury-based scientists can apply for the first workshop here.
The Sciblogs Podcast: Earth & Sea
In Episode 42 of the podcast we talk Google Earth with the internet giant's Chief Technology Advocate, dive into the issue of Marine Protected Areas and learn how soil bacteria are contributing to antibiotic resistance.
Google's Chief Technology Michael T. Jones is visiting NZ and takes some time to talk the Sciblogs Podcast about the advantages - and pitfalls - of the growing 'digital earth' phenomenon. We also take a look at Marine Protected Areas, the subject of Victoria's Prof Jonathan Gardner's professorial lecture, and hear about new research published today in Science which shows that soil bacteria may be contributing antibiotic resistance genes to human pathogens.
Subscribe to the Sciblogs podcast via iTunes, Stitcher.com, RSS or stream directly from Sciblogs.
Quoted: New Zealand Herald
"It is of course part of folklore among young people that some heavy users of cannabis - my daughter calls them stoners - seem to gradually lose their abilities and end up achieving much less than one would have anticipated."
Prof Robin Murray, King's College London, on NZ research into adolescent cannabis use and IQ.
New from the SMC
Teen dope & IQ: International experts comment on NZ research indicating heavy use of marijuana during adolescence is linked to later declines in an individual's cognitive functioning.
Arctic sea ice: Experts respond to the news that Arctic sea ice is at its lowest level since satellite records began.
Abortion and births: A new study has found that women who have had three or more abortions have a higher risk of some adverse birth outcomes. Experts respond.
In the News:
LanzaTech lauded: Kiwi biofuel company Lanzatech is to be recognised as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum.
'Dope' research in the news: Read
a round up of the extensive coverage of the NZ study
linking teen cannabis use and IQ decline.
Reflections on Science:
Curious critters: Waikato's
Alison Campbell, talks on Radio NZ about the weird,
wonderful and some times downright kinky denizens of the
animal kingdom. Antarctic Science:
Seabed mining: In the New Zealand Herald Andy Kenworthy takes an in-depth look at seabed mining and the EEZ.
Antarctic Science:Veronika Meduna (from Radio NZ's Our Changing World) reflects on the New Zealand's contribution to Antarctic science in a column for the Press.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:
Unhealthy weight control among New Zealand
kids - Amanda Johnson discusses new research
highlighting unhealthy 'red flag 'dieting behaviours in
Drifting moral values - The current
debate over gay marriage has Ken Perrott pondering the
nature of 'right' and 'wrong' and how society's views change
Offshore wind: a huge resource - Bryan
Walker notes the latest developments in the world of wind
energy, here and abroad.
Simon Chan 1974 - 2012: Contagious passion
for science - Guest blogger Dr Bart Janssen writes a
tribute to a "truly brilliant" Kiwi scientist who passed
away this week.
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
Red flags for unhealthy weight
loss: Drawing on a survey of over 9,000 Kiwi high
school students, University of Auckland researchers have
identified healthy and unhealthy weight loss strategies used
by teenagers. They particularly noted fasting and skipping
meals as more common 'red flag' behaviours that were
associated with poorer well being and mental health. The
authors express concern that clinicians do not routinely ask
teenagers about weight loss behaviours.
International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity
Effect: New research has shown that men and women
are less likely to experience negative effects to sexual
violent media when watching a positive portrayal of a strong
female character, even when that character is a victim of
sexual violence. The study's author dubbed the phenomenon
the 'Buffy effect' (after film/TV series Buffy the
Vampire Slayer) and notes "...it seems to be portrayals
of women themselves, positive or negative that have the most
impact, irrespective of objectionable content. In focusing
so much on violence and sex, we may have been focusing on
the wrong things."
Journal of Communication
Carbon burial climate
record: An international team of researchers,
including one from New Zealand, have produced a detailed
reconstruction of how carbonate settled in the equatorial
Pacific Ocean over the past 53 million years. The carbonate
compensation depth - the oceanic depth at which carbonate
dissolves - provides information on carbon in the water, and
this reflects how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere,
and thus gives clues about the Earth's historical
spending: Victoria researchers have developed
financial models of amateur NZ sports clubs (golf and
football) to understand where their financial weaknesses
might arise from. The study found the main vulnerabilities
were over-reliance on external (non-member) revenue,
increasing debt, and excessive expenditure.
Sport Management Review
Grassroots antibiotic resistance?: Soil bacteria and human pathogens rapidly exchange multi-drug resistance genes, hinting that environmental bacteria may be contributing to the ongoing antibiotic resistance crisis, reports a new study. The results suggest that contamination of soil and water with waste containing high levels of antibiotics, as well as overuse of antibiotics in the rearing of livestock, are likely contributing factors to the selection of antibiotic resistance genes in environmentally occurring bacteria.
restriction not a life-stretcher: A 23-year study
of caloric restriction in rhesus monkeys shows that this
type of diet does not increase their lifespan. The results
contrast with other studies that have shown that restricting
calorie intake (by 10-40% of a nutritious diet) can extend
lifespan in various other species such as mice. However, the
results do suggest that calorie restriction may have some
health benefits, including delaying the onset of age related
Some of the policy highlights from this week:
The potential of future discoveries of oil and gas
is the subject of an Occasional Paper released by the
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment today,
drawing on analysis from two technical reports from BERL and
Wilding pines: A report commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) on the status of wilding pine trees in New Zealand has been released.The report assesses the wilding conifer situation across the country and identifies ways to improve wilding conifer management.
Kiwi growers warned: The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has completed an investigation into the misuse of the antibiotic streptomycin on kiwifruit, and 26 growers who admitted using the chemical outside the strict use conditions have been sent a formal warning letter.
Immunisation strong: Minister of Health Tony Ryall has highlighted New Zealand's strong record on immunisation, going from one of the lowest immunisation rates in the developed world to one of the best. The latest quarterly results for the Government's Health Targets show immunisation rates continue to increase with 93 per cent of all two-year old children now fully immunised.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• 4th Digital Earth Summit 2012 - 2-4
• Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference: ABIC 2012 - 2-6 September, Rotorua.
• Equity from the start - valuing our children: Public Health Assoc conference - 3 - 5 September, Wellington.
• What If we could increase trust and trustworthiness? Part of the 'What if Wednesday' lecture series - 5 September, Christchurch.
• Wellington Rocks! Earthquake briefings for Wellington residents - a joint project from GNS Science and the Wellington City Council - At various locations throughout Wellington, September - October.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.