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News (122)

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The Editors of Conservation Physiology, myself included, have just published a perspective paper which reviews how physiological tools have been applied within conservation frameworks and the contribution they can play in future. While the number of success stories is growing, the paper highlights some of the ways in which conservation physiology has the potential to contribute to major advances in protecting and restoring biodiversity. In particular, we considered how the physiology toolbox can be used to address the most pressing conservation issues (e.g. through addressing the Sustainable Development Goals and delivering science to support the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration). 

To advance environmental management and ecosystem restoration, we need to ensure that 

  • the underlying science (including that generated by conservation physiology) is relevant, 
  • the accompanying messaging is straightforward, and 
  • it is accessible to end users. 

Reframing conservation physiology to be more inclusive, integrative, relevant and forward-looking: reflections and a horizon scan.  A perspective in Conservation Physiology

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In late February there were reports of record-breaking high temperatures from scientists working on the Antarctic Peninsula. At the time Diana King and I were in NSW in Australia having spent the summer experiencing smoke pollution from the Australian bushfires along with extremely hot days. Our colleague Dana Bergstrom was sending us reports of rain at Davis Station in East Antarctica. Given that almost all precipitation falls as snow in Antarctica, these were strange reports. Our Chilean colleagues, Marisol Pizarro Rojas and  Gustavo Zúñiga were also reporting that there was no snow around the Escudero research station on King George Island and that every day was perfect for field work, a most a worrying development. There is always bad weather sometime in Antarctica!

Because of the news stories about extreme heat in Antarctica, I was asked to write a letter to the editor for Global Change Biology discussing these temperature extremes and what they might mean for Antarctic biodiversity. So, I reached out to Dana, Gustavo and Marisol for the insiders guide to the 2019/20 summer field season and in Australia, Diana and I started looking at the climate data. We decided we really needed a meteorological expert and so we asked Andrew Klekociuk if he could explain what was going on.

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What we didn’t expect to find was a heatwave at Casey (the station where we do most of our work). This had actually occurred in late January and our analysis showed that the whole summer season was characterised by heatwaves rolling around the continent from November to February. Unfortunately, we did not have a team at Casey this summer. We had planned to go in early February to continue the long-term monitoring that we started there in 2000.  One week before our team was due to go to Casey our trip was cancelled because of the risk that scientists would take COVID-19 to Antarctica. So, no one was there to see if our Casey moss beds were flooded by extra melt water, got heat stressed or both. However, the good news is that Antarctic winter teams appear to be free of coronavirus.

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At the end of March, the paper was published online in Global Change Biology. You can read it here, or check out the excellent synopsis written for the Conversation by Dana. We will be really interested to see what reports of biological changes arise from these extreme summer events in Antarctica.

As we see the world pivoting to manage the COVID-19 crisis, I am hopefully that we can use the same ingenuity, resolve, care and compassion to take action on climate change, so that these Antarctic summer heatwaves do not become our new normal. 

In late February there were reports of record-breaking high temperatures from scientists working on the Antarctic Peninsula. At the time Diana King and I were in NSW in Australia having spent the summer experiencing smoke pollution from the Australian bushfires along with extremely hot days. Our colleague Dana Bergstrom was sending us reports of rain at Davis Station in East Antarctica. Given that almost all precipitation falls as snow in Antarctica, these were strange reports. Our Chilean colleagues, Marisol Pizarro Rojas and  Gustavo Zúñiga were also reporting that there was no snow around the Escudero research station on King George Island and that every day was perfect for field work, a most a worrying development. There is always bad weather sometime in Antarctica!

Because of the news stories about extreme heat in Antarctica, I was asked to write a letter to the editor for Global Change Biology discussing these temperature extremes and what they might mean for Antarctic biodiversity. So, I reached out to Dana, Gustavo and Marisol for the insiders guide to the 2019/20 summer field season and in Australia, Diana and I started looking at the climate data. We decided we really needed a meteorological expert and so we asked Andrew Klekociuk if he could explain what was going on.

What we didn’t expect to find was a heatwave at Casey (the station where we do most of our work). This had actually occurred in late January and our analysis showed that the whole summer season was characterised by heatwaves rolling around the continent from December to February. Unfortunately, we did not have a team at Casey this summer. We had planned to go in early February to continue the long-term monitoring that we started there in 2000.  One week before our team was due to go to Casey our trip was cancelled because of the risk that scientists would take COVID-19 to Antarctica. So, no one was there to see if our Casey moss beds were flooded by extra melt water, got heat stressed or both. However, the good news is that Antarctic winter teams appear to be free of coronavirus.

At the end of March, the paper was published online in Global Change Biology. You can read it here, or check out the excellent synopsis written for the Conversation by Dana. We will be really interested to see what reports of biological changes arise from these extreme summer events in Antarctica.

As we see the world pivoting to manage the COVID-19 crisis, I am hopefully that we can use the same ingenuity, resolve, care and compassion to take action on climate change, so that these Antarctic summer heatwaves do not become our new normal. 

An article on how we cope with the fear and horror that now goes hand-in-hand with climate change? by  in The Stand.

Plus a link to an article on a similar topic about Laureate Fellow Professor Belinda Medlyn ‘I can see where we are headed & it’s bad’: in the Women's agenda

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An open letter on the scientific basis for the links between climate change and bushfires in Australia.

This open letter is supported by more than 400 scientists with research expertise across the fields of climate, fire and weather science. This open letter is composed of the full statementa summary statement, and lists of co-signatories and references

Please read and share.

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Georgia Watson and Sharon Robinson,  

Global Challenges Program, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

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The Wold Meteorological Organisation (WMO) have just reported that 2019 capped off an exceptionally hot decade, with global temperatures 1.1˚C  above pre-industrial levels last year. The Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement for 2019shows that last year was Australia's warmest year on record, with the lowest annual rainfall on record, and will rank amongst the most severe drought years ever recorded. The consequences of this hotter, drier climate are evident. The 2019-2020 bushfire season has seen the greatest area of Australia burnt with at least 10.7 million hectares (as of 8 Jan 2020, across all states and territories excluding NT). Australia has already warmed 1.52˚C above average, surpassing the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, and we are already seeing the devastating effects of our new climate on humans and wildlife

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As scientists, we are often told we aren't doing enough to publicise the consequences of climate inaction - as though the reason for a lack of action is because we have not been compelling enough. But our job as scientists is the examine the evidence and provide factual accounts of what is happening, and while science communication is an essential skill, not all scientists are trained communicators. Governments have been aware of scientist’s predictions regarding the consequences of climate inaction for decades. Yet not enough is being done to protect everyday Australians from these consequences, whether they be the physical effects of bushfire smoke, or the psychological effects of 'eco-anxiety'. 

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Climate researchers, whilst resilient, are not exempt from feelings of despair about the climate crisis. As editors from the key international journal Global Change Biology, we have been publishing and reviewing research on climate change and how it affects life on the planet for 25 years. Much of that research is then communicated to the media. The science and its consequences have been clear to us. It has really been a question of how to translate that knowledge into action. For decades, that has been a political, social and economic issue, and the inaction was often unfathomable. Meeting during the week of the September Climate Strikes, we wondered how these civil actions, like school strikes, were advancing knowledge and awareness of climate change. Being scientists, we decided  to compare how much media attention climate change receives from global protests versus major scientific reports.

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Civil disobedience and activism has changed the discussion around the climate change emergency, bringing it to the forefront of public debate through global school strike events, disruptive acts of non-violent direct action (NVDA) and a common message: listen to the scientists . Our study found a spike in Google search terms such as "climate action" and "climate emergency" accompanying major global protests, such as the first and second Global School Strike for Climate events and the Extinction Rebellion (XR) London protests. A distinctive feature of movements such as the school strikes and XR is that they are led by young people, a group that is informed about and accept the science, and also the generation who have the most to lose from climate inaction. 

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To address the significant challenges facing society, we need the very best scientists, teachers and communicators capable of translating that science to motivate and inspire wider audiences, including the public and policy makers. "Science without activism is powerless to enact change, but activism without science cannot direct change where it is needed. Both science and activism are needed to achieve effective societal change." 

The climate protests are giving us hope, that this wave of public opinion, grounded in science, will finally be enough to produce the change we need.

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The climate marches on March 15thshowed the world what young people think we should be paying attention to. 

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On our Homeward Bound voyage Christiana Figueres talked about being stubbornly optimistic that the world’s people would take action on climate change in time.  She also said that rather than engendering despair, the recent IPCC 1.5 ˚C report had given her hope that, if we take action now, it will not be too late. This was a very powerful message for all of us on board. 

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I was reminded of her wise and timely words on Friday. As a scientist who works in this area, I must admit to being tired of being told that, we as scientists, are not doing enough to make people understand the seriousness of the situation. It’s heartening therefore to see that so many school children from around the world get that climate change is happening and we need to do something about it - at all levels (individuals, communities, towns, cities and nation states).

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Many of their signs on the climate march show that young people don’t understand why adults generally, and politicians in particular, seem to have such a hard time understanding the seriousness of the threat. But the student strikes for climate really do give me hope. It’s heartening to see that one person’s actions can trigger so much, from Greta Thunberg’s solo action in August 2018 to more than 200o protests over 125 counties in March 2019. Our lab was well represented with Dr Johanna Turnbull, Alison Haynes and Rafaela joining in the Wollongong March. Johanna’s kids were very excited to be on their first ‘strike’ and the march was well attended by primary and secondary children and their family and friends. So, here’s to global optimism, young people and fearless women!

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On International Women’s Day it’s important to remember the women who came before and celebrate how they have paved the way for us. On a personal level I am intensely grateful to my mother and both my grandmothers who all believed in me, encouraged my curiosity and always made me feel I could do anything I wanted, even if their life options were not always as straightforward.  On our recent Homeward Bound voyage Christiana Figueres introduced us to both global optimismand the term stubbornly optimistic. I think I get my stubbornness from a strong line of women on both sides of the family!

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My maternal grandmother, Isobel Robinson was an extremely talented artist, she could look at the clothes at the London and Paris Fashion shows, draw them and then make patterns for others to recreate the clothes at home. Her work was published in newspapers at a time when hardly anyone could afford to buy clothes and everyone knew how to sew. Women would copy the patterns and make their own versions. My mum and grandmother both being talented dressmakers was a great boon for me as a teenager, wanting to look fashionable.

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Isobel was also a rock climber, made terrain models for the war rooms and drove trucks during World War II. Here is an example of her work for the Air ministry "Communictions must be maintained".

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After the war she had to give up driving but she retained a love of rock climbing, and also walking in the Lake District, which mum and I both share.  

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My paternal grandmother, Edith Ward, worked in the Post Office in London during the war. This was an essential job which meant she got to stay in London throughout the war while my dad and his brother were evacuated to safety in the countryside. Edith was a lawn bowls supremo and an amazing knitter and crocheter. She crocheted dresses for me and I still have those and the quilts she made for me.

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My mum, Annie Robinson, was a teacher of english and history at Falmouth School in Cornwall, UK. She took an Open University Course in Science when I was 16 and then taught music and science in primary schools in North Cornwall. She is a talented musician and writer, a wonderful gardener and an excellent caller of country dances.

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She took me on Ban the Bomb and anti-apartheid marches from an early age, inspired me to care about injustice and the planet and to stand up for what I believed in. Mum is a hard act to follow but it’s important to try and keep up.  She can still teach me a lot about caring for the environment, she hasn't flown anywhere in years in an attempt to keep her carbon footprint low.

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So, on this international women’s day take a moment to think about and thank those women who came before, both personally and professionally. They helped to get us where we are today and to realise that we are Stronger Together.

Leading change https://www.uow.edu.au/research/newsletter/2019/UOW256260.html

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We finally get ashore again  on Jan 12th. Danko Island is near Cuverville Island where we landed a few days ago and saw Gentoos. It has a steep hill and a few small penguin rookeries. It’s great to walk up the hill where there is a large plateau and stunning views towards the peninsula. Inspired by Christiana Figueres many of us also have a magical silent time, listening to the whales breaching below and the avalanches and the calving glaciers cracking across the water. 

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On the way up the hill there is a big patch of red snow algae. Snow algae are singled celled algae similar to the ones that cause algal blooms in water. These ones swim in the water that coats the ice crystals within the snow banks. Like algal blooms in lakes and oceans the cells divide when conditions are good and swim off to new territory. They need enough sunlight for photosynthesis and to warm the snow, they also need nutrients which are in ample supply from penguin poo in the vicinity of penguin rookeries.

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Snow algae are green algae like Chlamydomonas nivalis but can appear green or red depending on the amount of red carotenoids they produce to protect themselves from too much light (including ultraviolet UV-B).  Drs Matt Daveyand Peter Fretwell are using satellites to track these snow algae blooms across Antarctica so if you spot any, take a photo, log the coordinates and send them a message!  

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It’s a great location for photographs and Rachel Bice is also from Cornwall, where I lived from age 6 to 19 and so we team up for a Kernow flag moment!

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The Cornish flag is the flag of Saint Piran, the patron saint of tin-miners. I grew up in tin mining country and the moors where the mining had formerly occurred were great places to search for rose quartz, amethysts and other interesting rocks. Tin was the most important element in the economy of Cornwall but when the mines closed the Cornish took their mining skills all around the world.

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Originally, we were supposed to go further south to Verdansky Station, Prospect Point and Petermann Island but once again the sea ice and the weather are against us and it turns out there will be no landings for several days. This can be hard for people to understand in today’s world where travel is seen as relatively straightforward and we can cross the globe in 24 hours by jet.  We are used to getting to places on time and can get annoyed if we are delayed for a few hours or redirected.  

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In Antarctica travel is still very much determined by the elements. Sea ice is still a real danger to shipping, just as it was for early explorers and sealers and whalers. Most ships have ice strengthened hulls but they are still only able to break through relatively small depths of sea ice, and ice can still damage their hulls. Ships can still get stuck in ice, like Shackleton’s Endurance which got stuck, squeezed and eventually sank in 1915. Even today rescue operations are time consuming, expensive and can divert icebreakers from their primary tasks of resupplying stations or doing science. Plus no captain wants to get stuck and have to call mayday. 

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While we still can’t control the weather, the main advantage we have today is that modern communication and satellites mean that we know what the sea ice looks like before we get there. We also have much better ideas of the weather systems that are on the way. And the ship’s captain can communicate with other ships in the area to find out what conditions are like at sea level. This means that the captain and voyage leader are constantly planning ahead and revising and adapting our voyage plan to ensure we get the best experience and don’t get stuck. As an Antarctic scientist I am well aware of the work that goes in behind the scenes to get expeditioners to stations and back. Because our plans are changing we ask Monica to explain to everyone what has been happening behind the scenes and why we can’t go ashore for a few days. She also gives us a lecture on ice.

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Instead of going to Verdansky, we moor up and have a zodiac cruise where we observe sleeping humpback whales, seals and penguins. There are some spectacular glaciers and we see an avalanche as a huge chunk of ice falls off the face of the cliffs. We can also see how fast some of these glaciers are retreating with climate change.

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The next day the ship takes up to the edge of the ice (Flanders Bay) and we see the spectacular variations in sea ice forms including the thin films of grease ice and the wonderful fluffy disks which are called pancake ice.  We also see some massive icebergs (kilometers long) that have calved off the retreating glaciers. 

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Just last week, a ship searching for the wreck of Endurancewas forced to abandon its search because of heavy sea ice. They also lost their autonomous underwater vehicle because of inclement weather and bad sea ice conditions.  

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