By Jenna Daroczy, CSIRO Digital Editor
About four years ago, we hatched a plan to start sharing our science with the world of social media with our very first blog. Now we’re super excited to give you a first look at the next evolution.
Over the years we’ve brought you all the latest from our work in space in our Universe blog, our voyages at sea with our Investigator blog, and of course, stories from right across our varied and diverse science right here in our News Blog.
So to keep giving you all the news you know and love, we’ve built a new home for all of the great news you love that really showcases the breadth and depth of work we do here.
Whether it’s tasty treats from our projects in health, whiz-bang advances in the world of tech, partnerships with industry that give Australia the competitive edge, or anything in between, it’s now easier to cruise around all of our stories at our new site: blog.csiro.au
We’ve organised our archive of news into handy categories for you to browse through, and designed nice, clean pages to make catching up on the latest innovations and research a breeze. So what are you waiting for? Dive in!
A note for our dear subscribers:
We love you! No, seriously, we do. And we’re committed to making this move work for our relationship.
If you’re receiving our updates by email, we’ve got you covered. We’ll make sure you’re signed up to keep getting all the latest news direct to your inbox. We’ve even tweaked our system so you’ll get all the updates from the day in one handy email, rather than multiple emails during your day.
If you’re keeping up with us through a WordPress.com subscription, things are a little trickier.
Unfortunately, we can’t do all the work in this relationship, we need you to come on over and subscribe to our new blog. It’s really easy, and you can opt for a daily email update, or a weekly wrap-up with everything we’ve been up to. Just head to our Subscribe page.
Just to sweeten the deal, we’ve got our hands on a bunch of tickets for Buzz Aldrin’s* upcoming speaking gigs in Melbourne and Sydney. All you need to do is subscribe for your chance to win. And don’t worry if you’re already a subscriber – we’ve included you in the draw too.
*When and where? Sydney: 27 November; Melbourne: 29 November. Visit www.liveonstageaustralia.com.au for more info.
*How will winners be decided? We will be choosing the winners from our email subscriber list at random. Winners will be notified by Friday 23 October.
Here’s a challenge: how would you go about finding something if you didn’t know what it was you were looking for?
No, this isn’t an ancient riddle or one of those horrible corporate team building exercises. It’s actually a very real problem being being faced by astronomers using our newest telescope, the Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP).
In order to understand how galaxies form and evolve, the Evolutionary Map of the Universe (EMU) team will take a census of radio sources in the sky. Along the way they expect to find about 70 million galaxies along the way – which is a substantial increase from the 2.5 million we currently know of. But to do so means trawling through, literally, a Universe of data.
“With EMU significantly increasing the volume of phase space we’re observing, it’s more than likely we’re going to stumble across some unexpected new phenomena,” said the project’s Principal Investigator, Ray Norris.
But with the supercomputer only sifting through data collected according to a specific selection criteria, there is a chance that these phenomena may fall through the cracks and lie undiscovered for decades, until an “open-minded researcher” suddenly recognises something odd in the data.
The truth is out there, but how would the team find it?
Well, we can tell you how: by developing a cloud computing platform that learns how to stumble across unexpected bits of science that would otherwise be ignored.
“We had a huge opportunity to analyse the data to look for outliers that might point to some new and interesting discovery, so we looked to cloud computing as a way to mine the massive amounts of data looking for any hidden gems.”
The result is the Widefield ouTlier Finder (WTF), a project to develop data mining techniques that search for phenomena beyond the limits of current astronomical knowledge.
Ray says there are three types of outliers they’re looking for. “First are the artefacts, which are important for our quality control, then there are the statistical outliers which are interesting, but the most important are the third kind of outliers – the entirely unexpected bits of science, the ones that make us stop and say – WTF?”.
“The complexity of the newest telescopes like ASKAP means that we can’t just hope to simply stumble across new phenomena, we have to actively look for it by whatever means we can, or else we’ll end up missing the most exciting science results of the future.”
WTF’s cloud-based backend is hosted on Amazon Web Services servers, where the researchers are able to access software for data reduction, calibration and viewing right from their desktop. The team is currently issuing a challenge using data peppered with “EMU (Easter) Eggs” – objects that might pose a challenge to data mining algorithms. This way they hope to train the system to recognise things that systematically depart from known categories of astronomical objects, to help better prepare for unanticipated discoveries that would otherwise remain hidden.
EMU has received a grant to develop a cloud computing platform for machine learning as part of the AstroCompute in the Cloud collaboration, driven by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the SKA Telescope. The collaboration is intended to accelerate the development of innovative tools and techniques for processing, storing and analysing the global astronomy community’s vast amounts of astronomic data in the cloud.
Last week the world watched on as NASA announced the discovery of flowing water on Mars. This week we’re analysing water on a patch of red dirt a little closer to home.
The Pilbara – a 500,000 square kilometre stretch of land that’s home to 50,000 people in northern Western Australia. It’s hot, dusty… and full of minerals. The region’s high-grade iron ore deposits, significant deposits of gold, manganese, copper and uranium, not to mention the offshore gas reserves, make it one of the world’s most important resource regions.
It’s also a region that is rich in environmental and cultural values, and has significant areas of grazing land. Whether it’s the vast reserves of iron ore, the spectacular diversity of plants and animals, or some of the oldest living Indigenous cultures in the world, there’s one resource they all depend on — water.
That’s why we joined forces with the Government of Western Australia and BHP Billiton to conduct the biggest study into the water resources of the Pilbara, ever – it even has a catchy name: the Pilbara Water Resource Assessment.
It took three years and dozens of researchers, but we now have a body of knowledge that will help guide water planning and management for the Pilbara into the future.
Here are some of the interesting things we’ve learnt:
1. Ten times more water can evaporate in the Pilbara than falls as rain
Because of the blistering extreme heat in the Pilbara, surface water doesn’t last long. The Assessment found that the potential evaporation exceeds annual rainfall by 6 to 14 times, depending on the location within the Pilbara. Despite this, fresh water sources are quite common throughout the region.
2. Groundwater is the most important water source
This is a bit of a no brainer when you consider the first point. Groundwater is currently the main water resource used by towns and industry. This groundwater is not only vital to communities, but it also supports a range of ecosystems, usually near river pools and springs. These ecosystem include species of Acacia found nowhere else, one of the richest assemblages of reptiles in the world, and some of Australia’s iconic mammals – such as the northern quoll and greater bilby.
The greatest variety of ecosystems which depend on groundwater were found in the Hamersley Range.
3. We know what it takes to make a stream flow
Between 8 and 30 mm of rain is required for runoff to occur in most Pilbara catchments, which makes the streams and rivers flow. This is important because runoff is the main way the region’s aquifers will be recharged with water. The runoff leaks through streambeds into shallow aquifers just under the surface and from there is able to replenish deeper aquifers, which can store large quantities of water within inland areas.
4. The Pilbara is almost certainly getting hotter
Despite the uncertainty inherent in predicting future climate, there’s one thing that all the Global Climate Models used in this study agree on – the Pilbara is getting hotter. The assessment team used the same modelling tools used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to determine what the future climate might look like in the Pilbara. The models project temperatures will be about 1°C warmer by 2030 and 2°C warmer by 2050, compared with 1980s temperatures.
5. It is getting dryer… and wetter
The team assessed the rainfall trends for the area and found that between 1961 and 2012 the east of the Pilbara had become wetter and the west of the area had become drier. They also used the climate models to predict future rainfall for the Pilbara and the models were split on whether the future would be warmer and drier, or warmer and wetter.
Rainfall in the Pilbara results from both tropical weather processes from the north and temperate weather processes from the south. This makes it difficult to predict future rainfall trends for the region because the modelling suggests these processes will respond differently to any increases in greenhouse gases into the future.
On balance, the climate projections carried out by the Assessment team indicate the Pilbara may become slightly drier by 2030 and 2050. But they’re not ruling out the potential for a wetter future either — they modelled a range of wet and dry future scenarios so water managers can be prepared.
If this makes you thirsty for more information about the Pilbara’s water check out the Assessment’s final reports. You can also enjoy a selection of images from this stunning region in the gallery below.
The Pilbara Water Resource Assessment was funded by CSIRO, the Government of Western Australia and BHP Billiton. The project was led by CSIRO and overseen by officers from the Department of Water, BHP Billiton, the Pilbara Development Commission and the Water Corporation.
Chris McKay | +61 7 3833 5728 | +61 455 085 247 | email@example.com
By Eamonn Bermingham
From seeing the first ever up-close images of Pluto, to finding water on Mars, to Stephen Hawking teaming up with a Russian billionaire in the search for aliens, 2015 has been a huge year for space exploration. So as we celebrate World Space Week, it seems quite fitting that our minds cast back to another big year for space. In fact, the biggest of them all: 1969, the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon.
But before you settle into your lounge, office chair or ergonomic workspace for our tale of space history, we have got some big news. To celebrate Buzz Aldrin’s upcoming visit to Australia next month, we’ve managed to get our hands on some front row tickets to see the famous astronaut in person. He will be captivating audiences in Sydney and Melbourne with a journey through space and time, from the historic walk on the moon to his vision for a future manned mission to Mars.
We’ve got more details on how you can win at the bottom, but right now we’d like to take a trip down our own memory lane, as we recall our role in one of humanity’s most significant achievements.
At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), mankind took its ‘one giant leap’ and 600 million people watched as Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.
Our Parkes radio telescope, along with NASA’s antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, played a key role in televising the first moon walk.
The ‘Dish’ famously supported receiving the television signals on that momentous day. Although many people think the Parkes telescope was the only station receiving the signal, it was the 26-metre antenna at NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek space tracking station near Canberra that was the prime station assigned with receiving the initial TV pictures from the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface. (The Tidbinbillla deep space tracking station, today known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, provided support to the command module in lunar orbit.)
Eight and a half minutes after those first historic images were broadcast around the world, the television signal being received by the larger 64-metre Parkes radio telescope was then selected by NASA to provide the images for the following two hours and 12 minutes of live broadcast as the Apollo 11 astronauts explored the Moon surface.
While the Parkes telescope successfully received the signals, the occasion didn’t go without a hitch. The lunar module had landed at 6.17am AEST. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were supposed to rest before the Moonwalk, but Neil Armstrong was keen to get going. The astronauts were slow getting into their suits and when they got outside the Moon was rising over Parkes.
The telescope was fully tipped over, waiting for the Moon to rise, when a series of strong wind gusts – 110 km per hour – hit. They made the control room shudder, and slammed the telescope back against its zenith axis gears. Fortunately the wind slowed, and Buzz Aldrin activated the TV camera just as the Moon came into the telescope’s field-of-view. At this time, Honeysuckle Creek was taking the main signal. Eight minutes later the Moon was in the Parkes main detector’s field-of-view and NASA switched to Parkes. The weather was still bad, and the telescope operated well beyond its safety limits.
The signals received by Parkes were sent to Sydney. From there the TV signal was split. One signal went to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the other to Houston for the international telecast. The international signal had to travel halfway around the world from Sydney to Houston, adding a delay. So Australian audiences saw Neil Armstrong’s historic first step 0.3 seconds before the rest of the world.
To celebrate Buzz’s visit, we’re giving away 3 tickets for both the Sydney and Melbourne events. Entering is simple enough: we want you to take a moon selfie using the hashtag #MoonBuzz. But instead of taking a selfie with the moon, we want you to take a selfie as the moon. All you need to do is get your hands on a camera and a toilet roll (bear with us here, we’re not raving lunar-tics) and follow these steps:
- Hold the toilet roll in front of your face so that you’re looking down the cylinder.
- Position your camera / phone at the other end, so that your face is framed by the roll.
- Take the photo!
- Submit your entry via any of our social channels (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook) with the hashtag #MoonBuzz
To give you an idea of what we’re after, here’s one we prepared earlier:
And the more creative you can get, the better*. Hurry, entries close next Sunday 11 October. Terms and conditions below.
- Did I Win?:Winners will be chosen by CSIRO based on images uploaded to our social channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) which include the hashtag: #MoonBuzz. Users should also indicate their city of choice (Sydney or Melbourne) in their post. The image adjudged to be the most interesting, unique or humorous (ie the best) will be declared the winner.
- When and Where: Sydney: 27 November; Melbourne: 29 November. Visit www.liveonstageaustralia.com.au for more info.
- Be a Follower:You must be following one of our accounts to be considered (whether it be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter)
- Not on Instagram?:Shame on you! But we don’t mind, share your pics with us on Facebook and Twitter and we will include those in the competition, if you include #CSIROgram
- No, you’re not funny: Trust us, submitting a picture of you ‘mooning’ us will not get any laughs. We’ll just block and report you.
*As much as we’d love to claim credit for coming up with this selfie idea, credit must go to fans of the Mighty Boosh.
Amid growing demand for seafood, gas and other resources drawn from the world’s oceans, and growing stresses from climate change, we examine some of the challenges and solutions for developing “the blue economy” in smarter, more sustainable ways.
Diving the warm, crystal clear waters of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Marine Park is an experience for the lucky few. Its coral reefs attract a huge variety of marine life, including turtles, manta rays and countless species of tropical fish – including the now iconic clownfish.
If you’ve gone diving there recently, or are planning a holiday, you may have noticed that the marine park fees have gone up sharply in past 12 months – as they have in many other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
But you might actually be happy to discover why.
The cost of caring for coral reefs
The dive industry has long been criticised as contributing to declines in coral reef health around the world. Coral reefs globally are under increasing pressure from the cumulative impacts of fishing, shipping, and coastal development, as well as longer-term impacts due to climate change. And unless it’s managed, increased diving and snorkelling tourism can become just another environmental strain.
That’s not in anyone’s interests. Failure to adequately manage activities within reef areas is likely to lead to their degradation, which will make them less attractive to divers and other tourists in the long-term.
But taking better care of our reefs comes at a cost. It requires monitoring and surveillance, as well as ensuring users (such as divers) and beneficiaries (such as local businesses) of the reefs are aware of their impacts and understand how to avoid them.
Across Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, dive tourism directly dependent on the health of coral reefs brings in around US$1.5 billion a year to local communities. Most of this is in remote areas, where alternative sources of income are limited.
Those three countries have set up a number of marine parks to protect their reefs. And about 70% of those parks have long had dive fees in place.
But the fees have typically been very low, while government contributions were also relatively constrained – which is why a 2006 study found that only about one in seven marine reserves in south east Asia had adequate financial resources.
That’s where learning from the Australian experience, together with modelling work from an international team of researchers, has helped provide a practical solution.
How tourists help pay to preserve the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is one of Australia’s great tourism international drawcards – for divers in particular – injecting an estimated AUS$5 billion into the economy and generating around 64,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
But right from the early days of establishing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia had to grapple with how to pay for crucial conservation work.
That’s why divers and other visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park each pay an environmental management charge of AU$6 a day. That contributes around 20% of the AU$40 million annual management costs.
Modelling to test what impact this charge has on visitor numbers suggests that it is very small, and the gains in terms of financial resources for management far exceed any potential losses to local businesses – which, after all, also depend on the reef for their continued survival.
Testing a model solution
But until a few years ago, the idea of charging higher fees was opposed by many tourism and related businesses in south east Asian diving communities, concerned that it might cause tourist numbers and earnings fall.
In 2013, a group of international researchers supported by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research worked with managers, resort owners and dive operators in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to develop options for improved reef management in the region.
This included modelling what might happen if you increased dive fees to pay for reef conservation. That study predicted that even if the conservation fees were more than doubled, it was unlikely to deter many divers, who care about the places they go diving in.
It also predicted that the revenue raised for reef protection would far exceed the loss in tourism expenditure in local communities, and help ensure that the communities as well as the reefs would survive into the future.
What higher diving fees are funding
Since then, as any keen divers reading this might already have seen, user fees in many of their marine parks have been introduced or increased. For example, at the Raja Ampat Marine Park in Indonesia, fees for foreign visitors have doubled in 2015 to 1,000,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about AU$100) for an annual permit.
More modest fee increases (and fee levels) have also been seen in most Thai and Malaysian marine parks this year, with most now charging international visitors between AU$10 and AU$20 a day for access.
So what are you paying for? Among other things, divers are helping by paying more for rangers’ wages and for patrols to keep out illegal fishing, mining and poachers, as well as conservation and reef rehabilitation projects in the parks.
But when you consider how much it costs to go on a diving holiday, being asked to pay the equivalent of a light meal is not too much to ask. Indeed, from the modelling study, most visitors gain substantially much more than this in terms of benefits from diving on these coral reefs, and could potentially contribute greater amounts to protect them for future generations.
By digging a little deeper, divers can do more than just go on holiday: they can contribute to longer-term conservation of some of the most extraordinary places on Earth.
Fisheries Economist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship at CSIRO
Professor at James Cook University
You don’t need a crystal ball to know Australia’s rural industries will face significant change at global, national and local levels over the coming decades. This will create opportunities and challenges for small and large farms, and will affect rural lifestyles, agricultural landscapes and Australia’s society and economy.
In a new report, we describe this future through a series of interlinked “megatrends” set to hit Australia over the coming 20 years. As we describe below, each prompts some serious questions (or “conversation-starters”, as we have termed them) for Australian farmers. We don’t yet know the answers, but we do know they will be crucial for how the industry fares in the future.
The world will get hungrier
We know that the world is going to require more food as populations grow – about 70% more by 2050, according to the United Nations. This will come primarily from increasing yields, along with some expansion of agricultural land.
The target is achievable but should not be taken for granted. There are competing uses of land for biofuels and urbanisation; in some places land is degrading; and we don’t have good predictions yet of the effect of climate change on agriculture. As a significant exporter of food, Australia has a vital role to play in supplying world food markets and buffering supply shocks.
We are well positioned — both in terms of geography and comparative advantage — to supply overseas markets. And while Australia can’t hope to feed Asia or the world, with astute R&D investment it can increase production and exports. How well we step up to that challenge depends largely on our ability to maintain a price competitive position and continue to improve yields. So the key questions are:
Will farms be able to scale up production and performance to meet this challenge?
What is a sensible investment in innovation, and how should it be funded?
The world will get wealthier
Some 1.02 billion people will move out of poverty and into the middle classes in the developing Asia region alone by 2040. Along with wealth comes the ability to diversify food choices – wealthier households will consume more meat, dairy and vegetable oils.
This presents an opportunity for Australian rural industries to identify new food types and connect to new markets. A diversified rural export base is likely to be more resilient to supply-and-demand shocks in markets.
Is Australia better off focusing on commodity markets that have provided solid export earnings, or should it be working hard to respond to the demand for a more diverse range of boutique, luxury and niche food and fibre goods?
Does Australia have the infrastructure and the persistence to get a wider range of desirable agricultural products into Asian markets competitively?
Customers will get pickier
The consumer of the future will be increasingly able and motivated to choose food and fibre products with certain characteristics. This has impacts both within and beyond the farm gate. Information technology will increasingly enable the consumer to access, share and validate information about products along the whole supply chain from farm to fork.
Health is likely to become a particularly prominent driver of food choice and consumption patterns – be that from a desire for food safety or to help prevent chronic disease. Many people’s lives are being cut short by poor diets, and at current trajectories government budgets could become crippled by unsustainable growth in healthcare expenditure.
The issues of environment, provenance and ethics will also play a vital role. The consumer of the future will have greater expectations for these qualities in the food and fibre products they choose to buy. Consumers will be “information-empowered” and rural industries stand to gain or lose market share based on this increase in consumers’ knowledge.
In the face of soaring diet-related health costs, will governments increase control of the components of food and diets?
How does agriculture in Australia build and safeguard its clean, green reputation?
Technologies will transform farm life
Advances in digital technology, genetics and materials science will change the way food and fibre products are created and transported.
Many plant productivity breakthroughs will be from gene technology. Big data systems and digital technologies will bring better risk-management approaches to Australian agriculture; weather and yields will be much more predictable and farmers will have sophisticated tools to assist with decision making.
Knowledge about land use and framing practices will increasingly move into the public domain as remote monitoring, be it from drones or satellites, makes available new data in a highly interconnected world. Business and capital models will change with the introduction of “disruptive” technologies such as peer-to-peer lending.
Will market perceptions hold back Australian agriculture by restricting access to advanced technologies being used by our major competitors?
How will farmers manage a higher level of scrutiny of their operations?
The rollercoaster of risks will get bumpier
Risk is an ever-present characteristic of Australian agriculture. However, the coming decades will see changes in the global climate, environmental systems and the world economy which will create new and potentially deeper risks for farmers.
Australian agriculture has shown a strong capacity to adapt and respond to risks in the past. But as trade globalises and we rely more on imported inputs such as fertiliser and fuel, the risk of supply chain shocks increases.
More international trade and passenger travel brings greater biosecurity risks. Climate change impacts are not well understood, and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions will set up competing land uses for both biofuels and carbon storage.
Do we understand the likely implications of a global price on carbon of US$50-100 per tonne?
Is the agriculture sector at risk of complacency and underinvestment when it comes to risk management?
Overall, there is a bright future for Australian agriculture, laden with deep and diverse opportunity. The future outlined above will be a challenge for some producers and industries but an opportunity for others. The effectiveness with which Australian agriculture captures these opportunities and avoids the risks will largely come down to innovation.
Through centuries past, repeated innovation has allowed Australian farmers to expand into new land areas, develop water resources and increase crop and pasture yields. As we look to the decades ahead, innovation becomes ever more important. In a world of exponential growth in both technology and global trade, it’s about working smarter, not just harder.
If you’re a parent, how important is it to you that your child have an inquisitive mind? One that is imaginative and curious and seeks out a different path. A mind that has a thirst for challenge.
At work, it’s the colleague you seek when all else has failed. As a manager, it’s the person you hope will walk in the door when you sit on an interview panel.
It’s the kind of thinking you nurture through science, engineering, maths and technology (STEM). And it’s the kind of thinking that leads you to CSIRO.
Today, we’re playing host to over 100 events around Australia to drum up support for these subjects at school.
We’re doing this through our Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMiS) program. SMiS is a national volunteer program bringing real science, maths and ICT into primary and high school classes through partnerships between teachers and STEM professionals.
To kick-start National Science Week, we’ve invited a raft of pollies to join us in a science activity at their local school. We’ll be using this blog to host a live photo gallery of today’s events so check back in when you can.
Follow the conversation using #STEMinschools.
If you’d like to learn more about SMiS and how you can get involved, head to our website.