Region: Australia

As Ocean Waters Heat Up, <br />A Quest to Create ‘Super Corals’


As Ocean Waters Heat Up,
A Quest to Create ‘Super Corals’

by nicola jones
With the world’s coral reefs increasingly threatened by warmer and more acidic seas, scientists are selectively breeding corals to create species with the best chance to survive in the coming century and beyond. Are genetically modified corals next?

Despite Hurdles, Solar Power in <br />Australia Is Too Robust to Kill


Despite Hurdles, Solar Power in
Australia Is Too Robust to Kill

by jo chandler
No nation has as high a penetration of residential solar as Australia, with one in five homes now powered by the sun. And while the government has slashed incentives, solar energy continues to grow, thanks to a steep drop in the cost of PV panels and the country’s abundant sunshine.

How Technology Is Protecting <br />World’s Richest Marine Reserve


How Technology Is Protecting
World’s Richest Marine Reserve

by christopher pala
After years of fitful starts, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati this month banned all commercial fishing inside its huge marine reserve. New satellite transponder technology is now helping ensure that the ban succeeds in keeping out the big fishing fleets.

Why Wave Power Has Lagged <br />Far Behind as Energy Source


Why Wave Power Has Lagged
Far Behind as Energy Source

by dave levitan
Researchers have long contended that power from ocean waves could make a major contribution as a renewable energy source. But a host of challenges, including the difficulty of designing a device to capture the energy of waves, have stymied efforts to generate electricity from the sea.

People or Parks: The Human<br /> Factor in Protecting Wildlife


People or Parks: The Human
Factor in Protecting Wildlife

by richard conniff
Recent studies in Asia and Australia found that community-managed areas can sometimes do better than traditional parks at preserving habitat and biodiversity. When it comes to conservation, maybe local people are not the problem, but the solution.

In Australia, an Uphill Battle<br />To Rein in the Power of Coal

The Future of Coal: An e360 Report

In Australia, an Uphill Battle
To Rein in the Power of Coal

by samiha shafy
Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal, thanks to huge markets in China, Japan, and other Asian countries. Environmentalists have been struggling to scale back the nation’s coal boom, but the recent election of a conservative prime minister may keep coal on top.

Facing Tough Market at Home,<br /> U.S. Coal Giant Pushes Overseas

The Future of Coal: An e360 Report

Facing Tough Market at Home,
U.S. Coal Giant Pushes Overseas

by lisa palmer
With prospects in the U.S. increasingly uncertain, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, is expanding its operations abroad. But that strategy could carry significant risks, as coal-consuming powerhouses like China are working to reduce their dependence on the fossil fuel.

Boom in Mining Rare Earths<br /> Poses Mounting Toxic Risks


Boom in Mining Rare Earths
Poses Mounting Toxic Risks

by mike ives
The mining of rare earth metals, used in everything from smart phones to wind turbines, has long been dominated by China. But as mining of these key elements spreads to countries like Malaysia and Brazil, scientists warn of the dangers of the toxic and radioactive waste generated by the mines and processing plants.

In Fight to Save Coral Reefs,<br /> Finding Strategies that Work


In Fight to Save Coral Reefs,
Finding Strategies that Work

by kevin dennehy
In four decades as a marine biologist, Nancy Knowlton has played a key role in documenting the biodiversity of coral reefs and the threats they increasingly face. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she assesses the state of the world’s corals and highlights conservation projects that offer hope of saving these irreplaceable ecosystems.

In Australia’s New Carbon Tax,<br /> A Host of Missed Opportunities


In Australia’s New Carbon Tax,
A Host of Missed Opportunities

by richard denniss
The Australian government will begin imposing a tax on carbon emissions in mid-2012. But large giveaways to industry mean Australia’s scheme doesn’t go nearly far enough in reducing the nation’s CO2 emissions or providing economic stimulus.

The World’s Tropical Forests<br /> Are Already Feeling the Heat


The World’s Tropical Forests
Are Already Feeling the Heat

by william laurance
Much attention has been paid to how global warming is affecting the world’s polar regions and glaciers. But a leading authority on tropical forests warns that rising temperatures could have an equally profound impact on rainforests and are already taking a toll on some tropical species.

Is the End in Sight for<br /> The World’s Coral Reefs?


Is the End in Sight for
The World’s Coral Reefs?

by j.e.n. veron
It is a difficult idea to fathom. But the science is clear: Unless we change the way we live, the Earth's coral reefs will be utterly destroyed within our children's lifetimes.


Warming Takes Center Stage
as Australian Drought Worsens

by keith schneider
With record-setting heat waves, bush fires and drought, Australians are increasingly convinced they are facing the early impacts of global warming. Their growing concern about climate change has led to a consensus that the nation must now act boldly to stave off the crisis.


Deep Geothermal: The Untapped Renewable Energy Source

by david biello
Until now, geothermal technology has only been used on a small scale to produce power. But with major new projects now underway, deep geothermal systems may soon begin making a significant contribution to the world’s energy needs.

What’s Killing<br/> the Tasmanian Devil?


What’s Killing
the Tasmanian Devil?

by david quammen
Scientists have been trying to identify the cause of a cancer epidemic that is wiping out Australia’s Tasmanian devils. Now new research points to an alarming conclusion: because of the species’ low genetic diversity, the cancer is contagious and is spreading from one devil to another.

e360 digest


07 Aug 2015: New Zealand Will Shutter Last
Remaining Coal Power Plants, Officials Say

New Zealand will close its last remaining coal plants and rely even more heavily on renewable sources for its electricity needs,
Buller Coalfield in New Zealand

Buller Coalfield, South Island, New Zealand
the country's energy minister announced Thursday. New Zealand already has the fourth-largest share of renewable electricity generation in the world, with roughly 80 percent of its energy needs met by renewables. The final two coal-fired power plants will shut down by December 2018, according to the utility company running the plants, which cited changing market conditions that have made coal power unnecessary in New Zealand. The nation has been using coal to fill gaps in dry years, when hydropower could not meet the grid's demand. But recent investments in wind and, particularly, geothermal energy have made that stopgap measure unnecessary, the energy minister said. The country has pledged ahead of the Paris climate summit to cut emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.


13 Jul 2015: Australian Government Curbs
Investments in Wind and Solar Energy

The Australian Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), a government-funded organization that invests in renewable energy, will no
Australia rooftop solar

Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr
Rooftop solar panels in Western Australia
longer invest in wind technology and small-scale solar projects, the government announced Sunday. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the CEFC should invest in new and emerging technologies, and that wind and small-scale solar projects should instead be supported by the free market. Currently, one-third of CEFC funding, which totals roughly $10 billion, goes to solar projects, the majority of which are small-scale. The funding ban could increase prices for small-scale solar projects such as rooftop photovoltaic panel installations, especially for low-income households, renters, and public housing tenants. The ban on these investments is the latest in a series of actions by the Abbott government to make cuts in environmental initiatives, including two failed attempts to abolish the CEFC.


01 May 2015: One in Six Species Facing
Extinction in Current Climate Trajectory

Future increases in global temperatures will threaten up to one in six species if current climate policies are not modified,
Nursery frog

Nursery frogs are among the species most at risk.
according to new research published in the journal Science. Global extinction rates are currently at 2.8 percent, the study notes. If global average temperature rises by only 2 degrees C — a benchmark that many scientists think is no longer attainable — the extinction rate will rise to 5.2 percent, the study found. If the planet warms by 3 degrees C, the extinction risk rises to 8.5 percent. And if the current, business-as-usual trajectory continues, climate change will threaten one in six species, or 16 percent, the study says. The risk of species loss is most acute for areas that have unique climate ranges — particularly South America, Australia, and New Zealand — yet those regions are the least studied, the author notes.


21 Apr 2015: Australia Could Attain
100 Percent Renewables by 2050, Study Says

Australia could reduce its greenhouse emissions significantly and transition to an economy
Australia wind farm

Windy Hill wind farm in Queensland, Australia.
predominantly fueled by renewable energy for very little cost, according to an analysis by the Australian National University and WWF. The country could generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables and have zero net emissions by 2050 because wind and solar technologies have fallen rapidly in price in recent years and Australia is the world's sunniest and windiest continent. Any progress, however, will depend on the government's willingness to set clear, long-term policies and regulations encouraging renewable energy use, the authors note. Under conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia's current climate action plan calls for only a five percent cut in emissions from 2000 levels over the next five years.


14 Jul 2014: Human Activity Has Caused
Long-term Australian Drought, Model Shows

A new high-resolution climate model shows that southwestern Australia's long-term decline in fall and winter rainfall, which began around 1970 and has increased over the last four decades, is caused by

Click to Enlarge
Projected drying in Australia

Projected rainfall trends in Australia
increases in man-made greenhouse gas emissions and ozone depletion, according to research published in Nature Geoscience. Simulating both natural and man-made climate effects, scientists showed that the decline in rainfall is primarily driven by human activity. Rises in greenhouse gas emissions and thinning of the ozone hole have led to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation, including a poleward movement of the westerly winds and increasing atmospheric surface pressure over parts of southern Australia. This has led to decreased rainfall, the study said. The drying is most severe over southwest Australia, where the model forecasts a 40 percent decline in average rainfall by the late 21st century, with significant implications for regional water resources.


13 Feb 2014: Australian Bushfire Has Grown
To Size of Melbourne, NASA Image Shows

A fire rivaling the size of the city of Melbourne is raging in southeastern Australia, as a NASA satellite image taken at night earlier this week shows. The Snowy River Complex Fire, which is burning mountain forests near a

Click to Enlarge
Australian fire the size of Melbourne

Australian bushfire and Melbourne at night
remote national park, is one of three bushfires that flared up last weekend. Fueled by strong winds combined with a heat wave and prolonged dry conditions, the three fires have consumed more than 180,000 hectares (695 square miles), about 100,000 (390 square miles) of which burned in the Snowy River Complex. That fire's dense, opaque smoke is visible from space during night and day, and satellite images show the smoke plume stretching across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. The Snowy River blaze includes fires that ignited on February 9, as well as fires that were started by lightning in January. Though stunningly large in this view, they do not pose much of a threat to people or infrastructure.


20 Aug 2013: Google ‘Street View’ Will
Document Changes to World's Coral Reefs

Marine biologists are teaming up with Google to photograph detailed 360-degree panoramas of coral reefs around the globe. Using technology similar to

Click to enlarge
Google coral reef street view

Google takes Street View to coral reefs.
Google’s Street View feature, users will be able to survey coral reefs much like they might scope out a city block. The project, Google Street View Oceans, has already surveyed a 150-kilometer stretch of the Great Barrier Reef and is now working on reefs in the Caribbean. "Only 1 percent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef, and by making the experience easily accessible the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs," said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a marine biologist at the University of Queensland in Australia who is leading the survey. Image recognition software will log the distribution and abundance of marine organisms, and the researchers hope "citizen scientists" viewing the reefs will help assess other key measures of reef health.


20 May 2013: System Converts Pig Waste
Into Biogas at Chinese Pig Farms

An international team of researchers has developed a system that will help Chinese farmers convert massive amounts of pig waste into a renewable source of energy
Pig Waste Biogas
Getty Images
and fertilizer. The project, led by Australia-based Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment (CRC CARE), uses a two-step anaerobic biodigester that is able to treat 73,000 tons of waste annually, producing 380 cubic meters of biogas daily and about 5,600 tons of fertilizer per year. According to its developers, it will also provide a solution to a growing waste disposal challenge in China, where pigs generate more than 1.4 million tons of excrement annually. “Only 10 percent of this waste is currently treated, posing a considerable disposal headache, as well as health and water quality risks,” said Ravi Naidu, managing director of CRC CARE. While the system is being introduced at pig farms across China, Naidu says the technology could eventually help solve critical waste management challenges worldwide and make the pork industry more sustainable.


07 Feb 2013: Wind Energy Now Cheaper
Than Fossil Fuel Power Plants in Australia

Unsubsidized wind power is now cheaper than electricity produced from new coal- and natural gas-fired power stations in Australia, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The study said that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of 80 Australian dollars per megawatt hour, compared to 143 Australian dollars from a new coal plant and 116 Australian dollars from a new natural gas plant. Even without a recently imposed carbon price, wind energy is 14 percent cheaper than new coal power and 18 percent cheaper than new natural gas, the study said. The analysis said that Australia’s largest banks are unlikely to finance new coal plants because of concern over emissions-intensive investments and that natural gas has become expensive as Australia exports more liquid natural gas. By 2020, the report said, large-scale solar arrays will also be cheaper than coal or gas when carbon taxes are figured in. “The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.


08 Nov 2012: Molecular ‘Trap Door’ Method
May Reduce Costs of Carbon Capture

Australian scientists have developed a method for trapping carbon dioxide that they say could ultimately reduce the costs of separating and storing carbon from fossil fuel emissions. Writing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers from the University of Melbourne say they have produced an ultra-fine sieve that separates only carbon dioxide from a gas stream, acting as a sort of “molecular trapdoor.” According to the study, the new method — which can be used in power plants or during natural gas extraction — uses a chemical called a chabazite that allows carbon dioxide to pass through but blocks other chemicals. While many such existing carbon capture technologies use similar “sieves,” they often require additional stages of refining and extraction before yielding a pure form of CO2. “Because [the new process] allows only carbon dioxide molecules to be captured, it will reduce the cost and energy required for separating carbon dioxide,” said Paul Webley, a professor at the University of Melbourne and one of the study’s authors.


06 Nov 2012: World’s Rarest Whale Species
Identified After New Zealand Beaching

Scientists have confirmed that two whales that washed onto the New Zealand coast two years ago were spade-toothed beaked whales, an enigmatic species so rare that no human is known to have ever seen one alive. Writing in the journal Current Biology, New Zealand and U.S. researchers provide the first full description of the species, which previously was known only from three skull fragments recovered over a 140-year span, the most recent of which was found 26 years ago. When conservation workers initially found the adult whale and her 11-foot male calf on a New Zealand beach in December 2010, they thought they were Gray’s beaked whales, a far more common species. But DNA tests of tissue samples collected from the animals revealed that they were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species whose males have blade-like tusk teeth, and researchers later exhumed the whales to conduct additional tests.


02 Oct 2012: Great Barrier Reef Lost
Half of Coral Cover Since 1985, Study Says

The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in just 27 years, with most of that decline coming as a result of heavy storms, predation by crown-of-thorn starfish, and coral bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures. In a comprehensive survey of 214 reefs, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) found that coral cover declined from 28 percent in 1985 to 13.8 percent this year. Intense tropical storms, particularly in the central and southern parts of the reef, have caused about 48 percent of the coral loss, researchers say. An explosion in populations of starfish along the reef caused about 42 percent of the decline; about 10 percent was caused by major bleaching events. Reefs are typically able to regain their coral cover after such disturbances, said Hugh Sweatman, a lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But recovery takes 10-20 years, he noted. The study found efforts to reduce starfish populations could help increase coral cover at a rate of 0.89 percent per year.


25 Sep 2012: Coral Biodiversity Hotspot
Is Found in Western Indian Ocean

The western Indian Ocean, especially the waters between Madagascar and Africa, contain one of the highest levels of coral diversity worldwide, with 369 coral species identified in a recent study and more still to be identified. Scientists say the western Indian Ocean may contain as much coral biodiversity as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, though not as much as the world’s richest region for corals, the so-called coral triangle in Southeast Asia. Reporting in the journal PLoS ONE, David Obura, a scientist with the Group Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said that 10 percent of the species are found only in the western Indian Ocean. He said the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and mainland Africa, contains roughly 250 to 300 coral species. Meanwhile, Australian scientists report that water temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef have increased steadily in the last 25 years, in some places rising as much as .5 degrees C. Such increases can contribute to coral bleaching, which can lead to mass coral die-offs.


30 Jul 2012: Scheme Opens Papua New Guinea Forests to Foreign Loggers, Report Says

More than 5 million hectares (12.3 million acres) of community-held land in Papua New Guinea have been signed over to foreign and domestic corporations through a government leasing scheme, accelerating
Papua New Guinea
©Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace
deforestation in the resource-rich nation, a new Greenpeace study says. Using data and mapping analysis and government information, the group found that about 75 percent of the leased forest land — or about 3.9 million hectares — is controlled by foreign corporations for up to 99 years through a so-called Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL) scheme. The report claims that many companies paid government officials to approve long-term leases and that in one case logging companies paid police to intimidate and assault landowners who opposed the leases. “People are losing their land and their livelihoods for up to three generations and their forests forever,” said Paul Winn, leader of the Greenpeace Forests Team. Greenpeace says Papua New Guinea’s logging exports increased 20 percent last year, due largely to the SABL scheme. The total amount of land leased through SABLs makes up 11 percent of the country’s land area and 16 percent of accessible commercial forest.


25 May 2012: Marine Reserves Replenish
Commercial Fisheries, DNA Tests Show

DNA testing has shown that the creation of marine reserves where no fishing is allowed helps to replenish fish stocks outside the reserve boundaries. In a study conducted at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, researchers collected tissue samples from two species of commercially popular fish — including 466 samples of adult coral trout and 1,154 samples from stripey snapper — located within three reserve areas. After collecting juveniles of both species in protected and unprotected areas over the next 15 months, the researchers found that about half of the juveniles were offspring of fish found in the reserve areas, even though the reserves accounted for just 28 percent of the study area. In other words, fish found in the reserves “punch above their weight in replenishing fishery stocks,” said Garry Russ, a researcher from James Cook University and one of the authors of the study, published online in the journal Current Biology.


30 Apr 2012: Australia Lists Koala As
Threatened Species for First Time

The Australian government has added the koala to the list of threatened species in parts of the country for the first time, saying the iconic species is under threat from habitat loss, urban expansion, disease, and climate change. Following a three-year study, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced that koalas will be listed as vulnerable in Queensland, where populations have declined by 40 percent in two decades; New South Wales, where numbers have dropped by one-third; and the Australian Capital Territory. In addition to the listing, which will impose restrictions on development in areas where the species is threatened, the government committed $300,000 for koala monitoring and habitat research. Not only are koalas facing declining food sources as eucalypt plants are aggressively cleared for development, but scientists say the nutritional value of remaining eucalypts has diminished as a result of climate change. While the government says there are about 200,000 remaining koalas nationwide, the Australian Koala Foundation estimates there are likely fewer than 100,000.


02 Apr 2012: Some Corals More Resilient
To Increased Acidification, Study Shows

Some coral species may be better able to cope with the increasingly acidic condition of the world’s oceans than previously believed, a new study says. Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, an international team of scientists describes an internal mechanism by which many coral species are able to buffer against the rising pH levels and still form healthy skeletons. According to the scientists, coral species with skeletons made of aragonite — including the well-known Porites and Acropora corals — contain molecular “pumps” that enable them to regulate internal acid balance. Corals that form calcite skeletons, however, do not have this mechanism. Also, the researchers found that coralline algae — which they describe as the “glue” that holds coral reefs together — remain vulnerable to ocean acidification. In another study, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have documented how temperatures in the upper regions of the world’s oceans have increased by an average of .59 degrees F (.33 degrees C) over the last 140 years, with the greatest temperature increases occurring at surface levels, where temperatures rose by an average of 1.1 degrees F.


27 Mar 2012: Common Herbicide a Threat
To Great Barrier Reef, Report Says

A popular herbicide used widely in coastal regions of Australia has been found at dangerous levels in the Great Barrier Reef, posing a toxic threat to the world’s largest coral reef system. The chemical Diuron, which is used largely by sugar cane farmers along the Queensland coast, was found at levels 55 times higher than safety standards in creeks that drain into the reef, and at levels 100 times the safe standards in the reef itself, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund. After a decade-long review, the Australian government on Tuesday announced it would continue a suspension of the chemical except in the country's tropical regions. A decision on a permanent ban will be made by November, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority said. In a recent report, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority called a decline in the quality of water in catchment areas one of the greatest threats facing the reef. Nick Heath, the WWF freshwater and reef coordinator, said the widespread use of the chemical and the length of time it persists in the environment pose a significant threat.


23 Mar 2012: Australian Mammal Extinctions
Tied to Human Hunting, Not Climate Change

The disappearance roughly 40,000 years ago of dozens of large mammals in Australia — including rhinoceros-sized wombats and tapir-like marsupials — was caused by human hunting and not by climate change, according to a new study by Australian scientists.
Australia Diprotodon
©Science/AAAS/Drawing by Peter Murray
Diprotodon optatum
Researchers at the University of Tasmania reached that conclusion after analyzing two mud core samples dating back as far as 130,000 years. By examining the cores for the Sporomiella fungus — which only releases its spores when in the dung of plant-eating animals — the scientists concluded that megafauna survived periods of climate change over the last 100,000 years. But when humans arrived in sizeable numbers, the presence of the spores dropped “almost to zero” around 41,000 years ago, indicating that hunting was the main reason for the extinction of these large animals, according to the paper, published in Science. Not long after the megafauna was hunted to extinction, grasses and trees began to grow more profusely because of the decline of grazing animals, setting the stage for large fires. The Australian research parallels other, similar findings worldwide showing that human hunting was crucial in large-animal extinctions.


12 Mar 2012: Scientists Use Ancient Gene
To Create Salt-Tolerant Wheat Variety

Australian scientists have crossed a popular variety of wheat with an ancient species, producing a salt-tolerant variety they say could help reduce food shortages in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions. Using a genetic variation that had been lost in plants due to domestication before it was rediscovered a decade ago, the researchers say they were able to boost yields of durum wheat by 25 percent in salty soils. The gene, which was isolated from an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum, is believed to help prevent salt from traveling up the plant’s shoots, where it can cause damage, lead researcher Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide, told Reuters. “Salty soils are a major problem because if soldium starts to build up in the leaves it will affect important processes such as photosynthesis,” he said. The findings could have an important impact on wheat yields worldwide, where salinity already affects more than 20 percent of soils, Gilliham said. The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


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