Study reveals climate choices we make in coming decades are make or break – but we won’t see their impact in Antarctica this century – 15/10/2021

Source: GNS Science

This is the key finding of new research published today by climate experts at GNS Science and Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Science Platform National Modelling Hub.

The study, led by GNS Science’s Dr Dan Lowry, represents a new approach to understanding Antarctic Ice Sheet change and its potential to raise sea level by multiple metres. It paves the way for clearer projections of the future of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

“Our ability to predict how much and how quickly Antarctic Ice Sheet melt will occur is limited by our understanding of the ice sheet” says Dr Lowry.

Traditionally, researchers use numerical models to understand how ice sheets flow under different climate states. These models rely on assumptions in areas of uncertainty – like the internal structure of the ice and conditions of the bedrock and sediment beneath the ice – which impact how sensitive a modelled ice sheet is to climate change.

To overcome these uncertainties, the team of researchers developed a statistical emulator based on the data of hundreds of ice sheet models. With the emulator, they explored thousands of scenarios that could affect future sea level projections; something ice sheet simulations cannot do in a reasonable amount of time.

 Our results highlight the urgency of reducing carbon emissions and the long-term consequences of failing to do so

Dr Dan Lowry

“By combining ice sheet models and an emulator, we are more certain about unobservable processes happening underneath Antarctica’s ice sheet” says co-author Dr Mario Krapp, also from GNS Science.

The team produced projections based on both a low-emissions scenario, in which global carbon emissions were reduced quickly over the next few decades, and a high-emissions scenario in which emissions kept increasing to the end of the century.

“There was substantial overlap in plausible ice sheet contributions to sea level for the two emissions scenarios in this century” says Dr Lowry.

But by 2300, the different outcomes of the different emissions scenarios were crystal clear.

“Under the high emissions scenario, the rate of sea level rise was double what it was under the low emissions scenario – with the Antarctic Ice Sheet contributing over 1.5m more to global sea level in the high emissions scenario, due to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet”.

These maps of Antarctica show the projected change in ice thickness between the present and the year 2300, for a low-emissions scenario (left) and a high-emissions scenario (right), with red indicating ice loss and blue showing ice gain.

The earliest warning sign of a future with a multi-metre Antarctic contribution to sea level rise is widespread thinning of Antarctica’s Ross and Ronne-Filchner ice shelves.

“These shelves hold back the land-based ice, but as they thin and break off, this resistance weakens, allowing land-based ice to more easily flow into the ocean” Dr Lowry explains.

“Without these shelves, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses”.

In a high emissions scenario, this widespread ice shelf thinning occurs within the next few decades.  But more importantly, the thinning does not occur under a low emissions scenario and the majority of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet remains intact.

 “Our results highlight the urgency of reducing carbon emissions and the long-term consequences of failing to do so” cautions Dr Lowry.

“Even if we meet the Paris Agreement target, the long memory of Antarctica means we should still expect to see melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet for centuries and millennia to come.

“To avoid the worst impact on coastal communities around the world, planners and policy makers need to develop meaningful adaptation strategies and evaluate mitigation strategies for the ongoing threat of sea level rise”.

Researchers produce stunning images

Researchers produce stunning images

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

A break in the clouds in a remote Fiordland valley and a chance encounter with a jellyfish under the Antarctic ice provide just some of the highlights from this year’s NIWA Staff Photography competition.

Science takes NIWA employees to some stunning locations and leads to some special encounters, and every year the research organisation holds a photographic competition for staff working across its climate, oceans and freshwater platforms.

This year attracted more than 400 entries and has produced another batch of spectacular results.

A moody Fiordland landscape, captured by freshwater ecologist Shannan Crow, has won the public vote for the 2021 People’s Choice award.

Christchurch-based Shannan was in the headwaters of the Eglinton River working on the release of juvenile eels when the sun peeked through the clouds and he reached for his camera.

“The scene was looking pretty poor with the dark cloud and flat light, but as I started heading back there was a small break in the clouds which let in some light further down the valley,” Shannan says.  

The “view from the office” can certainly be one of the perks of the job for NIWA’s environmental research staff.

Scientific dive specialist Rod Budd was working in the chilly waters of the Ross Sea when he snapped an Antarctic jellyfish drifting past, while algal ecologist Anita Pearson was on freshwater survey duties in the scenic MacKenzie Country when she noticed a surreal grouping of ducks on Lake Pukaki’s glacial waters.

For the record, the external judges settled on the following competition awards: Our People – Mark Murphy; Our Work – Crispin Middleton; Our Places – Jochen Bind; Emerging Photographer – Penny Smale; Special – Mark Murphy.

DOC urges public to respect stranded marine mammals

DOC urges public to respect stranded marine mammals

Source: Department of Conservation

Date:  14 October 2021

The 14.2 m long baleen whale washed ashore at the northern end of Tokomaru Bay on 2 October. Investigations revealed the whale died at sea.

DOC received some disturbing reports of members of the public attempting to remove pieces of the whale and causing damage to the body.

“In New Zealand, all whales are protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act,” says Jamie Quirk, Gisborne Biodiversity Ranger for DOC.

“It is an offence to interfere with the dead bodies of whales and anyone caught could face prosecution.

“We should have respect for our wildlife, dead or alive.”

DOC is investigating these events, with the assistance of New Zealand Police. If you see a beached whale, dead or alive, call 0800 DOC HOT.

The whale’s remains have since been reclaimed by the sea.

Learn more about New Zealand’s whales and DOC’s role in their protection.

Background information

Whales and other wild animals can carry viruses and pathogens that are dangerous to humans. All staff working with carcasses must wear PPE to protect themselves.

Protect yourself and your whānau by keeping a respectful distance and not handling any parts of the dead animal.

Penalties for breaching the Marine Mammals Protection Act can range up to two years in prison, or a fine of up to $250,000.


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Golf Club taking aim at pests and predators

Golf Club taking aim at pests and predators

Source: Department of Conservation

Date:  14 October 2021

from the site, which is right in the heart of Auckland, has seen wildlife thriving.

“We have been trapping in the course for three years and we have caught rats and possums. Over the years our trapping has intensified, and we have seen less predators and more wildlife.”

Rats have a major impact in New Zealand because they eat birds, seeds, snails, lizards, fruit, weta, eggs, chicks, larvae and flowers. Possums also have a significant impact on many of New Zealand’s natural ecosystems and the since the rise of predators, wildlife visibility and sightings have been scarce.

“We have seen and heard 40 species of native and introduced birds on the course such as New Zealand Grebe, brown teal and ruru – two young children whose home neighbours the golf course heard ruru one night during lock down, they toured the course and worked out where they heard the ruru and made nesting boxes to help them breed,” says Spencer.

Julie Kidd, DOC Strategic Partnerships Advisor says supporting communities like golf clubs to start their own trapping initiatives is an important part of predator free work and is an important tool to seeing wildlife in urban centres. 

“Auckland is New Zealand’s largest urban centre and predator control initiatives, big or small, can be adopted by anyone who wants to see nature thrive in the city.”

“Golf clubs in Auckland are green oases and supporting them in their fantastic predator control and habitat restoration work not only benefits native species, but also the people who live around these spaces.”

Spencer says the community support for the environmental work and trapping initiatives has been overwhelming.

“It’s rewarding to see birds all over the golf course and seeing our neighbours getting involved and trapping too. We have helped with other trapping projects and seen a large community uptake.

“It’s great to see golf, people and nature thrive together!”.


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Lastest wastewater results highlight ongoing detection of COVID-19

Source: ESR

The latest interactive map and dashboard(external link)of COVID-19 wastewater sampling locations throughout New Zealand includes the results of all tests taken up to and including Saturday, 9 October.The weekly report highlights all sites tested since 11 September. 

The most recent results highlight several new detections including in Raglan, Hamilton, Omaha, Helensville and Beachlands.

The dashboard is updated every Wednesday to include the results of testing for the week up to the preceding Saturday.

Since the beginning of the delta outbreak, ESR has tested more than 1,300 samples from 176 locations.

ESR undertakes testing of wastewater throughout New Zealand on behalf of the Ministry for Health for the presence of SARS CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

The results of ESR’s testing play an important part of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19, along with community testing and genome sequencing. This early warning can lead to increased local vigilance and clinical testing and allow health authorities to target public health advice to prevent transmission.

Wild Creations art installation ‘EMOH’ reflects home on the east coast

Wild Creations art installation ‘EMOH’ reflects home on the east coast

Source: Department of Conservation

Date:  13 October 2021

She is the designer of a collaborative art installation ‘EMOH’ exploring the environment on the Pōrangahau coast. This immersive exhibit, part of Wild Creations (a joint initiative between DOC and Creative New Zealand), is a series of light boxes featuring her photography (Transmit) from the area. Hand-folded by origami artist Juliet Black (Blacklight), the experience is accompanied with environmental recordings by sound artist Dr Thomas Voyce (Rhombus).

Wild Creations gives artists the chance to connect with the people, stories, and challenges of our unique environment and cultures. 

Pōrangahau School tamariki have contributed creative drawings and words featuring on two of the folded vertical light boxes. They agree: “Our Awa Taurekaitai and our Moana Te Paerahi are very special to us. They give us kai, happiness, and whānau fun times. They give us a place to play, a place to think and a place to connect with those who have gone before us. They are our tango – our past, our present and our future.”

These places are all part of a unique natural ecosystem rich with biodiversity, where sand dunes and wetlands provide shelter and sanctuary for coastal bird life.

Sarah Hunter says: “These remarkable places deserve aroha and protection. We hope they will be safe for future generations to enjoy and for the natural ecosystem to flourish.”

“Pōrangahau is a special coastal environment well worth the attention of this collaborative project sponsored by DOC and Creative New Zealand. We know this coast and estuary area is one of our top district ‘hotspots’ for coastal bird biodiversity, as well as being an area cherished by locals and visitors,” says Chris Wootton, Senior Community Ranger, DOC Hawke’s Bay District.

“Wild Creations helps enable people to experience and understand the special places in nature we identify with in Te Matau a Maaui/Hawke’s Bay. We’re pleased to have EMOH and Sarah Hunter highlight the special nature of Pōrangahau.”

The exhibition launches on Thursday, 21 October, and runs over Labour Day Weekend, with free entry on Saturday 23 October. Rhombus Sound System will accompany the show with a DJ set on the final night.

Background information

Event page on Facebook

Wild Creations is run by Creative New Zealand and DOC and gives artists the chance to experience New Zealand’s unique nature through a variety of conservation experiences.

Artists can choose from a range of DOC experiences to incorporate into their proposal, from visiting a place of significance to Māori, to getting involved in the protection of threatened species, to immersion experiences in island coastal or remote habitats.

Sarah Hunter established Transmit in 2003, an ideas and content generator company specialising in video storytelling and content.

Juliet Black is a graphic designer a photographer, and origami artist behind the range of lightshades in the exhibit.

Dr Thomas Voyce is a Lecturer, Composition, at the New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington, and a founding member of the Wellington-based roots band Rhombus. 


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DNA Expert Professor Michael Bunce To Join ESR As Principal Genomics Scientist

Source: ESR

Internationally renowned genetics expert Professor Michael Bunce is joining the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) as Principal Scientist Genomics Lead to help spearhead the Crown Entity’s increased focus on Genetics and Genomics.

Professor Bunce joins ESR from the Environmental Protection Authority where he held the role of Chief Scientist. Prior to that he was Professor of Environmental Genomics at Curtin University, Western Australia, and headed the University’s Trace and Environmental DNA laboratory.

Professor Bunce has built a distinguished career and reputation applying his genetics expertise to a range of taxonomic, ecological, medical, and environmental issues. He also notably sequenced ancient DNA from the fossil bones of moa and giant eagles and has developed novel environmental DNA (eDNA) methods to survey biodiversity that animals leave behind as they move through the environment.

ESR Chief Executive, Peter Lennox said the organisation was delighted to secure one of New Zealand’s top scientists to develop a future focused strategic model within the organisation to realise the full potential of Genomics.

“ESR is looking to build on our successful COVID-19 response and adopt a genomics-first approach where genomics will be the test of choice for all samples of infectious diseases. We are excited to have Mike join our team of incredible scientists and researchers to build on the magnificent work they do.”

The new role reports to ESR’s Chief Scientist and will work closely across the Forensic and Health & Environment Science Groups to provide strategic science leadership and enable the development of future focused genomics.
Dr Brett Cowan, ESR Chief Scientist said genomic technology will be deployed “closer to the people” within communities, leading to an increased understanding of the environment, as well as in clinics with direct impacts in the clinical setting.

“Genomics at ESR will still be important in a research setting but we see it quickly evolving and integrating into more applied settings, like being used to detect different human diseases like cancer, infectious diseases, rare disorders and antimicrobial resistance. Mike will play an important part in enabling our genomic ambition,” said Dr Cowan.

Dr Ian Town, Chief Science Advisor at the Ministry of Health, who has worked with Mike for the past 2 years said“Prof Bunce’s expertise in genetics and genomics has been hugely helpful in helping us understand this fast-moving field. His work has been especially helpful throughout the pandemic response as we look to understand links within new clusters. I look forward to working with Mike in his new role, and the wider ESR team, as they collectively build much-needed capability in this area.”

Coastal flooding likely to be main driver for adaptation

Coastal flooding likely to be main driver for adaptation

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

New NIWA-led research shows increasing flood risk is going to be what leads people to make changes to adapt to sea-level rise.

“Rising seas are slowly causing a trifecta of impacts along coastlines in Aotearoa: increasingly frequent flooding, coastal erosion and even permanent inundation,” says Dr Scott Stephens, NIWA Chief Scientist for Coasts & Estuaries.

“Our research shows that it’s the first of these three impacts – increasing flood risk – that’s likely to be the main driver of adaptation efforts by coastal communities, and this tipping point is likely to be reached within two to three decades – sooner than many of us expect.”

The research was carried out in Tauranga after councils in the area commissioned coastal modelling by NIWA and Tonkin & Taylor. Dr Stephens says the findings are likely to be applicable across the country.

“There are a number of properties around Tauranga Harbour that are built high on coastal cliffs, and for these people, erosion is the number one concern.”   

“But far more properties are built in places that currently experience coastal flooding, or soon will. This might currently only happen once every hundred years on average, but with rising seas it could increase to at least a five-yearly event within just two to three decades.

“Many New Zealand councils already have maps of one-in-100-year coastal-flood zones. These maps provide two to three decades ‘lead-in’ time for an undesirably frequent ‘adaptation tipping point’ for coastal property.”

Coastal flooding is defined as flooding of the land by the sea rather than rainfall or rivers. It can occur during very high tides and is often exacerbated by storm surges – when low atmospheric pressure and strong winds drive the sea over land, resulting in very high storm tides.

“Frequent flooding is undesirable for communities. Adaptation actions include things like building new seawalls or other protections to mitigate coastal flooding, but these may not be the best long-term solution,” says Dr Stephens.

He says other adaptive actions such as moving away from the coast could be driven by property owners facing difficulty obtaining insurance or mortgages for properties, or by design through proactive policy rules.

This research provides a better understanding of potential climate change tipping points and highlights the need to progress adaptation planning in coastal communities.

As part of the work, Dr Stephens’ team compared static and dynamic models in terms of impacts and timeframes for coastal flooding, erosion and inundation. Dynamic models use detailed hydrodynamic models to simulate the overland flow of water in a physically realistic way. In contrast static models are much simpler, and use a so-called ‘bathtub’ method, assessing whether places will flood based on their elevation alone.

The researchers found that the static model underestimated land and building exposure by up to 2.3 times compared with the dynamic model. “This is compelling evidence for using dynamic models to support adaptation planning,” says Dr Stephens.

The coastal erosion and coastal flood modelling for this research was commissioned by Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council. The findings are published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

Fur seals don’t need your hot chips

Fur seals don’t need your hot chips

Source: Department of Conservation

Date:  12 October 2021

The seal has been repeatedly fed by the members of the public and has become habituated to human food. It also appears the seal has been caught on a fishing line and has a small hook in the corner of its mouth. Both the feeding and the hook may result in serious health effects, and even result in the untimely death of the seal.

“Fur seals are carnivores, mainly feeding on squid and small fish,” says Marine Science Advisor Laura Boren, “but they are intelligent marine mammals and will easily adjust to the lazy life of being spoon-fed. While they might be cute when they’re small, a full-grown adult seal that begs for food could bowl someone over for their hot chips, potentially causing serious harm.

“Chips and other human food are not a part of their natural diet and can cause numerous health issues aside from the habituation, so we’re asking the public to not feed the seal, and to remind others not to feed it either.”

There are people swimming around the ramp area, and the seal may interact with them as it has come to expect humans feeding it, which could lead to someone being accidentally bitten.

“We’re extremely lucky to have the iconic marine mammals on our back doorstep, but they are wild animals, and we should treat them with the respect they deserve,” says Jamie Quirk, Gisborne Biodiversity Ranger.

“In order to catch and treat this seal, it needs to be on land and not agitated. We’re asking the public to please avoid bothering the seal, and to remind others to do the same.

“We’re practicing social distancing with each other anyway, so keeping 20 metres from this seal should be easy.”

DOC intends to capture the seal and remove the hook, but the efforts to do so have been hindered by the people feeding and otherwise interfering with the seal. The seal must be on land to be caught and given treatment.

If you see the seal on the land area near the ramp call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).


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Noticing nature’s classroom | Conservation blog

Noticing nature’s classroom | Conservation blog

Source: Department of Conservation

By Tash Staheli-Lowe, Community Ranger – Te Rapa, Waikato

Waikato tamariki took time to connect, discover, nurture, and learn from nature during Conservation Week 2021, aided by our Conservation Education resources.

One of life’s most influential teachers occupies a classroom with no walls and no technology. Her lessons, often hidden but ever present, require you to listen, observe, recognise and just be. It is often the untrained eye which will find her lessons most easily.

That teacher is nature, and with inquiring minds and open hearts, children are nature’s best students.

Waikato tamariki took time to connect, discover, nurture, and learn from nature during Conservation Week 2021, aided by our Conservation Education resources. These digital resources, developed by our National Outreach and Education Team, guided children to get into their outdoor classroom, to learn from and with nature, and to take a moment to appreciate and connect with the world around them. Using our online resources, students could read, create art and move in nature. They were encouraged to go on scavenger hunts, create nature journals, learn about trees, and actively notice the natural world around them.

: Lucy Year 8 Marian Catholic School Hamilton

Nature’s ability not only to grow the mind, but also to nourish it was appreciated much more this Conservation Week. With changing COVID-19 Alert Levels and uncertainty with lockdowns, taking the time to recognise how nature can help you to recharge and reconnect was a learning cherished by many. The outdoor classroom is a place where tamariki, kaiako and whānau alike can come to refresh.

Nature’s classroom is adaptable; whether at home, at school, or out exploring the world around you, there is always something to learn. With many schools juggling online learning and “bubble school” this Conservation Week, nature’s classroom flowed to fit to their needs. Our online conservation education resources supported students to learn and get outdoors, safely, wherever that may have been.

: Frankie 11 Marian Catholic School Hamilton

Teacher, Jenna Lord of Marian Catholic School in Hamilton, says many staff at her school used DOC’s resources during Conservation Week, appreciating how they supported tamariki to Take a Moment for Nature.

“The Conservation Week resources fitted in well with our terms focus of how we can be Kaitiaki and take care of our environment. The lessons and activities were easy to follow and could be adapted for all year levels. Due to it being lockdown, teachers were able to choose certain activities and send them out with their online learning. My students particularly enjoyed the Read in Nature activity and this is something they want to continue doing as part of our daily programme,” says Jenna.

: Vincent Year 8 Marian Catholic School Hamilton

A Waikato students’ photo competition inspired children and young people to notice and capture the nature around them, highlighting the vibrancy and joy that an outdoor classroom can bring. Exploring gullies, finding hidden treasures, and recognising the beauty and joy of wild spaces are special gifts that our teacher, nature, shares with us every day, and the tamariki of Marian Catholic School captured these so well.

: Sophie 15 Fraser High School Hamilton

Sophie, 15, of Fraser High School submitted the photograph which was drawn to win our Take a Moment for Nature photo competition. Her photograph of her Mum and dog gazing out over their farm into the sunset shows an eye for the calmness and serenity that nature can bring. Sophie, we hope you enjoy your prize pack, including a family pass to the Hamilton Zoo, kindly donated by their education team to celebrate Conservation Week.

Although Conservation Week is over for another year, your teacher – nature – has not gone anywhere. Her classroom follows you, so remember to look for it. It’s right there, in the dancing birds, the crawling invertebrates down low, or the plants peeking through the cracks in your cobble stones. It is ever changing, and grows with you; as your world expands, so does your classroom. Nature has so much teach us, whatever our age or stage in life. We just need to remember to take a moment, and to open our hearts and minds to learn.