Category Archives: In the news

Lego, late nights and the working habits of grad students

By Nick,

The brilliant Scientist’s specialty is finding new and interesting ways to combine things together.

The brilliant Scientist’s specialty is finding new and interesting ways to combine things together.

Last week, Lego unveiled a new character, a female scientist by the name of Professor C. Bodin, with a coveted Nobrick prize. The wonderful thing is that the description of this new character does not explicitly say “woman scientist”. Its just a scientist character description using the word she. The company was rightly praised by news outlets and women scientists groups, as helping to break down gender stereotypes regarding women and science. But a couple of stereotypes remained: first the white lab-coat, which isn’t really too much of a big deal, but also in the description were the words:

“She’ll spend all night in her lab analyzing how to connect bricks of different sizes and shapes…”

Do scientists work all night? Is this stereotype gaining popularity? Is it even true? And if it is, is this a good thing or a bad thing for scientific progress?

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What can we expect this summer?

Wet weather in Sydney yesterday. Source: News Limited.

Wet weather in Sydney yesterday. Source: News Limited.

 

By Claire

I don’t know what the weather is like at your place at the moment, but where I am, it’s raining. It feels like it has been raining for days (well, maybe two). My plants are looking pretty happy outside, but I’m wondering when the rain will end. Is this what we can expect over the coming months?

The last few years in Australia, we have been influenced by La Nina, which brings relatively cool and rainy conditions to the east coast of Australia. We have seen large flood events, particularly in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. We actually had so much rain in 2011, that we recorded a drop in sea level, due to all the rain that fell on the Australian mainland!

So, can we expect the same this year? Or will we be in for the hot, dry summers that Australia is known for? Continue reading

The Ferrari of satellites succumbs to gravity

By Nick,

Sometime in the next two hours, one of my favourite satellites*, GOCE, will fall to Earth. GOCE stands for Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer and is the European Space Agency’s gravity measuring mission. It flies in a low earth orbit measuring tiny variations in the earth’s gravitational field to help measure ocean circulation patterns and sea-level. It also mapped the Mohorovicic Discontinuity, the boundary between crust and mantle, which I reported on here. Because it is flying so low (about 280km), it encounters a lot more air resistance than other boxy satellites, and so it was designed to be a sleek and beautiful machine. Being so beautiful, and built in Italy, it is often referred to as either the Ferrari or Supermodel of satellites.

The most beautiful satellite in (above) the world. Art by AOES Medialab / ESA

The most beautiful satellite in (above) the world. Art by AOES Medialab / ESA

 

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Oh no, not another climate website! Wait, this one is actually good, it uses facts and everything

By Nick

There’s a plethora of climate change websites out there and sometimes it feels like the market may have reached a bit of saturation. So much discussion, so much arguing, so much opinion. Want to get some juicy facts instead, learn about the climate system from the experts, and then make up your own mind. Go on: try Climatica.

http://climatica.org.uk/

Climatica is a new website, co-founded by a good friend of mine, another postgraduate earth scientist from back home in the UK*. What’s different about this site? The articles aren’t written by journalists, or even well-meaning bloggers attempting to cover as broad a field as possible. Each article is written by an expert, a world renowned scientist in the field of what they are writing about. Accurate information about the world’s climate – now there’s a refreshing change of pace.

*not strictly true, he has now finished his PhD, and he claims not to be a geologist, he likes to call himself a “quaternarist” – I guess that’s what you get from doing a geography degree. But he drinks lots of beer, has an impressive beard and researches ice streams in the past – which seems like a damn good impression of a geologist to me.

0.107 leagues under the sea!

By Kate,

Imagine going for a casual snorkel and coming face to face with a real life sea monster:

A wild oarfish appears

A wild oarfish appears

In such a scenario, instead of panicking, having an underwater heart attack or wetting her wetsuit, Jasmine Santana simply called for reinforcements (14 people!) to help drag the 18 foot (~5.5m) beast from an unusually shallow depth of 6m (0.001 leagues).

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US Government Shutdown Claims Antarctica Field Season

By Evan

By the time this is posted, I hope that the US government shutdown is old news. Though I vowed to not read the news, something this big is hard to not hear about. Plus there is the fact that pretty much every government website, include those with geophysical and geological data, are completely shut down. Recently, I have been studying the tilting of large lakes due to post-glacial rebound, and a bunch of the data are on the NOAA website. Of course, when you go to website now, you get this:

noaa_shutdown

Unfortunately, most geophysical data are not considered to be necessary to protect lives, so they are down. I am very lucky that I downloaded the data that I needed before October 1st, otherwise I would be out of luck! Continue reading

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – same message, more certainty

wg1coverBy Claire

Hopefully you’re aware by now, that Working Group 1 of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has just released its fifth assessment report. This report pulls together and synthesises the current knowledge on the cause, attribution, effects and projections for climate change. The IPCC does not conduct research itself, but rather, simply pulls together the thousands of published, peer reviewed papers that add to our collective knowledge of climate change.

Unfortunately, the report itself is over 2000 pages, making it largely unreadable for all but the most dedicated. The report, however, is well indexed, meaning you can jump straight to content that interests you the most.

If, like me, you find 2000 pages too daunting, but you still want to find out the conclusions of the latest report, you can check out the Summary for Policymakers – which breaks down the report into a much more digestible 36 pages (note that the report is still unformatted, so all the figures are at the end and it’s not pretty yet).  Continue reading

LADEE and the Lunar Atmosphere

lunar1

Fig. 1: Launch of the the Minotaur V rocket carrying LADEE.

By Thomas (guest blogger)

On the 6th of September NASA launched their LADEE mission (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) into space (Fig. 1). You might have heard of the launch as a frog photo-bombed a picture of the start (Fig. 2). So far the mission is fully on track. The mission will take about 30 days to travel to the Moon, 30 days for checkout and then around 100 days for science operations (Fig. 3).

So what`s hidden in that featureless term “science operations”?

The LADEE spacecraft contains three science instruments: The Ultraviolet and Visible Light Spectrometer (UVS), the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) and the Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX). The instruments will analyse the light signatures of atmospheric materials, the variations in the composition of the lunar atmosphere in different heights over the Moon and dust particles in the atmosphere.

Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.  http://www.boredpanda.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/frog-photobomb-nasa-launch-2.jpg

Fig. 2: Photo bombed LADEE launch.

Furthermore LADEE carries the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration (LLCD) which will not be used to investigate the lunar atmosphere. The purpose of the LLCD is to demonstrate the possibility to use lasers for communication with satellites and spacecrafts instead of the conventionally used radio transmitters. This will allow broadband speed in the communications between future satellites/spacecrafts and Earth. LADEE therefore does not only have research goals but also aims to make a major improvement in space flights from the engineering point of view. Continue reading

The Great Barrier Reef faces destruction

reefBy Bianca (guest blogger)

Australia’s new prime minister has given the green light for mining companies to destroy Australia’s natural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef stretches over 2300 km along the coast of Queensland and is home to around a quarter of all species that can be found in the world’s oceans. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 the reef recently faces one of its hardest battles: a changing climate.

Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Sediment and algal overgrowth have overtaken this once-healthy reef. (Courtesy Emre Turak/Australian Institute of Marine Science)

Rising ocean acidity due to high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasing water temperatures damages the corals; floods and storms flush mud, pesticides and fertilizers from farmland into the ocean and mining companies pollute the reef by dumping silt into the ocean and letting their freighters pass through. Continue reading

Terror Birds

The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)

The terror bird, Gastornis (from Wikipedia)

By Evan

I actually wanted to start making a post about terror birds last week, but I am glad I didn’t. According to ABC Science, one of the presentations at last week’s Goldschmidt conference (tea time in our department has been somewhat depleted by the amount of people who have gone to it), the mighty terror bird Gastornis was probably a vegetarian. Gastornis lived in the early Paleogene  (about 55-40 million years ago), and is thought to have been a plant eater based on its lack of claws, its large size, and calcium isotopes – which matched closer to herbivores than carnivores. Continue reading