Practising Science Communication… On the radio!

I wish I had taken a picture of the studio!!
I wish I had taken a picture of the studio!!

By Claire

One of the most important jobs as a scientist is being able to communicate what you do to the people around you. Even if it’s just your mum, one day, someone without a background in your particular field of science will ask you what you do. The trick is to be able to communicate what is typically a quite complex scientific idea in simple terms.

One of my favourite things about contributing to this blog is that I get to “practice” communicating scientific ideas very simply. I am actually getting quite good (if I do say so myself), at telling people about what I am studying in my PhD.

I got an excellent chance to “practice” my science communication last week, when I was asked by the host of a community radio program called “Biodegradio” to come into their studio and record an interview on what I am studying. I was quite nervous heading into the studio, but quickly relaxed and actually had a lot of fun chatting to Alison about my work.  Continue reading “Practising Science Communication… On the radio!”

Accidental science: How you know you’re a real scientist

UTZ1391_thumb2By Claire

Today I spent my day being an I.T. person.

As soon as I arrived at work this morning I was asked to help one of our lab techs with a computer issue she had been having. I then helped another student install some complicated software (although not entirely successfully), then fixed up some software issues of my own.

I’ve always been my family’s go-to person for tech issues because I systematically find the problem and fix it, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing. Somehow, being a scientist makes me a good tech person (or at least a reasonable substitute).

The final hurdle today came when I went to download some data, but wasn’t able to get the website to work. It had worked in the past – I’ve downloaded many datasets from it before – but since Christmas, something hasn’t been working properly. I contacted the site administrators and they assured me everything was working from their end.

It was then that I slipped into subconscious science mode to fix the problem. Continue reading “Accidental science: How you know you’re a real scientist”

Extreme seasons: Australia melts while the US freezes

Observed maximum temperatures for Monday, 13th January, 2014. Image from BOM.
Observed maximum temperatures for Monday, 13th January, 2014. Image from BOM.

By Claire

I’m writing this post from hot hot Canberra, Australia, in my office, in front of my desk fan. In case you didn’t pick up on it, IT’S FREAKING HOT HERE!!!

This week, a large mass of warm, desert air is slowly making its way across southern Australia, bringing as many as five consecutive days above 40°C (104°F). Here in Canberra, we are forecast to swelter through five consecutive days over 38°C (100°F). Continue reading “Extreme seasons: Australia melts while the US freezes”

Best of 2013: I’m sorry. Does my science offend you? Part two.

ac090817cBy Claire and Nerilie

Last week I posted about some new research carried out by Nerilie Abram, from the Research School of Earth Sciences at ANU. While the research itself is definitely worth a read (if you have access to Nature Geoscience, check it out here), what I personally found most interesting was the response to this paper seen across comments sections in news articles and blog posts on the internet.

It turns out, climate science is personally offensive to some people.

As much as I was enjoying (in a disbelieving kind of way) trying to follow the avalanche of comments from people across the internet, Nerilie was actually dealing with personal communications from a number of people in response to her paper.

I asked her to provide her opinions on the reaction her paper received. This is what she wrote… Continue reading “Best of 2013: I’m sorry. Does my science offend you? Part two.”

Best of 2013: How do clouds effect solar panel output?

Nick Engerer, a researcher from Fenner School is looking at the relationship between weather events and solar energy output in Canberra.

By Claire

At the beginning of this year, I was at the annual AMOS Conference in Melbourne. It was Friday morning, and there wasn’t a lot of paleoclimatology going on, so I decided to head along to a session on solar energy.

Speaking in this session was Nick Engerer, a researcher from Fenner School at The ANU. Nick’s area of interest is the link between weather events and solar energy output. Now, this is an area of huge interest, especially now that we’re trying to move more towards green energy sources. But one of the key questions that keeps popping up is, “what happens when it’s cloudy?”

As part of Nick’s research, he has developed a real-time website, which shows you the weather across Canberra, and the related impact on solar energy production. Nick is working on the idea that on partly cloudy days, there will be at least some solar panels that are still able to produce power, even if some are not seeing a lot of the sun. And that’s exactly what you can see on his website.

Nick has written up a guest post for us to explain how to use his website, and introduce you to some of the cool features. I encourage you all to take a look. If you’re interested in his work, you can also subscribe to his blog and follow him on twitterContinue reading “Best of 2013: How do clouds effect solar panel output?”

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 “What can we expect this summer?”

Documentary: Acid Ocean

Site exposed to very high concentrations of CO2 where coral developement ceases to exist. Credit: Katharina Fabricius
Site exposed to very high concentrations of CO2 where coral developement ceases to exist. Credit: Katharina Fabricius

By Claire

If you’re looking for a bit of mental stimulation tonight, there is a documentary airing on SBS at 7:30pm that may be of interest.

The doco is titled, “Acid Ocean” and explores the acidifying ocean, caused by increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

“Marine scientists across the world are racing to tackle the most urgent environmental challenge facing our planet today – ocean acidification. From the icy polar seas to the world’s most pristine coral reefs we track the latest scientific research. Heading the investigation is Dr Katharina Fabricius from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. She’s made a game-changing discovery. Nestled amongst Papua New Guinea’s stunning coral gardens is a unique reef – a window to the future of our oceans.”

Check out a sneak peak:

If you do miss it tonight, you can watch the program online on SBS On Demand, after it has gone to air (if you are in Australia).

Just when you think you’ve figured it out…

climate_modelling_scrBy Claire

I have blogged/complained about my experiences with modelling already on this blog. In case you missed it, all you need to know is that I’m trying to run some climate simulations, using climate models, with absolutely no prior knowledge of how to run a model. It has been a steep learning curve…

I had finally gotten my head around how to run the Australian-based paleoclimate model – the CSIRO Mk3L – and set up a series of experiments to test the climatic response to insolation forcing, and “Henrich-like” events (basically where you dump a bunch of freshwater into the North Atlantic and see what happens – like in The Day After Tomorrow).  Continue reading “Just when you think you’ve figured it out…”

Why are you interested in earth sciences?

lightning_in_sydneyBy Claire

People who are interested in earth sciences can usually point to something in particular that captured their attention- something that drew them to earth sciences and to understanding more about how our planet works.

I have always loved weather. Growing up in Sydney, I would get stupidly excited every time there was a thunderstorm. I absolutely love them! Mum and I would go outside and watch the lightning from our back porch, until the storm got too close and we quickly escaped back inside. I would often turn off all the lights in the room I was in and just watch the flashes of lightning. The scarier the better.

My fascination with weather lead me to do my undergraduate degree in atmospheric science. I love learning about how weather is formed and simply just observing it. Learning how to read weather maps was fascinating to me, and I still regularly check out the weather maps on the Bureau of Meteorology website to see what weather is in store over the coming week.

This video of a developing super storm captures beautifully the awe that I feel in the face of weather events. I could watch them for hours.

What is it about earth sciences that draws you in?

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 “IPCC Fifth Assessment Report – same message, more certainty”

Earth Science Week 2013 in Canberra

ESW-thumbEarth Science Week is an annual event, aiming to help the public gain a better understanding and appreciation for the Earth Sciences and to encourage stewardship of the Earth. This year’s Earth Science Week will be held from October 13-19 and will celebrate the theme “Mapping Our World.”

Earth Science Week 2013 aims to engage young people and others in learning how geoscientists, geographers, and other mapping professionals use maps to represent land formations, natural resource deposits, fault lines, geologic heritage, and more.

As part of Earth Science Week, Geoscience Australia will be running a series free public events around Canberra, including a photographic competition and a geocaching activity. Continue reading “Earth Science Week 2013 in Canberra”

Campaign against jargon!

jargonBy Claire

It has come time for me to start thinking about writing up some of my modelling results. In preparation, I am going back through the literature to get an idea of the layout of a model paper, and the types of things I need to address.

Having read almost exclusively paleo proxy papers for the last few months, I was completely unprepared for the mental assault that reading modelling papers would cause.

Why can’t people just say what they mean?! Continue reading “Campaign against jargon!”

Where does all the plastic come from?

One of the many many "ghost nets" floating around the ocean. They are abandoned fishing nets, which continue to catch and trap fish and other marine life. We don't know how long these take to break down.
One of the many many “ghost nets” floating around the ocean. They are abandoned fishing nets, which continue to catch and trap fish and other marine life. We don’t know how long these take to break down.

By Claire

We’ve posted a couple of times about the giant garbage patches sitting in the middle of the world’s oceans, but I want to re-visit this topic again today.

Earlier this week, I attended a really great seminar, given by Erik van Sebille, from UNSW, titled, “Pathways of Marine Plastic into the Garbage Patches”.

Erik is a physical oceanographer, and so came to the issue of the ocean’s garbage patches from a different direction, “where does all the plastic come from?” Continue reading “Where does all the plastic come from?”

Southern Hemisphere finally gets some credit

Part of the new WAIS ice core
Part of the new WAIS ice core

By Claire

A new ice core, drilled in West Antarctica suggests that the Southern Hemisphere, and not the Northern Hemisphere began warming first at the end of the last ice age, approximately 20,000 years ago.

Up until now, it was believed that deglaciation, at the end of the last glacial maximum, around 20,000 years ago was initiated by the Northern Hemisphere. Now, to anyone not involved in palaeoclimatology, you might be asking why it even matters, as long as things started to warm up. Understanding the drivers of deglaciation is important, as it provides us with an understanding of the way that climate works.

Most palaeoclimate stories call on the Northern Hemisphere, and in particular, the North Atlantic to initiate changes. The Southern Hemisphere, and Antarctica, has traditionally been viewed as a slave to the North Atlantic, only responding to changes, but not initiating them.  Continue reading “Southern Hemisphere finally gets some credit”

Happy Birthday Schrödinger!

S Cat 2By Claire

Today (in the USA, or yesterday in Australia – the 12th August) is Schrödinger’s birthday!

Now, I realise that Schrödinger worked in the field of quantum mechanics, and therefore not earth sciences, but, Schrödinger’s work is a great example of effective science communication.

Schrödinger is best known for his cat, that is, a theoretical cat that he either kills or doesn’t kill (anyone worried about Schrödinger’s cat shouldn’t be – it was a theoretical experiment. No cats were harmed in the making of this science).  Continue reading “Happy Birthday Schrödinger!”

Preparing for AGU


By Claire

I have never been to a large international conference, and I have chosen AGU to be my first. AGU (American Geophysical Union) holds a conference in San Francisco each year (known as the Fall Meeting), which attracts more than 24,000 scientists from around the world.

Now, I have to admit that I’m having some difficulties comprehending that many people in one place. It’s basically like having a full Manuka Oval (or an average crowd at an SCG match) worth of scientists, scurrying around to get to lectures. So far, the conferences I have been to were quite small – only 400 people or so, so I’m looking forward to the sheer size of this conference.

I was advised this morning that in order to secure a reasonably priced room for the week-long event, I needed to book now. Usually, I’m more of a last minute type of person. I wasn’t really planning on thinking about accommodation until a few months before hand, but at the advice of my advisor, I started looking this morning.

I’m soooooo glad I did! Continue reading “Preparing for AGU”

Why look at the monsoon?

monsoon-bike_1449924cBy Claire

My PhD topic involves recreating the Indo-Australian monsoon rainfall over the last 40,000 years using stalagmites from caves. Now, I know that’s a bit of a mouthful and when I tell people that’s what i’m doing I often get met with blank stares and the inevitable question, “what does that mean?”

At the moment I’m putting together a draft paper and yesterday I needed to write my, “conclusions and implications” paragraph. This meant that I actually had to think about what the implications of looking at the past monsoon actually has.

In my musings, I thought that I might try and connect the dots between my paleo-monsoon (i.e. “past” monsoon) record, and the present day monsoon system. In order to do that, I needed to better acquaint myself with the modern monsoon system, and I actually realised that what I’m studying could (if you squint) have real world implications.  Continue reading “Why look at the monsoon?”

This week in climate science…

By Claire

Today, I wanted to share a series of snippets of new research that have emerged recently in the field of climate science. These stories have been all neatly compiled by DISCCRS in a weekly mail-out, which I recommend you go and subscribe to!

East Antarctic Ice Sheet Vulnerable to melt

Ancient sediments recovered off the coast of East Antarctica suggest that the ice sheet repeatedly melted back 3 to 5 million years ago, contributing to sea level rise
Ancient sediments recovered off the coast of East Antarctica suggest that the ice sheet repeatedly melted back 3 to 5 million years ago, contributing to sea level rise.

A new study published in Nature Geoscience has shown that in the past, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet has melted in response to warmer temperatures.

During the Pliocene, when global temperatures were 2 – 3 ºC warmer than present, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet retreated by as much as several hundred km inland. This new research is important, since it reveals that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has been thought of as largely stable, does respond to changes in global temperature.

The Pliocene, 5.33–2.58 million years ago, represents a warm period in Earth’s climate history, where CO2 concentrations were around 400ppm. This period is often used as an analogue for future climate change, due to the similar CO2 concentrations between then and now. During the Pliocene, global temperatures were 2 – 3 ºC warmer, and sea level was around 25m higher than present.

Scientists drilled a sediment core off the coast of Adélie Land in East Antarctica, and analysed mud found within the core that was sourced from rocks currently found under the ice sheet. They concluded that  the only way so much mud could have been carried off to sea is if the ice sheet had retreated inland, eroding those rocks. Continue reading “This week in climate science…”

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