We know the Southern Ocean plays a big role in our climate, but there’s much to learn about how and where clouds form over the sea, how they influence global temperatures, and how the wind affects cloud formation and how much carbon dioxide our oceans can absorb.
Now a 60m ‘wave pool in a wind tunnel’ built by Associate Professor Jason Monty is allowing researchers from The University of Melbourne, Swinburne, and Monash University to find out.
“We know that small eddies at the surface of the ocean affect how evaporation occurs and gasses are exchanged, but this turbulence is not included in climate models, as no one has been able to measure it,” Jason says.
Australia and Japan are both island nations with vast maritime reserves and responsibilities. Together we’re developing the science needed to understand, use, enjoy and protect our unique marine ecosystems. And we’re collaborating to solve some of the mysteries of the ocean systems that drive the world’s climate.
Attack of the giant starfish
The waters off Japan’s tropical Okinawa Islands are home to hundreds of species of coral. The reefs attract a rich diversity of life: fish, turtles, whale sharks, and… the crown-of-thorns starfish.
Five thousand kilometres to the south is the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest reef system and one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The Australian Government is committed to protecting the Reef and has developed a plan to 2050 to ensure the sustainability of the Reef. But the Reef has lost half its coral cover in the past 30 years and periodic plagues of crown-of-thorns are responsible for more than forty per cent of the coral loss. Continue reading Exploring the mystery of the oceans→
More than 50 different environmental measures routinely collected by Australia’s national ocean research vessels—including sea surface temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and salinity—can now be accessed online almost as they are recorded.
The data is incorporated, often automatically, into predictive meteorological and ocean models, improving their accuracy. “So we end up with an improved representation not only of the weather but of processes like large scale ocean circulation or the state of the seas during tropical cyclones,” says Dr Roger Proctor, director of the e-Marine Information Infrastructure Facility of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System.
Dr Tracy Ainsworth’s research is changing our understanding of the tiny coral animals that built Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef. Tracy and her colleagues at James Cook University in Townsville have found that the process of coral bleaching is a far more complex than previously thought, and begins at temperatures lower than previously considered. And she’s done so by applying skills in modern cell biology which she picked up working in neuroscience laboratories.
Her achievements won her a $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship in 2011, which she is using to study the low light, deep water reefs that underlie tropical surface reefs at depths of 100 metres or more. Continue reading The complex life of coral→
Seabirds on one of Australia’s remotest islands have plastic in their stomachs.
A recent survey found more than 95 per cent of the migratory flesh-footed shearwaters nesting on Lord Howe Island, between Australia and the northern tip of New Zealand, had swallowed plastic garbage.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, plastic has been shown to bind poisonous pollutants. As a result, some shearwaters were found with concentrations of mercury more than 7,000 times the level considered toxic.
Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems.
Increasing acidity affects the ability of some planktonic organisms to form shells, and is expected to change the species composition of plankton, with flow-on effects to higher levels of the food web.
Thermometer-based climate records started in 1850, so scientists have gone “back to nature” for sources of long-term climatic information to help them better understand climate change and rising sea levels.