Predicting fire, flood, and food shortages

In lands ‘of droughts and flooding rains,’ predicting the weather means saving both lives and livelihoods.

The work of Indonesian and Australian scientists, which began with a visit to Jakarta in 1981 by climate scientist Professor Neville Nicholls, has given the countries the ability to forecast rain in the dry season, and during the lead up to the wet season. This means the fires, haze, and food shortages that often go hand in hand with droughts can be predicted—and planned for.

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Reassessing Jakarta’s seismic risk

The work of Indonesian and Australian scientists is resulting in re evaluation of Jakarta’s seismic risk by Indonesian Government agencies.

The team is scanning the Earth from thousands of kilometres in the air, right down to chemical traces found in rocks, as they hunt out telltale signs of future earthquakes and the damage they might do. They’ve highlighted a major new seismic threat for East Java as well as the tsunami threat to Bali, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara, and other coasts along the Flores Sea; and have identified active faults in the Nusa Tenggara region of Eastern Indonesia, measuring the rates of strain building up.

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What happened to Asia’s lost ‘elephants’?

Why did Stegodon, the elephant-like animals that were once widespread throughout Asia, decline and eventually disappear?

Stegodon were a group of trunked mammals, related to (but not the ancestors of) modern elephants. As they dispersed to many of the Southeast Asian islands with scarcer food resources, they evolved to become ‘dwarfed’.

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Making waves: artificial tsunamis to prepare for the worst

Ninety-nine per cent of all tsunami-related deaths have occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Indonesian and Australian scientists have been working to reduce this figure—by creating artificial earthquakes and tsunamis.

Building off more than 15 years of research from Indonesian, Singaporean, American, and Australian scientists, the team created a collection of scenarios, for earthquakes of different magnitudes and the resulting tsunamis that would affect West Sumatra, Indonesia.

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The little people of Flores

The 2003 discovery of a fossil of a small, human-like creature, Homo floresiensis (nicknamed ‘Hobbit’), in Indonesia by the late Professor Mike Morwood and Professor Raden Soejono shook up palaeoanthropologists worldwide. But there was more to find.

In 2010 Mike and his team returned to the island of Flores. With researchers from the Geology Museum Bandung, Geological Survey Institute of Indonesia and Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional, and with the help of 120 trained field workers from the Ngada and Nage Keo districts, they initiated one of the largest fossil digs in Southeast Asia. They found pygmy elephants, Komodo dragons, giant rats, and stone tools.

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Predicting where gold and copper lie

Indonesian and Australian scientists are part of a team searching for buried treasure: using the movement of tectonic plates to predict when and where giant deposits of gold and copper should form, while building an understanding of the conditions these deposits are created in.

The project, which was begun in 2013 and due for completion in 2016, is using Southeast Asia as a ‘natural laboratory’ to explore these natural processes and their products. Knowing when and how deposits formed can help us understand geological processes occurring today.

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Add colour for 10 times more gas

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Matthew Lee (left) and Mike (right) injecting nutrients into a coal seam 80 metres below ground. Credit: Sabrina Beckmann

Adding a simple textile dye can increase the methane yield of coal seam gas wells by a factor of 10, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have found.

The discovery could breathe new life into old, exhausted wells, reducing the need for new ones.

It could also improve the economics of renewable biogas energy production.

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The water beneath our feet

Subterranean caves in the Blue Mountains have been

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Measuring infiltration water in the Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales. Credit: Andrew Baker

converted into observatories to quantify how water moves through buried rock structures into groundwater.

Groundwater forms the world’s largest active repository of fresh water—more than a hundred times larger than rivers and lakes combined.

To use that groundwater resource sustainably, we need to know that we are only using as much water as is being continually replaced, mostly via rainfall and underground leakage from rivers.

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World’s oldest gem leading us to hidden treasures

Zircon, the oldest mineral on the planet, is helping geologists understand how Earth started out and how it continues to evolve. By better understanding the Earth’s structure, mining companies have been able to find new mineral deposits.

The team sampling with Pan-African Mining geological team in Madagascar. Credit: Julia Galin
The team sampling with Pan-African Mining geological team in Madagascar. Credit: Julia Galin

“Most of the mineral deposits that are exposed on the surface of the planet have already been found and mined, but we need to find the ones that are still hidden,” Dr Elena Belousova says.

She and her colleagues at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Core to Crust Fluid Systems have developed TerraneChron®, a tool that looks at zircons found in geological samples, such as rocks or sand in river beds, to find out when they crystallised.

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When the oceans were 20 metres higher: revealing past and future climates

Dr Christina Riesselman, geologist, University of Otago, Dunedin

2015 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellow Christina Riesselman (Credit: L'Oréal New Zealand)

Three million years ago Earth was much as it is today – familiar continents, animals, and carbon dioxide levels. But temperatures were higher and sea levels were also about 20 metres higher. Today, a billion people live on land less than 20 metres above sea level, and carbon dioxide levels are rising.

Working on the Antarctic ice shelf and at sea Dr Christina Riesselman collects sediment cores from hundreds of metres under the sea floor and reads the climate history of millennia past using the microscopic fossilised fish teeth and diatomic algae she finds in the cores.

Christina will use her L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship to turn her focus to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. 2014 was the hottest year on record, but was it the hottest year since the end of the last ice age? Christina’s research could answer that question and help us understand and plan for the impact of our planet’s rapidly changing climate.

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