Earth and Environment

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Professor Avril Horne – Dr Andrew John | Re-evaluating How We Assess and Manage Rivers in Response to Climate Change

Professor Avril Horne – Dr Andrew John | Re-evaluating How We Assess and Manage Rivers in Response to Climate Change

Understanding and successfully managing river flows is vital for sustaining human communities, the river environment, and its ecosystems. However, the methods currently used to assess river flow needs are limited in the face of increasing pressures from an uncertain and changing climate. Academics at the University of Melbourne are rethinking the approach to these assessments. This includes work by Professor Avril Horne, Dr Andrew John and their collaborators to present a more integrated and holistic method, which provides much-needed room for learning over time, and to understand the vulnerability, robustness, and adaptability of river flow regimes.

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Dr Kahiu Ngugi | Developing Drought and Weed Resistant Super-Sorghum

Dr Kahiu Ngugi | Developing Drought and Weed Resistant Super-Sorghum

Future food security is one of the key global challenges facing society. Climate change presents significant threats to our ability to produce staple food crops – particularly in regions already vulnerable to droughts. Dr Kahiu Ngugi and his research team from the University of Nairobi and other institutions in Kenya investigated numerous varieties of sorghum – one of the world’s most important cereal crops. Their aim was to find new genes that would allow the crop to withstand both drought and a common parasitic weed.

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Dr Carlos Rodriguez-Franco | Dr Deborah Page-Dumroese – Healing Abandoned Mine Ecosystems with Biochar

Dr Carlos Rodriguez-Franco | Dr Deborah Page-Dumroese – Healing Abandoned Mine Ecosystems with Biochar

The Gold Rush of the 1800s is inextricably tied to USA history. Mining towns popped up wherever precious metals could be extracted, with many of these towns and mines now lying abandoned as ghostly reminders of the old wild west. Abandoned mine land poses a threat to environmental and human health, and methods to rehabilitate this land has gathered much interest over the past few years. Dr Carlos Rodriguez-Franco and Dr Deborah Page-Dumroese from the US Department of Agriculture have been evaluating the use of biochar as a sustainable method to remediate abandoned mine lands.

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Dr Joji Muramoto | Healthy Soils, Healthy Planet, Healthy Humans!

Dr Joji Muramoto | Healthy Soils, Healthy Planet, Healthy Humans!

The earth beneath our feet is far more than just dirt. Soil is a living ecosystem filled with microbes, worms and insects, and vast networks of underground fungi filaments. Healthy soils are critical to healthy ecosystems and productive agricultural systems. Dr Joji Muramoto and researchers from the University of California have created a framework for Integrated Soil Health Management that could help suppress plant diseases without the use of harmful chemicals.

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Dr Abera Habte et al. | Climate Change in Ethiopia: Exploring Farmers’ Attitudes and Adaptation Strategies

Dr Abera Habte et al. | Climate Change in Ethiopia: Exploring Farmers’ Attitudes and Adaptation Strategies

Around the world, climate change is impacting the availability of food and water, affecting people’s health and livelihoods. Unfortunately, these damaging effects are more pronounced in developing countries. In a recent study, Dr Abera Habte of Wolaita Sodo University and his collaborators investigated the impacts of climate change in Southwestern Ethiopia. His team incorporated the perceptions and knowledge of local farmers into their analysis, in order to develop more effective climate adaptation strategies.

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Dr Robert Bryant – Dr Langdon Martin | Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Cattle Farming with Leftover Brewer’s Yeast

Dr Robert Bryant – Dr Langdon Martin | Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Cattle Farming with Leftover Brewer’s Yeast

Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases that contributes to the global climate crisis. As this gas is produced in the digestive systems of cattle, methane represents one of the greatest problems faced by the farming industry. Dr Robert Bryant, Dr Langdon Martin and their team at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina, propose an innovative feed supplement for cattle that helps to significantly reduce methane emissions: waste yeast from craft breweries. If used on a large scale, this new supplement could significantly decrease emissions associated with cattle farming, while also creating a new use for a waste product of the craft beer industry.

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Dr Anthony Swemmer – Exploring How Trees in Savannas Respond to Drought

Dr Anthony Swemmer – Exploring How Trees in Savannas Respond to Drought

Savannas are characterised by the co-existence of two very different types of plants – trees and grasses. They may be open, with large swathes of grass and an occasional tree dotting the landscape, or closed with a near complete cover of trees and a sparse grass layer beneath. In drier parts of the world, drought may play an important role in determining the balance between the trees and grasses in savannas. Extreme droughts, which are likely to become more common with climate change, could permanently shift a closed savanna to an open one. Such changes would have significant consequences for the functioning of these ecosystems and the animals they support. Dr Anthony Swemmer of the South African Environmental Observation Network explored the impact of an unusually severe drought on trees in South Africa. His team’s research shows that the response of trees to drought depends on a suite of local factors.

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Dr Alejandro Estrada and Dr Paul A. Garber | The Importance of Indigenous Peoples in Safeguarding Earth’s Primates

Dr Alejandro Estrada and Dr Paul A. Garber | The Importance of Indigenous Peoples in Safeguarding Earth’s Primates

Non-human primates play crucial roles in sustaining natural ecosystems worldwide. However, approximately 68% of primate species are now at risk of extinction, mainly due to agriculture and the depletion of natural resources. Dr Alejandro Estrada at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Dr Paul A. Garber at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and a group of scientists from various parts of the world recently carried out a study to better understand the role that Indigenous Peoples play in the conservation of threatened primates.

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Professor Olubukola Oluranti Babalola | Improving The Production of Cowpea, a Sustainable Superfood

Professor Olubukola Oluranti Babalola | Improving The Production of Cowpea, a Sustainable Superfood

Cowpea is an extremely versatile food crop. Packed with high-quality protein, it has become a staple legume in many households in Africa, where it is indigenous. Cowpea also cycles nutrients back into the soil, supporting sustainable farming and healthy ecological networks. However, the production of this sustainable crop faces many hurdles, including drought, pesticide use, and declining soil quality. In a recent review, Professor Olubukola Oluranti Babalola of North-West University in South Africa outlines the issues facing cowpea production and highlights potential solutions.

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Dr Sara Stančin | Dr Sašo Tomažič – Improving 3D Orientation Tracking in Gyroscope Sensors

Dr Sara Stančin | Dr Sašo Tomažič – Improving 3D Orientation Tracking in Gyroscope Sensors

Gyroscopes are widely used to measure the orientations and rotation speeds of moving objects – but according to one pair of researchers, the techniques we currently use to measure them are introducing significant and easily avoidable errors. Through their research, Dr Sara Stančin | Dr Sašo Tomažič, both at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, introduce a mathematical framework which accounts for how all three rotations measured by a gyroscope happen simultaneously, rather than in a sequence.

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Dr Klaudio Peqini | Professor Bejo Duka – Mapping Flows at Earth’s Core–Mantle Boundary

Dr Klaudio Peqini | Professor Bejo Duka – Mapping Flows at Earth’s Core–Mantle Boundary

The magnetic field that enshrouds Earth is generated by processes deep within the planet’s interior, which geologists still don’t fully understand. Among the effects that remain poorly studied are brief variations in the strength of the magnetic field, which occur over timescales of several decades. Through detailed mathematical analysis, Dr Klaudio Peqini and Professor Bejo Duka, both at the University of Tirana in Albania, explore how these variations could arise from changes in the flows of material at the boundary between Earth’s core, and its thick layer of mantle.

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Dr Angelica Tarpanelli | Keeping an Eye in the Sky on Rivers

Dr Angelica Tarpanelli | Keeping an Eye in the Sky on Rivers

Across the globe, climate change is driving extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, with increasing frequency, duration, and intensity. Accurately assessing the flow of water through rivers – or river discharge – could help us forecast extreme weather events and prevent loss of life. Sensors onboard satellites could provide more accurate and in-depth measurements of river variables than ever before. As part of the RIDESAT project, funded by the European Space Agency, Dr Angelica Tarpanelli and her team of researchers from Italy and Denmark investigate how combining remote sensing data from satellites could support river discharge assessments.

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Fritjof Basan | Exploring How Underwater Noise Dropped During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Fritjof Basan | Exploring How Underwater Noise Dropped During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Human activity slowed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental researchers have taken this opportunity to investigate how ecosystems respond to a decrease in human-related stressors. One human-related stressor is shipping, which can impact ocean ecosystems by creating intense underwater sounds. Fritjof Basan and his colleagues at the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany set out to determine whether reduced shipping activity in 2020 significantly affected the underwater soundscape.

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Dr Ana Elisa Rato – Dr Adélia Sousa | Harnessing Satellite Technology to Improve the Sustainability of Walnut Orchards

Dr Ana Elisa Rato – Dr Adélia Sousa | Harnessing Satellite Technology to Improve the Sustainability of Walnut Orchards

Walnuts are one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet, and could play a large role in achieving global food security. However, in non-organic walnut orchards, chemical fertilisers are typically applied to boost nut yields. When excessive amounts of these chemicals are applied, they can leach into the surrounding environment, damaging local ecosystems. To ensure that correct amounts of fertilisers are applied to walnut orchards, leaf samples are often analysed beforehand, but analysing enough leaf samples is time consuming and expensive. Now, Dr Ana Elisa Rato, Dr Adélia Sousa and their colleagues at MED Institute in the University of Évora have developed an inexpensive approach to assess nutrient levels in walnut orchards, by harnessing the power of satellite technology.

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Dr Thomas Arciuolo | Dr Miad Faezipour – Yellowstone Caldera Supervolcano

Dr Thomas Arciuolo | Dr Miad Faezipour – Yellowstone Caldera Supervolcano – A Solution to the Climate and Energy Crisis

The global climate crisis poses a major threat to human civilisation. The combustion of fossil fuels to generate energy is the primary cause of this crisis, due to the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. At the same time, the Earth faces another great crisis. Underneath Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA, lies one of Earth’s most powerful volcanoes, which has the potential for an eruption that would be catastrophic to the entire world. Researchers Dr Thomas Arciuolo and Dr Miad Faezipour propose a solution to both of these problems, by harnessing the mighty energy reserve within the Yellowstone Supervolcano to generate clean, emission-free power – turning the Yellowstone curse into an immense blessing.

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Dr Martín Medina-Elizalde | Collapse of the Ancient Maya Civilisation: Aligning History with Geological Analysis

Dr Martín Medina-Elizalde | Collapse of the Ancient Maya Civilisation: Aligning History with Geological Analysis

Between 800 and 1000 CE, one of the world’s most advanced ancient civilisations underwent a devastating decline. The collapse of ancient Maya society has widely been attributed to a century-long drought; but so far, there have been few efforts to quantify this event, or to equate scientific findings with historical sources. Through new geological and paleoclimatological analyses, Dr Martín Medina-Elizalde at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has revealed that the climate changes experienced during the drought followed more complex patterns than previously thought. His team’s discoveries could have important implications for predicting our own society’s future.

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Krti Tallam | The Importance of Estuaries for Predicting Climate Change Impacts in the Oceans

Krti Tallam | The Importance of Estuaries for Predicting Climate Change Impacts in the Oceans

Climate change is threatening the world’s marine ecosystems in myriad ways, due to rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise. Another often-overlooked effect is that warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns can alter the transmission of many marine parasites and infectious diseases. Such diseases don’t just impact their host populations, as cascading effects can disrupt entire ocean food webs. Krti Tallam at Stanford University studies the evolution of marine parasites and diseases, along with the broader implications for marine ecology. In a recent review paper, Tallam focuses on critically important ecosystems within intertidal zones.

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Dr Alexandra (Sasha) Pavlova – Professor Paul Sunnucks | Genetic Rescue Saves Species from Extinction

Dr Alexandra (Sasha) Pavlova – Professor Paul Sunnucks | Genetic Rescue Saves Species from Extinction

When a species’ habitat shrinks, its populations decline. Individuals that persist in remaining islands of habitat have no choice but to breed with their relatives, reducing the health and fertility of their offspring. Researchers at Monash University seek to increase genetic diversity in small populations, helping them rebound. They have established ‘genetic rescue’ methods to save many endangered species from extinction, collaborating with wildlife agencies to test solutions.

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Dr Candice M. Duncan – Dr Evelyn E. Cooper | Improving Agriculture and Geoscience through Educational Initiatives

Dr Candice M. Duncan – Dr Evelyn E. Cooper | Improving Agriculture and Geoscience through Educational Initiatives

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland College Park provides exciting student experiences through three innovative programs: AgDiscovery, Summer Opportunities in Agricultural Research and the Environment (SOARE), and SOARE: Strategic Work in Applied Geosciences (SOARE:SWAG). These educational initiatives aim to build a stronger scientific workforce by inspiring young people from underserved communities to pursue science careers.

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Dr Conrad Labandeira | Which Came First: Pollinating Insects or Flowers?

Dr Conrad Labandeira | Which Came First: Pollinating Insects or Flowers?

Historically, controlled forest burning in western North America created a forest patchwork that limited the size and severity of wildfires. Over the last 200 years, however, fire suppression created large areas of dense tree stands. As droughts and temperatures increase due to climate change, these dense forests are now at increasing risk from extremely severe wildfires.

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Dr Susan Prichard | Adapting Forests to Wildfires in a Changing Climate

Dr Susan Prichard | Adapting Forests to Wildfires in a Changing Climate

Historically, controlled forest burning in western North America created a forest patchwork that limited the size and severity of wildfires. Over the last 200 years, however, fire suppression created large areas of dense tree stands. As droughts and temperatures increase due to climate change, these dense forests are now at increasing risk from extremely severe wildfires.

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Dr Christa Mulder – Understanding How Flowering Plants Respond to Climate Change

Dr Christa Mulder – Understanding How Flowering Plants Respond to Climate Change

A welcome sign of a change in seasons, the year’s first flowers usher in the start of spring. Yet, as the climate warms, some flowers are blooming earlier. Since plants respond to environmental cues, such as temperature, shifts in their annual development has long been considered an effect of climate change. However, significant warming does not always lead to earlier flowering.

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