Issue 487, 31 Aug 2018


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New from the SMC

Expert Reaction: Forecasting earthquake aftershock patterns

Expert Reaction: How does methane contribute to global warming?

Expert Q&A: Beef feedlots in NZ 

New from the SMC global network

Stabilising methane not enough

New research released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton highlights the impact methane from New Zealand’s livestock has on global warming.

Authored by Dr Andy Reisinger, from the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, the report indicates that methane emissions from livestock would need to be reduced by at least 10-22 per cent below 2016 levels by 2050 to ensure no additional warming beyond current levels.

Upton said the research was being released to inform the current debate about how different greenhouse gases should be treated under the proposed Zero Carbon Bill. “It shows that holding New Zealand’s methane emissions steady at current levels would not be enough to avoid additional global warming.”

Victoria University of Wellington Professor of Climate Change Dave Frame said a key point of the research was that "you could keep around 80-90% of NZ’s current methane emissions and not cause further warming by 2050. That’s pretty consistent with ‘Option 2’ as set out in the recent MfE consultation document."

However, Prof Frame cautioned that while methane dominated New Zealand's historical warming legacy, "CO2 will dominate our future warming legacy unless we enact strong policies on fossil fuel emissions".

Quoted: Newsroom

"There’s a ticking time bomb coming down the line and there is cause for concern. It’s not like a terrorist attack or a plane crash, these things are slowly creeping into our future."

University of Canterbury's Professor Matthew Turnbull on the threat of climate change.

Forecasting EQ aftershocks

Machine learning AI can be taught to forecast patterns of aftershocks following large earthquakes, according to US researchers.

The study, published this week in Nature, involved training a neural network to understand where earthquakes induce stress, using data from more than 131,000 pairs of earthquakes and aftershocks.

The authors said their network could then identify the pattern of aftershock locations in a separate dataset of more than 30,000 earthquake-aftershock pairs and was more accurate than the current prediction method - Coulomb failure stress change - because theirs identifies several different kinds of stress instead of just one.

Professor Mark Stirling, Chair of Earthquake Science at the University of Otago, said the application of machine learning was a "big step beyond what has been done in the past".

"With evolving methods like this, we stand to gain a better understanding of how this method can contribute to the ensemble of existing earthquake forecasting methods. We will, for instance, learn whether the method can be applied to every earthquake sequence (high value) versus being very sequence-specific (limited value)."

A group of GNS scientists - Dr Matt Gerstenberger, Dr David Rhoades and Dr Bill Fry - said the study "highlighted the considerable uncertainty and difficulty in developing Coulomb-based forecast models​".

"The spatial patterns identified by the machine learning are consistent with those used in statistical models for earthquake forecasting in New Zealand (and elsewhere around the world). It will be interesting to see if machine learning will be able to identify spatial patterns that will help to improve traditional forecasting in the future.​"

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.

Video workshops go South

In October, the Science Media Centre will take its popular science video making workshops to Christchurch and Dunedin.

These video workshops (produced in collaboration with Baz Caitcheon) focus on giving scientists the tools and skills to communicate their research in short videos aimed at an online audience.

Producing short videos using the high-definition camera built into your smartphone or tablet has never been easier. We’ll show you to how to develop a video concept and give you tips on the best ways to shoot, edit and distribute your video content. In the weeks following, Baz will mentor you to help you produce your first science video.

The workshops are free to attend, but limited to 15 places. This is a competitive application process – the best applicants will be selected based on the video concepts outlined in the application form.


November SAVVY in Wellington

Our flagship media training course returns to Wellington for our fourth and final two-day Science Media SAVVY for the year.

Our experienced facilitators provide a supportive environment for researchers to consider their work from different perspectives and find new ways to describe the value of their research to the public. 

Ideally suited for researchers with previous media experience seeking further development of their skills, as well as beginners anticipating media interest in their work. 


Policy news & developments

R&D Incentive: The Minister for Research, Science and Innovation has provided an update on the proposed R&D tax incentive.

Mining application overturned: The High Court has overturned an application to mine ironsands from the seabed off the coast of South Taranaki, which had been approved by the Environmental Protection Authority.

Mycoplasma spread: The cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis has been detected in Northland for the first time.

NASA internships: New Zealand tertiary students will be offered a chance to participate in NASA's International Internships Programme.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Flatting in retirement: how to provide suitable and affordable housing for ageing people
Fatemeh Yavari and Brenda Vale, Victoria University of Wellington

Planned closures of charter schools in New Zealand prompt debate about Māori self-determination
Dominic O'Sullivan, Charles Sturt University

Here’s how to reset New Zealand’s cultural diplomacy in the Pacific
Simon Mark, Massey University

The Lord Howe screw pine is a self-watering island giant
Matthew Biddick, Victoria University of Wellington

See more NZ-authored Conversation articles.

What we've been reading

With an abundance of news stories to possibly read, watch and listen to, it can be hard to find the gems. Here we highlight some of the stories that caught our attention this week.

Maraenui: The suburb swallowed by synthetics
It’s a scene common to many of New Zealand’s poorest suburbs: empty lots where state housing once sat, unemployment and a dependence on drugs. In this long-form feature, Anusha Bradley visits Maraenui, Napier’s poorest suburb, which has fallen into the grip of synthetic drugs.

Was former EPA chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth muzzled?
Former SMC director Peter Griffin examines the former EPA chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth's brief stint in the role.

Tide of lies
Three New Zealand researchers have played a role in uncovering fabricated data across dozens of clinical trials published in international journals, which is covered in this feature for Science.

Their Racing Pigeons Caught a Bullet Train. Then the Authorities Caught Up
Here's a bonkers story with a solid take-home message: if you're going to try to cheat in a pigeon race, don't take your birds on a Bullet Train.

I was deluded. You can't beat fake news with science communication
As the Guardian shutters its science blog network, the bloggers have been writing their final sign-offs. In this piece, Jenny Rohn tells of her frustrations in the "dangerous era of untruth".

Plus, check out some of our favourite stories from July and August on Sciblogs.

New from Sciblogs - NZ's science blog network

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:
Cave bears and brown bears and admixture, oh my!

They've been extinct for 25,000 years, but cave bears have left their mark in the DNA of modern brown bears.
A 100 years ago today – the likely first NZ death from the 1918 influenza pandemic

This week marked 100 years since the death of the first Kiwi thought to have died in the influenza pandemic.
Public Health Expert
Tossing away valuable emigration data

With confirmation that departure cards are going to be scrapped, does that mean we're going to lose valuable data?
The Dismal Science
Sticky thoughts on where research can most effectively influence policy

The new PM's Chief Science Advisor has been travelling the country asking where research can most effectively influence policy.
Code for Life

Upcoming events

Please see the SMC Events Calendar for more events and details.
  • Science and the City: 1 September, Christchurch. Science writer Laurie Winkless will talk to Michelle Dickinson about her book examining cities in six continents and how they deal with modern challenges.
  • SHIVERS and beyond: 3 September, Dunedin. An update on the Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance study.
  • Supervolcanoes: 3 September, Masterton; 4 September, Palmerston North; 5 September, New Plymouth. Colin Wilson continues his Rutherford Lecture series delving into the life and times of supervolcanoes.
  • Truth is our only weapon: 3 September, Tauranga. Tracey Bowell will discuss critical thinking and public debate in the post-truth era.
  • Tackling diet-related disease: 4 September, Wellington. A day of presentations and discussion on population diets in New Zealand and priorities for action.
  • Le Va Fealoa’i: 4 September, Auckland. A farewell for Professor Donna Rose Addis, who is leaving the University of Auckland to take up a role at the University of Toronto.
  • How wiki works: 4 September, Dunedin. New Zealand's first Wikipedian-at-Large Mike Dickison will discuss how Wikipedia works.
  • Earthquake narratives: 4 September, Christchurch. Paul Millar and Rosemary Du Plessis will discuss the earthquakes stories on the QuakeStudies website.
  • Can the bike save the city? 5 September, Wellington. Alistair Woodward, Ralph Chapman and Hamish Mackie will discuss how bicycles can shape cities.
  • End of life care: 5 September, Auckland. Jackie Robinson will present preliminary findings from a study exploring the quality of care people experienced in their last three months of life.
  • From vagrant to resident: 5 September, Dunedin. Krista Hupman will discuss her research on leopard seals, finding they are more common than previously realised.
  • Cranwell lecture: 5 September, Auckland. Willie Shaw will present the Lucy Cranwell Lecture, discussing biodiversity loss across New Zealand.
  • Indigenous knowledge and climate change: 6 September, Dunedin. A discussion on research investigating how Māori can determine what traditional knowledge can be used to manage resources in climate change adaptation.
  • The state of the climate: 6 September, Dunedin. Bob Lloyd will cover climate change mitigation strategies from the IPCC AR5 report and how they have changed since 2015.
  • Achieving equilibrium: 6 September, Wellington. A panel discussion on gender balance in STEM sectors.

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