2014 SA Climate Change Adaptation Showcase

ccadapt header

Date: February 13th & 14th, 2014
Time: 4:30pm – 5:30pm
Venue: The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide
Cost: $250 for two day registration including dinner. Student discounts apply.
RSVP: – Click here to register your attendance.

You will hear the latest in climate science research and also how practitioners from around South Australia are working at the local level to determine the best response for their region.

The expert panel:

–       Roger B Street from the UK Climate Impacts Programme at Oxford University (UKCIP)
Roger is a leading international adaptation expert and will be hosted (via live-feed) from the UK. He leads the technical and scientific work at UKCIP aimed at guiding risk, vulnerability and adaptation assessments.

–       Dr Karl Braganza, Director of Climate Monitoring Section, Bureau of Meteorology
Karl’s research is centred on understanding climate variability and change using climate modelling, instrumental observations and palaeo-climate evidence.

–       Dr Susannah Eliott, CEO, Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC)
The AusSMC works with the news media to inject more evidence-based science into public discourse.

–       Dr Peter Hayman, Principal Scientist in Climate Applications, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)
Peter has been recently working on impacts and adaptation to climate change in the irrigated wine grape and low-rainfall grains industries.

–       Professor Will Steffen, Climate Council
Peter’s research interests span fields of climate and Earth System science, with an emphasis on sustainability and climate change.

–       Dr Russell Wise, Sustainability Economist, CSIRO
Russell’s work is focussed on understanding the interplay between institutions, values and knowledge to enable communities in Australia and overseas to adapt to climate change.

Learn from the experts how to translate the science into action!

For more information, view the program.



Research Tuesdays: “Where will we source our Energy?” presentation now online

The latest Research Tuesdays presentation Where will we source our energy? is now online. This was a special end of year event featuring five panellists, including Professor Barry Brook, Director of Climate Science at the Environment Institute.

The topic of this presentation is particularly pertinent after last weeks heatwave, during which blackouts were experienced across the country due to high demand for power. The cost of running air-conditioning in what are predicted to be more frequent heatwaves is an issue that will inevitably also focus our attention further to exactly where we will source our energy from in the future.

Other members of the expert panel included Professor Graham “Gus” Nathan, mechanical engineer and founding Director of the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Energy Technology as well as Associate Professor David Lewis (PhD CEng FIChemE), a chemical engineer in the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering.

city lights

Flickr: Ralph Walker

Further evidence on human global warming

Professor Tim Wigley

Professor Tim Wigley

A team of international climate scientists including University of Adelaide’s Professor Tom Wigley has today reported further strong evidence of the human influence on climate change.

Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), the researchers have detailed a comprehensive study investigating the causes of temperature changes in Earth’s atmosphere.

They have analysed satellite temperature data over 34 years and compared these data with results from more than 20 different climate models, focussing on the vertical structure of atmospheric temperature change (from the troposphere or lower levels of the atmosphere through to the stratosphere or upper reaches of the atmosphere).

The study was led by scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States and builds on work published in 1996 by the same group. The 1996 Nature paper, ‘A search for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere’, was the first published work to clearly identify the human fingerprint in observed temperature changes.

“With this paper we have built on our earlier work with another 20 years of data that adds further strong evidence for the human impact on our climate,” says Professor Wigley, ARC Fellow with the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

Professor Wigley says the study is more much comprehensive than other published studies and has been able to better define the human ‘signal’ in atmospheric temperature change. There is a clear pattern of warming temperatures in the troposphere and cooling temperatures in the stratosphere, changes that are the characteristic signature of human activity.

“The main thing is that we can identify what is called a human fingerprint, or a distinctive pattern of change in the observational record, and that pattern is derived from climate modelling experiments,” he said.

“We look at patterns of change that can be attributed to other things, such as changing output of the sun for example, and we show that those cannot be identified in the observational record. 

“We can see the human fingerprint, we can’t see the fingerprint of any other cause, and so it’s pretty obvious that the only explanation is there’s been a very distinctive human influence on the patterns of climate change.”

The scientists said more had been done to tackle ozone depletion than the effects of greenhouse gases.

“Greenhouses gases trap the warmth in, they allow radiation from the sun to penetrate to the lower layers of the atmosphere, but they don’t allow as much outgoing radiation and that’s what’s called the greenhouse effect,” Professor Wigley said.

“One of the standard skeptic ‘arguments’ is that all the observed changes are caused by natural variability, and often supposed to be due to solar activity,” says Professor Wigley.

“What we have shown beyond a shadow of doubt is that the climate changes we are observing cannot be due to the Sun or any other natural factors.

“There is simply no other way to explain the changes that have occurred since 1979 (when special research satellites were introduced by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) other than as a result of human influences – primarily greenhouse gases and related pollutants like sulphur dioxide emissions and gases that affect the atmospheric concentrations of ozone.

“Other published work has already shown a convincing and growing pile of pebbles of evidence for the dominant role of humans in climate change. Our paper adds a huge boulder to that pile.”

Find the paper here. 

Read a longer interview with Professor Wigley here. 

Guest Speaker Paul Ehrlich podcast now available

The podcast for the presentation by Professor Paul Ehrlich is now available for download.

Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich

Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich

The Environment Institute and the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University presented Professor Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University on Thursday 21 March 2013 in Canberra.

The presentation Avoiding a collapse of civilisation – our chances, prospects and pathways forward discussed population growth and its effect on the environment.

Paul Ehrlich is the Bing Professor of Population Studies in the department of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, president of Stanford’s Centre for Conservation Biology and Adjunct Professor, University of Technology, Sydney. By training he is an entomologist specializing in Lepidoptera (butterflies), but he is also a prominent ecologist and demographer. Ehrlich is best known for his dire warnings about population growth and limited resources. He became well-known after publication of his controversial 1968 book The Population Bomb.

Listen to the presentation.


Environmental problems have contributed to numerous collapses of civilizations in the past. Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears possible and at the same time avoidable. Population growth supercharged by significantly increasing consumption interacting with our choices of technologies are major drivers. Dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.

Paul and Anne Ehrlich have written a paper on how humanity’s global civilisation is threatened with collapse by an array of environmental problems. In this special presentation, Professor Ehrlich gave a talk about his recent conclusions.

Professor Ehrlich was  joined by leading ecological scientists to participate in an in-depth panel discussion. The panel extended and discussed Professor Ehrlich’s topics as they relate to sustainability politics in Australia, broaching controversial topics from food and energy supply to the politics of greed. How much scientific evidence underlies our national decision-making?

The panel included Professor Corey Bradshaw from the Environment Institute, Professor David Lindenmayer from ANU, and Professor Graham Pyke from University of Technology Sydney. Professor Stephen Dovers, Director of the Fenner School of Environment, chaired the panel session.

New study suggests global uniform biodiversity tipping point not backed by science

A group of international ecological scientists, led by Environment Institute member Professor Barry Brook, have rejected a doomsday-like scenario of sudden, irreversible change to the Earth’s ecology.

In a paper recently published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, the scientists from Australia, US and UK argue that global-scale ecological tipping points are unlikely and that ecological change over large areas seem to follow a more gradual, smooth pattern.

This opposes recent efforts to define ‘planetary tipping points’ – critical levels of biodiversity loss or land-use change that would have global effect – with important implications for science and policy-makers.

Lead author, Professor Barry Brook

Lead author, Professor Barry Brook

“This is good news because it says that we might avoid the doom-and-gloom scenario of abrupt, irreversible change,” says Professor Barry Brook, lead author of the paper and Director of Climate Science at the University of Adelaide. “A focus on planetary tipping points may both distract from the vast ecological transformations that have already occurred, and lead to unjustified fatalism about the catastrophic effects of tipping points.

“An emphasis on a point of no return is not particularly helpful for bringing about the conservation action we need. We must continue to seek to reduce our impacts on the global ecology without undue attention on trying to avoid arbitrary thresholds.”

A tipping point occurs when an ecosystem attribute such as species abundance or carbon sequestration responds rapidly and possibly irreversibly to a human pressure like land-use change or climate change.

Many local and regional-level ecosystems, such as lakes and grasslands, are known to behave this way. A planetary tipping point, the authors suggest, could theoretically occur if ecosystems across Earth respond in similar ways to the same human pressures, or if there are strong connections between continents that allow for rapid diffusion of impacts across the planet.

The scientists examined four principal drivers of terrestrial ecosystem change – climate change, land-use change, habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss – and found they were unlikely to induce global tipping points.

The paper titled ‘Does the terrestrial biosphere have planetary tipping points?’ also involves Erle C. Ellis (University of Maryland), Michael P. Perring (University of Western Australia), Anson W. Mackay (University College London) and Linus Blomqvist (Breakthrough Institute).

Read the full media release to find out more.

Download the paper.

Read Barry Brook & Corey Bradshaw’s article on The Conversation regarding this research.

EI research shows broad-scale trends in climatic and environmental change in Australia over the past 30 ka

A new paper involving Environment Institute member John Tibby as well as L. Petherick (Queensland University of Technology & The University of Queensland), H. Bostock (National Institute of Water and Atmosphere), T.J. Cohen (The University of Wollongong), K. Fitzsimmons (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology), M.-S. Fletcher (Australian National University & University of Chile), P.Moss (University of Queensland), J. Reeves (University of Ballarat), S. Mooney (University of New South Wales), T. Barrows (University of Exeter), J. Kemp (Northumbria University), J. Jansen (Stockholm University), G. Nanson (University of Wollongong) and A. Dosseto (University of Wollongong) has recently been published in the the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

John Tibby, one of the researchers involved on the paper

John Tibby, one of the researchers involved on the paper

The paper titled ”Climatic records over the past 30 ka from temperate Australia – a synthesis from the Oz-INTIMATE workgroup’ investigates broad-scale trends in climatic and environmental change in Australia over the past 30 ka.

Temperate Australia sits between the heat engine of the tropics and the cold Southern Ocean, encompassing a range of rainfall regimes and falling under the influence of different climatic drivers, despite this, researchers were able  to synthesise available palaeoenvironmental records and show that it is possible to gain insight into broader scale climatic and environmental variability without losing the intricacies of individual records.

Read the paper to find out more.

New Paper: Predicting the Distribution of Commercially Important Invertebrate Stocks under Future Climate

A new paper involving Environment Institute members Bayden Russell, Sean Connell, Camille Mellin (also Australian Institute of Marine Science), Barry Brook, Owen Burnell and Damien Fordham has recently been published in the journal PLOS One.

The journal titled ‘Predicting the Distribution of Commercially Important Invertebrate Stocks under Future Climate’ projected the future distribution and numbers of two commercially harvested abalone species (blacklip abalone, Haliotis rubra and greenlip abalone, H. laevigata) inhabiting coastal South Australia, using multiple species distribution models (SDM) and for decadal time slices through to 2100.The projections are based on two contrasting global greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. The results provide a practical first approximation of the potential impact of climate-induced change on the two species of marine invertebrates in the same fishery.

Read the paper to find out more about these results.

Fish earbones as a tool to examine climate variability: development of a marine growth chronology – Guest blogger Gretchen Grammer

Guest post by Gretchen Grammer, Gretchen is a PhD student in the Marine Biology Program, School of Earth & Environmental Science at The University of Adelaide. Her current research centres on the use of fish otoliths as a proxy to examine oceanographic processes in relation to climate variability.

Gretchen Grammer

She is also interested in the use of sclerochronology and sclerochemistry to further understand the biology and ecology of marine species and the past environments they have encountered. Gretchen is under the supervision of Prof. Bronwyn Gillanders and Dr Chris Izzo.

What is a chronology? Not to mention, how does it fit with fish earbones? Fish HAVE earbones?? These are some of the questions you may ask yourself when reading the title of this research post. Fish do indeed have earbones or more appropriately, earstones. Officially called otoliths, they are calcium-based structures located in the fish’s head and used for hearing and balance. When sectioned with a low speed saw or even broken in half, growth bands can be seen within the otolith’s interior. These growth bands are akin to the annual rings found in trees and can be used in very similar ways.

The science of dating tree rings and analysing the growth bands is called dendrochronology, while the analysis of growth rings from hard parts of aquatic animals is called sclerochronology. Besides otoliths, other structures that contain growth bands are vertebra of sharks, coral skeletons, mollusc shells, and mammal teeth. A variety of information can be gleaned from these hard structures. Besides information about the amount of annual growth of the organism, we can also gain insight into environmental conditions that the animal encountered during that period of its life. This can be done by assigning each growth band a year through a technique called crossdating which results in a chronology or sequence of events through time. This chronology can then be compared to environmental indices recorded by instruments (e.g. sea surface temperature, Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation Index, Southern Oscillation Index, etc.) or the composition of trace elements in the growth band. By combining these factors with the long-term growth chronology, multi-decadal reconstruction of environmental records and climatic change through time can be deduced from organisms’ growth patterns.

For my research, I have targeted a long-lived, bottom dwelling fish called ocean perch (Helicolenus percoides) to use as proxy species to examine oceanographic processes in relation to climate variability in the southern hemisphere. Ocean perch live in the deeper waters on the continental shelf off southern Australia and New Zealand. Some of the criteria to be considered when selecting a species for use in developing a marine growth chronology are: longevity, occurrence and range, site-fidelity, ease of capture, and readability of the otoliths. Ocean perch live 40+ years, are fairly common with a wide distribution, have high site-fidelity (non-migratory), are caught both commercially and as bycatch in a variety of fisheries, and growth rings can be seen in their otoliths.

Ocean Perch (Helicolenus percoides)
Also called: Red Gurnard Perch, Jock Stewart, Coral Cod, Coral Perch, Reef Ocean Perch, Red Perch, Red Rock Perch, Red Gurnard Scorpionfish, and Sea Perch. Photo credit: Gretchen L. Grammer

To begin developing a growth chronology, you first have to catch the fish (or find some old, archived otoliths…)! The next step is to dissect out the otoliths from the fish and embed them in epoxy resin. The otoliths are then thin sectioned on a low-speed saw, polished and mounted on a microscope slide. High resolution microscopic images are taken so the annular growth bands can be measured. The measurements are used to visually crossdate the growth patterns across individual fish in search of “signature years”, extremely narrow or wide bands compared to neighbouring bands. Crossdating is a dendrochronological technique that helps to assign correct calendar years to each growth band. Synchronous growth band width patterns are cross-matched across multiple samples at a certain time and place. Only the otoliths with the clearest bands are included in a chronology. After the chronology has been visually crossdated, it is statistically verified, detrended and correlated with the various environmental climate indices mentioned above.

The steps of otolith processing. Photo credit: Gretchen L. Grammer

Thus far, I have examined the otoliths of 36 ocean perch collected offshore of South End, South Australia in October – November 2011 and have found potential signature years to be 1998 (narrow), 2006 (wide), 2007 (narrow), and 2009 (wide). I have not correlated these with the environmental indices yet, so I am not sure what is happening in the fish’s environment to either stunt (narrow bands) or increase (wide bands) its growth in a certain year. The next step with my research is to create an overall master chronology (by adding more fish) from the area and link it to environmental data in order to study climate-growth relationships and how they related to oceanographic processes along the southern Australia coast as well as the effects of climate variability on fish growth.

Visually Crossdated Chronology: Otolith growth band width by year. Each line represents an individual fish. Otoliths with any unclear bands were removed from the chronology. Final number = 14. Potential signature years: Wide – 2009, 2006; Narrow – 2007, 1998.

High resolution microscopic images of otolith sections are used to measure annular growth bands. Photo credit: Gretchen L. Grammer

Stay tuned for future results!

Guest Post by Gretchen Grammer, if you would like to contribute your research to a guest post on The Environment Institute Blog email environment@adelaide.edu.au.

New Paper – Booming during a bust: Asynchronous population responses of arid zone lizards to climatic variables

A new paper written by Environment Institute members, Dr John Read, Professor Barry Brook and Dr Damien Fordham as well as Kelli-Jo Kovac from the Environment Section, BHP Billiton Olympic Dam, has been made available online and will soon be published in the Journal Acta Oecologica.

The paper titled ‘Booming during a bust: Asynchronous population responses of arid zone lizards to climatic variables’ explores the productivity of arid environments and the reproductive success of vertebrates in these systems. Data from their 15 year study at an Australian arid zone site reveals asynchronous demographic responses to rainfall and other climatic variables among different lizard species.

Read and dowload the paper to find out what the researchers discovered by analysing a 15-year multi-species capture-mark-recapture dataset.

Sleepwalking to Catastrophe – Guest Blogger Fiona Heinrichs

Guest Blogger Fiona Heinrichs explains why the grim future of the climate catastrophe requires more than optimism.

Guest Post by Fiona Heinrichs, Fiona is an Arts (Hons) graduate of Macquarie University. A climate change activist and sustainable Australia advocate, she has a particular interest in the relationship between environmental sustainability, population growth and economics. She will be a planet talk speaker at the upcoming Earth Station festival.

There are no shortage of books and articles by leading intellectuals and scientists telling us about the environmental crisis and that the economic system is now likely to have overshot the regenerative capacities of the planet. For example Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World, begins his book by telling us that the Earth is full and our ‘current model of economic growth is driving this system, the one we rely upon for our present and future prosperity, over the cliff’ (1). A similar theme is developed in two recent books, Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality and Patrick Moriarty and Damon Honnery, Rise and Fall of the Carbon Civilisation. Central to all of these books in this genre is to leave the reader with a message of hope. There may need to be some changes, but in the end there won’t be much lost: in fact a brighter, better civilisation will be built.

In my online book Sleepwalking to Catastrophe: ‘Big Australia’, Immigration, Population Expansion and the Impossibility of Endless Economic Growth in a Finite World, in the context of the environmental crisis and the ‘converging catastrophes’ I set out to show that matters are not as simple as environmentalists often depict. In fact, the population problem and immigration in particular causes heart burn for many but not all environmental activists because they fear that the conflict at the heart of their supposed liberal ethical paradigm will be exposed as inadequate to deal with the multitude of controversies generated by these issues. Despite this misunderstanding, ironically stabilising population is perfectly in line with liberal principles, seeking to not only empower women but also create a model that sets an example on a global level.

Sleepwalking to Catastrophe puts the case for population and immigration limits for Australia within a limits to growth paradigm. It does so without xenophobia; in fact it argues that the pro-growth forces manipulate such sentiments to protect their agenda from rigorous criticism. By restricting immigration now, Australia may be capable of acting as a ‘life boat’ in the future, when environmental refugees and people displaced from lands devastated by climate change, seek not a better life, but rather, a chance to live. By pushing Australia to ecological breaking point today, the ruling elites are effectively preventing Australia from being a good global ecological citizen in the future. We are paying a high moral cost for a few dollars more.

Read a previous blog post about this online book here.

Guest Post by Fiona Heinrichs, if you would like to contribute your research to a guest blog on The Environment Institute Blog email environment@adelaide.edu.au.