Our Changing World for Thursday 2 February 2012
Tracking West Coast Glaciers
Brian Anderson monitors the flow and melting of the Franz Josef glacier by measuring stakes that he sinks into the ice at regular intervals. Here, he retrieves a three-metre stake whose top had been flush with the glacier surface a month earlier. During the summer, the glacier loses several metres in height each month. (image V. Meduna)
Temperate alpine glaciers are sensitive indicators of changing temperature and precipitation. Worldwide, most glaciers are retreating at an unprecedented rate, as a result of global-scale warming. During the first half of the last decade, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers on the West Coast have bucked this trend and advanced, but now, they too are receding.
Brian Anderson and Andrew Mackintosh, at Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre, combine long-term and detailed field research with modelling to reconstruct the evolution of New Zealand glaciers during the past 40,000 years and to predict how they might change in the future.
You can also listen to Andrew's presentation on Glaciers and Ice Sheets in a Warming World.
The University of Otago’s Iso-Trace Research Lab in the Chemistry Department has been in the news recently for helping in a fisheries prosecution that relied on matching tiny flakes of paint found under the scales of some discarded fish with the appropriate fishing boat. This kind of forensic chemistry has seen the lab dubbed ‘CSI South’ and Alison Ballance went to Dunedin to meet lab director Russell Frew, who showed her the lab and explained the kind of work they have been involved in recently.
Russell Frew was part of the team that won the 2011 Prime Minister’s Science Prize, and you can listen to an interview with other members of that team here. The Iso-Trace Research Lab also featured in an earlier story on our Changing World – you can listen to that here.
Tracking Rats in the Canopy
The view from the canopy and Ami Maxwell (below) and a member of the volunteer climbing team prepare to scale a Kauri tree in Auckland’s Waitakere Regional Park (images: A. Maxwell)
The Ark in The Park teams of staff and volunteers are continuing to fight the good fight against introduced predators and are working hard to restore the natural ecology in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. But predators are a cunning bunch, and so an innovative development has recently been launched by the Ark in the war against them. A monitoring group is hard at work tracking the presence of rats and their impact on species that breed in the canopy. How do they do it? Simple - they climb trees.
Nathan Camp and Anne Gaskett next to a large patch of dung moss (image: A. Ballance)
If you had to think of something that liked growing on animal remains or animal dung, and even smells like them, chances are you wouldn’t have thought of moss. But there is indeed a stinky moss that does just that, and they're even known as dung mosses, belonging to a group called Splachnaceae. The University of Auckland’s Anne Gaskett is fascinated by them. Anne is a behavioural ecologist, and she is studying why these mosses create odours that mimic rotting flesh and dung, and is finding that the sneaky mosses are deceiving flies which then move the moss spores to suitable new sites. Anne and student Nathan Camp take Alison Ballance to their study site in the Waitakere Ranges.
The New Zeland dung mosses are in the genus Tayloria, and they have distinctive red stalks (images: A. Ballance)