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SMC Bulletin: 2017 year of extreme weather

Press Release – Science Media Centre

2017 year of extreme weather Last year’s climate brought us severe weather events, including floods and droughts, according to Niwa’s annual climate summary released this week.2017 year of extreme weather
Last year’s climate brought us severe weather events, including floods and droughts, according to Niwa’s annual climate summary released this week.

Satellite image of the Tasman Tempest storm. The Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere.

The year started off wet, with the Tasman Tempest and Ex-Tropical Cyclones Debbie and Cook contributing to record amounts of rain. By September, all six main centres had recorded their normal annual rainfall, but this was followed by a dry end to the year, which had parts of the country recording their driest Novembers on record.

University of Otago Honorary Research Fellow Dr Jim Salinger said the standout events of the year were the extreme events, especially floods and the Marine Heatwave that started in September.

The flood events meant 2017 was the most expensive year for weather-related insurance payouts, he said. “New Zealand is now ranked as ‘high hazard’ for these events by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.”

“The Government has announced its intention of legislating the Zero Carbon Act with a Climate Commission – all very much needed moves. At the same time attention must also be focused on adaptation. The impacts of extreme weather in 2017 give us a taste of things to come in a warming climate.”

Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor James Renwick said while the year showed a mixed bag of weather and climate extremes, “as the climate continues to change, this is exactly what we expect to see more of”.

“As time goes by, storms are more likely to dump heavy rains while dry spells are more likely to last longer and suck more moisture out of the soil.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the climate summary.

Quoted: Newsweek
“Often, what is written or recorded in history is a male-dominated perspective.

“What is nice about mtDNA…it also tells us about maternal history, and thus, the history of the women in a population.”
University of Otago’s Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith on
new research using DNA to learn more about ancient seafaring Phoenicians.

Underwater volcano explored
When Havre volcano erupted in 2012, the first clue something had happened was when a massive pumice raft was spotted floating in the ocean.

The underwater volcano near the Kermadecs was only discovered in 2002 and its 2012 eruption create a pumice raft measuring about 400 square kilometres, parts of which washed up on Australian beaches.

Now an international team of researchers have explored the aftermath using submersibles, discovering the eruption was similar to the biggest eruption seen on land in the 20th Century.

Lead author Dr Rebecca Carey, from the University of Tasmania, told Radio NZ that Havre was about the size of Mt Ruapehu and the eruption was comparable in size to the Mt St Helens eruption in 1980.

The 2015 expedition to explore the volcano found the eruption had “absolutely devastated” surrounding marine life. Considering some 80 per cent of Earth’s volcanoes are located on the seafloor, Carey said the study of submarine volcanoes was important.

Because Havre had been mapped prior to the eruption, it was a “scientific gold-mine”, she said.

More information about the research is available at

Policy news & developments

Stink bug treatment: All sea containers from Italy now require treatment for brown marmorated stink bugs after an increase in the number of stink bug detections in cargo from Italy.

Ashburton farm disease: The Ministry for Primary Industries has confirmed the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is present on a farm in the Ashburton area.

Rat tracks on predator-free island: The Department of Conservation has launched a response on Tiritiri Matangi after rat tracks were found during regular monitoring on the predator-free island.
Latest SMC news and opportunities
Make it your resolution to improve your science communication this year and sign up for a Science Media SAVVY workshop.
The Science Media Centre’s highly-acclaimed two-day workshop offers researchers first-hand insight into the workings of news and social media, as well as hands-on, practical exercises to improve communication.

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.

Applications for the first Auckland workshop close 30 January.

2018 SAVVY workshop dates

Auckland: 12-13 February – Apply now
Wellington: 14-15 June
Auckland: 6-7 September
Dunedin: 25-26 October

More information about our Science Media SAVVY workshops is available on our website and via Curious Minds.

SMC seeks new director

After nearly ten years at the helm, SMC founding director Peter Griffin is stepping down from the role. We are advertising for a replacement: applications close February 7, 2018.

Science Journalism Fund Round 2

The second round of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Science Journalism Fund has opened for applications.

Grants ranging in value from $500 to $5,000 are available to journalists employed at New Zealand media outlets as well as freelance journalists, with preference given to projects that would otherwise be unlikely to attract resourcing in newsrooms.
Round 2 features new topic themes including:
Agricultural greenhouse gases and options to reduce agricultural emissions – funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre – there is $10,000 available in this theme to fund up to four stories. We particularly encourage applications that include use of innovative media such as video and infographics.
Science On Ice – funded by Antarctica New Zealand. There Is $5,000 available in this theme to fund a story or stories that feature New Zealand research into this area.
Big Data: Privacy, Bias And Fairness – $5,000 funded by Te Pūnaha Matatini. As technology advances, algorithms and machine learning are making ever more important decisions about our lives. We invite projects that explore the wider consequences for society.

Applications close on February 9, 2018. More information and apply here.

Survey on climate change engagement workshops

During 2018, the Deep South National Science Challenge will be offering workshops and masterclasses to build skills and capacity in communication and engagement about climate change.

These workshops will be open to anyone interested – including end-users, researchers, communicators, educators and community members – and will focus on our latest understanding of the impacts and implications of climate change in New Zealand and opportunities for adaptation.

The aim is to develop a community of “Climate Ambassadors” who feel increased confidence in facilitating, enabling or contributing to critical conversations about the impacts and implications of climate change in New Zealand.

To ensure that the workshops are successful, and tailored to your needs, please complete a short survey by Monday, 22 January.

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