Daniel Collins

Probing the depths of snow - Crikey Creek

Nov 01, 2009

Yesterday I went to Temple Basin, not to ski but to measure snow. In contrast with Spain, the rain and snow in New Zealand falls mainly in the mountains. Moisture-laden air, a lot from the Tasman, hits the mountains and is forced to rise. A combination of pressure and temperature changes force the moisture to become the rain or snow that falls. We know why. We know how. But we don’t really know how much. Later this week I’ll be talking with my colleague who led this study, but for now I’ll leave you with a few photos from the field work. Cold region hydrology isn’t exactly a walk in the park. We didn’t need crampons yesterday, but ice axes came in handy. Of course, it’s not the scenery that attracts the field workers, oh … Read More

Science news haikus - Crikey Creek

Oct 30, 2009

In the spirit of the scientific abstract: Science news haikus Science Groundwater recharge How it changes with climate Could be good or bad Virtual water Maps inefficienct usage In SADC New Zealand CRI taskforce Purpose, governance, funding Bring home the bacon Wild rivers campaign Advocating solitions “Rivers, wild and free” Waitaki birthday The dam turns 75 Built with picks and spades Laissez-faire water Private operation eased Water, “core service”? International Food aid a mixed bag Focus on Short-term band-aid Misses long-term costs Levant water fight Israeli water use fair? Arguments flying Holes in the bucket Water leak photo essay Thermo’s 2nd law … Read More

Peter Gleick on peak water - Crikey Creek

Oct 27, 2009

In an analogous way to peak oil, peak water refers to a peak in the production of usable water. There are differences, sure: water is mostly renewable. But where water is essentially non-renewable, such as with fossil groundwater, the analogy is spot on. Where water is renewable, the analogy is still very useful. The peak denotes the point where the production of water outpaces the natural supply; if this practice is sustained, the water stored will not be. There’s another concept out there, too: peak ecological water. This refers to a the turning point in water production when any further water production starts to cause more harm than good. This is much harder to quantify than peak water, but it still apparent. Here Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, provides a more thorough explanation. Read More

GNS blogs: Earth system science in real-time - Crikey Creek

Oct 23, 2009

Perhaps the research boat had already sailed with everyone else on it, but I for one just discovered the GNS blogging team. Only one appears active at the moment, but I hope and we have the opportunity to hear more about their science in real-time. Julian Thompson is currently traipsing around New Zealand, rock hammer in hand spying for fossils. Troy Baisden has already started and completed his Easter Island blogging mission, where he gathered the dirt on the past civilisation’s collapse. I sense dormancy from Heidi Berckenbosch too, in her travels across the seven seas. In any case, props to the GNS team! And go say hi to Julian. Read More

MfE groundwater report: “Propaganda” or misunderstood? - Crikey Creek

Oct 22, 2009

The Ministry for the Environment released a report yesterday on New Zealand’s groundwater quality, prepared by Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd. Today, I read in the Christchurch Press that the report concludes that “groundwater quality has no significant relationship with land use”. What’s more, Green Party co-leader Russel Norman called it “propaganda”. Bold claims indeed. Fortunately we can check some facts. First, some more from the Press: Quality was rapidly changing at a third of the sites, with “patterns that suggest human influence”. But the report said there was “no systematic or significant relationships” between groundwater quality and land use or land cover. Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the claim was absurd and “propaganda”. He said the uncertainty in the report suited the Government’s political agenda “to downplay the environmental impacts of agricultural intensification”. Early last year, … Read More

Calling for a Cambrian explosion of ideas - Crikey Creek

Oct 19, 2009

Fellow SciBling Grant Jacobs has an interesting suggestion for improving media coverage of technical issues. He calls it sidebar science. A scientist-developed information box is appended to an online news article for further reading. I like the multi-level approach. It’s like a choose your on adventure novel, where you decide what is TMI. This needn’t be limited to science though. Any coverage with specialist content – economics, anthropology, gastronomy. (Yes, gastronomy. I really like Science of Cooking.) But Grant not only suggested a neat idea. He also threw down the gauntlet for the rest of us. What strategies can the mainstream media use to bring more expertise to their coverage? Let the Cambrian explosion of ideas begin. Read More

The yin and yang of virtual water - Crikey Creek

Oct 19, 2009

The Royal Society of New Zealand released a report on virtual water some weeks back. The report aimed to plug a knowledge gap in NZ, primarily in the policy sector, about what ’virtual water’ means and how it can help or hinder resource management and agricultural exports. It got a smattering of indigenous press coverage (here, here, and hear). Virtual water and its alter ego ’water footprinting’ have been getting more attention in the last few years. Following in the wake of carbon footprinting, they are an attempt to quantify our consumptive impact on water resources. Roughly 70% of the water abstracted in NZ as well as globally is used to grow crop that ultimately make it onto the dinner plate. On the one hand, we get fed; on the other, rivers go dry and … Read More

P addiction, overdose and eutrophication - Crikey Creek

Oct 09, 2009

We have an addiction problem. The craving for P goes right down to our bones and DNA. I’m not talking about methamphetamines, but phosphorus. We are about 1% phosphorus, by weight. Written as ‘P’ in chemical shorthand, it is an essential building block for proteins and bones, and central to our internal energy production. While we could suffer from osteoporosis or hypertension with too much, too little and we might experience bone pain and weight loss. Our addiction is genetically encoded. Plants are addicted to P too, but it’s not readily available in the environment. It doesn’t have a common gaseous form like carbon, oxygen or nitrogen. When on the Earth’s surface, it is generally just headed for the next geological burial ground, where it would wait to be uplifted tectonically before again … Read More

Water cycle, meet media cycle - Crikey Creek

Sep 28, 2009

Hydrologists and journalists have a lot in common*. They both deal with highly polarising material. They are both drawn to watershed events. And their best stories are never dry. If you have any doubts, just look at the media cycle outlined here: transpiration, condensation, precipitation, infiltration. This coupled cycle could even be seen in real time, as played out in the media back in June. But more recent research at the interface of hydrology and mass communication — popularly referred to as hydrojournalism — has shown that even this 4-step cycle is too simplistic. After ideas infiltrate society, they diffuse through underground networks, often returning to the light of day through grassroots movements, and in very tense circumstances. When ill-informed, they have the potential to displace more sensible exchanges on the matter. But when well-informed, they can offer truly … Read More