Sarah-Jane O'Connor

Dr Sarah-Jane O'Connor trained in journalism after finishing a PhD in Ecology then worked for The Press for two years. She is a teaching fellow in science communication at Victoria University of Wellington, editor of Sciblogs, and a former senior media advisor with the Science Media Centre.

Setting sail for the Subantarctics - Field Work

Feb 22, 2016

Update: The HMNZS Canterbury is being deployed to the Pacific to help Fiji in the recovery from Cyclone Winston. At this stage, Operation Endurance is suspended. Feb 24, 2016. It’s not every day you get a phone call asking if you’d like to jump on a boat for a few weeks and travel to a part of New Zealand most people will never get to see. I have the incredible fortune, some might call it dumb luck, to be headed to the Antipodes Islands courtesy of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the New Zealand Navy. But while I’m getting ready for a heck of an adventure, there’s a really important project that this voyage is helping to set up. Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands (click to enlarge). Two hundred years ago, Europeans set sail into the … Read More

What can the Pacific expect from the changing climate? - News

Feb 16, 2016

Though we are already locked into sea level rise of at least 20 centimetres by 2050, the window of opportunity to act has not yet closed on us, climate scientists say. Victoria University professors James Renwick (Physical Geography) and Tim Naish (Antarctic Research Centre) presented a keynote address on Monday at the Pacific Climate Change conference, hosted by Vic Uni. Renwick likened the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to “putting a much thicker blanket on the Earth”. The changes expected to be seen in the planet’s climate as a consequence were happening at such speed, “in Earth’s terms it’s happening almost overnight,” Renwick said. “We are going to see climate change for quite a long time yet, regardless of what we do politically and technologically over the next century or so.” With three-quarters of the Earth’s surface … Read More

Climate change felt in the Pacific now, not in 100 years - News

Feb 15, 2016

Anote Tong wants to build a sea wall around a church. It’s the only thing remaining in a Kiribatian village: the rest has been washed away by the rising sea. “There is a village where the people are all gone, because there is no village.” The President of the Republic of Kiribati says the church needs a sea wall to protect it, so he can take visitors to show them, “this was a village”. “At high tide, that building sits in the middle of the sea with nothing around it.” It is one of the realities for those who live in low-lying Pacific nations: climate change isn’t something they will have to wait until the end of the century to see the effects of – they see it now. President Tong spoke this morning at the Pacific Climate Change … Read More

“Science on trial” highlighted poor communication - News

Feb 05, 2016

Convicting scientists for manslaughter following the L’Aquila earthquake wasn’t “science on trial” but a failing of communication, one of the seismologists says. Giulio Selvaggi spent nearly a year of his life in an Italian courtroom as he and five other scientists were tried for the manslaughter of 33 victims of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. Their eventual conviction had a chilling effect on the international scientific community. Though it has since been overturned by a supreme court – Selvaggi takes a positive outlook, at least he has never been to jail – five civil suits remain that could take years to process. Selvaggi, who spoke in Wellington on Thursday as part of the Royal Society’s Talking Science series, said what was incredible about the trial was that it happened in an earthquake-prone country. Parts of L’Aquila’s story bears striking resemblance … Read More

Climate link to huge human upheaval - News

Feb 05, 2016

New DNA evidence suggests a major upheaval of humans living around Europe at the end of the last Ice Age, apparently linked to severe climatic instability. Les Closeaux at Rueil-Malmaison, Paris Basin, France. L. Lang Ancient bones and teeth of people who lived in Europe over the span of 30,000 years were used to establish this unknown period of human history, in research published today in Current Biology. Johannes Krause, of the Max Planck Institute, said little was known about the population of the first modern humans in Europe because there had been a lack of genetic data from that time period. “We uncovered a completely unknown chapter of human history: a major population turnover in Europe at the end of the last Ice Age” Mitochondrial genomes of 35 hunter-gatherers, inferred from DNA in teeth and bones, who … Read More

Zika virus updates - News

Feb 04, 2016

As more information comes in about Zika virus and its risks, we will continue to update this page with posts from our bloggers and guest work. New evidence supporting a link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly, Siouxsie Wiles, Infectious Thoughts. Zika: a potential new mozzie vector?, Siouxsie Wiles, Infectious Thoughts. Zika in NZ: sexual transmission or intrepid mosquito?,  Siouxsie Wiles, Infectious Thoughts. Proving that the Zika virus causes microcephaly, Guest Work. Zika virus: mosquitoes and travel patterns will determine spread of virus, Guest Work. Zika update – sexual transmission and GM mosquitoes, Siouxsie Wiles, Infectious Thoughts. Explainer: what is Guillain-Barré syndrome and is it caused by the Zika virus?, Guest Work. Here’s why we don’t have … Read More

Kakapo researchers turn to crowdfunding - News

Feb 02, 2016

Scientists studying the rare and unusual kakapo have turned to crowdfunding to back a push to sequence the DNA of the remaining 125 birds. A campaign launched on hopes to raise NZD$68,000 to fund genome sequencing for the nocturnal parrot. The entire project would clock in at $100,000, but with $35,500 already funded sequencing has begun on the first 40 genomes. Department of Conservation scientist Dr Andrew Digby works on the kakapo and takahe projects and says, if funded, the “dream project” could provide stacks of data to help manage the birds. The team said having the genomic information of all 125 kakapo would help understand relatedness between the birds to optimise breeding plans. Genome sequencing of one bird, conducted by Jason Howard at Duke University, allows the remaining birds’ genomes to be sequenced easier and quicker. Digby … Read More

Antipodean wandering albatross continues to dive - News

Feb 01, 2016

Numbers of the Antipodean wandering albatross have continued to fall, according to New Zealand researchers who visit the birds’ main breeding island every summer. The population has been monitored since 1994 and in a brief report to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) in December, scientists Graeme Elliott and Kath Walker warned that the population has continued to drop. During the 1990s, Elliott and Walker found that the albatross population was increasing, presumably thanks to a decrease in long-line fishing But in about 2006 there was a notable decline in the breeding population which has continued for the past decade. Every year when they visit the birds, Elliott and Walker search a 29-hectare study area and attempt to identify every pair of breeding adults – any unknown birds are hopefully banded for future surveys. All the nests are … Read More

Why kakapo fans get excited about mating season - News

Jan 29, 2016

A certain circle of social media has been abuzz the past few weeks with news from Whenua Hou and Anchor Island about the kakapo breeding season. Today an excited post announced that one female, Kuia, on Anchor Island was sitting on two eggs with maybe more on the way.   Why is this so thrilling? Kuia is the only female carrying rare genes from the last Fiordland kakapo, Richard Henry. Her two male siblings – Sinbad and Gulliver – haven’t fathered any chicks yet. Kuia, the only female offspring of the last Fiordland kakapo Richard Henry. Kuia gave Kakapo Recovery rangers even more to be rapt about because she mated with two males (the lucky first-timers Blake and Kumi). More males hopefully means more diversity and a better chance of Kuia’s eggs being fertile, which … Read More

Book review: Towards a Warmer World - Scibooks

Jan 22, 2016

Anyone who was paying attention to global temperatures in 2015 probably knew what was coming on Thursday morning. Yep, 2015 was the hottest year since modern records began in 1880. Though the latter part of the year was boosted by El Niño, 2015 continued a trend of record-breaking temperatures, with 15 of the 16 hottest years occurring since 2001. At the start her book Towards a warmer world: what climate change will mean for New Zealand’s future science journalist Veronika Meduna called it: The year 2014 was the hottest on record since we’ve begun collecting global temperature measurements in 1880, but the generations alive in 2100 won’t remember that. Even at its midway point, 2015 was already promising to take over this dubious record, and there will be many years between our time and theirs that will … Read More