In this issue

Issue 69

Wind farms
The Electricity Commission of New South Wales and CSIRO's Centre for Environmental Mechanics are working to identify suitable sites for wind farms where wind-generated electricity could supplement power generated by conventional methods. Using rugged cup anemometers and vane instruments mounted on 30 metre high towers, to measure wind speeds at the same height as a typical three-bladed wind generator, they hope to assess the potential of wind-farm sites in New South Wales.
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Gum leaves it is
Living off gum leaves is no easy feat and koalas need a specialised digestive system to do it. They can live off only a few species of Eucalyptus perhaps 10 or 20, of the more than 600 on the continent. Recent reports speak of koalas eating pine needles in a plantation forest. Pine needles, like gum leaves, are hard to digest and contain a range of toxins poisonous to most mammals, but koalas may gain some nourishment from them.
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Wetlands for waste water: an update
Using artificial wetlands to treat sewage is an innovative and low-cost way of filtering pollutants from waste water that is particularly well suited to rural communities. The VFW (vertical-flow wetland) system was developed by CSIRO's Division of Water Resources in the 1980s. The VFW system removes nutrients, notably phosphorus and nitrogen, the major pollutants of natural waterways, from primary-treated sewage effluent using aquatic macrophytes - large water plants - that thrive in low oxygen levels. A commercial-scale scheme is in operation at Coff's Harbour in NSW.
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Co-operative environmental research
Researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Soil and Land Management in Adelaide hope to develop a 'DNA probe' for identification of earthworms, as well as for bacteria that control root diseases and soil fungi that help plants take up nutrients.
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What's happening to the ozone layer?
The Antarctic ozone 'hole' and a smaller deficit over the Arctic have been big news in recent years. So far, the fact that some depletion has also occurred in the stratospheric ozone right above us has received less attention. But it has occurred and, unfortunately, the chances are high that the ozone layer above Australia will continue to thin for some decades. Ozone in the upper atmosphere is an important gas because it absorbs UV-B. It so happens that chlorine and bromine, in reactive forms, can catalyse ozone breakdown. Synthetic compounds, such as the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), are currently responsible for 80 per cent of the stratosphere's chlorine. When these chemicals break down due to exposure to UV, their fluorine is generally not a problem for the ozone layer, but the chlorine is.
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Good crops, and an end to soil damage
Dr Richard Stirzaker from CSIRO's Division of Plant Industry has developed an effective approach to sustainable horticulture based on controlled crop rotation, using the clover as in situ mulch. This system combines the benefits of not tilling the soil (p
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An instrument for checking soil structure
Until recently, assessing the structure of soils relied on cumbersome techniques that involved measurement of soil particles. However, it is the pores that determine a particular soil's ability to transport water, nutrients and gases, to support plants and to cope with natural and man-made pressures. Researchers from CSIRO's Centre for Environmental Mechanics developed a portable, easily operated instrument that assesses pore structure by measuring how quickly water will soak into a particular soil. This instrument is known as a disc permeameter.
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The ghost bat: reclusive and vulnerable
Weighing up to 150 grams and with a 6 centimetre wingspan, the ghost bat, Macroderma gigas, is the world's second-largest microchiropteran. Formerly distributed across much of mainland Australia, the ghost bat is now only found north of the Tropic of Capricorn and, with a population of no more than 7,000 individuals, our lack of information on the biology of the ghost bat actually poses a potential threat to its survival. To overcome this, a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, ethologists, physiologists and biophysicists are studying a ghost bat roost at Pine Creek, NT. The study looked at the social and reproductive behaviour of the ghost bats, as well as their hunting and feeding behaviour.
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Saving the soil at Puckapunyal
Computer-based land management is helping preserve the environment at the Army's main armoured-vehicle training ground at Puckapunyal, Vic. The CSIRO Division of Water Resources has combined an expert system with those of geographic information systems in what it calls the 'ARX spatial expert system shell'. All but a few particularly sensitive areas of the Puckapunyal Range are now available year-round for training exercises, their condition and accessibility monitored by a land-management advice system which employs ARX.
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More rain for Melbourne catchments
To support its conservation strategies, MMBW is working with the CSIRO in an attempt to augment water supplies by increasing rainfall in the main Thomson River catchment area in Gippsland by an expected 10-20 per cent through cloud seeding. Originally, seeding added silver iodide to clouds in an attempt to stimulate them to release at least some of the rain they contained. Now, however, CSIRO researchers are adding silver iodide to clouds that are already about to release rain in an attempt to make them release more - to improve the clouds' efficiency as producers of rain.
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Designing lakes to control pollution
One method of controlling pollutant escape is by capturing waterborne chemical and sediment wastes and retaining them for appropriate periods in artificial lakes. Chemical pollutants, such as nitrates from agriculture or phosphates from domestic detergents, can be broken down over time by aquatic plants, and sediments can be trapped in deep ponds for future dredging and disposal in, for example, landfill. A potent tool to help planners design such pollution-control ponds called NESSIE (a two-dimensional vertically integrated resistive flow model) has been developed by the CSIRO Division of Mathematics and Statistics.
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Winds over the salt
The interaction between land and ocean drives the circulation not only of water but also of air. Inland salt lakes or salinas behave in a similar manner. The flow of heat into and out from salinas sets up a regular 24 hour circulation pattern, with onshore flow in the daytime and offshore breezes at night. The findings may have implications for drought research.
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Better leather, less pollution
CSIRO Division of Wool Technology's Leather Research Centre have been looking at ways of reducing the amount of effluent produced by hair removal ('unhairing') from hides prior to tanning. The Sirolime process they have developed offers significant environmental and economic benefits, has the potential to help increase the amount of hide-processing carried out in Australia and, because it uses conventional chemicals and techniques, albeit in novel ways, can involve relatively little outlay. Leather Research Centre scientists have also been active in improving the recycling of unhairing liquors and recycling of tanning liquors, particularly chrome tanning liquors.
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Rare moth under threat in Canberra
A mysterious moth so rare that it does not even have a common name has been making headlines in Canberra. Synemon plana is a brown, orange and black moth with a wingspan of about 3.5 centimetres. Neither males nor females have functional mouthparts, and do not feed or drink as adults: they emerge from pupae ready to mate, lay their eggs and die within 24 to 48 hours. The species has only one real breeding site - the RAN communications station at Belconnen, in Canberra's western suburbs. The naval station has been well maintained by the RAN with limited public access, high mowing and light grazing by sheep, providing ideal conditions for the moth and for the plant community on which it depends.
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Corellas: prone to separation
From 1977 to 1983, Graeme Smith of the CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology studied the breeding ecology of the western long-billed corella in that State's wheatbelt. His research revealed that this species suffers from what could seem an alarmingly high degree of marital instability. Corellas, like galahs and red-tailed black cockatoos, have adapted well to large-scale agricultural development in the south-west of Western Australia. Dr Smith concentrated on a study area centred on Burakin. It contained a fairly stable breeding population of about 40 breeding corellas, with a larger group of locally nomadic immature birds.
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