In this issue

Issue 49

Nuclear winter down under
The chilling concept of a nuclear winter following widespread detonation of atomic weapons has become quite familiar. Put simply, it is the idea that the explosion of nuclear warheads and the ensuing enormous fires would throw large amounts of dust and smoke into the atmosphere. This would reduce the heat and light from the sun, causing temperatures at the earth's surface to fall and the patterns of atmospheric circulation to change, so drastically altering the climate.
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Planning for village-based agriculture
Land use in Papua New Guinea is almost the antithesis of that familiar to Australians. Instead of farms practising broadacre highly mechanised agriculture, undertaken with an eye to high yields and profits, our nearest neighbours are mostly involved in subsistence gardening.
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El Nino, and prospects for drought prediction
Australia's 1982/83 drought, the most severe in nearly 100 years, and a major national disaster, will be long remembered. Among atmospheric scientists it is memorable for having been heralded by a huge perturbation, affecting both atmosphere and ocean, known as El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This has encouraged meteorologists in one of their fondest hopes; perhaps it will prove possible to forecast droughts.
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New light on cot death
The death of a baby is a tragic enough event, but is perhaps made even worse for grieving parents if it is sudden and inexplicable and concerns an apparently normal child. Sadly, this sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also termed 'cot death', is the commonest cause of death in babies between the ages of 2 weeks and 2 years.
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Moulds and mycotoxins
Many fungi produce chemically unusual substances, called mycotoxins. They can contaminate foodstuffs before we inadvertently consume them.
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CSIRO abroad
Australia is geographically similar to many of the world's poorer nations. However, it differs in the expertise that years of research have given it; it is unusual in being a 'first world' country in a 'third world' setting. As a result, Australian scientists are well equipped to tackle many of the problems in agriculture, water resources and conservation that face so much of the developing world. The Centre for International Research Cooperation (CIRC) is a small group within CSIRO that has the responsibility for coordinating the Organisation's participation in international science.
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Predicting where soil will erode
Soil erosion by water is a massive problem of agricultural land world-wide. In Australia it affects more than 200,000 square kilometres of cropping country. A mathematical model has been developed that can be used to pin-point regions predisposed to erosion. All one needs are a contour map, a knowledge of soil types and records of rainfall intensity.
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Keeping grain pest-free
In much of the world, wastage of food is a calamity - despite the surpluses of some regions, notably the European Economic Community with its mountains of grain and butter and lakes of milk and wine. Huge quantities of food are lost or damaged while growing on the farm, during storage, and during transport to the consumer. Grain is one of the most stored commodities. Losses of it during storage are mainly due to pests. The worst culprits are insects, although mites, fungi, rodents and birds are not far behind in some areas. In addition, grain can be lost through germination or fermentation during storage.
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Birds on tape
Perhaps the most familiar sounds in nature, and certainly the most likely to be recorded, are bird calls. With the availability of lightweight cassette recorders and microphones, recordings can be made in the field quite simply. The National Library of Australia holds copies of a taped field guide to Australian bird songs. Although these tapes are not available commercially, the Bird Observers Club in Melbourne is producing a series of cassettes, using all the available material and covering 500 species.
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