In this issue

Issue 42

From Fremantle to Fifth Avenue, in a lobster's tale
The western rock lobster accounts for 60 per cent of the total Australian rock lobster catch. CSIRO researchers have concluded that the population abundance depends upon the intensity of fishing on spawning and pre-spawning animals. In the absence of natural catastrophes, if fishing is high enough the number of spawning female rock lobsters will be reduced, which can actually lead to a higher level of puerulus settlement. This would result in a good recruitment of 'whites' to the fishery. Future dangers to the western rock lobster population may lie not in overfishing but rather in the less obvious destruction of their habitat - the limestone reefs. Increasing urban and industrial development will have a significant impact on the vulnerable reefs and CSIRO's current coastal ecology research program aims at identifying the extent to which this will affect the rock lobster.
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Prescribed burning and forest nutrition
In Australia, fire is essential for the survival of some Australian plant species. However, its long term effects on plant communities are poorly understood - fire can either benefit or damage an ecosystem, depending on the length of time between burns, the intensity of the fire, the season when it occurs, soil characteristics, and so on. A CSIRO team is exploring various aspects of the impacts of repeated burning. In their present studies, they are attempting to quantify the effect of fires on soil chemical properties and nitrogen-supplying capacity, as well as looking at the chemistry of water in the soil to provide further information on nutrient leaching.
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Turning crop waste into chemicals and fuel
Some studies have suggested that agricultural materials could produce more than half the liquid fuel presently used for transport in Australia. These materials could also supply many chemicals used in industry. A drawback with a number of these schemes is that they employ raw materials that could be used as human food. The CSIRO Division of Chemical and Wood Technology have been working on a system that may be able to produce comparable quantities of fuel from crop and wood residues - bagasse, cereal straw, bran, sawdust, and the like. In addition, the fermentation technique they are developing produces compounds that could be used as chemical feedstocks or solvents, and the economics of its use for this purpose appear favourable.
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Weevils take on the water weeds
As city-dwellers, most of us tend to think of water weeds as aesthetically pleasing clumps of greenery that grace home aquaria or ornamental ponds. But in many tropical and subtropical regions, including northern Australia, weeds like salvinia and water hyacinth have a devastating effect, proliferating rapidly to suffocate water bodies. In Papua-New Guinea, lakes and rivers choked by salvinia have disrupted local transport and communication, prevented villagers from gathering traditional foods and obstructed access to hospitals and schools.
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When a cold front sweeps across
In the largest observational project ever undertaken in Australian meteorology, atmospheric scientists have gained new insight into the familiar cold front. Before the Cold Fronts Research Program began in 1979, no studies had been done on the nature of the weather activity that precedes a cold front, since satellites revolutionised meteorology. The Program, proposed by CSIRO, uses the modern facilities and techniques of all Australia's major meteorological institutions.
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Eyeballing the eyeball
Why is the eye made the way it is? Theoretically, the ideal eye would have perfect symmetry, with the cornea and retina forming part of the same sphere, and with the light-bending components able to eliminate any aberrations. Real eyes are not like that. Modelling research has led to the refinement of 'Drishti', a useful tool in analysing natural and artificial optical systems, and perhaps aiding lens design procedures.
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Checking the radioactivity of building materials
For the average person, the earth contributes most to the annual radiation dose. This radioactivity is mainly due to the presence of uranium and thorium, and the products of their decay. Small quantities of radioactive potassium are also sometimes present. When these atoms disintegrate they emit penetrating gamma rays. When we are inside a building we generally receive a higher dose of radioactivity than if we were outdoors. This is because some building materials can possess greater radioactivity levels than the generally low levels found in soil. The CSIRO researchers believe there is value in setting standards or guidelines prescribing the acceptable levels of radioactivity in building materials, based on the specific activity of available building materials, radioactivity of the environment, and other considerations.
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What comes out of car exhausts?
Over the last 30 years, Sydney's population has increased by about 60 per cent; during the same period, its car population has increased 500 per cent. One impact of the burgeoning vehicle fleet is a familiar set of air pollution problems - airborne lead, carbon monoxide, photochemical smog, and fine suspended airborne particles. To assess more accurately the contribution of motor vehicles to urban haze, CSIRO in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Petroleum's Environmental Conservation Executive, recently undertook a preliminary study of exhaust emissions from a representative range of diesel and petrol-fuelled vehicles.
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Radiator fans going electric
A major Australian car manufacturer is presently evaluating a CSIRO-designed electric radiator fan on one of its passenger car models. It was designed by using special computerised test equipment available at the Division of Energy Technology. The most important aspect of this CSIRO-industry collaborative project is the establishment of fan design procedures and design data using the latest technology.
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Plastics that termites can't chew
Termites will try to eat through anything they come across. Lead batteries, car tyres, billiard balls, even soft stone are some of the more unusual recorded targets, but underground telephone and power cables remain among the most important and troublesome menu items. Telecom Australia is sponsoring research at the Division of Entomology to find an economical, termite-resistant (and ant-resistant) cable sheath.
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