Dynamics of a marine heatwave: what happens below the surface?

Extreme temperatures in the ocean are getting more frequent and intense, impacting marine ecosystems and industries. However the subsurface signature of these marine heatwaves is still largely unknown, in particular in shallow coastal areas where most of the ecological damages occur.

In addition to sustained observations, the Australian Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) now aims at sampling the coastal ocean during marine heatwaves with real-time deployments of ocean gliders. Gliders are automated underwater vehicles which measure the water properties between the ocean floor and the surface for a few weeks. Two of such deployments were successfully finalised, sampling the eastern shelf of Tasmania during the latest marine heatwave event in the Tasman Sea in summer / spring 2019.

The project aims at understanding the extent and characteristics of marine heatwaves using glider measurements and complementary satellite and moored observations. Key questions include the temporal evolution, from the onset to the decline of the extreme event, and the influence of the local oceanography such as currents and wind-driven processes on the persistence and variability of these anomalous temperatures. The student will use programming language to analyse this unique dataset and compute the heat budget equations.

Basic knowledge of oceanography and experience in Matlab or Python are required. The project will be based at UNSW Sydney, co-supervised by Amandine Schaeffer (UNSW), Jessica Benthuysen (AIMS) and Neil Holbrook (UTAS).

Contact: a.schaeffer@unsw.edu.au


PhD Project: Wake interference by swimming crocodiles

Crocodiles, including the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) have the remarkable ability to swim underwater at high speed while barely making a ripple at the surface. It has been hypothesized that crocodiles are able to do this because the bony ridges on the crocodile’s back (called scutes or osteoderms) produce destructively interfering wake patterns at the water surface, like noise-cancelling headphones. Understanding and replicating this phenomena could have important implications for submarine and ship hull design.

In this project, we will evaluate this hypothesis using a combination of theory, numerical modelling, and laboratory experiments using 3D-printed crocodile models in a wave flume. Experience with Python programming is essential. This project will be co-supervised by Dr Geoff Vasil (U. Sydney), Dr Chris Lustri (Macquarie) and Dr Shane Keating (UNSW).

Click here for key dates and to submit your application online.

Moninya Roughan and MetOcean Solutions awarded $11.5 million NZ Endeavour grant

A new research project led by the NZ MetService’s oceanography division, MetOcean Solutions, will examine the role of ocean circulation on New Zealand’s seafood sector.

The Moana Project was awarded $11.5 million over five years from the NZ Government Endeavour Fund, which invests in scientific research that positively benefits New Zealand’s economy, environment, and society. The proposal was led by MetOcean Solutions’ Chief Scientist Professor and UNSW Associate Professor Moninya Roughan.

“The Tasman Sea is warming at one of the fastest rates on Earth, four times the global average,” said Professor Roughan, “yet we currently have limited ability to comprehensively measure, monitor and predict the state of New Zealand’s oceans. This programme will create a new, dynamic and more integrated marine knowledge base – reducing uncertainty, maximising opportunity and preparing for future ocean changes.”

The Moana Project is a cross-institutional programme involving oceanographic research organisations, universities, and end-users in industry and government across New Zealand. The team will also collaborate with international experts from UNSW Sydney and the United States.

The project will improve understanding of coastal ocean circulation, connectivity and marine heatwaves to provide information that will support sustainable growth of the seafood industry (Māori, fisheries and aquaculture). Project partners will apply the internet of things concept to develop a low-cost ocean temperature profiler that will be deployed by the fishing communities ‘on all boats, at all times’. New Zealand’s first open-access ocean forecast system will be delivered by developing new ocean circulation models using a combination of advanced numerics, modern genomics and data from smart ocean sensors.

The project will investigate the drivers and impacts of marine heatwaves so that they can be predicted, and investigate ocean transport pathways and population connectivity of seafood species. This project will provide a step-change in the oceanic information available to the seafood sector and the broader community, accessible through the open-access user-friendly datasets and tools developed.

Professor Roughan says: “We are partnering with the seafood sector to develop a low-cost ocean sensor that will revolutionise ocean data collection. The sensors will be deployed throughout New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone with support from the commercial fishing sector.”

The Endeavour Fund aims to promote Vision Mātauranga, the New Zealand Government’s science policy framework to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge (mātauranga), resources and people for the benefit of all New Zealanders. The Moana Project is anchored in mātauranga Māori through the partners’ relationship with the Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board, facilitating exchange of oceanographic knowledge between Māori and western science.


Eureka! UNSW statistician, Jakub Stoklosa, shortlisted for prestigious environment prize

Dr Jakub Stoklosa (UNSW Mathematics and Statistics) has been shortlisted for a 2018 Australian Museum Eureka Prize, a prestigious acknowledgment of his work applying statistics in the environmental sciences.

Jakub and his colleagues have been nominated in the Environmental Research category of the award, for their work on a long-term project which looked at the genetic rescue and translocation of Mountain Pygmy Possums in Mount Buller, Victoria. Dr Stoklosa’s role as a statistician was to provide reliable and accurate estimates of Mountain Pygmy Possum abundances using statistical methods (known as capture-recapture methods) and recapture data collected over 20 years.

The Eureka Prize for Environmental Research, sponsored by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, is awarded for an outstanding research project in any field of the biological, physical, mathematical or biomedical sciences leading to the resolution of an environmental problem, including a challenge posed by climate change, or the management or protection of Australia’s environment.

Dr Stoklosa’s collaborators for the Mountain Pygmy Possums project were Andrew Weeks (team leader; University of Melbourne), Dean Heinze (La Trobe), Louise Perrin (Mt Stirling Resort Management, Mt Buller), Ary A. Hoffmann (UMelb), Anthony van Rooyen (cesar Australia), Tom Kelly (Mt Stirling Resort Management, Mt Buller) and Ian Mansergh (La Trobe).

Dr Stoklosa is one of five staff members within UNSW Science (and ten University-wide) who were nominated for Eureka Prizes in this round. Of their nominations, Dean of Science Emma Johnston said, “Looking at the categories that Science finalists are in the running for, two themes stand out to me: environmental research and innovation. Our academics are constantly exploring new ways to solve the challenges that today’s society faces, and that’s why they’re seen as leaders in innovative science. I congratulate all finalists on being recognised in Australia’s leading science awards and wish them the best of luck.”

Winners of the Eureka Prizes will be announced on 29 August. We wish Dr Stoklosa and his team a very warm congratulations and the very best of luck!

About the project

The Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus) is one of Australia’s most threatened marsupials, located in only three main regions of Australia. A small population of possums located in Mount Buller, Victoria have been in sharp decline since 1996 due to various reasons, such as depletion of genetic variation, climate change and human disturbances. To conserve and increase the population size, habitat restoration, environmental protection and a genetic recovery program were implemented in the last decade. The genetic recovery program involved the translocation of a small number of male possums (originally from Mt Hotham, Victoria) to mix in with the Mount Buller population.

After the successful translocation of possums to Mt Buller, a rapid recovery in the target population translated to population growth, healthy breeding and improved survival rates over the last seven years. The adult population is now 68% larger than when this population was first discovered in 1996. Very few studies around the world have been able to achieve this with threatened species and reproduce such successful results.

The project has attracted funding via the Australian Research Council Discovery grant scheme, Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management Board, FAME Ltd, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) Victoria.

Their work also led to a Nature Communications paper published in late 2017.

Dr Jakub Stoklosa, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW Science. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne; La Trobe University and Mount Buller Mount Stirling Resort Management – NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research

The unique Mountain Pygmy Possum population of Mt Buller had been isolated for 20,000 years but was facing imminent extinction just ten years after it was discovered. Through a program of cross breeding isolated populations of the threatened species, the Burramys Genetic Rescue Team was able to boost genetic variation, translating to population growth, healthy breeding and improved survival rates. Australia’s first genetic rescue has become a template for saving other species under threat.

Dr Stoklosa’s role as a statistician was to provide reliable and accurate estimates of mountain pygmy possums abundances using statistical methods and recapture data collected over 20 years.

After the successful translocation of possums to Mt Buller, a rapid recovery in the target population translated to population growth, healthy breeding and improved survival rates over the last seven years. In fact, the adult population is now 68% larger than when this population was first discovered in 1996. Very few studies around the world have been able to achieve this with threatened species and reproduce such successful results. A paper about the project has been published in Nature Communications.

This post is a modified version of this article by Susannah Waters (UNSW).