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Posts Tagged ‘JCU research’

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

JCU environmental researchers say world wilderness declining

A research team including environmental sciences Professor William Laurance from James Cook University has discovered there has been a catastrophic decline in global wilderness areas during the past 20 years.

Sydney Dental School

An altiplano wilderness high in the Colombian Andes. (Photo: William Laurance)

The team showed that since the 1990s, one-tenth of all global wilderness has vanished—an area twice the size of Alaska. The Amazon and Central Africa have been hardest hit.

The findings underscore an urgent need for international policies to recognise the value of wilderness and to address unprecedented threats to it, the researchers said.

“Environmental policies are failing the world’s vanishing wildernesses,” said Professor Laurance.

“Despite being strongholds for imperiled biodiversity, regulating local climates, and sustaining many indigenous communities, wilderness areas are vanishing before our eyes.”

The research team, led by James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland, mapped biologically and ecologically intact landscapes free of any significant human disturbance around the globe. The researchers then compared their current map of the wilderness to one produced by the same means in the early 1990s.

Their updated map shows that 30 million square kilometres (23 percent of the world’s land area) still survives as wilderness, with the majority being located in North America, North Asia, North Africa and Australia.

However, an estimated 3.3 million square kilometres of wilderness area was destroyed in the past 20 years. Losses have been greatest in South America, which suffered a 30 percent loss of its wilderness, and Africa, which experienced a 14 percent loss.

“The amount of wilderness lost in just two decades is both staggering and saddening. International policies are urgently needed to maintain surviving wilderness before it’s too late. We probably have just one or two decades to turn this crisis around,” said Professor Laurance.

Prof. Laurance said the United Nations and other international bodies have ignored globally significant wilderness areas in key multilateral environmental agreements, and that has to change.

“Once a wilderness is lost, it almost never comes back,” said Prof. Laurance. “The only option is to proactively protect the wilderness we have left.”

Reference: James Watson, Danielle Shanahan, Moreno Di Marco, James Allan, William Laurance, Eric Sanderson, Brendan Mackey, and Oscar Venter. 2016. “Catastrophic Declines in Wilderness Areas Undermine Global Environment Targets”.  Current Biology, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(16)30993-9 /  DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.08.049′


Learn more about the interesting and challenging environmental sciences programs available at JCU. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

JCU says new thinking needed on environmental campaigns

James Cook University researchers are fine-tuning better ways to motivate people to look after the environment.

They say that current social marketing techniques have little impact on changing people’s behaviour towards the environment.

JCU says new thinking needed on environmental campaigns

JCU says new thinking needed on environmental campaigns (Photo credit: Tangaroa Blue)

The JCU research team ran surveys of visitors to Reef HQ in Townsville measuring people’s intentions—and then six months later surveyed them on how environmentally friendly their actions actually were.

The researchers identified waste plastics as a major threat to marine life and focused their questions on whether and how people were going to reduce their use of plastic bags.

“People had good intentions, but six months later we found that life had often gotten in the way and they had not followed up with effective action,” said JCU marketing expert, Professor Lynne Eagle.

Professor Eagle said the research showed that just providing information was not effective and that people both needed and wanted to be regularly reminded that rubbish that goes into drains or landfills often ends up in rivers and oceans.

They also identified the need for businesses to provide environmentally friendly alternatives and communication at the point of sale to encourage positive behaviours.

Professor Eagle said marketing theory had more sophisticated techniques available to encourage people to care for the environment.

“There have been very successful social marketing campaigns with clear theoretical underpinnings—the 2007 campaign to reduce water use in drought-struck southeast Queensland and ended up reducing the region’s water use by more than 22 per cent,” she said.

Professor Eagle said fishers in Victoria were also reached with the successful ‘seal the loop’ campaign that encouraged the disposal of old fishing gear in an environmentally friendly way.

The researchers are currently designing a new test campaign for ferry passengers travelling to Townsville’s Magnetic Island, with the aim of convincing the island’s more than 2,000 permanent residents, as well as visitors, to become plastic bag free.

  • Plastic waste makes up 80 percent of marine and coastal waste.
  • Ten percent of that is whole or fragmented plastic bags.
  • 4–5 trillion plastic bags are produced each year.


Study environmental sciences at JCU. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com for more information.

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

JCU works on sugar crop prediction

James Cook University scientists are on their way to predicting sugarcane crop size long before harvest—a process that could save farmers money and deliver environmental benefits with better soil health.

JCU environmental sciences

JCU researchers are looking for ways to improve the efficiency of sugar cane farming (Photo credit: JCU)

JCU’s Dr Yvette Everingham said researchers found there was triple the chance of an extremely low-yield crop in a La Niña year compared to an average year.

La Niña is a meteorological phenomenon featuring periods of below-average sea surface temperatures across the east-central Equatorial Pacific. La Niña years are associated with extremely wet years leading to restricted crop growth and increased run-off.

Dr Everingham said scientists could predict the effect La Niña had on a crop in September the year before harvest, which typically begins the following June.

“Normally there is a one in ten chance of a bad crop, but during La Niña this increases to a three in ten chance,” she said.

She said the research, funded by Sugar Research Australia, was not a perfect planning tool, but it was much better than having no system at all, which was the current situation.

“Without crop forecasts, growers must assume climatic conditions will be favourable in the forthcoming season to grow a large crop, and have to apply fertiliser rates accordingly. If we can predict a small crop, then the opportunity exists to reduce fertiliser use, help the environment and increase profits.”

On the strength of their work so far, the JCU researcher and her team of scientists have been granted more than half a million dollars by Sugar Research Australia and the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to continue their research.

“If we can predict the crop will be small well before harvest time, it will mean a reduced need for applied fertiliser and more certainty for farmers, millers and marketers as they plan for staffing and even forward selling of the crop,” said Dr Everingham.

The new project will begin this year.


Find out more about environmental sciences degrees at JCU. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

JCU team rate cyclone protection barrier

James Cook University researchers have discovered just how much protection locally available plywood provides against cyclone debris.

The low-cost timber is commonly secured to window frames by nailing or other fastening methods in order to protect glass in a storm.

JCU team rate cyclone protection barrier

Debris simulator at JCU’s Cyclone Testing Station (Photo credit: JCU)

Now JCU’s Nimesh Fernando and Ben Vincent, using the university’s wind-borne debris generator at its Cyclone Testing Station, have established exactly how much a plywood barrier can take.

The pair bought 17mm-thick standard plywood from a hardware chain and fired 4kg blocks of wood at it with increasing speeds.

“It will resist debris typically produced by a category two cyclone,” said Mr Fernando. “Based on experimentation, we wouldn’t recommend local plywood for anything above that.”

The pair found standard plywood was pierced by the wood block projectile at any speed over 14 metres per second—around 50 kmh.

“Based on Australian Standards, it would take a wind speed of 120 or 130 kmh, which is typical for a category two storm, to pick up such an object and project it at 50kmh,” said Mr Fernando.

He said heavier plywood would provide more protection. “We didn’t specifically model or test it, but we anticipate that a higher grade marine plywood should protect from debris produced by a low category three storm.”

The James Cook University researchers used 17mm thick plywood with a strength rating of F11 in their experiments. Buyers can see the standard ‘f-grade’ rating marked on the wood sold in hardware stores. “The greater the F-number, the better,” said Mr Fernando.

He said the most important outcome of the experiment was progress in corroborating the physical results with a computer model which could be used to evaluate other plywood and projectiles.

“We validated the simulations with newly acquired physical test data. There are some improvements to be made, but we have created the platform for future impact testing of debris shields.

“To simulate realistic damage characteristics of plywood was a great achievement.

“The benefit of the numerical method developed as part of this project is its capacity to test different species, thickness and sizes of plywood for any projectile by modelling, rather than having to repeat the expensive and time consuming physical testing.”

Mr Fernando said almost any protection was better than none. “Even in the cases where the projectile passed through the plywood it had lost 80 percent of its velocity by the time it reached the other side.”


Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information about science degrees available at James Cook University! Email Shannon at shannon@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Friday, December 11th, 2015

James Cook University’s world-class research report card

James Cook University has strengthened its research credentials, more than doubling the number of research fields that receive the highest possible rating for research excellence.

A definitive report card of Australian university research quality has been published, rating JCU “world class or better” in 35 areas of research.

JCU Environmental Sciences

Find out more about environmental sciences at JCU

The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) evaluates the quality of research in each field at every Australian university.

Universities are rated on a scale of one to five for each research field, with a rating of three representing “at world standard,” a rating of four is considered “above world standard,” and a rating of five represents “well above world standard.”

Of the 35 fields of research in which James Cook University is rated world class or above, the university received the highest possible rating (“well above standard”) in eight research areas—more than double the number it received when the ERA assessment was last published in 2012 (three in 2012 and eight in 2015).

JCU received the highest possible rating (“well above world standard”) in the following research fields:

  • Environmental sciences and management
  • Ecology
  • Geology
  • Physical geography and environmental geoscience
  • Ecological applications
  • Plant biology
  • Medical microbiology
  • Neurosciences

The university was found to be “above world standard” in another 11 areas including public health, fisheries science, materials engineering, and archaeology. JCU was rated “at world standard” in another 16 areas of research.

JCU Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Chris Cocklin said the results confirm James Cook University’s research excellence, particularly in the fields of environmental science and management, ecology, geology, and public health.

“JCU’s goal is to create a brighter future for life in the tropics worldwide through graduates and discoveries that make a difference, and these results clearly show we are delivering world-class research that improving the lives of those who reside in the tropics.”

ERA is a comprehensive quality evaluation of all research produced in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks. The ratings are determined and moderated by committees of distinguished researchers, drawn from Australia and overseas.


Would you like to learn more about studying environmental sciences or public health programs at James Cook University? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free at 1-866-698-7355.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

New grant expands JCU hookworm treatment

A James Cook University scientist and a medical doctor will study a revolutionary treatment for a debilitating illness that affects hundreds of thousands of Australians.

JCU science degrees

Close-up of a hookworm (Image credit: JCU)

Dr John Croese, an adjunct professor at JCU and a gastroentologist at The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane, and Dr Paul Giacomin, a scientist at JCU’s Cairns Campus, have been awarded more than $860,000 by the National Health and Medical Research Council to study the treatment of coeliac disease using hookworms.

Coeliac disease makes the immune system react abnormally to gluten and results in damage to the small bowel. It affects one out of every 70 Australians.

“Symptoms of coeliac disease vary, with the most common being gastrointestinal upsets. Others symptoms, some more severe, may include fatigue, anaemia, unexplained weight loss or gain, bone or joint pains and swelling of the mouth or tongue,” Dr Croese said.

Forty patients will be injected with hookworm larvae as a follow-up to a pilot study that suggested the parasite is effective in treating coeliac disease.

A smaller number of participants in the earlier trial were infected with 20 Necator americanus (hookworm) larvae. They were then given gradually increasing doses of gluten, beginning with just one-tenth of a gram per day (the equivalent of a two-centimetre segment of spaghetti) and increasing in two further stages to a final daily dose of three grams (75 spaghetti straws).

By the end of the trial, the patients were eating the equivalent of a medium-sized bowl of spaghetti—a meal that would usually bring on diarrhoea, cramps and vomiting.

“The gut becomes more accepting of different foods,” said Dr Croese. “It’s the most exciting development I am aware of in the treatment of coeliac disease.”

Participants in the new trial will have their gluten levels elevated far above those in the pilot study as they progress towards eating a normal diet.

Hookworms do not breed within the human body so there is no chance of the parasite multiplying to dangerous numbers.

Scientists believe the key to the hookworms’ anti-inflammatory prowess lies within the proteins that the worms secrete. Work will continue on isolating the protein, but in the interim it is thought a treatment for coeliacs will involve infecting sufferers with the whole hookworm.


Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Rachel Brady for more information about science degrees available at James Cook University! Email Rachel at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

James Cook University wins ARC research funding

James Cook University scientists have been awarded more than $1.1 million for ground-breaking research into rare earth compounds, coral reefs and Australia’s succulent plants.

Science degrees at James Cook University

JCU wins ARC research funding

The Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, announced the Australian Research Council’s Major Grants.

Dr Hugo Harrison from the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies at JCU has received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award worth $366,000.

Dr Harrison will study how the movement of coral fish between Australia’s Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef affects the ecology and evolution of the species. It will be the first study to measure the connectivity of these areas and identify critical regions for the design of networks of marine protected areas.

James Cook University Professors Peter Junk and Joe Holtum have been awarded a total of $756,500 under the Discovery Projects scheme for two separate projects.

Professor Junk will undertake research into rare earth compounds, to underpin future applications in chemical manufacture, new materials and recycling.

With abundant, but until recently neglected, rare earth resources Australia is positioned to become a major supplier of these strategic elements as the world faces a shortage created by a Chinese monopoly and much reduced exports.

Professor Holtum will investigate why Australia, the driest vegetated continent, has no landscape dominated by large succulents but nevertheless supports distinctive, diverse and widespread succulent plants.

He will explore the evolution, assembly and biodiversity of Australia’s succulent flora, examining the roles of genetic composition, photosynthetic physiology, aridity, fire, soil nutrients and salinity in its historical expansion.


Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Rachel Brady for more information about science degrees and research degrees available at James Cook University. Email Rachel at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free at 1-866-698-7355.

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

JCU researcher developing electric car gadget to drive profits

A James Cook University researcher is working on a new device that will let electric car owners sell extra current from their vehicle’s battery to the power network.

JCU Information Technology School

JCU researcher Kirk Martel (Photo credit: JCU)

Kirk Martel is developing technology that will tell electric vehicle owners the best time to sell excess charge back to the grid.

A display unit smaller than an iPad screen and designed to fit under a car stereo will receive information from a smart meter.

It will tell users when to sell power to the grid and when to buy, based on peak and trough periods of demand and pricing.

Mr Martel said the benefits of his device will extend to more than just electric car owners. “My key aim is to help the consumer, but with many more electric cars expected on the road the electricity companies may not be able to handle the load without significant upgrades unless many of the cars are being charged at optimum times.”

Researchers have found the typical private user plugged their car in after work at a time of peak domestic demand. Fleet users plugged in at work during peak industrial demand.

Mr Martel said the calculations needed were more complicated than turning the battery on and off at certain times.

“The hard part is answering all the other things: how quickly do different battery types charge? When you are discharging it to the grid, how much charge do you leave in the battery for emergency trips? The battery will be subject to extra wear if it is charging and discharging more often, how do you take account of that?”

Mr Martel said he expects to complete the project by the end of the year.


Would you like more information about engineering and information technology programs available at James Cook University? Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call 1-866-698-7355 (toll free in Canada).

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

JCU researchers say new herbicides a threat to reef

Researchers at James Cook University have found new types of weedkiller used on sugar cane farms are in many cases just as harmful, or worse, for the Great Barrier Reef as the restricted chemicals they replaced.

Herbicide runoff from farms is known to damage microalgae, seagrass and corals. In 2009 several types of weed killers had severe restrictions placed on their usage in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, effectively forcing the sugar industry to find alternative herbicide products.

James Cook University Environmental Sciences

Herbicide runoff from farms is known to damage microalgae, seagrass and corals. (Photo credit: T Knoll)

But work led by JCU’s Dr Aaron Davis has found that many of the alternatives are no better, and in some cases possibly worse from an environmental perspective, than some of the regulated herbicides they replaced.

“We ran virtually all the herbicides in the sugarcane industry through the environmental models. Many had almost identical toxicity or runoff properties, or worse, than what they replaced,” Dr Davis said.

He said some of these replacement herbicides were not subject to the new regulations. Dr Davis said restricting several older style herbicides in an effort to protect the reef was an “ad hoc” reaction to the problem.

“No one asked what cane growers were going to do instead,” he said. “As well as uncertain environmental benefits, a lot of the alternatives don’t have the same track record in weed control. Growers are not as experienced in using them in terms of how much and what mixture. It creates in many ways a large scale experiment by farmers.”

He said farmers are very interested in minimising damage to the environment and are otherwise tracking well on the Government’s goal of a 60 percent reduction in the amount of restricted herbicides ending up on the reef.

Dr Davis said some of the emerging alternative herbicides “show a lot of potential,” but a significant part of the answer to the problem simply lies in better farming strategies and weed management systems, rather than overt focus on individual chemicals.

“Herbicides are designed to act on the environment, and a perfectly safe chemical weedkiller is still a fair way off,” he said.


Learn more about studying environmental sciences programs at James Cook University? Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Environmental Sciences Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at rachel@oztrekk.com or call toll free at 1-866-698-7355.

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

James Cook University celebrates boat as old as university itself

A 40-year-old research vessel that has been instrumental in establishing James Cook University as a world-class centre for marine research has had a makeover and is being re-launched today.

The transformed RV James Kirby is being unveiled today at JCU’s dedicated berth in South Townsville, the university reports.

JCU is the only university in Australia that has a research vessel of the size and capability of the RV (Research Vessel) James Kirby, for which funding has been assisted throughout the decades by the James N Kirby Foundation.

Head of JCU’s School of Marine and Tropical Biology, Professor Mike Kingsford, told JCU the RV James Kirby had a long and special relationship for many at JCU.

“This vessel has a very long history with JCU and we are incredibly fortunate to have family members of the original donor, Sir James Kirby, attending today,” Kingsford said.

Ralph Botting, Manager of the Vessel & Marine Operations for the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at JCU, told the university that the RV James Kirby had had an interesting history with JCU, along with special relationships for many at JCU.

Botting said the vessel was delivered to the university on August 19, 1972. “Initially it was intended to be used to investigate incidence of the Crown of Thorns starfish on the reefs off Townsville,” he told JCU. “The vessel’s versatility allowed for it to handle a diverse range of activities, such as trawling, dive trips, deployment of oceanographic and hydrographic instruments, seismic work drilling and vibra-coring.”

Demand for the vessel continued to grow and it currently stood at around 150 days a year on the water, he told JCU.

“The initial cost for the construction of the vessel was $60,500,” he told the university. “The bulk was provided by the Australian Universities Commission, along with a few other smaller grants, including pharmaceutical company F. Hoffman La Roche which contributed $10,000,” he said, noting that the James N Kirby Foundation contributed another $25,000 to enable the fit-out and purchase of the vessel’s special equipment and Navigational instrumentation.

Botting told JCU that the vessel has had substantial modifications over the years, however, the current upgrade was enabled by another grant from the James N Kirby Foundation ($95,000 over two years), which allowed for:

· A refit of the vessels galley and dry lab areas

· Replacement of the internal air-conditioning

· Additional ballast fitted to the keel, to further improve the vessel stability

· Improved safety features

· Integrated fire warning system

· Engine room fire protection

· Raised railings around rear deck, and

· Water-tight doors fitted to living areas

The upgrades will allow the vessel to comply with the current more stringent safety regulations, set by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the university noted.

The James N Kirby Foundation is a private fund that was established by renowned philanthropist, the late Sir James Kirby, in 1967. Since its inception, the foundation has donated almost $13 million across a broad range of charities and continues to distribute about $1 million in grants each year, JCU stated.

Several relatives of Sir James are travelling to Townsville for the re-launch, including son, and former chair of the Foundation, Raymond Kirby and his wife Deidre and current Vice-Chairman and grandson Michael Kirby and his wife Christine, the university said. JCU’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding will also attend the re-launch, as well as JCU postgraduate students and staff who still regularly use the boat.

The Faculty of Science and Engineering is known for its expertise, facilities, and research successes in the study of environments such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics. James Cook University also offers many research degree options for students, including  research studies in the areas earth sciences, ecology and tropical ecology, environmental science and marine biology, among others.


Learn more about studying marine biology and Earth sciences at James Cook University!