Monday, May 31, 2010

Exciting newly-found soil blogs! Yee haaa!

Excitement plus!

Two newly discovered Dirt-Blogs!

The Dirt on Soil is a blog about a geologist/hydrologists discovery of soil. I am particularly excited about following this one, as it follows a journey of discovery and excitement for a new love: dirt. The author explores her new love and shares tidbits of information with her readers. She also lives in Austin, Texas; a place I would love to visit.

The Dirt on Soil: Amanda

The Soil Scientist looks at soil from an environmental perspective. The U.S. author looks at soil in a broader environmental context, and its role in global food, diversity, water and climate. My research and interests are strongly in line with soil as part of whole ecosystem processes. I look forward to following this blog.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Data Mining: Environmental Research in the Minerals Industry

For as far as the eye can see, there are a mounds and holes. Our perception of Mining in outback Australia is a lot smaller than the reality. Mining brings wealth at a potential cost to the environment. However, the impact  is being mitigated by dedicated environmental professionals.

View from my hotel window, Kalgoorlie. The Super Pit waste and walls in the background.

Until last week, I was unaware of the extent of mining in Australia. Kalgoorlie-Boulder is the centre of the Goldfields region of Western Australia. Flying over the region, you can see mine after mine. Some of the white scars from mine voids can be viewed in the map (below). From my hotel window, third story on a main street in Kalgoorlie, I could see the walls and waste from the Super Pit. To my left more waste dumps and a shaft. To my right, batters and mounds. Mining was literally as far as I could see. As an environmental professional, there is immediate concern about the impact this large scale of mining has on the environment. However, the mining industry is also one of Australia's largest supporters of environmental research and best practice management.

View Larger Map

Although the Goldfields are dotted with mines, they are also leaders in Environmental Management. Due to legislative requirements and social considerations, mining companies have become leaders in environmental management in Australia. For example, the largest body of research into Jarrah forests has been undertaken by Alcoa Pty Ltd who mine bauxite in the WA jarrah region (see Restoration Ecology, Issue 4, Supplement, 2007). Kalgoorlie-Boulder is not only home to the Super Pit, but it is also home to the Goldfields Environmental Management Group (GEMG). The group is formed by leaders of mine environmental management. GEMG provide a workshop every 2-years to environmental professionals in the mining industry. Their recent workshop was held in Kalgoorlie from the 19th - 21st May. I attended the workshop as a speaker.

The workshop aims to exchange knowledge and improve environmental practices in the mining industry.  Industry, Academia, Government and Consultants are all invited to the three-day workshop to share ideas. Every person who attends the workshop is there to learn how to improve environmental management in mining. This is encouraged at the workshop by working together, being honest about wins and failures and sharing knowledge. Some interesting discussions included: transport and use of mined products; fauna and flora surveys; troglofauna (animals that live in caves and holes); salt lake ecology; mine wastes; landscape rehabilitation; recovering soil microbiology; ecosystem function analysis and changes to legislation. At the end of each day, you were guaranteed to leave with one new idea to help improve environmental management in mining. However, you also left every day asking more questions; how can I rehabilitate that site? Will gypsum work? Do I have troglofauna on my site and what does it mean?

Mining has a key role in Global environmental research. We uncover more and more questions as we continue to mine, and this is a great opportunity for research. Mines are often located in remote regions, where little is known of the environ or how to go about management. Technology is improving, and mines grow, with new potential impacts on the environment. Research can benefit the industry by providing solutions to old and new environmental problems. Some topics for research may include: ecosystem engineering or replacing self-sustaining and resilient ecosystems; fire ecology and consequences in mine life and closure; climate change and rehabilitation; water security; indigenous issues; long-term economic and social consequences of mine closure.

This research could also benefit other industries. Apart from better mine environmental management, research in these fields can also provide opportunity to learn more about how our environment works. We can translate research from the mining industry into other parts of our lives. This may include agriculture, forestry, urban living and National Park management. Many mining companies are now investing in environmental research, both for their own management and for broader community use. This includes Centre for Land Rehabilitation, Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Barrick Gold Pty Ltd, AngloGold Ashanti, Alcoal Pty Ltd and more.

Mining and environment traditionally did not coexist, but this is changing. As long as the world continues to use mineral resources, mining will continue to progress. We all know that one person can not change the world. However, one person can make a big difference in an organisation. Strong and driven individuals have demonstrated to improve environmental management in mining. With groups such as the GEMG, there is peer support of these individuals. This allows individuals to work as part of broader team that seeks similar outcomes and can lobby for better environmental management. With individuals and groups such as the GEMG, mining has the potential grow hand-in-hand with environmental research and management.

(The author has not been paid by any organisation for this review, and is a member of an independant research organisation.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Calling Entomologists: Sap Tunnel

I saw this unusal structure whilst walking through Namadgi National Park.

It is a tunnel formed from hundreds of balls made with sap. It was found on the branch of a Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora). There appeared to be some sort of insect living inside it.

If you know what it is, I would love to know. Please post in the Comments below.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I am scientist. Hear me think!

We all think that scientists have crazy hair, wear lab coats and are geniuses. Looking at myself, 2 of 3 ain't bad; genius I am not. Is crazy hair and being insanely smart to the point of social-awkwardness really what makes a scientist?

Lynds and I often chat about what it means to be a scientist. Lynds has just finished her PhD, and I am heading towards the end of mine (in a 'how-long-is-a-piece-of-string way). Lynds often discusses scientific life, and stereotypes on her blog. One day she pointed out that many of us pursuing scientific careers aren't necessarily that intelligent, just have strong interests. This is very true and it got me thinking about why are we suitable to do a PhD in the first place, and what makes us scientists.

If we look into peer-review or Google for what makes a scientist, we find ideas such as; ability to question things, productivity through peer-reviewed literaturebalancing efficiency and enjoyment,  ability to be impartial, observant and diligent. The list goes on. Yahoo had some terrible answers to this question, including being smart, having good grades, 'being good at science... whatever that means', being good at maths etc.  This only negatively portrays scientists as being smart geeks, rather than someone who pursues knowledge and answers. But what really makes a scientist and who are they?

Do these people look like Scientists to you?

On a walk a few weeks ago, I was thinking of all my scientist friends, my partner and my supervisors. I realised that there are several attributes that we all have in common: 

Curiosity: For most scientists, the thing that drives us is our curious natures. We ask questions like: Why does that work? How does it work? How can i make that work better? Asking questions of everything is what scientists do. It drives education, passion and ideas.

Passion: Like Lynds suggested, we all have a strong interest in something academic. This leads us to wanting to learn more about it, and in some ways pursue a career in that direction. However, it doesn't just stop at 'keen-interest', but devours us in passionate rants and love for the science. Blogging, teaching, pursuing ideas when others disagree, all demonstrate a love and a passion for the art of science.

Creativity and Problem Solving = Idea: Scientists are faced with questions, and to answer these questions we use logical thinking and bursts of creativity! We sit and think about problems and list ways to solve them: problem solving/logic. For example, if you want to make your car more powerful, you would list ways that you could do this. We then work out how this would actually work and in what form: creativity. Working out exactly how to make it your car more powerful may require some creativity, like adapting a part to suit your car. Putting your solutions together with your creative method gives you an idea.

A-Ha Moments: Ideas may come in a 'a-ha!' moment. One of my supervisors, Dr John Field, was recently explaining to our Honours Student that the answers won't come easily. Good answers and good ideas come a 2pm while having a bath; moments when you mull life and information. For me, most of these moments are in my sleep, in the shower, before I go to bed, and sometimes just when hanging out with friends (that is why I seem to day dream or pull out my phone and viciously type notes, sorry). Those moments could transpire into a new idea, new way of thinking, new technology or add to the body of scientific work; something original or different.

Synthesis and Execution of Ideas: Once you have come up with a list of ideas, you need to try them out. Learning about all sorts of random stuff, being able to pull it together and they try it out is a lot harder than you think. You have to be organised, rational, logical and pragmatic. It can be terribly boring doing the same thing 500 times in the pursuit of the answer. However you need to try your ideas (in a robust manner) before you can say you have found an answer to a problem.

Persistence and Perseverance: Things go wrong and perseverance and persistence is needed in executing ideas. Angus blew up one of his newly-made inventions the other day by putting through the wrong voltage. We spent the morning looking for new components so he can build it again. When failure happens, and it will, you have to be able to keep on pursuing the idea, keep trying or work out how to modify the problem/solution to try and get it to work. Sheer will-power, crossed with passion and creativity will make you persevere the answer.
Continual Learning: A scientist never stops learning, and you have to admit that early into a scientific life. You will always be challenged with new thoughts and ideas.  John has lectured throughout my education about continuous learning in science. It is natural for a scientist to be curious and to want to learn, and natural for others to challenge your ideas with counter learnings. When you are a teaching scientist, like John, you not only learn about things you have been researching, but your students will also challenge you with new ideas and thoughts. Constantly building knowledge, and putting the puzzle together will only bring on more ideas, and more chance of a-ha moments!

Humble, but Confident: The most humble person I know is Australia's leading research scientist in Fire Ecology, Dr Malcolm Gill. You would not think that Malcolm was a leading researcher when you met him. He is softly spoken, open to ideas, and curious. However, he is also confident in his ideas. You have to be humble and understand that there is so much more to know, but also communicate your ideas how how they can be incorporated in the pursuit of answers.

I am a scientist!

Forget about wacky geniuses! The girl (or guy) next door could be a scientist. You could be a scientist! It isn't about intelligence, how good we are at math or appearance that makes us a scientist. It is the way we think about things that allows us to have a scientific career. We may not be geniuses, but we do come up with some pretty cool ideas and our reward is discovering or inventing something new.

I would love to hear more ideas about what you thinks makes a scientist. Drop me an idea in the Comments below.

Need some fun science?

I just found the most hilarious scientific (kind-of) and random stuff blog ever.

It started with Cake vs Pie (Pie is the clear winner) and took me from there. It does not take science too seriously, and plays on the application of scientific principles and methods in everyday life. There are some other 'less scientific' and more play on culture posts as well. All round, good for a giggle or two.

Need a good laugh, or some 'interesting' science... check it out at Hyperbole and Half.