Climate threat from permafrost melt.

•Saturday, 11 July, 2009 • Leave a Comment

After a long absence I return.

I came across an interesting piece of research from the CSIRO on the effects of the melting of the permafrost in the Arctic circle.

New research by the Global Carbon Project at the CSIRO, has found that estimates of the carbon stored in the frozen in soils of the North Pole has been hugely underestimated.

Executive Director Dr Pep Canadell says that

“projections show that almost all near-surface permafrost will disappear by the end of this century exposing large carbon stores to decomposition and release of greenhouse gases. In addition, ‘thermokast lakes’ formed as permafrost thaws, would draw heat to deeper layers and bring methane to the surface.

In fact, models developed in collaboration with Dr Canadell show that global warming could trigger an irreversible process of thawing.

The feedback loop then, that results from the release of carbon and methane triggers a self sustaining degradation that adds to global warming.

This research shows that it could take smaller levels of thawing of the permafrost to initiate this feedback. Dr Canadell gives this example:

“if only 10 per cent of the permafrost melts, the resultant feedback could result in an additional 80 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere, equating to about 0.7°C of global warming.”

The imperative then, is that our leading nations  get serious about limiting carbon emissions. There seems to be a lack of political will to make the tough decisions required but this research is just another instance that shows that we must do something soon.

I welcome any comments on what progress is being made in your corner of the planet to curb carbon emissions. Do you think governments are doing enough?  What are you doing that might inspire change?

Photo: Courtesy NOAA



The spectacular Aurora Australis over Antarctica.

•Monday, 25 May, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I recently visited the U.S. Antarctic Program Photo Library website and came across these spectacular images of the Aurora Australis as seen from Antarctica. I recommend this website to anyone who wants to see some truly beautiful images of Antarctica: the landscapes, the wildlife and the life of those that work there. Many thanks to all those who share these images with us.

The following images were taken by Keith Vanderlinde of the National Science Foundation.

Date Taken: June 24, 2008.


Date Taken: June 1, 2008


Date Taken: May 1, 2008

A US Antarctic Program participant poses under the aurore australis at the South Pole. Date Taken: July 16, 2008

For more here is the link:

and for information on the atmospheric phenomenon, the Aurora:

Anzac Day- remembering the contribution of Australian women in action.

•Saturday, 25 April, 2009 • Leave a Comment


On Anzac Day we remember the Anzac spirit of those Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Today I would like to dedicate this post to the role of Australian women in war and recognise their sacrifices and contribution to the war effort of Australia going back to 1898 when sixty nurses served in the Boer War.

This contribution was made through their service, as well as through the work of women on the home front in supporting the troops and taking up positions in the workforce to keep the country going while the men were away fighting. It should be remembered that women in this era were not generally occupied in the workforce so their spirit and energy in taking up these new roles is even more remarkable.


This public domain image comes from the collection of the Australian War Memorial and was made available by the donor N. Crossing. It was taken at Rosez France,in 1917. The following is an excerpt from the summary provided.

“A surgical operation about to begin in an operating theatre of French hospital no. 23, 4th section, region 16 in Rodez, in the Midi during World War 1. From left: Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) worker Mrs Keith Murray, Sister Dorothy Ellena Duffy, surgeon, assistant, and 2nd assistant giving anaesthetic. Sister Duffy was one of a group of twenty civilian trained nurses, from New South Wales, who volunteered to serve in France for the Australian Red Cross during World War I. They were known as ‘Bluebirds’ because of their distinctive blue uniforms. Note the floorcovering, indicating the makeshift nature of the operating theatre. ”

And this from culture.

One nurse, Sister Narrelle Hobbs, was with Australian forces at Gallipoli.

I’ve been a soldier now for nearly three years, and please God I will go right to the end … if anything happened, and I too passed out, well, there would be no finer way, and no way in which I would be happier, than to lay down one’s life for the men who have given everything.

She died five months later, in May 1918. (Source:

Women have made significant contributions by their service and efforts ever since. Though not always allowed to march alongside servicemen women have been formally recognised for their efforts.

To read more here are some excellent links for teachers, students or anyone who would like to learn more about the contribution made by Australian men and women:

This excellent and exhaustive website full of information is also recommended:


here is the recipe for Anzac biscuits such traditional fare on Anzac Day.


Photo of Anzac Biscuit courtesy of Wikibooks.


  • 1 cup of plain flour,
  • 1 cup of sugar,
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 cup of coconut
  • 125g butter
  • 1 Tbls golden syrup
  • 2 Tbls boiling water
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate soda.


1. Pre- heat oven to 180C,
2. Mix together flour, coconut, rolled oats, and sugar,

3. Melt butter and golden syrup.

4. Mix bicarbonate soda with water,

5. Mix butter and bicarb mixture and then add to dry ingredients,stirring well.

6. Place spoonfuls onto a greased baking tray,

7. Make sure to allow enough space between each biscuit for them to spread.

8. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden.

9. Cool on tray until the biscuits are firm enough to lift onto cooling on racks.

I hope you enjoy these delicious easy to make biscuits.

Earth Day, 2009 – from beautiful Sydney, Australia

•Wednesday, 22 April, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It is Earth day 2009 and I would like to share some images of my little corner of this Earth.

Australia is a continent of many extremes: desert, rainforest, the mountains and the plains, flood, fire, drought and unbelievable blue skies.

It is a precious piece of a precious planet that must be protected. Here is the land in general and beautiful Sydney in particular.

australia_satellite_plane1A composed satellite photograph of Australia NASA courtesy Wikimedia Commons.



The above images are courtesy Wikipedia, Shelley Beach, Manly by J. Bar and Yuralbin Park, New South Wales by amitch (with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance)

Victoria’s bushfires exacerbate historic water lows.

•Wednesday, 15 April, 2009 • 1 Comment


Photo: Courtesy

Victoria’s nine dams are approaching 28.4% of capacity today leaving the state with 500 days capacity (barring rainfall).

Pete Ker in the Age today put it this way:

“MELBOURNE’S dwindling water storages are on the verge of a historic low, a quarter of a century after the Thomson Dam was promised to drought-proof the city.”

In fact, as outlined in my post of Feb 12, the bushfires that engulfed the water catchment areas including the Thomson Dam catchment could cut water yield in the already drought-ravaged state for the next half century.

While winter and spring rainfall would normally boost water supplies the fact remains that water runoff in the catchment areas will be diminished by the uptake of this water in the regrowth of bushfire damaged trees and scrub.

Indeed this was highlighted in a submission to the Victorian Bushfires Inquiry of 2003:

“Studies have shown that water uptake by Mountain Ash regrowth, following bushfire or logging, can reduce water yield in disturbed areas by up to 50% of pre-disturbance runoff, some 20-30 years after a bushfire. The impact on water yield is most pronounced in drought years when streamflow can be significantly compromised due to greater uptake of water by regrowth trees.”

It is salutory to return to another quote from my previous post on this issue:

‘The outstanding historical example is from the wildfire in the Melbourne water-supply catchments on “Black Friday” in 1939. In that fire, mature Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests were killed. Over the next 30 years, water yield from local areas of regrowth diminished by up to 600 mm/year, or 6 megalitres/hectare. On a catchment-wide basis, where regrowth occupied some 50% of the area, this represented a reduction in annual streamflow of about 24%. By age 75-100, it is expected that water yield will have recovered to the pre-fire condition.’ (eWater)

This therefore means that recent rainfall patterns will not provide the whole answer. Yes, the Thomson Dam may have been envisaged as “drought-proofing” the city, but the long term effects of a series of major bushfires may not have been part of the consideration.

The new “low water mark” and the governments efforts to save water may be a controversial, but it is indisputable that it has to do all it can to conserve and manage the remaining water supplies. The relationship between bushfire and water management in ash forests mean that this issue will a far more complicated one.

Moreover, the increasing destruction through bushfires of the catchment areas taking decades for water catchments to recover, will also mean that other solutions will need to be forthcoming both in new water creation and management projects as well as measures to limit further bushfire damage.

Pat O’Shaughnessy, one of the pioneers of the research on the mountain ash catchments, is quoted as saying that on average, the ash forests reach their maximum water yield after 120 years following a minimum of about 30 years (when the trees are soaking up a lot more water)

Therefore, this problem will be a longstanding one, foreseeably for 20-50 years irrespective of improved rainfall and in spite of climate change.

There are no easy answers to Victoria’s water problems and water saving by all Victorians will have to be ongoing.

Please save every precious drop of water that you can!


Photo: Courtesy

Antarctic Ice Caves

•Tuesday, 14 April, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Looking through the images in the Antarctic Photo Library I came across these wonderful images taken inside an ice cave near Ross Island in Antarctica and I thought I would like to share them with you. I encourage anyone who would like to explore this vast pristine environment and see the work that scientists are doing there to visit this excellent site.

Many thanks also to the National Science Foundation for bringing them to us.

Here is the link:

Photos: Robyn Waserman, November 25, 2008. National Science Foundation. Inside an ice cave near Ross Island.





China-Australia relations in 2009-back to the future.

•Saturday, 4 April, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Having lived long enough to remember times past when the White Australia Policy reigned supreme in this country and ” yellow peril“, “the domino theory” and “reds under the bed “were commonly trotted out to instill fear into the population, the debate of recent weeks brought to mind how far and yet how little we have progressed as a confident and modern nation.

It wasn’t too long ago that we were only too happy to cash in on a resources boom largely fed by China’s growth and its seemingly endless demand for our mineral resources.

In fact it was only in October of 2007 when The Financial Express had this to say at the time:

The Australian outback’s abundance of iron ore, nickel, and other minerals is attracting a swelling number of overseas investors, who are acting as if the raw materials boom fuelled by China, will go on for years.

As more mines open up across the mineral-rich deserts, Japanese firms who have been investing in Australian mining for decades are vying with Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, and others for partnerships with local prospectors. “Australia is on everyone’s map, it’s one big free-for-all,” said Eagle Mining analyst Keith Goode, who scours the outback by four-wheel drive or in light planes assessing prospects.

The then Prime Minister, John Howard was seen to have “ welcomed the newcomers, backing plans to divert rivers to mine zinc in the north and open more ground to dig uranium in the west.”

In 2006 Alexander Jung of Spiegel Online International had this to say:

Australia provides the resources China needs so urgently for its economic miracle. In return, China provides Australia with all the cheap cooking pots, washing machines and cars it manufactures from the metal. “We would be crazy not to develop this relationship,” says Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

There was no talk then of security fears or Chinese undue influence in Australia. There was in fact much travel to, and wooing of China for Australia’s economic benefit

Three years on and what has happened to this symbiotic relationship? The media is stirring up a frenzy of fear not seen since the days of Pauline Hanson. All this because of the instability caused by the Global Financial Crisis.

It seems that in times of insecurity the same old demons are resurrected and that the problem of xenophobia can still be called on as a convenient dog-whistle to sections of the community that harbor the fears of long ago.

A thoughtful article on China is the cover story on Prospect Magazine “What Chinas Thinks- China’s New Intelligentsia by Mark Leonard. It is and interesting read that examines the internal developments in China and is a worthy read for some balance in this discussion.

It is also interesting to read the words of another Chinese woman, Mme Fu Ying,10th Chinese Ambassador to Australia, at her farewell speech at a luncheon held by the Australia-China Business Council on February 22, 2007.

I reprint it here to demonstrate or perhaps remind ourselves of where we were just a short while ago under the previous government:

The Hon. Professor David de Kretser, Governor of Victoria

The Right Hon. the Lord Mayor, John So

Mr. Kevin Hobgood-Brown, Chairman of Australia-China Business Council,

Mr. WU Shiqiang, Chairman of China Chamber of Commerce,

Mr Ian McCubbin, President of Australia-China Business Council in Victoria,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by quoting two lines from the Chinese poems “Time flies like an arrow leaving the bow and the years and the months pass like a shuttle on the weaving machine”

That is how I feel at this moment. I arrived in Australia in March 2004. It is like yesterday.

My secretary told me that this is the 70th speech I am making during past 3 years and this is going to be the last one. It is very hard to prepare for this one. There is so much I want to say.

I fully agree with Prime Minister John Howard when he said, “Of all the important relationships Australia has with other countries, none has undergone a greater transformation over the last decade or more, as has the relationship with China.” The past 3 years may be the most dynamic of the decade.

According to Australian custom’s figure, in merchandize trade, we are only 3.5billion Australian dollars away from you No. 1 trading partner, Japan.

By to 2003, 31 years after we established diplomatic relations, our bilateral trade grew to 13 billion US$. In the past three years, we have increased by 20 billion US$, that is 137%, and it is standing at 33 billion US$ by the end of 2006.

Given the phenomenal growing trend, I am quite confident that soon China will become your No 1 trading partner.

China’s investment in Australia is also increasing. In 2003, there were only 5 Chinese projects here and now there are 16. As I was preparing notes for the coming visit by Chinese Vice Premier Zheng Peiyan, I found that there are at least 6 major investment projects under consideration.

Our relations are expanding in all other fields. For example, the number of Chinese visitors to Australia in 2003 were 176,000 and in 2006 309,000 with 78% increase.

The number of registered Chinese students in Australia in 2003 was 58,000 and in 2006 the figure is 91,000 with 56% increase.

In response to the growing interest among the Australian people of China, the Embassy organized a large cultural program called Experiencing China 2006 and we brought in over 50 performances, exhibitions, and held a variety of forums. I want to thank BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Qantas’s generous support to the cultural program. 9 Australian cultural teams also came to China and were met with warm response.

I am the 10th China’s Ambassador to Australia and probably the luckiest one.

During my 3 years here, Prime Minister John Howard visited China twice and the Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery also paid a state visit to China. From China, Chairman of National People’s Congress WU Bangguo and Premier of State Council WEN Jiabao visited Australia.

Adding the 5 rounds of meetings between the Prime Minister and the Chinese leaders on multilateral occasions, there have been more than 10 top level meetings between the leaders of our two countries.

In the meantime, most of the cabinet ministers have been in China and there are even more ministerial visits from China.

Such frequent political contacts have kept open wide channel for dialogues on all subjects, which serve as solid foundation for the fast expansion of our bilateral relations.

As for China which is entering the stage of robust industrialization with a size and speed unseen not only in its long history, but also in the history of the mankind, China has found Australia a reliable partner for securing its much-needed resources. For Australia, its overall economic picture has also benefited from the strong demand from China.

However, when we have such robust relations, and when we have a huge volume of businesses and personnel traffic moving both ways, it’s only natural that problems and even crisis sometimes occur.

The role I identified for myself is to be sensitive of signs of difficulties and to be available when help is needed. It is the success in performing that role earned me trust and friendship in Australia.

China is still in the middle of reform and the economic structure is constantly changing, and can cause difficulties. For example, the Guangdong LNG project, in its 3 years of development, came across numerable problems and each time I had to go out of my way to talk to the local and central governments, the local and foreign contractors and the sellers and the buyers (whose status was changed).

The need for me to address the issues and to understand the Australian people took me traveling to many places. I have been to every state, the most more than ten times, the least no less than 3 times.

My visits to the iron ore mines in Pilbara, the bauxite mines in Weipa, uranium mine in Olympic Dam and the LNG sites in Karratha and in some Island. Many meetings with the experts gave me good knowledge of the Australian resources and their global status, and I was able to offer realistic advice to my government. My visit to the coal-mine down 400 meters in Wollongong encouraged me to initiate the mining safety cooperation.

My discussion with farmers in the Flinders Range on how to address the grassland imbalance problem gave me the ideas of a good project on grassland management.

It is this wide variety of people whom I met introduced me to Australia and its people.

In the past 3 years, I also went through some difficult moments. There were people who did not want to see China and Australia going closer or people who had their personal agenda.

When confronted with such challenges, I relied on truthfulness and honesty which I believed could help me getting through the messages.

I am glad that two countries and two peoples have grown into a mature stage of relationships especially in handling sensitive issues and differences. We can always set store by the bigger picture of our bilateral relations and the fundamental interest of our two peoples.

The past three years have also been a period of fast changes in china.

In 2006, China’s economy registered 10.7% of growth breaking the record of the past 11 years. International trade reached 1.76 trillion US$ with an increase of 24% (including 27% increase in export which is 969 billion US$ and import increasing by 24% standing 791 billion US$.)

The economic boom is changing the life style of the Chinese people. Now there 130 million internet users in China, that is 10% of the population.

Blogging is popular, and there are more than 20 million registered bloggers, with the volume of visits exceeding 100 million.

There are 820 million telephone users including 440 million hand phones.

China’s economic growth has brought benefits to the world. According to the World Bank, China’s contribution to global economic growth amounts to 13%.

China-made products raised the comfort level to the life of people in many countries including those in Australia.

Is the Chinese economy healthy?

Yes and no. The growth is strong, and the trend will continue.

But, since early 2006, there have been clear over-heatedness signs in the economy. There is excessive growth of investment, excessive increase of credit and excessive trade surplus.

To address the issue, a number of tough measures have been taken. For example, there is tighter control over land use and higher price for industrial land claims.

The People’s Bank of China raised the lending rate (by 0.54%) and took some other measures to ease the pressure of the balance-of-payments surplus.

Many small steel mills and small mines are closed down and regulatory steps have been taken to slow down the growth of 11 industrial sectors including cement and steel.

Tax rebate is reduced on exports of high energy-consuming, resource-intensive and environmentally-harmful products, etc.

These measures are expected to help cooling down the economy in 2007.

Generally speaking, China’s industrialization will continue to grow which means its needs for mineral and energy resources will continue. At the same time, the industrial structural improvement will also offer a wider space for cooperation in science and technology, especially in the field of environment.

Though China’s per capita greenhouse gas emission is not very high, its total now ranks the second in the world. 70% of the rivers and lakes are polluted. 300 million farmers have no access to clean water. Among the 10 most polluted cities in the world, 7 are in China.

According to the record in history, developed countries started to have the economic ability to address environmental problems only after the per capita GDP reached between 8000 and 10000 US$.

But China is a country of large population. It is now growing in a modern world and has to address the issue at a much earlier stage when it’s per capita GDP is less than 2000 US$. That is a huge challenge.

In recent years, some strong measures have been taken in this field, including adjustment in the industry priorities, diversifying the energy mix, huge investment in a forestation and continuous population control.

A series of legislations have been promulgated on controlling atmospheric pollutions.

To further reduce emission, the 11th 5 year program sets a target to reduce energy consumption by 20% for every percentage GDP increase. That is a tough target and is affecting all economic policies.

We would certainly need help and cooperation with countries like Australia which has forefront research advantages.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries which took place in December 1972 when the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam met Chairman MAO Zedong in Beijing.

35 years later, President HU Jintao will come to Australia during APEC summit, which will mark another high point in our bilateral relations.

I am sorry I will miss this important moment in our bilateral relations, but I will continue following progress in our relations.

Since this is my last speech in Australia, let me take this opportunity to say to you and through you to all those who I have met, who guided me, helped me, and who offered me friendship — farewell.

Thank you

It does seem only a short time ago the Sino-Australian relationship, built up over decades of trade and diplomacy, was relatively free from the distrust that the media is now dredging up and that, once again innocent members of the Chinese community have to defend their loyalty as citizens. These are not the 1950’s or 60’s and Australians of Chinese birth are productive members of our society who have made significant contributions to this country.

I still believe that Australia has matured and is confident enough to see beyond this veiled racism.

It is time to take our place in a global world where dialogue rather than isolationism and fear is the key to a peaceful co-existance.