Environment

Algae bloom hot spot a fish feeding magnet

FRASER Coast seas have been identified as an algae bloom hot spot and fish feeding magnet by researchers at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and Griffith University.

Caused by ocean upwelling, a spectacle that involves the wind driving nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, the phenomenon plays a crucial role in the fishing industry by producing a readily available food source for yellow fin tuna and other marine species.

University of Southern Queensland Associate Professor in Climatology Joachim Ribbe, PhD research student Daniel Brieva and Griffith University scientists have been able to identify, document and name the ‘Southeast Fraser Island Upwelling System’ for the first time.

In their recently released academic paper titled ‘Is the East Australian Current causing a marine ecological hot-spot and an important fisheries near Fraser Island, Australia?’ the scientists show that the strengths and variability of the East Australian Current is the main cause of this upwelling system.

Dr Ribbe said that on average about eight algae blooms occurred each spring/summer season, occupying large areas of the continental shelf southeast of Fraser Island (see attached image).

“The blooms cover an area about the size of Hervey Bay or about 2000 to 3000 square kilometres. Each bloom lasts about one week.algae bloom

“Algae only bloom if nutrients and light are available. Usually, the surface ocean is low in nutrients but ocean upwelling delivers nutrient-rich water from deeper parts of the ocean back to the surface.

“Basically, ocean upwelling is fertilising the surface ocean and consequently plants start to grow and become available to the ocean food chain.”

Key ecological area

Dr Ribbe said the high marine productivity appears to support a valuable fisheries area.

“This key ecological area located southeast of Fraser Island is one of eight along the east coast of Australia.

“The surface ocean waters to the east of Australia are usually characterised by very low marine productivity. The supply of nutrients in very distinct regions leads to very high marine productivity.”

Dr Ribbe said more work was needed to investigate the bio-diversity of the region and the overall impact the algae blooms were having on the ocean environment.

 

Photo: University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Associate Professor in Climatology Joachim Ribbe lowers research equipment into water near Fraser Island.

Hervey Bay estuaries under microscope

IF YOU’D like the head’s up on how Hervey Bay’s estuaries will look 40 years from now, have a read of Springer’s new book Estuaries of Australia in 2050 and Beyond.

In it, University of Southern Queensland’s Associate Professor Dr Joachim Ribbe joins other leading Australian estuarine and coastal scientists in presenting detailed reports of 20 iconic estuaries and bays.

USQ Research - Estuaries

USQ Associate Professor Dr Joachim Ribbe collects scientific data from Hervey Bay waters.

“Most Australians live near the coast and human activity has impacted on about 500 Australian estuaries including Hervey Bay,” Dr Ribbe said.

“The estuaries here will have some limited impact from activities such as fishing, aquaculture, farming and urban development, but overall, Hervey Bay is a very special region, an almost pristine environment, and its uniqueness is reflected in being part of the UNESCO declared Great Sandy Biosphere.”

Part of Springer’s Estuaries of the World series, the book suggests what Australian estuaries will look like in 2050 and beyond, based on socio-economic decisions that are made now and changes that are needed to ensure sustainability.

“It is the scientific knowledge as presented in this publication that underpins natural resource management and aids future sustainable development of our coastal environment,” Dr Ribbe said.

978-94-007-7018-8The new book also reveals how Hervey Bay’s physical oceanography works and how climate variability impacts.

“In the future, we need to better understand how the Bay interacts with the waters of the Great Barrier Reef to the north and the ocean to the east in a varying and changing climate.

“Scientific research, in particular continuous routine monitoring, needs to be funded to understand the functioning of coastal environments such as Hervey Bay.

“But there is little investment in these activities by government and industry.

“Yet, it is long-term monitoring and the data from these that underpins decision-making processes enabling future sustainable development of human activities such as aquaculture, tourism and urban expansion.

“There is little gained from one-off research activities as often required in the context of environmental impact assessments. We lack the long-term base studies that would provide a framework.

“In the context of Hervey Bay, I propose that industry and the local council could charge a $1 levy per day on excursions and overnight visitor accommodation, which could be channelled into research for sustainable futures.

“With over 600,000 tourists to the region, that would provide a good funding basis for research activities and long-term monitoring.”

For more information on Estuaries of Australia in 2050 and Beyond visit http://www.springer.com/earth+sciences+and+geography/earth+system+sciences/book/978-94-007-7018-8.

Story and photos: JOCELYN WATTS

Closer to understanding severe storms

MORE accurately forecasting and warning of impending severe storm events such as 2011 Toowoomba “inland tsunami” are now a step closer thanks to an Australian Research Council Linkage grant.

The grant will fund research by the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) Professor Roger Stone and Dr Shahbaz Mushtaq in close collaboration with Monash University’s Dr Stephen Seims who is the CEO of the project. The Suncorp Group has provided strong support for this project.

Professor Stone said the central objective of the research would be to employ a wide range of field observations to better understand the physical processes, synoptic environment and climatology of severe storms and precipitation events across heavily populated regions of Australia.

“We’ll then use these finding to evaluate and improve numerical and computer simulations of such storms, which will improve our ability to forecast and respond to these types of weather events,” Professor Stone said.

He said severe storms are one of the most poorly understood natural hazards in Australia, even though there is a long history of these events causing the profound loss of life and property.

“The storms of southeast Queensland during the summer of 2010-2011 included flash flooding in the Lockyer Valley that claimed more than 20 lives and the overflow at Wivenhoe Dam led to widespread flooding in Brisbane with the economic damage having been estimated to be in excess of $10 billion.

“This research will lead to an improved physical understanding of severe storms over major Australian cities, which in turn will lead to the ability to more accurately forecast and warn people about these weather events.”

Professor Stone said the first phase of the project will develop an objective radar-based climatology of severe storms using the Bureau of Meteorology’s network of Doppler radars.

“We will then extend the analysis of these severe storms to their synoptic-scale precursors and undertake numerical simulations employing the radar observations, as well as other available observations as a means of evaluation.

“This analysis will assess the ability of simulations to accurately predict the location, timing and intensity of severe storms in major metropolitan areas.

“We’ll then explore the sensitivity of these simulations to the physical parameters with the intent of improving their skill.

“A further objective is to employ a wide range of field observations (insitu cloud microphysics, weather radar, the dual-polarised (CP2) research radar, ground-based and satellite-based) available from the Queensland Cloud Seeding Research Program, the Bureau of Meteorology and elsewhere to better understand the nature of the interaction between precipitation and cloud microphysics.”

CAPTION: Lightening strikes during a severe storm in western Queensland. Photo: W. C. SCOTT.