June 2009     
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A new approach to higher education
in the 2009 federal budget

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The Government's funding directions for higher education were released in the 2009 budget - www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Pages/TransformingAustraliasHESystem.aspx

The Government is supporting the higher education and research sectors at a cost of an additional $5.4 billion over four years and will commit further resourcing over the next 10 years. This includes funding of $1.5 billion for teaching and learning, $0.7 billion for university research, $1.1 billion for the Super Science initiative and $2.1 billion from the Education Investment Fund for education and research infrastructure. These can be summarised as follows:

  • A move to a student centred system underpinned by a national regulatory and quality agency, which will enable 50,000 new students to commence a degree by 2013;
  • Substantial resources to promote equity and performance funding tied to quality;
  • A landmark increase to university indexation;
  • A phased move to addressing the gap in funding for the indirect cost of research;
  • Major reform to student income assistance, to better support our most needy students and an increase to postgraduate stipends;
  • Major investment in higher education, research and VET infrastructure, through the Education Investment Fund totalling $3.0 billion dollars; and
  • Additional recurrent funding of $2.2 billion over the forward estimates for higher education teaching, learning and research.

In general the government initiatives are generally positive for geoscience. The establishment of a powerful national oversight body with accreditation responsibilities and labour market intelligence, the linking of teaching and research, the changes in funding of teaching and learning, research support, and research places are all positive for geoscience and address many of the issues raised by AGC

As always the issues will lie in any implementation and in the response of institutions. It remains a concern as to how the voice of geoscience can be heard. It reinforces the need identified recently by AGC for the AGC and its member societies to cooperate and work with the institutions at the regional level as well as nationally to ensure that the needs of geoscience education are met. In an open pluralistic system where government funding only provides part of the revenue it will be essential that the profession continues to present a clear and consistent message as to its educational needs. It will also be essential that it be prepared to devote the time and resources to communicate these needs to both educational institutions and any national and state regulatory bodies.

This newsletter sees the completion of my term as AGC President. Dr Michael Leggo is AGC's new President and will be looking at how AGC can further contribute to ensuring that geoscience is adequately represented in the nation's education system

Dr Trevor Powell
Past President, Australian Geoscience Council

Editorial

In the previous issue of this newsletter both the AGC President, Trevor Powell, and I commented on the submissions made by the AGC and other geoscience organisations to the National Curriculum Board and reiterated our call for Earth and Environmental Science to be adopted as the fourth science subject in the proposed National Science Curriculum for senior years.

The early draft of the science curriculum framework failed to include earth science as a core subject in years 11 and 12 although it was included up to year 10. It is pleasing to report that the final frameworks established for the development of the national curriculum now include Earth and Environmental Science. It is clear from the reports that the submissions made by the AGC and others did influence the outcome. It is now incumbent upon us to remain vigilant and ensure the adequacy of the curriculum content as it is developed in the remainder of 2009 and 2010.

The National Curriculum Board's reports on Framing the National Curriculum and the accompanying consultation papers are on-line at: http://www.ncb.org.au/communications/publications.html - readers will see that this link now takes them to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) web site. ACARA are the agency now in charge of implementing the national curriculum.

Greg McNamara - Editor, GeoEdLink
All feedback and submissions should be sent to the GeoEdLink Editor, Greg McNamara

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Geoscience Education News & Reviews

Awesome view of Sarychev Volcano
A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev Volcano (Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009

Awesome view of Sarychev Volcano
Image: NASA's Earth Observatory

For a detailed explanation of the image visit: NASA Earth Observatory, Sarychev Peak Eruption, Kuril Islands.There is also an animated version of the image - truly awesome!

EarthTrek: Citizen Scientists Seek Solutions in the Graveyard
Lead weathering
By measuring the distance from the top of the lead letters to the weathered marble, and recording the date of the gravestone, citizen scientists can work out a weathering rate over time of the marble. Because gravestones are of different ages, scientists can also work out if the rate has changed over time.
EarthTrek, a new worldwide program developed by the Geological Society of America and a range of national and international partners including the Geological Society of Australia, will provide a powerful new tool allowing concerned citizens to assist scientists by collecting data that will provide answers in understanding our planet

Communities are being invited to participate in real scientific projects lead by scientists from a wide range of institutions. As individuals, families, clubs or school groups, people trek out into a range of environments and participate by collecting data following the protocols set by the lead scientists. They then go and log that data online to add to the pool of knowledge being collected by other 'EarthTrekkers' around the world.

One EarthTrek project involves visiting and collecting data from graveyards around the globe. Participants will measure the thickness of marble gravestones, or the distance between marble and lead lettering, so that scientists can create a worldwide map of how gravestones are weathering. This information can provide insights into shifts in world pollution levels and climate change over time.

EarthTrek enrollment is open now, and the first science projects will commence on 1 July 2009.

View the project details and explanatory video at http://goearthtrek.org/Gravestones/Gravestones.html


CarbonKids tackle Climate Change
CarbonKids is a new CSIRO program that will operate in three school clusters in 2009 with a full program being implemented across Australia in 2010. It is an innovative school-based education program that combines the latest science with sustainability education. It enables school communities to understand climate change and encourage positive actions that make a direct contribution to becoming more sustainable. For more information contact Angela Colliver at CSIRO.


Forensic geology fights food fraud
Australian Earth Scientists have joined forces with food scientists and chemists in an international effort to fight global food crime using new tamper-proof technology that pinpoints exactly where in the world particular foods have been produced - and they are calling on the Australian Government to now implement the technology. A new tamper-proof technology - which uses isotopic and trace element signatures unique to foods from individual regions across the world - can now provide a forensic fingerprint showing exactly where the food was produced, right down to a district level. Read more here [60kb pdf].


Get the dirt on digging dinosaurs
Dinosaurs of southern Australia, and their furry, scaly and feathered friends, are still being dug up bit by fossilised bit at the annual Dinosaur Dreaming dig near Inverloch, Victoria. For your chance to win a free two day digging delight follow this link. Good luck!


Ill wind blows on Chinese Geopark
A wind turbine development in China has met with opposition from proponents of a Geopark. China has led the way in establishing Geoparks in the Asia-Pacific region but it is feared this development will adversely impact the values the Ninepin Islands Geopark. The area is home to some of the worlds largest hexagonal cooling columns, formed from eruptions within an ancient caldera. It is feared the visual impact of the turbines will detract from the Geopark, perhaps enough to prevent it being officially recognised as a Geopark. Follow the debate on this blog.


On-line resources - links and reviews:

EarthLearningIdea keeps them coming
EarthLearningIdea are publishing one new activity every month this year; last year they published one new activity every week so there are lots of innovative teaching activities on-line already. All the activities are free to download from the EarthLearningIdea web site.


Scribble Maps makes map making easy
Google Maps has teamed up with Scribble Maps to create an online map-making system that allows you to design your own maps and include your own lines, markers and text. This easy to use system will have your students making, saving and printing their own maps in no time.


Plate Tectonics made easy
The next time you teach plate tectonics, consider the draw-with-me presentations from this site that will engage your students and help them understand the spatial and movement aspects of plate boundary environments. Follow this link to access the images and helpful text.


Banded Iron Formations explained
Follow this link to an excellent resource on the Origins of Banded Iron Formations and the story of iron and oxygen on Earth. The article is complete with references and recommended readings.

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Geoscience Education Views

Heaven + Earth: a book review
by
Professor David Karoly, School of Earth Sciences, Melbourne University

Reproduced with permission from Prof. Karoly and The Science Show, ABC Radio National where this review recently featured

Editors note: The recent publication of the book Heaven + Earth by Ian Plimer has generated a lot of interest and comment in the media. The responses to the book by scientists, journalists and commentators have been highly variable and, if nothing else, highlight the gulf between science and the person in the street. A review of the book by Professor David Karoly is reproduced below in its entirety and, for those who are interested and would like to follow-up further, links to several other reviews, comments and opinion articles are also included. A smaller than usual font has been used in this section to keep the overall size of the newsletter to an acceptable level.

Ian Plimer's new book Heaven + Earth claims to shed new light on the science of climate change. It states that 'human-induced global warming has evolved into a religious belief system', that 'atmospheric carbon dioxide does not create a temperature rise' and that 'global warming and a high CO2 content bring prosperity and lengthen your life'.

Are these claims justified and based on science? They are in marked contrast to the scientific understanding of the causes of recent climate change reported in the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (often referred to as the IPCC), as well as by other scientific bodies including the US National Academies, the British Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science. They have all reached the same conclusion; that the observed increase in global-average surface temperature since the mid-20th century is mainly due to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, caused by human activity.

Heaven + Earth claims that this conclusion and almost all the conclusions of the IPCC are wrong. It suggests that there is a conspiracy amongst climate scientists to hide the 'truth' and that the learned scientific societies of many countries have been hoodwinked. He implies that this conspiracy involves all the hundred-plus national governments that unanimously approved the conclusions of the IPCC assessments. Not surprisingly, the book has attracted attention from the media, politicians and some scientists, as well as the public. Nothing sells like a good conspiracy story.

But is this book the story of a conspiracy, or even a good read? Is it about science or is it science fiction? The book is impressive and possibly interesting, but very disappointing. Impressive because of the time and effort that must have been spent writing the 500 pages with 2,000-plus footnotes. Interesting because it seeks to link many aspects of geology, astronomy, biology, glaciology, oceanography and meteorology to explain climate change over the Earth's multi-billion-year history, including the last hundred years. It's disappointing because a senior professor should not have produced such a book with so many errors, so many internal inconsistencies, and with no sources for its graphs.

The average reader will find it difficult to sort the fact from the fiction, to disentangle the inconsistencies, and separate the personal opinions and interpretations of the author from the well-established science. The book is built around six sections that consider history, the Sun, earth, ice, water, and air. In these, 18 questions are considered, and many scientists would agree with some aspects of the answers presented. However, there are major errors in many of the answers, making the conclusions invalid. The best description of the problems with the book is provided by Plimer himself. He writes, 'Trying to deal with these misrepresentations is somewhat like trying to argue with creationists, who misquote, concoct evidence, quote out of context, ignore contrary evidence, and create evidence ex nihilo.'

There are some sensible things in Heaven + Earth. Yes, it is important to 'look at climate over geological, archaeological, historical and modern time'. Throughout Earth's history there have been natural climate variations driven by many factors, including variations in the Earth's orbit around the Sun, volcanic eruptions, tectonics, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. For most of Earth's history, global temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have been higher than present. Plimer is wrong to claim that 'the IPCC has essentially ignored the role of natural climate variability', as natural climate variability is carefully considered in all four of the IPCC's comprehensive assessments since 1990. In its 2007 report, a whole chapter on palaeoclimate focuses on natural climate variations over Earth's history. Yes, water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. However, as Plimer states, 'Water vapour tends to follow temperature change rather than cause it,' so water vapour changes cannot initiate climate change.

Now let me address some of the major scientific flaws in Plimer's arguments. He claims 'it is not possible to ascribe a carbon dioxide increase to human activity' and 'volcanoes produce more CO2 than the world's cars and industries combined'. Both are wrong. Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide enriched with carbon isotope 12C and reduced 13C and essentially no 14C, and it decreases atmospheric oxygen, exactly as observed and as Plimer states on pages 414 and 415. Scientists have estimated emissions from volcanoes on land for the last 50 years and they are small compared with total global emissions from human sources.

Plimer even argues that the recent sources must be underwater volcanoes. This is not the case, because the net movement of carbon dioxide is from the atmosphere to the ocean, based on measurements that the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide in the ocean is less than in the atmosphere. In addition, measurements show that the concentrations of two other long-lived greenhouse gases with human-related sources, methane and nitrous oxide, have increased markedly over the last 200 years, at the same time as the increases in carbon dioxide. This is not possible due to sources from underwater volcanoes.

Next, he states that CO2 does not drive climate. He then contradicts himself by writing 'CO2 keeps our planet warm so that it is not covered in ice'. There is ample geological evidence of increased CO2 causing climate change, such as the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum about 55 million years ago. He writes 'land and sea temperatures increased by five to ten degrees with associated extinctions of life' when methane was released into the atmosphere due to geological processes and rapidly converted to CO2.

Plimer writes repeatedly that global warming ended in 1998, that the warmth of the last few decades is not unusual, and that satellite measurements show there has been no global warming since 1979. He is correct that on time scales of the last 100 million years, the recent global-scale warmth is not unusual. However, it is unusual over at least the last 1,000 years, including the Medieval warming. Plimer makes the mistake of using local temperatures from proxy evidence rather than considering data from the whole globe at the same time. The report of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2006, cited by Plimer, states 'Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all individual locations, were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since AD 900.'

We do not expect significant warming to always occur for short periods, such as since 1998. Natural climate variations are more important over short periods, with El Nino causing hotter global-average temperatures in 1998 and La Nina cooler global temperatures in 2007 and 2008. Global-average temperature for the current decade from surface observations and from satellite data is warmer than any other decade with reasonable data coverage. Plimer is wrong to write 'Not one of the IPCC models predicted that there would be cooling after 1998'. Actually, more than one-fifth of climate models show cooling in global average temperatures for the period from 1998 to 2008.

Plimer writes that solar activity accounts for some 80% of the global temperature trend over the last 150 years. This doesn't fit the observational evidence. Increases in solar irradiance would cause more warming in the daytime, in the tropics and in summer, as well as warming in the upper atmosphere, and these are not observed. Changes in solar irradiance and cosmic rays show a large 11-year sunspot cycle and negligible trend, but observed global temperatures show a large warming trend and small 11-year cycle.

Plimer is wrong again when he writes 'An enrichment in atmospheric CO2 is not even a little bit bad for life on Earth. It is wholly beneficial.' This is contradicted when he writes that the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum was associated with mass extinctions. There are many other errors, both large and small, including volcanoes emitting CFCs and that the Sun consists mainly of the same elements as the rocky planets. Many of the figures have mistakes, either in the caption or in the data, and have no sources provided.

Given the errors, the non-science, and the nonsense in this book, it should be classified as science fiction in any library that wastes its funds buying it. The book can then be placed on the shelves alongside Michael Crichton's State of Fear, another science fiction book about climate change with many footnotes. The only difference is that there are fewer scientific errors in State of Fear.

The original podcast of this review can be listened to via this link: Review by Professor David Karoly.

Further reviews of this book can be read or listened to as pod casts by following the links:
Review by Professor Malcolm Walter.
Review by Professor Kurt Lambeck.
Review by Professor Michael Ashley.
Review by Barry Brook
Open Letter by William Kininmonth
Opinion by Paul Sheehan

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Geoscience Education Events & Activities

Queensland excursion a big hit
Excursion students
Some Yr 12 students take in the rocky view
while on excursion to Charters Towers

Recently, 32 senior Earth Science students from Pioneer SHS and one from Moranbah SHS went to Charters Towers to gain a first-hand appreciation of the changes in gold mining methods over the past century. After inspecting Ashworth's 'Rock and Mineral' display at Home Hill the excursion headed to Charters Towers where students were soon finding out the history and importance of the town's stock exchange. In the Assay Mining Museum they were able to see the crude tools used to mine gold from the host rock. Later, at the Venus Gold Battery, the tour guide explained in detail the processes used to remove the gold from the ore - the students were relieved they didn't have to work in the incredibly noisy, dusty and poisonous conditions. No-one was surprised to hear the average age of death was only 27.

The next day the excursion headed to the Citigold Warrior mine and processing plant. The contrast was blindingly obvious - safe and environmentally-responsible mining practices at all stages of the gold production. Half a day was spent fossicking and completing field studies at Big Bend amongst the Devonian fossil reef. One lucky student found a brachiopod which was identified by retired Professor Bob Henderson at JCU the following day. We were really fortunate to have Dr Mike Rubenach and Dr Haidi Beard from JCU to help us out in the field. JCU Earth and Environmental Sciences department provided the students with entertaining and informative sessions about a wide variety of topics including careers, palaeontology and GIS programmes and generously gave each student a small mineral as a keepsake. Lunch was superb at John Flynn College and then it was back home to Mackay full of new enthusiasm and passion for 'rock science'.
Janet Schwabe, Senior Earth Science teacher, Pioneer State High School


Minerals Tertiary Education Council Minerals Geoscience Honours Program a big success
MTEC students
MTEC students up close and personal
with outcrops at Arkaroola

The 2009 Minerals Tertiary Education Council Minerals Geoscience Honours Program has just come to a close with the last of the eight short courses taking place in Kalgoorlie in early June. This was the second year that the program has been run in its current format and we have built on the successes of the 2008 program with a total of 196 courses being taken by over a hundred Honours students from the eight participating universities across Australia, an increase in student numbers of 20% for 2009. The majority of these courses were taken at universities other than the students' home universities. This is in keeping with the intentions of the Minerals Tertiary Education Council who, as well as providing funding to the participating universities, also award students travel bursaries to assist them with the costs of attending a course interstate. These travel bursaries form a fundamental part of the program as they enable students to make their course choices without having to take the cost of travel in to consideration.

The courses were a mixture of field and classroom based and featured presenters from universities, government departments and industry. The areas studied varied from the UTas course based in Queenstown, studying the Cambrian Mount Read volcanics and Dundas Group of western Tasmania, right through to the Curtin course focusing on mining geology and resource estimation, where students visited the Kanowna Belle underground mine in Kalgoorlie and the Geological Society of Western Australia's core shed. The record 46 students that elected to attend the University of Adelaide course to Arkaroola this year were fortunate enough to drive the Ridgetop track at Mt Gee and to visit the Beverley uranium mine. Other topics covered in the courses included hydrogeology, porphyry copper systems and regolith geoscience. To find out more visit http://www.adelaide.edu.au/mtec/


Science teachers to gather in Launceston - 4 - 7 July 2009
The annual conference of the Australian Science Teachers Association CONASTA58 is being held in Tasmania this year. There is a full program including numerous geoscience offerings. Conference attendees even have a chance to win a trip to London!


TESEP in Launceston too! - 10 - 11 July 2009
Two for the price of one at Launceston! TESEP is running two workshops over two days. PD1 is Round and Round with Rocks - a great explanation of the rock cycle and the formation of mineral deposits. PD2 is Riding the Climate Roller Coaster - a thorough look at the geology of climate change and how you and your students can access the actual data to form your own interpretations. Contact Philip Sansom for more information or booking forms.


Geography comes to Melbourne - 6 - 11 July 2009
The conference theme 'Ancient Landscapes - Modern Perspectives' reflects the location, but the program will be very wide ranging. Not least this is because our colleagues in New Zealand are very much involved in conference organisation, and are offering delegates the opportunity to join field trips to their own very different and tectonically-active landscapes. Visit the 7th International Conference on Geomorphology web site for more information.


Galapagos in July - Just for Teachers!.
The Geological Society of America is offering an excursion to the Galapagos Islands structured especially for Earth Science teachers. Geological Society of Australia members are eligible for a discount!


National Science Week, 15 - 23 August 2009
Ignite your students' imaginations. There are events all over Australia so check out the website and tap into local and national events or run your own. It's not too late!


Great geo-pictures can win big prizes - Entries close September 15th.
Entries for the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge are now open. There are categories for Photography, Illustrations, Informational Graphics, Interactive Media and Non-Interactive Media.


Origin of the Australian Highlands - The Selwyn Symposium 2009, 24 September 2009
This one day symposium will examine the Origin of the Australian Highlands and presents an ideal opportunity to introduce students to the challenging questions even the most ordinary looking mountains pose and how Earth Science asks and answers those questions.


Earth Science Week 2009 - get the video camera out
Earth Science Week 2009 events will be held from the 11th - 17th October, celebrating with the theme 'Understanding climate'.

Geoscience Australia, along with the Australian Science Teachers Association, will again be hosting the annual Geologi short film competition. Geologi09 invites all Australian school aged groups, individuals and classes to submit an Earth science film relating to how we use Earth science in everyday life. The winning films will be screened at a presentation and awards ceremony at Geoscience Australia during Earth Science Week 2009.

Any individual, school or organisation hosting an event or activity is encouraged to register on Geoscience Australia's Earth Science Week web site. All registered activities will be sent a promotional pack including posters and bookmarks to help raise awareness of the celebrations.


First World Young Earth Scientists Congress, 25 - 28 October 2009
Find out more about this conference and its topics of global climate, environmental and geological challenges facing today's society here.


Groundwater Short Courses for 2009
The Centre for Groundwater Studies offers a variety of short groundwater courses. If you are interested, view course dates and further course information here.


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