Alaskan Ecology

Nearly 2500 scientists gathered in Copenhagen last month to discuss issues that have emerged over the past two years since the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised.

Stuart 'Terry' Chapin is professor of botany at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Fairbanks, in Alaska. He was the first Alaskan elected to the National Academy of Sciences. His initial research on plant nutritional adaptations to low temperature brought him to New Zealand to study snow tussocks, and he has continued to visit and collaborate with New Zealand botanists. Recent work with indigenous communities in Alaska, and on the IPCC, have highlighted for him the impacts of global warming on Alaskan terrestrial ecosystems.

Melting Sea Ice in the Arctic

The end of March also marked the end of the International Polar Year, during which scientists from around the globe took part in numerous coordinated research projects, with some alarming results. The effects of global warming continues to be most noticeable in the polar regions, with new predictions that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer within five years. This has speeded up the international battle to claim territory in the Arctic - and with it the oil, gas and mineral reserves thought be locked under the ice.

The 28 March 2009 issue of New Scientist contains a feature story called Arctic Meltdown which investigates how rapidly global warming is melting ice in the Arctic, and explores the potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole planet.

Carbon Emissions

The new Wellington Carbon Emissions Inventory was established by Landcare Research with input and peer review from NIWA. It was adopted by Greater Wellington's Regional Sustainability Committee in February. The inventory is the first step in the council's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region. As well as pinpointing key areas to focus on, it will act as a baseline to measure the progress of future programmes against. The regional greenhouse gas footprint for the year 2006-7 comes to 3.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide excluding the forestry offset; this is equivalent to 8.1 tonnes per person. Agriculture was the largest emitter in the region at 31% of the total (compared to a national average of 49%) and land transport was the next largest at 30%.

How Wellington region's greenhouse gas emissions compare internationally:

- (CO2/ equivalent tonnes per person)
- Wellington 8
- New Zealand 18.5
- Australia 28
- OECD 16
- World 6
- Estimated sustainable amount 2


Over the last 20 years or so, the Kakapo Recovery Programme has had to deal with a great many unknowns. The original birds from Stewart Island are all of an unknown age, and their family relationships are a mystery. For many years working out who fathered the chicks was a hit-and-miss affair. Sexing young chicks and determining the sex of eggs that died before hatching used to be impossible. University of Otago molecular geneticist Bruce Robertson has been helping work out solutions to these problems, using DNA finger-printing, molecular markers and other techniques.

Latest news on the kakapo breeding season: all eggs have now hatched, and there are currently 33 chicks. Twenty of these are being hand-reared as the rimu fruit has failed to ripen and many kakapo mums are struggling to feed their chicks.