Newsletter Digest: US science delegation visit, Himalayan glaciers and NZ publishing flurry

Clinton’s science advisor jets in

Expect New Zealand’s unease with genetic modification and options for alternative energy production to be in the spotlight next week as the Government hosts a high-powered series of science workshops featuring key officials from the US Government.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have postponed her New Zealand visit scheduled for this week to respond to the earthquake in Haiti, but her science and technology advisor Dr Nina Fedoroff will be here next week for some high-level discussions and a public lecture.

The molecular biologist from Pennsylvania State University is an expert in the genetic modification of plants and will discuss the subject in front of a New Zealand audience in the context of ensuring food supply as the world faces the prospect of having to feed an additional 3 billion people by 2050.

Also on the agenda during the visit of the US science delegation will be bioenergy technologies, with Dr Steven Koonin, Under Secretary of Science at the US Department of Energy accompanying Fedoroff. Other themes to be explored in six workshops taking place around the country include: agriculture and food innovation, climate and the Pacific, and Antarctic science.

The meetings are part of the New Zealand-United States Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) on Science and Technology Cooperation which is held every two years. Contact Tane Aikman at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology for further details.

IPCC’s Himalayan glacier meltdown

It has been a rough week for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as it was forced to admit a claim in its seminal 2007 4th Assessment report on the expected rate of glacier melt in the Himalayas came from a New Scientist article rather than a peer-reviewed source.

Critics of the IPCC have had a field day over the revelation, but scientists say the sloppy work in the subsection of the report doesn’t alter the fact that glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate due to anthropogenic climate change. Victoria University glaciologist Dr Andrew Mackintosh gave his take on the Himalayan glacier situation here.

Elsewhere, a group of scientists wrote to Science outlining the flaws in the IPCC report. And the journal Nature outlined the key areas of dispute in climate science as calls strengthen for the scientific community to act swiftly to restore the reputation of climate science after climategate and the Himalayan glacier debacle.

Publishing flurry to start the year

Scientists have had a busy start to the year when it comes to publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals and more cutting-edge New Zealand science is scheduled to appear in international journals in the coming weeks.

Agresearch announced last week details of research published in the journal PLoS that may pave the way for a “pharmacological treatment for hypertension and for heart rate control during surgery”.

The research involved Agresarch, Victoria University and a US-based scientist.

Former University of Auckland researcher Professor Scott Baker had his Marsden Fund-sponsored research on the health of minke whale populations published in Molecular Ecology last week.

The research attracted international attention, topical at the moment given the clashes between anti-whaling protestors and Japanese whalers in waters south of Australia and New Zealand.