Newsletter Digest: Neanderthals, mining, NIWA vs Hide and the XT failure

Discover your inner Neanderthal

neanderthal imageScientists now have a “rough draft” for the genetic make-up of Neanderthals after sequencing 60 per cent of the Neanderthal genome.

One of the first discoveries of the research, published in Science today: 1 – 4 per cent of the DNA in the genomes of people from Eurasia and the southwestern Pacific were inherited from Neanderthals. However, Neanderthal-derived genes failed to show up in African genomes.

The researchers suggest modern humans interbred with Neanderthals 50,000 – 80,000 years ago, possibly in the Middle East or North Africa as humans were migrating out of Africa. Neanderthals disappeared from the fossil record around 30,000 years ago.

The highly-anticipated research is the work of the Neanderthal Genome Project at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

The scientists conclude in the paper: “The analysis of the Neanderthal
genome shows that they are likely to have had a role in the genetic ancestry of present-day humans outside of Africa, although this role was relatively minor given that only a few percent of the genomes of present-day people outside Africa are derived from Neanderthals”.

Experts: Many unknowns on mining

Scientists on a panel convened by the Science Media Centre this week examined the controversial issue of mining on the conservation estate and whether the economic benefit of mining would outweigh the environmental  impacts.

Among those fielding questions from journalists was University of Otago mining expert, Dr Dave Craw, who said hopes that mining would represent a short-term economic boost to the economy were unrealistic:

“Mining is a long-term industry, it’s not a quick fix. Getting a mine started can take 10 years, especially if it’s on conservation land. It’s unlikely we would have any mines other than coal or gold starting up in the next 10 years. The other commodities that get talked about in other parts of the conservation estate, I think it’s more like 50 or 100 years,” he told the conference.

You can listen back to the audio of the conference here and registered journalists can log into the SMC Resource Library to access the detailed slides from the briefing, including some images of the environmental impacts of mining provided by Monash University’s Dr Gavin Mudd.

Public submissions on the Schedule 4 stocktake were initially due to close on 4 May, but have just been granted a 3-week extension while the government consults with iwi and other stakeholders. Over 14,000 submissions have been lodged so far.

NIWA defends its climate scientists

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research answered its chief critic, ACT Party leader Rodney Hide yesterday with a public statement defending the integrity of its climate science.

The statement follows a period of sustained scrutiny of NIWA’s climate records. NIWA’s chief climate scientist Dr David Wratt said: “There are many lines of evidence which point to New Zealand’s climate warming. This evidence includes land-based measurements, ship-based measurements, and shrinking glaciers.”

NIWA has published its ‘seven station’ temperature data on its website, which it says shows “…over the past 100 years (1909 to 2008)… NZ’s average annual temperature has increased by 0.9°C”. The data has been adjusted because, says NIWA “no single location has temperature records spanning from the 19th century to the present day”.

Those adjustments have been a bone of contention with NIWA’s critics. NIWA has also posted on its site details of unadjusted temperature records from 11 stations. The CRI said it has a “project underway to further document the 7-station series” and will post that information to its website too.

Scientists call for end to McCarthy-like threats

Meanwhile, 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences have added their name to an open letter published this week in Science and newspapers around the world defending the integrity of climate science in the wake of the climategate scandal and subsequent investigations that have cleared the scientists of wrongdoing.

The letter text is available in full here. It notes: “We also call for an end to McCarthy- like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.

“Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.”

XT failure: Network wasn’t ready

An independent report commissioned by Telecom to look at the outages on its mobile network has concluded that the company’s network was “not ready to effectively handle the large amounts of traffic the network experienced through the successful acquisition of XT customers and the migration of Telecom’s CDMA customers to the XT network”.

The outages saw XT customers south of Taupo lose service on multiple occasions as a radio network controller in Christchurch failed.

The report, from UK analyst firm Analysys Mason, is available here.