On this page:
- Strengthening forecasting systems in the Pacific
- University looks to upgrade science facility
- New knowledge about treating multiple sclerosis
25 February 2014
Ancient wisdom can be put to practical use when combined with modern weather forecasting tools, according to Victoria University of Wellington PhD candidate Roan Plotz.
Roan, a traditional ecological knowledge scientist for the Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac), is working with Pacific meteorological services on collating traditional weather and climate knowledge, verifying the information and using it to make seasonal forecasts more useful to Pacific Island communities.
The first step, says Roan, is to identify what local people use to predict what weather is coming and then monitor those traditional indicators to see if they correlate to actual weather patterns.
“In parts of the Pacific, for example, people believe there is a strong correlation with the amount of fruiting and how much rainfall will fall in the next season. This has been shown to be true,” says Roan.
The ultimate goal of the study, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is to bridge the gap between traditional indicators and scientific techniques to improve weather and climate forecasting abilities.
“The Pacific Islands are vulnerable to sea level rise and severe weather events and have always kept a close eye on the seasons,” says Roan.
“Many communities favour traditional ways—such as reading signs of nature, animals and plants—over scientific ways, partly due to lack of exposure to modern forecasting tools.”
After assessing traditional indicators, it is hoped that the Pacific Met Services will be better placed to inform their local communities about what should be monitored in order to help them better adapt to an increasingly variable climate.
“It’s much more relevant if we can tell people for a fact that monitoring a certain tree, or plant, or animal allows you to forecast as accurately as modern forecasting tools.”
Roan’s experience with indigenous knowledge had its origins in his PhD study of the tick bird and black rhinoceros relationship. With the support of the Centre of Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology at Victoria University, Roan explored the validity of the African tick bird’s indigenous name ‘The Rhino’s Guard’.
“Unknown at the time, my PhD research led to my current role in the Pacific. My training in ecological science at Victoria and field experiences in Africa gave me the foundation I needed.”
Roan submitted his PhD thesis last year and now works for the COSPPac program at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.
For more information contact Roan Plotz on +61 (3) 9669 4640 or email@example.com
12 February 2014
Victoria University is planning to spend up to $100 million on a School of Biological Sciences at its Kelburn campus.
The university has applied for resource consent for the new block to replace the school's substandard current home in the Kirk Building.
The proposed new school has been designed by architects Warren and Mahoney and the proposed location would be in front of the Alan MacDiarmid building at the top of Kelburn Pde.
The 12,000-square-metre four-storey building would provide teaching, research, laboratories and academic administration space.
Campus Services director Jenny Bentley said a financial feasibility study was being run alongside the resource consent process. It would need to be proven to be value for money before any final decision to proceed.
If it did go ahead, tenders were expected to be called before the middle of the year and approval would be sought from the Victoria University Council in June.
Construction was likely to start in late 2014 and should be completed by late 2017.
Once built, the university planned to start work on upgrading the nearby Kirk Building from early 2018 to early 2020.
The university told Wellington City Council that biological sciences was a key strategic research and teaching area and student numbers in this department were growing.
However, the Kirk Building, where the school is now based, was not fit for the purpose. It failed to meet the university's seismic rating or health and safety standards.
"The current condition of the building's laboratories and physical environment is considered to be a deterrent to staff recruitment and student retention," the university said.
4 February 2014
New information that could lead to improved treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) has been uncovered by Victoria University of Wellington scientists.
A study carried out at Victoria, and recently published online in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE, holds promise for patients suffering from secondary progressive MS, an advanced form of the disease, which causes nerve degeneration leading to impaired vision and coordination, and eventually, paralysis.
The study focused on understanding how a new MS drug, MIS416, developed by the New Zealand biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics, is able to help patients with secondary progressive MS, a form of MS with few effective treatments.
The team of scientists includes Dr Anne La Flamme, an Associate Professor in Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences and head of the MS Research Programme at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, PhD student Madeleine White, and Dr Gill Webster from Innate Immunotherapeutics.
“We know this drug works, but we are not sure why. This study has helped us understand the pathways that are driving the disease and how the medication alters the immune system, giving us a better idea of why MIS416 works as well as insight into how to treat patients and predict who will do better on this sort of medication,” says Dr La Flamme.
Most people believe MS revolves around T cells, says Dr La Flamme, but the Victoria study reveals that targeting other cells in the central nervous system can significantly reduce advanced forms of MS.