Environmental Science
articles by Will Kemp

Research proposal: Measuring root respiration to locate the growing tips of tree roots

1 Aims

The aim of this project is to assess the viability of using soil respiration measurements to locate the outer extent of tree roots. There is currently no non-invasive method for doing this. It also aims to add to the understanding of soil respiration and its relationship with tree roots. A further aim is to assess the tree protection zone defined in AS4970 (Protection of trees on development sites) and determine its adequacy.

2 Background and knowledge gaps

There has been a considerable amount of research conducted into soil respiration over two centuries, and numerous studies have attempted to isolate its components – which include respiration by roots and organisms in the rhizosphere (Luo & Zhou, 2006). Read the rest of this entry »

Cairns water – from the source to the sea


Cairns is a coastal city in tropical Far North Queensland. The local authority, Cairns Regional Council (CRC), serves an area of 4129 km2 and a population of approximately 165,000 – which has increased by 37,000 since 2002 (CRC, 2013). CRC owns and operates the town water supply systems in the urban parts of its area. Raw water is extracted from 15 locations and is stored in 76 reservoirs after treatment. The main population area – Cairns city and suburbs – is supplied from Copperlode Falls Dam and Behana Creek (CRC, n.d.).

Copperlode Dam has a capacity of 37GL and a maximum extraction flow of 123ML/day. Water extraction is entirely gravity fed (Reimann, D., pers. comm., July 23, 2013). The water from Copperlode Dam and Behana Creek is treated at CRC’s Tunnel Hill water treatment plant (CRC, n.d.). After treatment and supply to the reticulation system, water samples from a number of points is tested for quality once a week by CRC’s Water Testing Laboratory (Wuth, M., pers. comm, July 23 2013).

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Saddle mountain walking track

The Saddle Mountain walking track is between Smithfield and Kuranda, about 15km north of Cairns, in far north Queensland, Australia. Part of the route goes through the Kuranda National Park and part is through the Smithfield Conservation Park.

In their book “Tropical Walking Tracks”, Kym Dungey and Jane Whytlaw suggest that the best way to walk this track is to do it one way, starting at the Kuranda end and finishing at James Cook University. However, their route seems unsatisfactory to me – for several reasons. Firstly, a one-way walk requires complicated transport arrangements. Secondly, their route starts at a point on the Kuranda Range road which isn’t particularly easily accessible. And, thirdly, the end of the walk follows a route that’s used by downhill mountain bike riders and could be quite dangerous.

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Great Barrier Reef water quality


The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) stretches for more than 2000km (Bowen & Bowen, 2002). It consists of approximately 3000 individual reefs, covers an area of 345,000km2, and is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world (De’Ath et al., 2012). The GBR was listed as a World Heritage area in 1981 because of its “outstanding universal value”, which met all four of the World Heritage natural criteria, which were:

“to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

“to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features; Read the rest of this entry »



Terminalia are shrubs or trees of the Combretaceae family. There are approximately 200
species distributed thoughout the tropics globally, of which 29 species occur in Australia.
Most species are deciduous. Terminalia species usually have branches growing at a wide
angle to a central leader, growing sympodially, with leaves clustered at the ends of the
branchlets. This gives them a characteristic pagoda like appearance (Australian Biological
Resources Study (ABRS) 1990, Department of Land and Resource Management (DLRM)

Leaves are petiolate, arranged spirally, and often have glands and domatia. In common
with all other members of the Combretaceae family, leaves are simple, with margins entire,
and without stipules (ABRS 1990, DLRM 2012a).

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Science versus pseudoscience: near death experiences

Recent theories of modern physics predict that the universe has more dimensions than are apparent to us. Many near-death experiencers report the perception that there are more dimensions than we are commonly aware of. These two statements might be related.

Near death and out of body experiences are frequently reported by people who have undergone severe trauma and have come close to death. Descriptions of these experiences seem to be similar around the world and across different age groups – including young children (Bonilla, 2011). Near death experiences (NDEs) typically involve some combination of feelings of peace, looking down at the situation from above, being surrounded by brilliant white light, passing through a tunnel, encountering mysterious beings, dead family members or friends, and being given a choice of whether to stay or go back (Cole, 1993; Mann et al., 2001). These experiences are often interpreted as being religious or spiritual in nature, and as indicating the existence of an “afterlife” (Agrillo, 2011; Mann et al., 2001).

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What is science

I had to explain what science is in about 200 words for the “Science: Nature, Knowledge and Understanding” unit at James Cook Uni. This is exactly 200 words.

Science is a systematic approach to understanding existence in terms of provable observations. Because existence has such a vast scope, its study has split over time into a wide array of specialized fields. However, all branches of science share a common approach to developing an understanding of their area of interest.

Scientific practice is based on studying some aspect of existence, formulating a theory to explain a particular phenomenon, and then developing an experiment that proves the theory is correct (or incorrect) and which is reproducible by anyone else. Some research, such as experiments carried out by the Large Hadron Collider, cannot be reproduced by anyone without the necessary resources, but the data collected in those experiments can be made available for independent analysis.

As well as reproducibility, peer review is a fundamental element of scientific research. Publication of research papers in peer reviewed journals is the primary means of validating new research. The peer review process means only research that’s considered to be valid by other experts in that field will get published. Publication ensures the research is available to other scientists who can then try and prove or disprove the published hypotheses, and validate or invalidate experimental results.

Waste services in a small community

Wagait Shire council doesn’t provide a waste collection service – residents must take their own waste to the local dump (see earlier post). There are separate areas at the dump for different types of waste: a trench for putrescible and other general household waste, an area for green waste, some bins for recyclables, and an area for large, non-putrescible items like cars, furniture, building materials, etc.

The council has had bins for glass, plastic, and aluminium drink cans for about a year, because local residents wanted to be able to recycle. However, they have had no success in finding a way to dispose of the collected recyclables. Wagait Shire is 130km from Darwin and Darwin’s a very long way from anywhere where recyclable materials are processed, which means recycling is not really economically viable.

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Regional approaches to waste management

As outlined in the previous post, Wagait Shire is very small and has an extremely limited budget for waste disposal solutions. The council is effectively incapable of dealing with the community’s waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

The nearby Indigenous community of Belyuen (about 10km away) is a separate shire, with its own council and its own landfill site. Belyuen Shire’s population is even smaller than Wagait Shire’s, at around 250.

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Landfill gas and leachate control

Wagait Shire in the Northern Territory covers a small area, comprising a single community of approximately 350 residents on the north east coast of the Cox Peninsula, across the harbour from Darwin. As the population is so small, the shire council’s budget is severely restricted, limiting its options for managing waste disposal. The council provides no garbage collection and residents take their own garbage to the local dump, which is unsupervised apart from a low fence restricting dumping to the active part of the cell.

The community has no sewerage or reticulated water supply, but treated water is available from two large tanks which are operated by the NT Power and Water Authority and fed from bores situated a few kilometers away from the community and the dump.

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