Originally posted on Quartz:
Investigators from a Dutch-led team say they have found fragments that may belong to a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile system at the site of the MH17 plane crash in Eastern Ukraine.
The evidence could offer a clue at who was behind the crash, though the prosecutors say they still cannot prove a “causal connection.” It is widely believed that the Boeing 777 was downed by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine, although Russia has repeatedly denied claims of any involvement. Last month, the country vetoed a UN resolution to set up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the crash.
The Malaysian Air flight, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board, most of them Dutch citizens, including 80 children.
An interim report last year by the investigators said that the plane was hit by “high-energy objects,” but the current findings…
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El Niño has arrived, it’s getting stronger, and it’s not about to go away soon. And already there are rumblings that this could be a big one. El Niño in Australia means warmer temperatures, and sometimes, but not always, drier conditions.
In 2014, some climatologists thought a big El Niño might have been on the cards. Ultimately, after some vigorous early warming in the Pacific, conditions only touched on El Niño thresholds. This year, with an event already established, climatologists are suggesting the odds are rising of an El Niño rivalling the record events of 1982 and 1997.
So what’s all the fuss about, and how are conditions different from last year?
El Niño events are identified by equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures. At the ocean surface, an El Niño is when these are sustained at about 0.8°C warmer than average. As we speak, temperature anomalies are exceeding twice that value.
In fact, we have just experienced twelve consecutive weeks with temperatures more than 1°C above average in all five of the key El Niño monitoring areas. The record was previously held by the 1997 El Niño, when this widespread warming lasted eight consecutive weeks.
But no two El Nino’s are exactly the same. Despite this warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean, in the Indian Ocean temperatures are far warmer than they were in 1997 (or 1982), which may mean different impacts for Australia. But more about that later.
When sea surface temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific get warm enough, the atmospheric circulation shifts and the usually strong trade winds reduce, sometimes even reversing.
The direct consequence of the changing wind pattern is that the sea level in the western equatorial Pacific is no longer “piled up” by the trade winds. Low sea levels north of New Guinea (shown boxed) are strongly correlated with Nino3.4, which is the index that relates best to Australian climate.
At the peak (December) of the 1997 El Niño, the sea level in the western Pacific dropped nearly 30 cm. It is only August and already the sea level is nearly 25 cm below normal to the north of Australia.
Likewise, in the eastern Pacific, sea levels have risen by similar amounts as the weakened trades allow water to shift east. This half-metre difference in the normal sea level between the east and west is a classic strong El Niño signature.
A drop in sea level often means less water flows past Indonesia and down Australia’s west coast — weakening the Leeuwin Current and reducing the likelihood of coral bleaching in Western Australia.
Climate forecast centres around the world are keenly monitoring the development of this year’s El Niño. Why? Because for some time, all the top dynamical (i.e., physics based) climate models have agreed that there is more warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean to come.
The current (late July) average forecast is for continued warming peaking at a Niño 3.4 value of +2.7°C by December. Such a value would put 2015 alongside the big El Niño events in 1982 (+2.8°C) and 1997 (+2.7°C).
Reinforcement by the atmosphere is an essential part of El Niño development – as you can see in our Understanding ENSO video.
Last year the ocean began generating an El Niño but the atmosphere wouldn’t come to the party. This year the atmosphere is clearly responding.
Two exceptionally large westerly wind events have already occurred in the western equatorial Pacific this year, giving this El Niño a significant boost. Another wind event is forecast for August to kick the system along even further and add to the strength of this El Niño.
Of the 26 El Niño events since 1900, 17 have brought widespread drought to Australia. In the big El Niño of 1982, drought devastated the eastern half of Australia and drove the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires.
In contrast, the even stronger El Niño of 1997–98 brought more localised drought, with key rains in May and September meaning winter crops did reasonably well in most areas. Other years, such as 2002 and 1996, when weaker El Niño’s occurred, the drought was more severe.
For Australia, it’s not the size of El Niño that matters, it’s how it interacts with other rainfall drivers – such as sea surface temperatures around the continent and in the Indian and Southern Oceans, as well as random ‘weather noise’ – that governs the eventual rainfall over the continent.
A significant El Niño event is currently underway, and there’s a chance it could rival the big events of 1982 and 1997. While this may increase the chance of drought and higher temperatures in eastern Australia, many other factors influence potential impacts.
We are already seeing that in the August–October Bureau of Meteorology seasonal outlooks, with the warmest June ocean temperatures on record in the southern Indian Ocean keeping the strengthening El Niño at bay by putting more moisture into the mid-levels of the atmosphere and changing weather patterns.
So what’s the final 2015 El Niño prediction?
The 2015 El Niño is already significant, and a big El Niño certainly remains a possibility. Widespread strong impacts haven’t (yet) raised their head for Australia and indeed, such as in 1997, may never do.
But managing El Niño is all about managing risk. The southern spring is the time when dry weather, frosts and heatwaves can hurt farmers and many others the most. And that’s when El Niño events, which raise the odds of these impacts, like to bite hardest.
The authors will be one hand for an Author Q&A between 12:30pm and 1:30 pm on Tuesday, August 11. Post your questions in the comments section below.
Originally posted on TIME:
Vegemite—the seemingly innocent, salty spread that elicits both patriotic worship and vitriolic hatred in the food’s native Australia—might be being used to make moonshine. The situation is so bad that Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion called the food a “precursor to misery.”
Scullion recommended that the Australian government restrict Vegemite sales because its base—brewer’s yeast—was being used in bulk to make moonshine, according to the BBC.
Vegemite is a a dark brown paste made from brewer’s yeast, vegetables, and spice additives often used on top of toast. It’s nutritiously dense and affordable, with a rich, smoky flavor that’s often described as “umami.”
Many Australian indigenous communities face high addiction rates, and booze is banned in these communities to combat alcoholism. “Our priority has always been to get kids to school, make communities safer and get people into jobs. Businesses in these communities … have a responsibility to report any…
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Originally posted on TIME:
(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Malaysia’s assertion that more debris potentially linked to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had washed up on an Indian Ocean island prompted puzzlement from French officials, adding to criticisms that the international response to one of the most famous aviation mysteries of all time is suffering from an exasperating lack of cohesion.
Ever since the Boeing 777 vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, Malaysian officials have been accused of jumping the gun, giving inaccurate statements and withholding information from families and other countries involved in the investigation.
On Thursday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement that a wing fragment found on a French island had been definitively linked to Flight 370 prompted cautious responses from French, U.S. and Australian officials involved in the probe, who would say only that it was likely or probable the part came from the…
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Originally posted on TIME:
On Friday, a group of French officials boarded a 12-hour flight to Paris from Réunion, a volcanic island and French territory in the southwest Indian Ocean. With them was a 9-ft.-by-3-ft. piece of flotsam many believe is a wing-flap from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
It was the unremarkable final stretch on what may turn out to be the wing-flap’s remarkable journey—if indeed it is a wing-flap, and if it turns out to have actually come from MH370. Sources in Boeing have told CNN they are ”confident” the flotsam was part of a Boeing 777, and experts have little doubt the part came from the doomed jetliner. That would mean this debris could have been drifting on ocean currents for more than 500 days for some 2,500 miles, or the equivalent to driving…
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Has Q&A put some spell of madness over the government and their media mates?
A straightforward case of the public broadcaster making a mistake (in my view), acknowledging it and getting a blast from critics has turned into a Coalition and News Corp feeding frenzy that is nothing short of absurd.
In the latest developments on Tuesday:
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the government leadership team decided before parliament rose to boycott Q&A. This group includes Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was, however, surprised and angry when Tony Abbott told him on Sunday he could not appear on Monday’s program. Joyce was present at the meeting; Truss said that “maybe he hadn’t interpreted the decision the way others had”. Joyce, now not commenting, has been made to look bad by both Abbott and his own party leader.
Neither Malcolm Turnbull’s office nor Abbott’s office could or would say whether Turnbull will be a panellist, as scheduled, next week.
Abbott refused to answer questions on Turnbull’s appearance or non-appearance, declaring that “what I’m not going to do is give further advertisement to a program which was, frankly, right over the top”.
Could Abbott have been oblivious to the irony? He and the government – together with News Corp – have been giving massive publicity to the program. They are all going “over the top”. This is an exercise in obsessive behaviour and attempted bullying.
News Corp is driven by ideological and commercial considerations.
Abbott is driven by – what exactly? Deep tribalism: the belief that the ABC is “them” – defined by the Prime Minister’s Office as anyone who is not “us”. A desire to talk up national security on every occasion. A wish to play to those in the backbench and the conservative base who see the ABC as an enemy.
But surely even Abbott sees the ridiculousness of the situation into which he has put himself and the government.
The ABC is on the whole a very respected institution. There is little broad political gain in taking a battering ram to it, although that racks up brownie points with News Corp and some in the Liberal right.
An Essential poll, published on Tuesday, found most people either thought the ABC was not biased to the left or the right (36%) or didn’t have an opinion (40%); 22% believed it was biased to the left and 3% to the right. People’s perceptions are correlated with how they vote. This poll comes after sustained pillorying.
Monday’s Q&A had no government representative after Joyce pulled out. Abbott might have hoped his friend Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian, would be a helpful voice. But Sheridan roundly criticised the ban and also the government’s legislation, which Labor supported, that will stifle criticisms from professionals such as doctors working on Nauru and Manus Island.
Abbott is now on sticky fly paper with the ban. If he retreats, it’s embarrassing. If he persists, ministers will be unhappy and the government will stay unrepresented on the program. Turnbull’s position must be clarified soon, unless he is willing to tolerate for days an intolerable personal situation.
Asked how long ministers would not be appearing Truss said, “well, essentially we’re expecting the ABC to demonstrate that it’s learnt from this error of judgement, and that the program will be better run in the future”. Balance was needed in audience and panels and the subject matter should “not essentially be catering to one sector of the audience”.
Obviously the ABC is in a special position in relation to “balance”, because it is the public, taxpayer-funded broadcaster. Privately owned media outlets have the right to be “unbalanced”. But it would be heartening to hear leading figures in the government, just once in a while, speak as though “balance” was a journalistic virtue to be pursued more widely.
Abbott is now impatient for the review of Q&A that the ABC has commissioned from journalist Ray Martin and former SBS managing director Shaun Brown. He linked the quashing of Joyce’s appearance to the inquiry being underway.
The review will take quite a while to be finished. If Abbott lifted the ban for Turnbull he would not have the hook of a completed review – so how would he square this with his decision on Joyce? If he insisted Turnbull not appear, this would further worsen relations between them.
On Tuesday, Martin described Abbott’s ban as silly, and observed: “It’s clearly a political issue at the moment in terms of terror. I think we’ve already started looking towards the next election.”
Martin also defended Q&A host Tony Jones. “I suspect that Tony Jones was just as tough on the Labor government as he has been on the Coalition.”
Needless to say, Martin’s comments – ahead of the review – just give more fodder to critics of the ABC.
But like everything else, they help ensure Q&A doesn’t really need promos anymore.
Frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has fired a salvo in one of the most electorally important battles for Bill Shorten at the coming ALP national conference – whether a Labor government should turn back boats.
Fitzgibbon, a former defence minister, predicted that turnbacks would be part of Labor’s policy for the election. “Let’s have the debate at national conference. I believe that will be the outcome,” he said.
Fitzgibbon’s view represents that of the NSW right, of which he is a member, but the issue is difficult for Shorten and the conference.
It is one about which many ALP members feel passionately; the national conference make-up between right and left is closer and more uncertain than usual; and Labor at the last election was highly critical of the Coalition’s policy.
Shorten is already in a tricky position. When immigration spokesman Richard Marles last year signalled Labor might embrace turnbacks, Shorten slapped him down, saying “the case has not been made out for change”.
But there is a growing feeling in the parliamentary party that Labor needs to alter its policy.
If the conference said an ALP government should not turn back boats, it would be handing the Liberals a big weapon for the election. Together with the tough offshore processing regime, turnbacks have been regarded as important in stopping the people smuggling trade.
The parliamentary party is, in theory, bound by what conference decides, although in practice the MPs have exercised considerable flexibility.
The draft platform for the July conference is silent on turnbacks.
The Labor for Refugees group is gearing up for a strong fight at the conference.
Its national co-convenor Robin Rothfield told The Conversation on Sunday that an amendment on turnbacks was being prepared based on ACTU policy.
Rothfield said the proposed amendment would go to a meeting of the national left in Sydney at the coming weekend.
It reads: “Labor rejects other policies of ‘deterrence’ implemented alongside offshore detention, especially intercepting and turning back boats at sea, or transferring refugees to other vessels for immediate return to their countries of origin without a proper assessment of their claims for protection.
“Such policies needlessly put both asylum seekers and seafarers in danger. Provisions in the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act 2014 which facilitate boat turnbacks and give the Immigration Minister the power to secretly suspend the application of Australian Maritime Law and International Maritime Conventions to any vessel must be repealed.”
Fitzgibbon told Sky a range of tools was needed to ensure the flow of boats did not resume and “one of those tools currently is boat turnbacks”.
“Personally I can’t see that there’s an overwhelming argument that turnbacks isn’t an important part of the tool kit.” Fitzgibbon said there was a universal commitment within shadow cabinet to ensuring the asylum seeker flows did not begin again.
The ALP’s incoming national president, Mark Butler, from the left, said that Labor was “committed to making sure the boat passageway between Java and Australia remains closed”.
Pressed on whether he thought that turnbacks should be part of Labor’s policy, Butler told reporters that one of the concerns Australians had with this policy area was “the government’s obsession with secrecy, particularly their obsession with secrecy they have around the turnbacks operations they have in place.
“Particularly around questions involving safety at sea, for everyone involved including Navy personnel, but also the impact on relations with our important neighbour, Indonesia.”
The government is already preparing its counter if Labor does say it will turn back boats. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was out on Sunday declaring that Labor in government would not follow through with action.
Postscript: Mirabella on the march
Former Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella on Sunday won preselection for her old seat of Indi, making the Victorian electorate one of the most interesting contests to come. In 2013, Mirabella lost what had been a safe Liberal seat to independent Cathy McGowan, who ran a campaign based on localism.
Mirabella, who would have been a cabinet minister in the Abbott government, had ignored the signs over years of an eroding vote. Bidding for preselection, she admitted she had spent too much time away from her home patch. “Clearly, I got the balance wrong,” she wrote to preselectors. But some Liberals believe she could be a drag on the party’s vote because of her previous record.
The Nationals have indicated they will also run a candidate. Their strategy has been to position themselves, if McGowan held the seat, to mount a strong bid for it on her likely retirement after another term.