Hot Topic shortlisted for Royal Society of NZ science book prize

I am very pleased(*) to report that Hot Topic has been shortlisted as one of five finalists for the first Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize. The competition’s stiff. HT is up against four extremely good books: The Awa Book of New Zealand Science, edited by Rebecca Priestley (Awa Press), Falling for Science, by Bernard Beckett (Longacre Press), In Search of Ancient New Zealand, by Hamish Campbell and Gerard Hutching (Penguin), and Wetlands of New Zealand: A Bitter-sweet Story by Janet Hunt (Random House). More details here. It’s a great honour to be shortlisted, and not just because the prize is worth $10,000… The winner will be announced by Richard Dawkins (via a video link) on May 15th in a special event at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I wonder if I’ll have the chance to draw his attention to the error about truffles in The Ancestors Tale… 😉

[* – Something of an understatement.]

8 thoughts on “Hot Topic shortlisted for Royal Society of NZ science book prize”

  1. Congrats!

    OT, Katey Walter is just back from a late winter survey of the Arctic and is officially shocked:

    ‘But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. “Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It’s unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing.”‘

    Other key points re the permafrost:

    ‘Schuur estimates that 100 billion tonnes of this carbon could be released by thawing this century, based on standard scenarios. If that all emerged in the form of methane, it would have a warming effect equivalent to 270 years of carbon dioxide emissions at current levels. “It’s a kind of slow-motion time bomb,” he says.’


    ‘Higher temperatures mean the seasonal melting of the upper layer of soil extends down deeper than normal, melting the permafrost below. Microbes can then break down any organic matter in the thawing layer, not only releasing carbon but also generating heat that leads to even deeper melting. The heat produced by decomposition is yet another positive feedback that will accelerate melting, Ciais says.

    ‘What’s more, if summer melting depth exceeds the winter refreezing level then a layer of permanently unfrozen soil known as a talik forms, sandwiched between the permafrost below and the winter-freezing surface layer. “A talik allows heat to build more quickly in the soil, hastening the long-term thaw of permafrost,” says Lawrence.


    ‘Put together, the latest research paints a disturbing picture. Since existing models do not include feedback effects such as the heat generated by decomposition, the permafrost could melt far faster than generally thought. “Instead of disappearing in 500 years, the deepest permafrost could disappear in 100 years,” Ciais says.’

    Another model failure, it seems. I hadn’t been aware that taliks provide a means by which the bacteria can keep chugging away all winter long.

    The hydrates get a mention:

    ‘Juergen Mienert at the University of Tromso in Norway, who has analysed past eruptions of methane hydrates from the Arctic, says current conditions are disturbingly similar to those in the past when warming waters penetrated sediments, triggering the release of hydrates. “Global warming will cause more blowouts, more releases,” he says.’

    And finally, this implication of a THC weakened by Arctic fresh water is news to me:

    ‘Even a slowdown in the conveyor could produce dramatic changes, though. Climate models suggest that changes in the ocean conveyor will alter rainfall patterns around the world. The models are backed by studies of how the climate has changed during past shutdowns of the ocean conveyor.

    ‘The biggest consequence, says Buwen Dong of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading, UK, is likely to be a disruption, and quite probably a complete collapse, of the Asian monsoon, causing severe droughts in south Asia. “It could have enormous social and economic impacts on these nations,” he says.

    ‘You can say that again. The Asian monsoon is the main source of water for large areas of the most heavily populated continent. An estimated 2 billion – getting on for 1 in 3 citizens on the planet – rely on it to grow their food. Take away the monsoon and they would starve. All because of warming in the Arctic.

    ‘Nobody can be sure how likely all this is. Indeed, the scientists at the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who compile its reports cannot even reach agreement on how to quantify the probabilities of such events. As a result, the “scary scenarios” were barely mentioned in the last report.’

  2. Congrats – and good luck, Gareth. They all seem to be great books so it’s an honour to be amongst them.

    It’s great that the first list for this prize has such a good selection.

  3. Thanks Ken, fragment, and Laurence (though the latter should get his wallet out).

    Steve: thanks for the tip. Fred Pearce writes a powerful piece, doesn’t he? I have a post on methane in the works…

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