Oceania happenings: Australia, New Zealand, etc - misc (geographical hobbies)

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Australia state report says quarantine bungled

INTRO: An Australian state government leader on Monday apologized for a bungled hotel quarantine program that led to most of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths. A retired judge who investigated Victoria state’s quarantine program for returned travelers criticized the use of private security guards to enforce isolation in Melbourne hotels in May and June.

After the investigative report was released Monday, Victoria Premier Dan Andrews explained the quarantine system had been implemented quickly and without a pandemic rule book. “I want to apologize to the Victorian community for the very clear errors that were made in this program,” Andrews said.

The lax infection controls at two Melbourne quarantine hotels set off a wave of infections in Australia’s second-largest city while the rest of the country had been largely virus-free. Of Australia’s 908 deaths from COVID-19, 820 died in Victoria... (MORE - details)
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Vatican says $2.3 billion transferred to Australia 'like science fiction'

EXCERPTS: The Vatican and the Australian Catholic Church have both denied knowledge of transfers worth US$1.8 billion ($2.3 billion) which Australia's financial watchdog says have been sent from Rome to Australia in the past seven years. "That amount of money and that number of transfers did not leave the Vatican City," a senior Vatican official with knowledge of the city-state's finances said on Wednesday, local time.

[...] The figures were made public in December by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) in response to a parliamentary question by Australian Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and first reported by the newspaper The Australian. They involved about 47,000 separate transfers, according to AUSTRAC... (MORE - details)
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Modeling the Creation of Cratons, Earth’s Secret Keepers

INTRO: The continents, the solid blocks of land beneath our feet, weren’t always as strong as they’ve come to be. Now, scientists from Monash University in Australia have devised a new mechanism to explain how the roots of the continents—cratons—came to be. Using numerical models to simulate the conditions of Archean era Earth, the researchers’ findings, published in Nature, show that a strong base for the continents emerged from the melting and stretching of the cratonic lithospheric mantle.

Cratons form the base of continents and hold the title of the oldest existing portion of the lithosphere. They’re extremely thick and began to form up to 3 billion years ago, in the Archean eon. “They’re the secret keepers of the Earth,” said Catherine Cooper, an associate professor of geophysics in the School of the Environment at Washington State University in Pullman. Cooper was not involved in the new research. By studying cratons, scientists might learn how major components of Earth arose and how plate tectonics began. “If you can understand the role of the secret keepers within [Earth], then we can try to answer some of those questions better.”

Scientists can also use this knowledge to study other planets. “Because these processes are the creators of the continents, they are also the processes that create topography, that create an atmosphere,” said Fabio Capitanio, lead author of the new study and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Monash University’s School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment. “In principle, they are related to the way we understand life, evolution of planets.”

The fact that cratons are so thick and enduring poses a problem for scientists... (MORE - details)
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Cicada 'super year': the familiar sound of Australian summer is louder than usual

EXCERPTS: The buzz call of the cicada is a familiar sound of the Australian summer and this season is what David Emery calls a “super year for our summer chorusing friends”.

A veterinary immunologist at the University of Sydney and cicada expert, Emery has been monitoring the insects for decades and, along with many residents of coastal New South Wales and beyond, has registered that the volume is more ear-splitting than usual.

In NSW, Victoria and South Australia, more cicadas have emerged this summer than in recent years. Emery says one reason is the abundance of winter and summer rainfall Australia has received. “You often see a good emergence after drought and that may be due to plant regeneration and growth inspired by the rain,” Emery said. “After the fires, we see that regrowth as well.”

Australia is the cicada capital of the globe with more than 700 species, many of which are yet to be described. Most of a cicada’s lifespan is spent underground, which Emery says is likely another reason the invertebrates are more abundant in some years than others.

[...] Many common Australian cicadas spend about six or seven years underground and when they emerge live for only a few weeks. ... The reason Australians can hear the call of cicadas for months is because different species emerge at different times... (MORE - details)

Australian DNA detectives reveal secrets of Game of Thrones wolves

EXCERPTS: Massive dire wolves prowl through the icy north of Westeros, in George R.R. Martin’s epic "Game of Thrones". The near mythical creatures are the Stark family sigil in the epic saga, with five orphaned pups becoming deeply bonded with Ned Stark’s five children.

It’s the stuff of legends – but hundreds of thousands of years before becoming a pop culture icon, dire wolves were formidable ice age predators. [...] Research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature challenges existing knowledge about the dire wolf and offers answers to the puzzling question of why this apex predator died out when other smaller American Pleistocene era wolves and coyotes survived to modern day.

Scientists previously thought dire wolves (canis dirus) were essentially a "beefed-up version" of the common grey wolf species (canis lupus); closely related and likely able to interbreed. But the world’s first DNA investigation of partly fossilised dire wolf remains revealed they are "more like distant cousins, like humans and chimpanzees," said Kieren Mitchell, co-lead author from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA... (MORE - details)

Mental health disorders linked to deadly physical illness, new study shows

EXCERPTS: Mental disorders early in life can lead to deadly physical illnesses including cancer, strokes and heart disease, a new study has found. Researchers from the University of Auckland, the University of Michigan and Duke University in the US examined hospital records of close to 2.3 million New Zealanders, all born between 1928 and 1978.

They analysed 30 years of each person's hospital records. The study found that people admitted to hospital for a mental disorder had increased risk of dying within the 30-year period, regardless of whether they had also been in hospital for their physical health.

[...] One of the study's authors, Associate Professor Barry Milne from University of Auckland social research centre COMPASS, said the link could be down to health behaviours of people with mental disorders such as smoking, exercise and diet, or it could be that people with a mental health condition may not be getting as good healthcare as they should. "Or there's a whole range of specific mechanisms, such as mood disorders leading to stress and inflammation, neuritis might lead to high blood pressure."

Regardless he said it supported the need to screen all patients presenting with mental disorders for symptoms of chronic physical illnesses. "This suggests the importance of joined-up healthcare services, for example, embedding physical health screening and prevention into mental health treatment."

Milne said he expected to find a link between poor mental health and chronic physical conditions but he was surprised to see how consistent the findings were across all mental health conditions... (MORE - details)

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