Project update – April 2020

So much in the world has changed since our last Ginninderra Project Update in late 2019. The word ‘unprecedented’ has appeared numerous times in 2020 as we have seen one crisis or natural disaster after another.

Following hot and dry conditions in spring and summer, the ACT region, like many parts of the country, experienced large-scale bushfires and hazardous air quality from bushfire smoke.

A destructive hailstorm swept through Canberra in late January and was followed by heavy rains and then COVID-19. As we have reported in recent articles on this site, CSIRO has been in the midst of research efforts to respond to and address such challenges.

CSIRO’s Ginninderra property has emerged from the summer in good condition and the vegetation and community shrub plantings are benefitting from more than 250mm of rain in the two months since early February.

With the opening of the Boorowa Agricultural Research Station in November 2019, most of our Agriculture and Food research has now moved from Ginninderra and work is continuing to prepare for future sustainable urban development alongside ongoing ecological conservation and restoration.

Towards these goals, our Project Team has been progressing preliminary urban and statutory planning, as well as environmental, geotechnical, infrastructure demand, traffic and heritage studies, and liaising with the relevant Commonwealth and ACT agencies.  CSIRO is committed to carrying out the due diligence and technical studies ahead of the next steps to procure future development arrangements.

Ecological research and management is also continuing including a range of projects in the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands and Derived Native Grasslands. The next round of biennial autumn burns in the grassland restoration trials are due to go ahead in May as long as the conditions are suitable and all approvals are in place. This project is a partnership with the Ginninderra Catchment Group and includes five trial sites at CSIRO Ginninderra.

We look forward to reporting further on these activities over the coming months.

Shaping a resilient Australia

With drought, bushfires, storms, and COVID-19, the start to 2020 has underlined some of the many challenges facing Australia and the world.

As the national science agency, CSIRO is addressing such challenges through innovative science and technology. At a time when Australia and the world needs solutions, our scientists are taking up these challenges, on many fronts.

Dubbed by some as the ‘Black Summer’, the widespread bushfires of 2019-2020 ravaged more than 18 million hectares across Australia (double the area of countries like Austria and Hungary), destroying close to 3000 homes, killing at least 34 people, and an untold number of domestic and native animals.

Smoke generated by the fires covered large tracts of Australia, reaching New Zealand, and globally as far as Chile and Argentina. On some days, the amassed smoke saw Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney record air quality on some days the most hazardous among major cities of the world, ahead of New Delhi, Mumbai and Beijing. CSIRO scientist and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, Dr. Pep Canadell, estimated that the Australian bushfires essentially doubled Australia’s total carbon emissions for 2019, including those from man-made sources, with a similar effect on carbon emissions expected from the bushfires in early 2020.

In late January, CSIRO welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of our role, together with collaborators, to deliver recommendations for practical measures to manage and protect homes, our environment, industries and infrastructure, in the face of bushfires and climate change.  In carrying out this role, CSIRO is drawing on its 70-year history of bushfire research across multiple fields of science including land management, building and materials design, fire protection and testing, bushfire behaviour and biodiversity management.

While many fires were still burning in January, a severe hailstorm impacted cars, houses and major city infrastructure in Canberra with moe than 30,000 insurance claims lodged. Sixty-five glasshouses at CSIRO’s Black Mountain headquarters were destroyed, the research being conducted in these facilities was also lost. Similar hailstorms and floods affected many locations across the country.

As part of the Canberra hail recovery effort, CSIRO is looking at more resilient glasshouses and building materials as well as the opportunities to share facilities with like-minded organisations and potentially utilise the vacated polytunnels at CSIRO Ginninderra, so our plant research can continue.

As the smoke, hail and fires cleared, the COVID-19 spread to the level of a global pandemic and has dominated news, government and community focus since then. CSIRO is working on several fronts as part of the global research effort to address this pandemic and to find a vaccine as covered in our article: CSIRO on the frontline for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The year to date has underscored the 21st century challenges confronting nations, cities and communities.  Science and innovation across many different fields is needed to help us navigate towards a more liveable, sustainable and resilient future. CSIRO teams are working closely with a wide range of industry partners and collaborators to rise to the challenge to develop more resilient cities and infrastructure and to help ‘future proof’ our communities.

CSIRO’s Future Cities initiative is a key example of how CSIRO can drive integrated solutions by bringing together science and innovation from fields such as Land and Water, Agriculture and Food, Data Science, Energy, Health and Biosecurity, Manufacturing, Mineral Resources and Oceans and Atmosphere.

In future articles we’ll look more closely at CSIRO’s Future Cities.

Image of smoke from bushfires coming off landscape Fire burning trees across Australian landscape at night
Scientist standing in front of shattered research glasshouses Large hailstones piled up against the wall
Scientist working in laboratory COVID-19 virus cell close up

Smoke, bushfires, hailstorms, and the Coronavirus – CSIRO researchers are in the midst of efforts to build resilience and shape the future.

CSIRO on the frontline for a COVID-19 vaccine

Science and innovation has a massive role to play in fighting the COVID-19 Coronavirus and in solving the challenges of the 21st century. As the national science agency, CSIRO is rising to the challenge.

The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic is emerging as the most significant, health, human and economic challenge that Australia and the global community have faced in recent history. As the cases of infection and human toll continues to mount across the world, CSIRO scientists are in the frontline of the global effort to find solutions.

CSIRO has just announced that it is starting the first stage testing of potential vaccines for COVID-19 at CSIRO’s high-containment biosecurity facility, The Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) at Geelong.

CSIRO is testing COVID-19 vaccine candidates for efficacy, but also evaluating the best way to give the vaccine for better protection, including an intra-muscular injection and innovative approaches like a nasal spray.

“Beginning vaccine candidate testing at CSIRO is a critical milestone in the fight against COVID-19, made possible by collaboration both within Australia and across the globe,” according to CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Larry Marshall.

“CSIRO researchers are working around-the-clock to combat this disease which is affecting so many.  Whether it’s at ACDP or at our state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility, we will keep working until this viral enemy is defeated,” Dr Marshall said.

The latest milestone builds on CSIRO’s growing work to tackle COVID-19, which has included scaling up other potential vaccine candidates at its biologics production facility in Melbourne.

CSIRO has a long history of developing and testing vaccines since the opening of The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in 1985. The Australian Government announced on April 4 that AAHL was renamed The Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness and would receive a $220 million upgrade.  This high containment facility helps protect Australia’s multi-billion dollar livestock and aquaculture industries, and the general public, from emerging infectious disease threats.

To prepare for such outbreaks, last year CSIRO partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global group that aims to derail epidemics by speeding up the development of vaccines.

In January, CEPI engaged CSIRO to start working on the virus SARS CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. In consultation with the World Health Organisation, CEPI has identified vaccine candidates from The University of Oxford (UK) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (US) to undergo the first pre-clinical trials at CSIRO, with further candidates likely to follow.

CSIRO’s COVID-19 research to date includes:

CSIRO’s COVID-19 work is a key way we are applying science to help solve the greatest challenges.

The Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness is CSIRO’s high-containment biosecurity facility based in Geelong
Scientists at CSIRO’s ACDP will carry out the first stage testing of potential vaccines for COVID-19