RMIT researchers are joining forces with Australian citizen scientists to counter the economic and health costs of heatwaves, and assess the environmental effects of sunscreen on marine life.
The two research projects valued at more than $600,000 are among 13 funded by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science “Citizen Science Grants”.
In the first project, which has been awarded $355,000, Associate Professor Priyadarsini Rajagopalan and colleagues will work with 12,200 people nationally to design systems that measure “urban heat islands”, overheating and local climate changes in our cities.
Heatwaves are becoming more frequent, can cost the economy billions and result in more visits to the doctor, increased hospital admissions and ultimately, loss of life. Cities are particularly vulnerable.
As part of the two-year study, citizen scientists will use portable wireless sensors to measure temperature, humidity, wind speed and solar radiation in 2200 areas across 22 councils in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Canberra, Darwin and Perth.
Rajagopalan said: “The number of extreme hot days is predicted to increase significantly over the next few decades in all Australian cities with a huge impact on public health, mortality rates, energy demand and the economy.”
By collecting data and participating in the study people will be empowered to respond to extreme heat by understanding influential factors.
“This project will provide the data required for citizens to understand, mitigate and adapt to extreme heat. It will also provide crucial information policy-makers need to predict future health and energy needs and to plan the urban built-environment and open spaces,” Rajagopalan said.
Associate Professor Priyadarsini Rajagopalan will work with a team from the Sustainable Building Innovation Lab at RMIT, and Professor Mat Santamouris and team from the High Performance Architecture centre at the University of New South Wales to complete the study.
The second project, worth $250,000, is led by Distinguished Professor Andy Ball and Dr Sarvesh Soni. It will examine the environmental impact of sunscreens on Port Phillip Bay.
Working with the Port Phillip EcoCentre, citizen scientists will collect more than 3400 water samples over three years to determine for the first time whether sunscreen is negatively affecting marine health and ecology.
Nanoparticles, or microscopic metals, commonly found in sunscreen could potentially poison marine environments and harm sea-life embryos.
“This project will assess the impact of sunscreens by measuring the presence of metal nanoparticles found in sunscreen, which are washed off into the water and subsequently interact with unique marine ecosystems,” Soni said.
“Most Victorians use sunscreen and many visit iconic beaches such as St Kilda and Middle Park. However, its effects on the marine environment have yet to be fully explored, and awareness of these effects is low among the general community.”
The samples will be analysed for potential contaminants at RMIT using advanced analytical instruments and eco-nano-toxicological assessment, leading to a comprehensive data set.
“This data set and inputs from participants involved in the study will help develop a policy paper that will advise various stakeholders, including federal authorities, on how to deal with this potential threat to our marine life,” Soni said.
The 2017 Citizen Science Grants were announced by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos AO, and worth a total of $4.4 million.
“The grants aim to mobilise a league of enthusiastic citizen scientists to assist Australia’s leading universities and scientific organisations with their research,” Sinodinos said.
Story: James Giggacher