Support materials only that illustrate some possible contexts for exploring Science as a Human Endeavour concepts in relation to Science Understanding content.
In October 2012, six seismologists were convicted of manslaughter for their role in the preparation of a risk report on the seismic activity in L’Aquila, Italy. They were members of a government risk-assessment committee established to investigate the possibility of a large scale earthquake in the L’Aquila region following a series of many low magnitude earthquakes. Just one week prior to the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated the city and killed more than 300 people, the committee had released a report stating that the high incidence of smaller earthquakes was not necessarily a precursor to a larger quake (ACSES094). The report also included advice that earthquakes were unpredictable, and that building codes in the area needed to be adjusted to improve seismic safety (ACSES094). Earthquake prediction is still considered by many as an immature science, as it is not able to predict from first principles the location, date or magnitude of an earthquake (ACSES095). Research focuses on the identification of reliable precursor phenomena or the use of statistical techniques to identify trends or patterns that might lead to an earthquake.
Severe weather events in Australia have included significant storms, fire and floods, causing widespread damage to property, infrastructure, business, agriculture and compromising human health and safety. Historically, communities settled near food supplies and water sources, however these areas can also be particularly sensitive to the effects of severe weather. Some people argue that governments should create stricter restrictions on urban development in high risk areas such as flood plains and coastal land, given the significant costs accrued by the government in managing mitigation of and recovery from severe weather events. However others believe that such a risk/benefit analysis is the responsibility and right of individuals, as choices of where to live also reflect values of place, beauty and proximity to nature (ACSES093). The level of risk in these areas can also increase as populations increase, changing landscape dynamics and creating greater pressure on infrastructure designed to mitigate risk (ACSES094).
Land clearing and farming practices have led to significant salinity issues for Australian land and water resources. Dryland salinity currently affects over 5 million hectares of land and the National Land and Water Resources Audit predicted that up to 17 million hectares may have high potential for development of dryland salinity by 2050. Historically, land clearing for agriculture was supported by governments as an important measure to increase national economic prosperity, but since the 1980s the rate of land clearing has declined as awareness increases and attitudes change (ACSES093). Salinity causes loss of agricultural land and remnant native vegetation and has a significant impact on public resources such as water supplies, roads, buildings and biodiversity. Mitigation activities include tree planting, planting of deep rooted crops such as lucerne, or salt-adapted species such as salt bush. Using remote sensing technologies to develop models of regional hydrogeology, scientists are increasingly able to predict sites most at risk from salinisation so that preventative measures such as tree planting can be taken (ACSES097).