4Cs Science Communication Writing Competition – 1st Place

by Stephanie Martin, MRes student in the Department of Life Sciences

Dear Present

Dear Sister,

I recently had an experience which reminded me of the stories Grandma used to tell us. I was hiding in what I thought was an animal’s den after being chased by water-raiders through the desert. The den turned out to be a large chamber, full of nothing except hundreds and hundreds of binders and a sign which said ‘The Daintree Rainforest – Lest We Forget.’

Do you remember what Grandma used to tell us about the Daintree? That luscious mythical jungle that used to inhabit these lands in Australia that we never really believed ever existed. I have included in this letter an old photograph that I found in an album marked ‘2019’, everything she told us about is there; trees too tall to climb, six-foot tall birds of electric blue running through the undergrowth, flowers, butterflies, and frogs… they’re all there.

The binders were full of scientific research from ages past. One paper caught my attention, ‘An Investigation into the Physiology of Trees and Lianas under Experimental Drought Conditions – by Stephanie Martin.’ I read the paper, taking in the (extremely sophisticated) statistical analyses and reading the (detailed and worthy of a distinction) manuscript written by this long since departed Master’s student. ‘Access to the rainforest canopy was gained via a crane’ she writes, ‘measurements were taken from tree species under standard tropical rainforest conditions, as well as those included in the drought experiment.’ I am jealous of this person’s existence in a time when they had to simulate drought conditions when we have lived through it our whole lives!

She goes on to detail her research, which I think you will find interesting. An instrument called a porometer was used to measure stomatal conductance; the rate of carbon dioxide entering and water vapour exiting the leaves via pores called stomata. The drought experiment covered 0.4ha and was evidently constructed using a series of clear-panel plastic roofing structures.

I’ll skip over the Results and Discussion sections, which were written in August 2019, and share with you the passage that has affected me most;

‘The simulated drought conditions reflect a possible future where seasonal rainforests experience hotter and longer dry seasons as a result of climate change. This project is important as global temperatures are set to increase by at least 2 °C degrees by the year 2100 (Raftery et al., 2017). It is essential that we assess the impact this warming effect may have on carbon sinks such as tropical rainforests in order to formulate management plans and influence governments and corporations to take action to prevent dangerous warming scenarios.’

It’s difficult to comprehend the magnitude of failure our ancestors caused when they ignored scientists calling for action to prevent climate change, resulting in a world now where people kill one another for water, and where rainforests are nothing but ancient history.

Maybe one-day things will get better.

All my love,

Your sister.

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