Nau mai haere mai – and welcome to our first newsletter of 2022.

As I write, two New Zealand Navy ships are on their way to Tonga carrying water, desalination plants and food to support the island nation’s recovery, following Saturday’s violent eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai undersea volcano and the devastating tsunami it triggered.

The Tongan government has confirmed that three people have lost their lives and some islands are being evacuated because the tsunami destroyed all buildings.

The volcanic explosion generated a pressure wave so strong it was measurable across the globe. As University of Auckland volcanologist Shane Cronin explains, the volcano had been erupting regularly over the past few decades along the edges of the undersea crater, but these events were building up to the massive explosion of the deeper caldera. Geological deposits from the volcano’s historic eruptions show it is capable of such deep and violent explosions roughly every thousand years.

As damage reports continue to come in from the worst-affected areas, it’s an anxious time for Tongans living in New Zealand and Australia and elsewhere, trying to contact their families. The disaster snapped a submarine cable, cutting Tonga off from the rest of the world.

More than 95% of global data transfer occurs along fibre-optic cables that criss-cross the world’s oceans, and as disaster risk expert Dale Dominey-Howes writes, many of these cables pass close or directly over active volcanoes or earthquake zones.

Tonga is particularly vulnerable to this type of disruption as only one cable connects the capital Nuku'alofa to Fiji, but the events in Tonga highlight how fragile the global undersea cable network is.

You’ll find more coverage and other stories on our home page. Many thanks for your ongoing support and interest. Take care and all the best, mā te wā.

Veronika Meduna

New Zealand Editor: Science, Health + Environment

Why the volcanic eruption in Tonga was so violent, and what to expect next

Shane Cronin, University of Auckland

The eruption is akin to a weapons-grade chemical explosion, and there could be several weeks or even years of major volcanic unrest to follow.

What does ‘academic freedom’ mean in practice? Why the Siouxsie Wiles and Shaun Hendy employment case matters

Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury

The case taken by two high-profile academics against their university goes to the heart of what it means to be a ‘critic and conscience of society’.

The Tonga volcanic eruption has revealed the vulnerabilities in our global telecommunication system

Dale Dominey-Howes, University of Sydney

Future events could damage the critical portion of the undersea network which links to Australia.

Sponges can survive low oxygen and warming waters. They could be the main reef organisms in the future

James Bell, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington; Rob McAllen, University College Cork; Valerio Micaroni, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

Sponges are ancient marine animals and have already shown robustness against stresses from climate change. New research now shows they can also tolerate low-oxygen conditions.

Pandemic disruption to PhD research is bad for society and the economy – but there are solutions

Catherine Whitby, Massey University

COVID-19 lockdowns have kept researchers from their labs and libraries and delayed projects. What can be done to reduce the likely impacts?

New Zealand summers are getting hotter – and humans aren’t the only ones feeling the effects

Cate Macinnis-Ng, University of Auckland

2021 was NZ’s hottest year on record, and the current summer heatwave is a reminder that our biodiversity is already being affected.

Scientists call for a moratorium on climate change research until governments take real action

Bruce Glavovic, Massey University; Iain White, University of Waikato; Tim Smith, University of the Sunshine Coast

What should climate scientists do in the face of ever rising emissions? They could continue providing more evidence, join climate activists – or stop work in protest against government inaction.

From our foreign editions

From fairytale to gothic ghost story: how 40 years of biopics showed Princess Diana on screen

Giselle Bastin, Flinders University

Far from the romance of 1981’s made-for-TV films, Spencer is trapped in a frozen Sandringham setting, gasping for air.

Sugar detox? Cutting carbs? A doctor explains why you should keep fruit on the menu

Jennifer Rooke, Morehouse School of Medicine

Sugar gets a bad rap, but exactly which sugar is meant? Nutrient-dense sweet ripe fruits are a far cry from refined table sugar – and their differences can have big health implications.

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.: 5 things I’ve learned curating the MLK Collection at Morehouse College

Vicki Crawford, Morehouse College

In his brief life, Martin Luther King Jr. had a variety of interests that informed his work as leader of the civil rights movement. His alma mater has collected some objects that tell his story.

Why Novak Djokovic lost his fight to stay in Australia – and why it sets a concerning precedent

Maria O'Sullivan, Monash University

The ruling could justify the future visa cancellation of any individual who is seen as a ‘role model’ and who may be perceived as causing social unrest.

What was everyone else doing while Downing street was hosting ‘work gatherings’ in the garden? A look at the data

Sotiris Georganas, City, University of London

Data gathered from people’s phones paints a picture of a heavily restricted life.

Why Prince Andrew is losing his military titles, but staying a prince

Craig Prescott, Bangor University

The Queen has stripped Prince Andrew of his patronages, but she can’t go much further.

Deforestation is causing more storms in west Africa, finds 30-year satellite study

Christopher Taylor, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology; Douglas Parker, University of Leeds

This increases the risk of disastrous flash flooding in the region’s coastal cities.

The discovery of insulin: a story of monstrous egos and toxic rivalries

Kersten Hall, University of Leeds

Meet the feuding scientists who battled for credit over the discovery of insulin.