August 23, 2021 | Published by | ,

Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth Vogel (elizabeth.vogel@bom.gov.au)

Australia’s climate is highly variable and characterised by climate and hydrological extremes, including heatwaves, drought, and floods. Such extreme events are projected to become more frequent and/or intense under climate change, increasing the potential for harmful impacts. Agricultural production in Australia is particularly affected by hydro-climatic extremes which can have devastating effects on crop yields.

Previous studies have shown that compound (or concurrent) hot and dry extremes during the growing season are particularly damaging for crop yields, and the effect of such events is typically more harmful than the separate effects of dry or hot events alone.

The aim of this study is to investigate the effect of compound hot and dry events on agricultural production in Australia, and to assess the predictability of yield losses due to compound events using seasonal climate and hydrological forecasts. The outcome of the project may inform the development of seasonal forecasts of hydro-climatic risk indicators for agricultural production in Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has developed a seamless hydrological monitoring, forecasting and projections service that allows to investigate trends in hydrological variables and extremes in Australia across multiple time scales (from past to near-real time, seasonal forecasts and long-term climate change projections). The data is based on the Bureau’s hydrological model, AWRA-L, which simulates the land surface water balance and outputs hydrological stores and fluxes, including run-off, evapotranspiration and soil moisture in three soil layers (0m–0.1m, 0.1m–1.0m, 1.0m–6.0m). This project would use a) historical timeseries of climate and hydrological data across Australia and b) retrospective forecasts from the Bureau’s seasonal climate and hydrological forecasting systems, and connect these with historical yield time series.

The project is divided into two parts:

  1. The first part investigates the impact of compound hot and dry extremes on crop yields using historical climate and hydrological data (using the AWAP data as well as historical AWRA-L simulations). It aims to investigate to which degree variations in crop yields in Australia are explained by variations in soil moisture, temperature and other hydro-climatic variables, and quantify the effect of compound hot/dry events on crop yields.
  2. In the second part, the student may use retrospective seasonal forecasts (called hindcasts) of soil moisture, as well as climate variables, to quantify the potential of seasonal climate and hydrological forecasts for predicting yield losses in Australia at varying lead times, with a particular focus on indicators that capture compound hot-dry events.
  3. Alternatively (depending on interest of the student), the student could investigate changing risks of hot-dry compound events under future climate change and associated impacts on agriculture, using the Hydrological Projections dataset of the Bureau of Meteorology.

The student will ideally be based at the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne (however, remote work and/or placement in other Bureau offices is possible). The project would ideally suit a student with some experience in programming and data visualisation (e.g. using Python, R, Matlab). Experience in working with large datasets (e.g. on the NCI) would be preferable. The timing of the project can be arranged flexibly with the student.

To apply: the Undergraduate Scholarship application form can be found here