by Andy Pitman, Director of ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes

The past four months since out last newsletter has been tightly packed with the official launch of CLEX, the legacy event for ARCCSS and an acceleration in important research across all of our programs.

Our launch event, held at the University of New South Wales, brought together the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, The Hon. Craig Laundy MP, the CEO of the Australian Research Council, Prof Sue Thomas, and the University of New South Wales President and Vice Chancellor Prof Ian Jacobs. It was presided over by UNSW Dean of Science Prof Emma Johnston.

Our guest speakers highlighted the importance of the Centre’s work as they touched on the Tathra bushfire and the fact that heat records being broken in South Australia on that very day. April went on to become a record breaker for heat as well. At the time I mentioned how we were keen to focus on the big problems of climate extremes. A quick read through the reports of each our research programs shows that this work is already well underway but sadly the urgency of finding answers to some major research challenges seems ever more urgent as we see remarkable temperature extremes across Europe, fires in Europe and the US, and a drought in eastern Australia.

We are already making progress with some extremely useful work on fundamental improvements to climate models and how they project and represent extreme events. The Extreme Rainfall program has produced important research on how thunderstorms are organized and maintained. This will likely lead to improvements in model evaluation but also suggests a reassessment of widely accepted convective parameterisations may be needed.

Modelling work from Heatwaves and Cold Air Outbreaks Program tested a new method that improves projections of extremes by reducing biases in temperature and rainfall distribution shapes, which will be improve the accuracy of projections of future extreme events.

The Drought Research Program working with our colleagues in Western Sydney University have produced a range of papers that examine the response of vegetation to heat and drought. This research is the first step to significantly improving our ability to predict how natural habitats and agricultural crops can respond to extreme conditions.

A key paper coming out since April, in combination with our international partners has suggested an entirely new approach to managing risk around catastrophic events. The approach is similar to stress testing a business and is likely to have broad application for many types of industries and infrastructures.

Our Climate Variabilty and Teleconnections program has made huge strides using observations to improve models of the Southern Ocean. As a result of their work we can better model how it absorbs heat and carbon. A new approach to ocean drift has also revealed that the Antarctic is not as isolated as was previously thought.

All four teams have produced important work that will help us understand and respond to a changing climate. A category system, much like that for cyclones, has been developed for marine heatwaves; pollution and temperature changes as a result of climate change have been quantified; and the causes of different responses to drought were identified.

Among all this collaborative work we have had the opportunity to celebrate individual successes. Zoe Gillett (now a PhD student at Monash) was awarded the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) Regional Centre Award for Academic Achievement for excellence in undergraduate study for her Honours thesis. Mia Gross recently won best poster at the 8th GEWEX conference for The sensitivity of daily temperature variability and extremes to dataset choice.

A paper by Mandy Freund and Ben Henley, Multi-century cool- and warm-season rainfall reconstructions for Australia’s major climatic regions, was highlighted in the OZEWEX newsletter.

Extreme RP Co-lead, Lisa Alexander received a highly prized Outstanding Service award from the World Meteorological Organisation Commission for Climatology.

It has been just on a year since the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes started, but it is already clear that it is producing work that will have benefits not just for science but all Australians.

Finally, I want to reflect on the end of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, which ceased operations in June 30, 2018. We had the opportunity to look back at the achievements of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, when on Wednesday, June 27, we held a special legacy event at Old Parliament House.

Our researchers and stakeholders were joined by the Chief Scientist Prof Alan Finkel, CEO of the Australian Research Council, Prof Sue Thomas and CEO of Science and Technology of Australia Kylie Walker. The work that went into putting together the event was on display with a range of booths showing animations of our research, virtual reality stations, videos outlining the successes of the past seven years and a 16-page legacy report filled with highlights of the past seven years.

It was a proud night that showed how much we have been able to achieve for the climate community with a seven-year funding model.

While many contributed to the legacy event – and I really mean many, it was a whole of Centre operation – the Centre Director Christian Jakob was instrumental in making it an outstanding success. Some of you know that I had reservations in undertaking such a high profile event when Christian first proposed the idea but his leadership and energy meant the Centre was wonderfully farewelled.