August 1, 2019 | Published by |

by Andy Pitman

The Centre has had a busy four months with its researchers having an impact nationally and internationally. The Centre has achieved some foundation and enabling research around the delivery of data, and a series of new research discoveries, that will play an important role in climate extremes research for some years. And Centre researchers are once again the winners of some major awards.

The data legacy of the Centre is also continuing to grow. Dr Joshua Soderholm, working with colleagues at Monash and the Bureau of Meteorology, has created a 20-year-long Australian operational weather radar dataset that will continue to be updated on a regular basis. This was a huge effort, requiring a mixture of technical skill and science know-how. The data set gives researchers an invaluable insight into precipitation events and severe weather including tropical cyclones and thunderstorms. Meanwhile, PhD student Kimberley Reid has used an algorithm to detect and record Australian northwest cloudbands that have a direct impact on the probability of rainfall in all parts of the country. In the process she revealed a statistically significant trend showing an increase in the number of days these events occur.

A high profile research success over the past four months was work by PhD student, now Doctor, Mandy Freund. With her Centre supervisors from the Climate Variability research program, she produced the world’s first 400-year detailed record of El Niño events using a novel method derived from coral cores. This has significant implications for research into this important phenomenon because until now the instrumental record was too short to determine if El Niños were changing with a warming world. This new method and dataset have shown that these events are shifting and possibly even becoming more intense. Future research will indicate what this means for El Niño impacts in Australia and across the world.

Our Extreme Rainfall research program also took a step towards new ways to downscale climate change projections of rainfall to scales of 1km every 6 minutes. This is hoped to provide planners an opportunity to evaluate whether urban water infrastructure can respond to future precipitation events that are unlikely to resemble those of the past.

Meanwhile our Heatwaves and Cold Air Outbreaks team has produced the first global assessment of the drivers of marine heatwaves, revealing these events were often instigated thousands of miles away and were linked to nine well-known climate oscillations. They also found marine heatwaves had increased by 50% over the past century. This is fundamental research that will set a baseline for future studies into marine heatwaves.

A cross-program approach between the Drought RP and Extreme Rainfall RP produced research that looked at how extreme weather and a changing climate impact four of the world’s staple crops – maize, wheat, rice and soybeans. The research highlighted the importance of the Centre’s work to agriculture, showing that in some cases nearly 50% of the variation in yield of these crops was down to extreme weather events. It also noted that some crops, due to a large proportion of yield originating from specific regions, were more vulnerable than others.

Our researchers also continue to play key roles in important international reports on our climate. Nerilie Abram and Nathan Bindoff are both chapter leads on the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere due to be released next month. Jason Evans is also playing a role in the IPCC process as a lead author for the Desertification Chapter of the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. At the same time Peter Strutton has been a lead author on the second Tropical Pacific Observing System report that has called for an expanded motivation for and redesign of the backbone of the Tropical Pacific Observing System. Closer to home, Christian Jakob is leading a national initiative examining the landscape of process-focused research in Australia.

Although I noted at the top that much of our work has extended beyond awards, it would be remiss to not comment on the large number of CLEX researchers who have been acknowledged by their peers for their outstanding contribution to climate research. The Royal Meteorological Society recently honored Chief Investigator Lisa Alexander, along with colleagues from the Met Office (UK), with the Gordon Manley Weather Prize. We also saw many of our researchers and students honoured at this year’s AMOS annual meeting. Christian Jakob was awarded the Morton Medal and delivered the R H Clarke lecture, while Catherine Vreugdenhil won the Uwe Radok award for best PhD thesis, Adele Morrison received the Meyers Medal for early career research excellence – the third time a Centre ECR has won that medal – and Andrew King received the inaugural science outreach award. But it didn’t stop there, with Chiara Holgate winning the best student presentation and Kim Reid receiving an honourable mention in the same category. Annette Stellema and Rishav Goyal also received honourable mentions in the tussle for best poster at AMOS-ICTMO.

With much of the year still to come, 2019 looks set to produce a new high water mark across every facet of the Centre. However, there are events on the horizon, most specifically the Centre’s formal mid-term review to be held in the first six months of 2020. This is an opportunity for the Australian Research Council to review progress, but also an opportunity for the Centre to re-assess its priorities, directions and so forth. We plan to discuss what many of you want from the Centre, what research priorities you see, at the workshop later in the year but other opportunities will also evolve as we progress towards 2020.