August 14, 2020 | Published by |

by Andy Pitman
This is a tough and unique time for everyone in CLEX. I had anticipated the pandemic being over by now (note the predictive skill of a modeller) and it is confronting to be writing this while Victoria is in lockdown and world leaders are worried about shower pressure.  The strains and stresses on each of us are different but every one of us is being challenged and the longer this goes on the more aware we need to be about how this is impacting us. In that light, I have been heartened by the level of care and support we have shown each other across the Centre. You are watching out for each other, you are drawing issues to our attention, and you are looking for ways to help others cope.  It is inevitable that your abilities to do your research are affected and that is ok. It is impossible for some of you to function beyond 20% or 30% and that is ok too. Please, keep up the effort to watch out for each other and tell us if there are things we could do to help more.

Despite all the struggles, we do have some good news. Congratulations are definitely deserved for everyone involved with the successful applications for the Special Research Initiative in Excellence in Antarctic Science. A consequence of this is that some of our Chief Investigators will step away from their roles in CLEX to take part in one of two new Centres – Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, or Securing Antarctica’s Environmental Future. We will take this opportunity to bring some new Chief Investigators into CLEX – to be announced later in the year after our Advisory Board and the ARC have agreed to the changes. The recent retirement of Mike Roderick at the end of July to seek out trout-filled rivers has left another hole that needs to be filled. I understand Mike is taking orders for Rainbow or Brown for the summer BBQ season.

In further good news, we were delighted to see CI Julie Arblaster promoted to full professor, adding to the growing ranks of female professors associated with CLEX. When the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science started there were no women in professorial roles in climate science in Australia. There are now four I think – which is roughly 25%. Inadequate, unsatisfactory but improving.  

Despite the pandemic, CLEX has continued to publish top quality and often ground-breaking research. My personal favourite, accepted yesterday, was a paper by Annette Hirsch and Malcolm King focussed on drivers of heatwaves. Why? Because it brings Malcolm’s understanding of dynamics and atmospheric physics together with Annette’s land surface and land-atmosphere expertise, led by them, designed by them with no chief investigators harmed in the making of the paper. It is the sort of collaboration a Centre of Excellence should facilitate and reflects excellent leadership by our research fellows. Other successes include researchers in the Drought program who analysed palaeoclimate data to understand how the Indian Ocean Dipole changed in the past and how it may alter in the future. The researchers found strong Indo-Pacific variability was important in breaking droughts over the last 1000 years, especially in providing the rainfall that breaks droughts in regions that are impacted by the IOD and ENSO. The Heatwaves and Cold Air Outbreaks team found detectable, large-scale changes in ocean wave heights that have the potential to forecast major marine heatwave events around Tasmania up to 2-3 years in advance. The Teleconnections and Variability program found rainfall-salinity relationships during ENSO and IOD events that were clearly detectable could give advance notice of extreme rainfall events, such as the 2010/11 Brisbane Floods. This work may have benefits for forecasters, raising the prospect that tracking changes to sea surface salinity could improve forecasts of Australian rainfall. Finally, if you read Realclimate.com you will have seen Steve Sherwood’s paper recently described as “exhaustive (and exhausting). The paper is part of an international analysis of climate sensitivity examining the wicked problem of the range of equilibrium climate sensitivity for a doubling of carbon dioxide compared to pre-industrial times. This is fundamental work that will undoubtedly be a major part of the next IPCC AR6 WG1 report.

Over the next couple of months, CLEX will be preparing for the mid-term review to be held in October. We do not want to start this too early, but we will be in contact with some of you over the next month to line up activities. So, watch this space and feel free to ask any questions that arise, Stay safe, physically distance and keep looking out for each other.