by Andy Pitman
The past four months have seen our engagement with policymakers and industry accelerate. CLEX has been extremely active in briefing Federal and State policymakers, businesses and other stakeholders on the new IPCC report, growing our impact and influence well beyond academia. CLEX built a rapid response team that produced a special IPCC briefing note focused on Australia and directly briefed multiple ministers at the Federal and State level, local MPs, key public servants and industry groups. We also undertook an extensive array of media interviews here and overseas. You can find more details about this in the Media Communications report.

CLEX researchers have also directly engaged with a wide range of stakeholders beyond the IPCC report. Some of these include the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment; the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System; Mornington Peninsula Council; The Forewarned is Forearmed (FWFA) agricultural community of practice; investment company the JARDEN group; Royal Society Brief series for policymakers; Bloomberg/BNEF; and a joint meeting of mining geologist groups, SMEDG/AIG/GSA. These are just a few highlights of our reach across various sectors.

As a consequence of CLEX engaging strongly beyond academia, our Knowledge Brokerage Team (KBT) has been very active. The team has welcomed a new graphic designer, Ally Crimp, who has already created an enhanced brand style guide for CLEX and developed a range of resources – including the IPCC report briefing – that has enhanced our ability to communicate effectively. The KBT has also been bringing in external experts from companies like Deloitte through the CLEX Seminar Series that introduce business and policy perspectives to our researchers while at the same time giving ECRs an opportunity to explore alternative career paths. This focus on reaching into new arenas is also behind our new prize for Early Career Researchers engaging with stakeholders outside universities.

Our graduate program is already giving us some early nominations. Zebedee Nicholls, who recently submitted his PhD thesis, played a key role in the impressive long-form ABC article, Acting now can buy us time on climate change. It is well worth a read.

There have also been some remarkable successes to report from our students. Julia Potgeiter’s undergraduate project has led to a first-author publication, while Steve Thomas has seen a six-week project turn into two years of research followed by presentations at the Bureau of Meteorology and the annual AMOS conference.  

At the same time, our core research work has continued, even during a succession of lockdowns, as the restructured research programs are at last bedded down. The last four months have been noteworthy for cross-program research. Two of particular note were:

  • CLEX researchers across multiple programs showed how urban areas can amplify heatwaves using Sydney, Australia’s largest city, as a test case for our new configuration of the Weather and Research Forecasting model run at a very high resolution of 800 m with a new urban classification scheme. This test case touched on almost all research programs.
  • Our cross-program research also produced results useful to Australian agricultural sector in the short to medium term. Researchers from the Attribution and Risk, and Drought programs performed studies that should improve hazelnut yield in Australia.

And as always, CLEX continues to produce ground-breaking research that has far-reaching impacts within each discipline. The Oceans research program demonstrated, for the first time, that changes in ocean eddies could be linked to climate change. The Modelling program found that even without atmospheric interactions oceans could produce long-term variations that echoed ENSO and the Pacific Decadal oscillation bringing into question long-standing paradigms about how these develop. At the same time, our work on sudden stratospheric warming is likely to improve our capacity to forecast extreme weather events.

In support of this research, CMS has created a common venue for all codes and datasets published by CLEX. This will aid our outreach activities, allow us to work more closely with stakeholders seeking usable data, and improve trust in our science and its reproducibility. This ability to share codes has also made it far easier for collaborative activities across our research programs

Amid this hive of activity, we are, at last, starting to welcome back international students, enjoy the triumphs of those who have completed their PhD during this difficult time and continue to celebrate the achievements of so many individuals within CLEX.

CLEX was delighted to see Lisa Alexander awarded a Future Fellowship. The research from this Fellowship aims to provide an in-depth assessment of the climate model simulations used to support regional climate change impact assessments with a particular focus on rainfall and the hydrological cycle. David Hutchinson also received a DECRA aimed at understanding the evolution of the Antarctic ice sheet, from its beginning 34 million years ago until today, that will help us understand the trajectory of future climate change.

We were also able to congratulate Shayne McGregor who was promoted to Associate Professor at Monash University. Robyn Schofield was appointed to the newly-formed role of Associate Dean (Environment and Sustainability) at The University of Melbourne and Todd Lane was named as the new Head of School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in the same institution.

Obviously, COVID continues to have a profound impact on our students, our research fellows and our staff. For some, the circumstances are impossibly hard with homeschooling, loss of access to child care, arrival in Australia into quarantine with the challenge of finding somewhere to live and the establishment of a new role without the usual opportunities to be welcomed into the office. The “be kind to yourself” mantra is being increasingly accepted and understood in these extraordinary circumstances.

CLEX is managing to function effectively and forge ahead despite the obstacles. We have been able to maintain progress thanks to the support that has been forthcoming at all levels. My sincere thanks, therefore, go out to all of you involved in CLEX for the fortitude, resilience and kindness you have demonstrated throughout the pandemic.