December 7, 2019 | Published by | , ,

I write this Director’s report at a challenging time in southern and eastern Australia as a combination of drought, fire and hot weather confront communities, and as air quality in some cities reaches dangerous levels.

Unsuprisingly, the Centre has research activities linked with several of these challenges. Recent research from the Heatwaves and Cold Air Outbreaks program examined how climate might affect pyrocumulonimbus events which are being reported much more frequently than in the past. Similarly, in the Drought program, Ben Henley’s research working with Melbourne water explored how Melbourne’s water supplies may be affected by rising temperatures and offered solutions to future shortages. Efforts examining the skill of CMIP6 models in terms of drought is currently in review, as is a study untangling the relationship between the drought and modes of variability.

It is tempting to associate the run of recent extreme weather events and anthropogenic climate change.  This became apparent at our annual workshop, hosted in Hobart, with a range of presentations and posters leading to active discussions about the causes of current extreme events and whether they could be forecast, future research directions and a succession of impressive insights into the distant links that influence Australia’s weather. This was highlighted by conversations around the September stratospheric warming event over Antarctica led by Eun-Pa Lim from the Bureau of Meteorology and its role in current conditions across Australia.  The unprecedented occurrence of three winters with low rainfall across parts of eastern Australia that exacerbated the current drought was discussed. James Risbey explored the origin and cause of an extreme rain event that impacted Hobart. Finally, Chiara Holgate reported the first climatology of where the source regions for rain over the Murray Darling Basin are and how those may change over time.  These studies and others targeting processes in the ocean, atmosphere and land, and building some of these into our climate models, is gradually unlocking our understanding of extremes and improving our ability to simulate them in the future.

The annual workshop was an opportunity to announce annual awards. This year the best, published paper by an honours, masters or PhD student went to Sonja Neske. The best, published paper by an early career researcher was won by Navid Constantinou. Finally, the Director’s Prize was awarded to Amelie Meyer who has had an impressive four months of awards. Annette Hirsch was also publicly acknowledged as the recipient of the inaugural CLEX career development award for women and other under-represented groups.

The early career researcher (ECR) workshop that always follows our annual workshop is designed and driven by our ECR committee and this year they picked some very important topics. The morning focussed on the “balanced researcher” – how to balance writing papers, teaching, writing code, preparing talks, writing grants, family, writing newsletter item etc. I understand that there was also some training on the art of saying “no”. I’ll be working on the consequences of that though 2020. The other half of the workshop focused on imposter syndrome and how to overcome it – a truly important issue that impacts many outstanding researchers and again an issue that we will return to in 2020 and beyond.

Centre researchers have been involved in organising and taking part in a range of other workshops and conferences built around communities of research. The most recent Consortium for Ocean-Sea Ice Modelling in Australia (COSIMA) two-day workshop was streamed for the first time. At UNSW, an evaporation workshop brought together an international community of researchers to tackle some of the tough questions around how land models represent vegetation. In collaboration with the National Environmental Science Program Earth Systems and Climate Change hub, we ran a workshop that looked at the challenges and future directions of detection and attribution research.

A number of CLEX researchers have also accepted key positions nationally and internationally over the past few months. Andrea Taschetto was named as a member of the basin interaction group in the new CLIVAR foci, Tropical Basin Interaction (TBI). Jason Evans led the Desertification chapter on the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, while Nerilie Abram and Nathan Bindoff were leads on the IPCC Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Christian Jakob has been busy leading a review of processes in climate research for a Federal Department.

I am delighted to advise that CLEX researchers have been active in the latest rounds of prizes and awards. This year Ariaan Purich won the Uwe Radok Award for her thesis, Understanding the drivers of recent Southern Ocean sea ice and surface temperature trends; CLEX Chief Investigator Nerilie Abram was awarded the Priestley Medal and Joelle Gergis received the AMOS Science Outreach Award. I won the Royal Society of Victoria’s Medal for Excellence in Scientific Research. Amelie Meyer won Tasmania’s Young Tall Poppy Award.

Anna Ukkola and Amelie Meyer were awarded DECRAs, which is a huge achievement given how competitive these were. Anna will focus on seasonal prediction of drought and how improving land processes might improve forecasts linking UK Meteorological Office and Bureau of Meteorology land surface research. Amelie’s project aims at a better understanding of why Antarctic sea ice is changing, impacts on sea ice ecosystems, and improved predictions of future changes.

CLEX researchers were also awarded three Discovery Projects. Todd Lane will work on improving the avoidance and prediction of turbulence from thunderstorms. A team including Shayne McGregor, Dietmar Dommenget, Alex Sen Gupta and Scott Power will focus on improving the credibility of regional sea-level rise projections. Christian Jakob, Martin Singh and Michael Reeder were awarded funding to explore weather-climate connections in Australian climate change.

So, we come to the end of 2019 able to highlight multiple successes across the Centre. However, the drought persists, fires threaten and temperatures continue to rise. So, there is more to do, more understanding to seek and certainly more challenges ahead. CLEX will continue to confront these and other challenges in 2020 with research ranging from basic processes in the ocean, eddy dynamics and ocean heat uptake through to turbulence in the atmosphere, and how carbon dioxide affects stomates. But between how and 2020 I hope you will all have a relaxing break, recharge the batteries, take time to be with friends and family and stay safe.

Andy Pitman
Centre Director.