As the year draws to a close and we pause to look back over 2018, it’s not surprising that with the ending of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) on June 30 and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes (CLEX) building up a head of steam after its first full year, we have packed a lot into the past 12 months.

The legacy celebrations of ARCCSS brought together alumni, partner institutions and special guests including Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, the CEO of the Australian Research Council Prof Sue Thomas and CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Kylie Walker. You can read a full report on the legacy event here.

Although ARCCSS has officially closed PhD students funded by the first Centre will be able finish their doctorate research with full support through legacy funding. But from July 1, our primary research effort moved into climate extremes. We have already added a large number of new PhD students; at present we have a cohort of 62 students, many of whom are working on projects across NESP partners including CSIRO and BoM.

There has been a wide range of sustained research across all of our programs this year. You can read much of what has been going on via the research briefs that outline most of the 47 papers published by Centre researchers. You can find those briefs here. There are many highlights from 2018 including papers that demonstrate how CMIP5 models fail to simulate the statistics of drought, evidence that some climate models (ACCESS for example) triggers the wrong soil moisture feedback on heat extremes, a new urban climate model that takes account of human behaviour; research that will improve forecasts of marine heatwaves around Tasmania; a technique to select the best model subsets for extreme projections, new insights into ENSO diversity; how Stokes drift makes the Antarctic more vulnerable and much more.

One of the major contributions of the Centre comes via our Computational Systems Team that works closely with partners including the National Computational Infrastructure Facility. The team has been working closely with CSIRO colleagues on the CMIP-6 ACCESS model, particularly in providing software and coupling engineering around the ocean model. Major advances in the land model have also been made. The team is also heavily involved in a joint program around CMIP6 data provision, ERA-5 data and a range of other initiatives.

Beyond the published science and modelling work, we also got a really good look at how the Centre research responds to real world events during our recent annual workshop held this year in Wollongong. Among the many innovations brought into this year’s format, which you can read about here there was a focused section on the drought that is currently impacting NSW and Queensland. Researchers from across all four of our programs contributed to a discussion about the likely causes of the drought and, after an informal meeting, put in place future research proposals around drought in Australia that will be explored in 2019.

Our outreach capacity has also been expanded this year with the arrival over the past month of our Knowledge Brokerage Team Leader, Ian Macadam. Ian will be bringing our research to government and private sector stakeholders. In his first two months he has had introductory discussions with a number of our stakeholders to assess their needs and will be meeting NESP personnel later this month.

A fascinating piece of outreach that ties in neatly with our research and that of our partners has been the WeatheX mobile app. WeatheX is a disarmingly simple way of allowing stormchasers and those citizen scientists fascinated by storm events to record the details of extreme weather as it happens. The aim of the app is to fill in the gaps between sparse weather monitoring stations and through that improve our understanding and our ability to forecast storms. You can see an interactive graphic of WeatheX reports from the November 7 hailstorm in Melbourne overlaid on Bureau of Meteorology radar feed to get a sense of how useful this could be.  We also have another citizen science outreach project, SWAQ, that in the new year will bring weather stations into schools across the Sydney Basin as part of research into urban weather and climate. Check out the website here, where you will be able to follow this effort as it rolls out over the next six months.   

One of the great bonuses for students of being involved with a Centre of Excellence is the opportunity to experience all aspects of scientific research. We had the very good fortune of our students being able to take part in a scientific expedition aboard the RV Investigator that went to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to take observations of a standing meander. One of the expedition leaders, Helen Philips wrote a report on the expedition. We have also been involved in a scientific expedition to the seas around Lizard Island as part of retrieving cores from living coral that will be used to study Australia’s past climate.

It is clear the Centre is already moving out into an intensive research and engagement stage that sets the scene for a very exciting 2019. If you would like to keep up to date with what is happening, you can to subscribe to the Centre’s newsletter, here.