Director's Report - Annual Report 2013

ARCSS Director Prof Andy Pitman

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This is the third Annual Report of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS). It has been an outstanding year with multiple successes measured by publications, capacity building (especially in the computational area), new graduate training initiatives, enhanced national and international collaboration, and media impact. It is extremely pleasing to see how quickly we have transitioned from a scale of a series of projects to one where outcomes reflect the scale and integration of a true Centre of Excellence. We are now seeing outcomes of many of our outstanding cross-centre activities, the emergence of leadership from early career researchers and the rapid expansion of our graduate program. These are demonstrably benefiting from our strengthening national and international partnerships and from enhanced training programs we have established.

This report provides details on a selection of our 2013 activities to demonstrate our successes in achieving the goals we set out at the Centre’s inception. There are reports from each research program, details of the contribution from the Computational Modelling Support team, vignettes focused on student experiences and some highlights of how we have helped communicate ARC-funded research outcomes in the print, radio and television media. It is difficult to select highlights from such a wide range of excellent activities, but here is my very personal selection:

  • Innovative multidisciplinary research has emerged strongly across ARCCSS programs. An example for this important development is a growing focus on understanding the physics and dynamics of heatwaves. This includes better definitions of heatwaves (Perkins and Alexander, 2013), and the emergence of a strong link of key atmospheric circulation features to heatwaves as identified by analyses using modern concepts in atmospheric dynamics. A key discovery, by PhD student Tess Parker working with Michael Reeder and Garth Berry, is the influence of tropical cyclones on South Eastern Australian heatwaves, for example.
  • Our publications in 2013 were outstanding. We are delighted to report 10 Nature papers, 24 Geophysical Research Letters papers, 13 Journal of Geophysical Research papers, 16 Journal of Climate papers, six Journal of Physical Oceanography papers and three Water Resources Research papers. All of these are A* journals. Overall, ARCCSS published four book chapters and 124 peer-reviewed journal papers. Research in the Centre has led to a series of important discoveries as well as significant contributions to new data sets for use by the national and international science community. Major highlights include the update of an international data set used to examine extremes (Donat et al., 2013) and an innovative data set to examine tropical convection (Tan and Jakob, 2013). We are working to ensure these data are discoverable and published appropriately.
  • We have published our first major data sets via Research Data Australia with support from The Australian National Data Service (ANDS). There are five collections, linked with Australian Community Climate and Earth Simulator (ACCESS) 1.3 results prepared for the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project  - Phase 5 (CMIP-5).
  • I am delighted by how well national e-research providers continue to partner with the Centre. The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI, a Partner Organisation) have not only provided us computational capacity as promised, but have also been strongly supportive in helping the Computational Modelling Support (CMS) team deliver outstanding results. There has been a hugely challenging transition at NCI from a supercomputer provider to a high-performance research environment delivering computing, data services and support and we look forward to providing ongoing support to NCI as this transition is completed. ANDS, another e-research Partner Organisation, has also worked closely with the Centre in delivering a tools project that will aid access to our data. The Centre is also associated with a National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) project led by Partner Organisation the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). Centre staff are on the advisory board and the community engagement group of this project. The Centre has provided the capacity to interact with these major e-research providers in a way that would have been impossible for individual researchers. Our CMS team provides the technical capacity to engage with the e-research providers, enabling us to sustain our contribution.
  • We ran another very successful winter school for our graduate students and participants from a number of Australian and Pacific institutions. New in 2013 was a strong engagement with China. We invited PhD students and early career researchers to the winter school from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing University, Ocean University of China, Peking University and Tsinghua University in an initiative funded jointly between the Centre and UNSW. The winter school included presentations from Chief Investigators and Partner Investigators. We have also run training in the use of NCI, in Python, NCL and in Fortran. Specific training in the use of some of our modelling systems has also been provided.
  • We have introduced a writing workshop to help graduate students and early career researchers with preparing manuscripts. Due to demand, we ran three workshops in 2013 (one at Monash University and two at UNSW). These workshops were attended by 59 participants.
  • We have continued to strengthen links with the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research (CAWCR) (a partnership between BoM and CSIRO). CAWCR contributed strongly to the winter school, to a week-long workshop and to a suite of one-to-three-day workshops. ARCCSS has contributed strongly to CAWCR workshops on model evaluation and ACCESS events. We are also in the early stages of establishing a very exciting new joint research program focused on the climate of “Maritime Continent”, the island to the north of Australia that strongly influences our continent’s own climate. Major systematic biases in climate models, including our own, will be tackled and alleviated in this highly collaborative project.
  • It is a great pleasure to observe how our Centre increasingly provides a home for outstanding national and international experts on short and long-term sabbatical visits. This year we welcomed 53 visitors from 12 countries. We are working towards a stronger engagement with China. In addition to the students invited to our winter school we have supported a small number of research fellows to spend time at Centre institutions. The first visitor, Dr Hong Yin from the China Meteorological Administration, spent three months at UNSW and attended our annual workshop.
  • We have continued to drive ahead remarkably at the interface of science, modelling and high-performance computing. Simulations for the atmosphere have been carried out at resolutions of one kilometre and higher in our study of convective process. The oceans team further developed a model at ¼o resolution for global applications. This provides unprecedented opportunities for examining many observed phenomena in much greater detail and provides guidance on how to represent these phenomena in global climate models. To accelerate this work, we partnered with Breakaway Labs, a software engineering company, to re-engineer the coupling between the ¼o ocean model and the ACCESS atmospheric model. This project is likely to take several years, but will provide the laboratory for transformative future work in ocean and atmospheric science, variability and extremes.
  • Our leadership in international research activities is going from strength to strength. Five Centre staff completed their contributions to the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Centre of Excellence contributions included: Convening Lead Author (Bindoff), Lead Author (Alexander, Jakob, Sherwood) and Review Editor (Pitman) as well as multiple contributing authors. The highly influential Summary for Policy Makers was written by authors including Alexander and Bindoff.
  • Not resting on their laurels, Chief Investigators Sherwood and Jakob took up new leadership positions in the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Grand Challenge on Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity. Steve Sherwood is leading an initiative on climate sensitivity and Christian Jakob is leading a program focused on atmospheric model development. These major international roles highlight the quality of the research leadership in the Centre.
  • We were a key sponsor of the year-long Maths of Planet Earth program. Working with BoM, the Centre organised a number of sessions under the theme of Earth System Modelling. David Karoly gave a keynote presentation on extreme events, Todd Lane discussed thunderstorms and atmospheric waves, Karsten Peters described modelling tropical convection and Shayne McGregor presented new research on the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). At the same time our Media and Communications Manager Alvin Stone helped promote the conference, writing media releases and daily reports and arranging interviews with major media outlets for some of the speakers.
  • As part of our public outreach program we supported Adrift, led by Dr Erik van Sebille. The website uses ocean modelling to simulate the movement of plastic garbage throughout the oceans. Adrift is being used in classrooms and environmental organisations in Australia and around the world to highlight where our garbage goes once it enters the sea. The website was highlighted in the ARC’s Annual Report and on a number of technical review sites for the simplicity and effectiveness of its design. It continues to be a strong performer for the Centre, with rapid increases in hit rates whenever events involving the drift of ocean going items – from messages in bottles to chemical spills - are highlighted in the media.
  • Chief Investigators have maintained a strong commitment to communicating Centre activities via the media, public talks and a commitment to providing policy-relevant advice to State and Federal governments. We maintain an active website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. The single most significant activity was associated with the release of AR5 by the IPCC. ARCCSS actively promoted its findings by hosting a business briefing in Sydney and through a large number of high-profile media contributions. In addition, Centre affiliates provided 26 briefings to government and industry on our research. Associate Investigator Ben Newell from the UNSW School of Psychology engages in research on the Psychology of climate change and climate science communication. He ran a workshop engaging this community in late 2013.
  • As in previous years, I was particularly happy to be able to again celebrate major prizes. Lisa Alexander won the Dorothy Hill Award from the Academy of Science. Partner Investigator Hoshin Gupta won the Dalton Medal and Steven Griffies won the Fridtjof Nansen Medal  - both awarded by the European Geophysical Union. The European Geophysical Union also awarded an Outstanding Young Scientist Award to Fubao Sun. Sarah Perkins won a Tall Poppy Award and then followed it with a successful ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA). We also congratulate Yi Liu, Jennifer Catto and Andreas Klocker on their successful DECRA applications.
  • In a clear sign of the Centre becoming a victim of its own success, Mike Rezny, the leader of our Computational Modelling Support team, was invited to join the Computational Development team at the UK Meteorological Office, one of the world-leading weather and climate prediction centres. While I was very sad to see him leave, I am looking forward to the ongoing benefits of his work through our collaboration with him at one of our key Partner Organisations.

While 2013 has been an outstanding year it is important to reflect on how we best position ARCCSS for the future. In a keynote presentation at the 2013 workshop, Dr Greg Holland from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), another of our strong international partners, provided us with what he feels is an important grand challenge for us to tackle: the projection of climate extremes at regional scales. Research on this challenge requires the even closer collaboration of all our research programs. The variability team has examined how ENSO variability might affect temperature and rainfall extremes and on the link between cyclones and heatwaves over south-eastern Australia. Further work on heatwaves has focused on regional mechanisms and associated patterns. The land team has explored how variability in transpiration, and likely vulnerability to drought, is affected by ground water underpinning large-scale forest ecosystems. The strong links between the atmosphere and the land have been highlighted in our work on soil moisture variability and temperature. The convection team discovered the conditions under which the heaviest precipitation occurs in the tropics. Studies of the ability of climate models to represent extremes are under way. These are all important pieces of the problem. However, a major goal for 2014 must be to transform the Centre’s activities to the next level of collaborative research by focusing our collective efforts on this grand challenge. That is, we are challenging ourselves to meet our goal of understanding key uncertainties in projecting Australia’s climate, but focusing our research on our understanding of and ability to predict Australian extremes.

In summary, 2013 has been another extraordinary year of growth and impact. We are transforming the scale and quality of university-led climate system science. Through 2014 we will further enhance our cross-Centre activities to meet climate system science’s grand challenges.


Andy Pitman



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