Part 1: Jacqui walks the dark alleyway

Jacqui Fenwick is finishing her MSc in Climate Sciences with Bern University and will be doing some heatwave work at the Centre. This is the first entry in her blog about that experience.

January 27 was a significant day in the Australian climate science world for two reasons; first - the BOM and the CSIRO released new climate change projections for Australia, and second – I commenced my internship with the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW.

The projections report shows that hot days are likely to become hotter and more frequent, and other extreme weather events, such as heavy rain events, more intense. I was arriving at UNSW to join 'team extreme' and to look more closely at these extreme weather events and the models used to study them.

I am addicted to climate sciences and love studying all things climate related. One aspect of modern climatology which I have yet to focus on, however, is climate models and subsequent data analyses. I have read about modelled projections, have used regional and global model outputs in studies, have even measured data which could be fed into models, yet I still have very little knowledge of how they work and how one can use them. They are so inherent to almost every aspect of climate research, and very important for a future in climate and weather careers, yet to me they remain a mystery.

One reason that I have skipped carefully around them for so long is my aversion to programming and the reason for this can be seen below.

 

That black terminal with the blinking >>.. and the foreign codes... it's like a dark alleyway late at night which is best to be avoided. 

But as I delve further and further into the realm of climate sciences, and want to know more about the extreme weather events in particular, it's clear that I will have to pass through that alley some day.  This internship is my chance to do just that!

During my summer internship I will be looking at heatwaves in Australia – How do we define a heatwave? How robust is this definition? If we use a slightly different definition (for example, a two day heat event rather than a three day heat event) how will this impact our classification of heatwaves? What is 'severe'?  I hope to learn, and use, some programming skills to study measured and modelled climate data.

Heatwaves are of particular interest to me because they present risks for so many aspects of Australian society.  They cause health problems and deaths, they can damage infrastructure, and they're a problem for agriculture, for example. They can also lead to fires, which present a whole suite of challenges again.  Furthermore, the frequency and intensity of heatwaves are likely to increase with a changing climate in coming years, so understanding them will only become more important.

This internship will finish up my MSc in Climate Sciences with the University of Bern, Switzerland. Having spent the last 18 months studying climatology with a more northern hemisphere, alpine, cold weather, focus, it seemed ideal to come back home and fit my studies into an Australian context, looking at Australia-relevant climate processes and the models developed locally to study them.

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