Annual report 2015

This is the fifth annual report of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS).

I think 2015 proved to be the busiest year to date. The outstanding work of our researchers continued in 2015, with a string of of successes in terms of publications, increased capacity across Australia’s climate research sector, and impressive performances by our graduate students and research fellows.

Our efforts around international collaboration were recognised by Nature, which ranked us second highest among all Centres of Excellence in Australia in terms of our international connections (see Opening borders and barriers, November 12, 2015. doi:10.1038/527S80a). The Centre also continued to build the leaders of the future, as demonstrated by the numerous major awards given in recognition of the work of our researchers and the prominent positions they are taking in major research bodies. Our work with national and international partners has also led to significant improvements in the capabilities of models here and overseas, and the continuing development of a range of software tools that have improved experimental processes and data storage.

This report details just a selection of our activities in 2015, highlighting the successes that have helped us reach our original goals and opened up new areas for research. Each research program report outlines important accomplishments through this calendar year. The extraordinary reach of our Computational Modelling Support team into every Centre research program and into the broader modelling community continues to grow.

The team is clearly creating a far-reaching legacy that will have a lasting benefit for Australian climate researchers. The accomplishments of our students, their international awards, publication record and their important input into the Centre through the Early Career Researchers Committee and the development of focused workshops has given them a strong connection to the Centre and genuine ownership of our research.

As our first crop of students conclude their PhDs, it has been rewarding to see many of them continue to maintain links with the Centre as they go to new positions here and overseas.

In what has been a very full year, there have been many impressive results. It is always a challenge to choose the best of the Centre’s accomplishments but this, as always, is my personal selection:

  • ARCCSS authors produced 185 peer reviewed publications in 2015. Three of these were in Nature. A further 11 appeared in Nature Family journals. We also published 17 papers in Journal of Climate and 14 in Geophysical Research Letters.
  • Modelling continues to be an important part of the Centre’s work. Dr Jatin Kala developed a new stomatal conductance scheme for the Community Atmosphere Biosphere Land Exchange (CABLE) that allows this land model to differentiate between different vegetation types. The scheme has reduced biases that improved the way some maximum temperatures are represented over forested areas. Dr Mark Decker, in a single-author paper, significantly revised the hydrological parameterization used in CABLE. This has led to pronounced improvements in representations of evapotranspiration and run-off. The Oceans research program team developed an ultra-high resolution regional model of the Macquarie Ridge region of the Southern Ocean, which revealed the important role that bottom topography plays in energy dissipation at the floor of the ocean. The Variability research program team continues to improve the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS) modelling hierarchy. There has been considerable focus on combining the single-column ocean model with a simple sea ice model. We are also helping lead the development of the next new ocean model, Modular Ocean Model 6 with Nicolas Hannah spending four months at Partner Organisation, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory/ National Atmospheric Oceanic Administration, which is putting together this next-generation model. Also, the current model, Modular Ocean Model 5, has been updated with a new freshwater run-off feedback scheme. The coupling of CABLE and NASA-Unified Weather Research and Forecasting has progressed well this year and a major problem linked with the coupling has finally been solved by recently graduated PhD student Annette Hirsch. Meanwhile the Tropical Convection research program team continues to find that in order to get the best representation of tropical rainfall in climate and weather models, we need to represent organised convection. This is part of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Grand Challenge and a core component of the Maritime Continent research being carried out in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). Work by former postdoctoral researcher Dr Karsten Peters at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has improved the representation of tropical convection without any variation of the mean state of the climate model. We expect this work will be published in 2016.


  • Jackson Tan is an illustration of the high quality of students and the research being done in the Centre of Excellence. A paper from his PhD thesis, “Increases in tropical rainfall driven by changes in frequency of organised convection”, was published in Nature. Jackson has since gone on to work for NASA.
  • The Centre’s Extremes research program team has yet again made a substantial contribution to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society‘s annual edition, ‘Explaining extreme events from a climate perspective’. Centre researchers were involved with five of the studies that examined key Australian extreme events.
  • Early in the year Dr Duncan Ackerley collaborated with the UK Meteorological Office after he developed a new model for running idealised experiments with ACCESS. His version of ACCESS allows both land and sea temperatures to be prescribed, something that does not routinely occur in international models. This has allowed Australian researchers to undertake some interesting modelling experiments. Because ACCESS is derived from the UK Met Office model there was an opportunity to implement the same experiment in their model and enhance our relationship with researchers in the UK.
  • There have been a number of important papers produced by the ARCCSS in 2015. A paper by Dr Andrew King in Environmental Research Letters revealed that the first signs of climate change were detectable in the data as early as the 1940s. Professor Steven Sherwood produced a paper and improved radiosonde data set that solved a long-standing mystery when it confirmed the existence of the tropospheric hotspot, which had been theorised by climate scientists and appeared in climate models. Professor Matthew England examined the hiatus in global average surface temperatures and found the current apparent hiatus in these temperatures will have little effect on future projections. An intriguing paper by Professor Michael Reader found that heatwaves over south-east Australia and the strong cold fronts that followed them had their genesis in South America and were relatively easy to forecast. A paper by Matt England reviewed the Queensland floods of 2011 and found that warming oceans increased the rainfall and made the flooding worse.
  • The Centre did outstandingly well in terms of awards. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, Shayne McGregor and Jackson Tan were awarded ARCCSS prizes. Steve Sherwood and Professor Trevor MacDougall won ARC Laureate Fellowships. Professor David Karoly was named inaugural Morton Medal winner and was awarded the Royal Society of Victoria Medal for Excellence in the Earth Sciences. Dr Sophie Lewis won an Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) Early Career Research Award and Australian Capital Territory Tall Poppy of the Year. Professor Andy Pitman and Dr Harry Hendon were both named a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. Professor Michael Roderick was named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. ARCCSS researchers won three out of four AMOS awards — Dr Adele Morrison won the Uwe Radok Award for best PhD thesis, Associate Professor Andy Hogg was given the Priestly Medal for excellence in meteorological and oceanographic research and Professor Michael Reeder won the inaugural Distinguished Research Award. Dr Andrea Taschetto was given the Dorothy Hill Award by the Australian Academy of Science.

An extraordinary visualisation was created in conjunction with National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) and using data produced by the Centre. The three-minute long animation revealed the origin and movement of Antarctic bottom water from around the southern continent and into the deep ocean. It was the first time this kind of animation had been produced and, as a direct result of what it shows, new avenues of research have opened up. In just two days this animation became the third most watched video produced by NCI. At the time of writing it has about 26,000 views.

In February, the Extremes program team hosted a WCRP Grand Challenge workshop on current observational data sets of climate extremes. This workshop brought together world experts in data set development and climate extremes research to discuss how the current data limitations can be solved. Associate Professor Lisa Alexander went on to coordinate a special issue in the journal Weather and Climate Extremes that addressed several of the WCRP Grand Challenges. Our Tropical Convection research program team has also had a prominent role in the WCRP Grand Challenges with authors from the ARCCSS and partners leading a Nature Climate Change perspective article on clouds, circulation and climate sensitivity.

This year has seen the development of a strong cross-centre focus on the investigation of marine heatwaves. A workshop held in Perth during January launched the ongoing project that aims to generate the framework of definitions for marine heatwave study and then from this look at the trends in frequency, magnitude and distribution. We expect to see this work bearing fruit in 2016.

The Scorcher website ( was relaunched this year. Not only does it have a striking new look, it has also added a great deal of information around heatwaves and the science behind them. The website relaunch was announced in the Sydney Morning Herald and the new website continues to attract the media and general public to our work.

We held another very successful winter school in Hobart at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. Its theme this year was Investigating Biogeochemistry of the Earth System. The school included 48 participants from our university nodes, QUT, University of Wollongong, University of Tsukuba in Japan and CSIRO. Beyond the science lectures the winter school schedule included professional development sessions around grant writing, the peer review process, a Python tutorial and a visit to Partner Organisation NCI.

The Centre continues to be a destination for outstanding national and international experts on short and longterm sabbatical visits. This year we welcomed 37 international visitors from six countries.

  • Our researchers continue to be influential within the scientific community through prominent leadership roles. This is not limited only to senior researchers; recent PhD graduate Hamish Clarke was elected to the Australian Academy of Science Early- and Mid-Career Forum. Within the Centre of Excellence, Sophie Lewis and Claire Vincent capably chaired our ECR committee in 2015. Several Early Career Researchers were also responsible for organising Workshops. Lisa Alexander co-chairs the WCRP Grand Challenge on climate extremes. Steve Sherwood, Chrsitian Jakob, Andy Pitman and Matthew England also hold leadership roles within the WCRP. Todd Lane continued in his role as president of AMOS as well as chairing the American Meteorological Society Committee on Mesoscale Processes. Involvement of our researchers on international steering committees is too much to mention here. The profiles of our Chief Investigators on following pages will give an insight to how active each of them have been.
  • Our work in partnership with the BoM on the Maritime Continent project made some important steps forward this past year. Our growing understanding of the atmospheric physics of this important area for Australian climate and weather will not only benefit Australia but the rest of the region to our north. We employed a new Maritime Continent Fellow and organised a cross-program workshop that included focused discussions and planning for the coming Years of the Maritime Continent (July 2017-July 2019) international field program. Professor Christian Jakob, Associate Professor Todd Lane and Dr Robyn Schofield also attended international planning meetings around this program. Our research into the Maritime Continent continues to reveal the unusual weather and climate behaviour of this region compared to other parts of the world. New research by Dr Claire Vincent has found an important link between the Madden-Julian Oscillation and the topography of this region, which generates a wide variation in the amount of rainfall and its spatial and temporal distribution. PhD student Martin Bergemann revealed that more than 50% of all rainfall here is associated with coastal effects such as land sea-breezes. This has major implications for the parameterization of convection in climate models. Michael Reeder found convective biases in models that impacted circulation and caused a feedback of errors. These biases explained why precipitation over the Maritime Continent has been difficult to realistically reproduce. Our growing understanding of how we may improve these convective schemes will improve forecasts and projections of tropical rainfall.

In summary, 2015 was a very active and successful year, but we must always look forward. Under the research program reports are statements of intent for 2016. I would encourage any of you reading this to read these carefully and think about whether there are opportunities for you to contribute to these, or extend them in innovative ways. Just touch base with us if you would like to collaborate; we retain some funds for researchers outside the Centre of Excellence to enable collaboration to be effective irrespective of the institutions you belong to.

Finally, in 2015 we looked to our longer-term future with the submission of a proposal to the ARC for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. If successful, this will see a centre funded from 2017-2023. We anticipate reviews in April and interviews in May for an announcement in June or July. In the meantime, of course, we drive forward on our existing priorities that are highlighted throughout this Annual Report.


Prof Andy Pitman
Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science

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