Gayathri Vaidyanathan

Environment/science reporter

Australia Cuts 110 Climate Scientist Jobs

Because the science is settled there is no need for more basic research, the government says

With an ax rather than a scalpel, Australia’s federal science agency last week chopped off its climate research arm in a decision that has stunned scientists and left employees dispirited.

As many as 110 out of 140 positions at the atmosphere and oceans division at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be cut, Larry Marshall, the agency’s chief executive, told staff Friday. Another 120 positions will be cut from the land and water program. Across the agency, 350 climate staff will be moved into new roles unrelated to their specialty.

Scientists say the cuts would affect Australia’s ability to cope with climate change. The nation is already the driest on Earth and experiencing significant shifts in rainfall. It would leave the global research community disabled, since CSIRO ran the Southern Hemisphere’s most comprehensive Earth monitoring and modeling programs. And it would leave young climate scientists at CSIRO without direction.

“I’m saddened for climate science itself, for services to Australia, and particularly for the younger scientists who are just starting to make their mark in this important area,” said John Church, an oceanographer at CSIRO and a world-renowned expert on sea-level rise.

Another CSIRO scientist termed the situation “depressing.” Most CSIRO scientists requested anonymity, since employees cannot discuss government policies under the terms of their contracts.

“The situation is very bad here,” the scientist said. “Eighty percent of our climate capability will be gone; it is clear that climate modeling will be cut completely.”

CSRIO is a federally funded research agency akin to NASA in the United States. Its climate change program is the largest in the nation and the most advanced in the Southern Hemisphere, a part of the world that is 80 percent ocean and is home to 12 percent of the world’s population. The bottom half of the planet has historically been understudied, a problem because gaps in monitoring the Southern Hemisphere mean gaps in understanding the global climate. CSIRO began filling in some gaps in the 1970s.

“This is not about just Australia,” another CSIRO scientist said. “Australia plays a very important role in measurements in the Southern Hemisphere.”

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