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The challenge

Understanding the complexities of the southern oceans

More than 80 per cent of the Southern Hemisphere is covered in oceans and until very recently these vast oceans were largely unmeasured and poorly understood.

Researchers do know that the southern oceans play a critical role in the global climate system through absorbing more heat and carbon dioxide than any other ocean region; influencing cycles of floods and droughts; and controlling the fate of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and its contribution to sea level rise.

Our response

Deepening our knowledge on climate and oceans

To develop a deeper understanding of the role of southern oceans in the global climate system, CSIRO, in May 2017, collaborated to create the $20 million Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (CSHOR).

Together with the Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QNLM) and university partners the University of New South Wales and the University of Tasmania, the new Centre set out to conduct fundamental research on the ocean's role in a changing climate.

CSHOR currently conducts research to improve our understanding of the complex nature of the climate system, leading to information, products and services to assist Australia, China and the world to better manage the impacts of climate variability and climate change.

The Centre builds on CSIRO's strong history of research leadership in the southern hemisphere oceans, and on our long history of international collaboration, including over 40 years of collaboration with China.

[Text appears: The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research]

[Animation image of waves appears moving up the screen and over the text and then the image changes to show Steve Rintoul talking to the camera and text appears: Steve Rintoul, CSHOR Project Leader, CSIRO]

Steve Rintoul: We’ve got some difficult decisions to make in society.  We need to decide how we’re going to respond to the challenge of climate change and how we’re going to adapt to both natural climate variability and the climate change that we don’t manage to avoid. 

[Image changes to show a group of scientists standing around a long table and the camera pans along the table]

And the key to doing that is knowing exactly what’s going to unfold in the future as climate changes and as the modes of natural climate variability respond to that climate change.

[Image changes to show Ming Feng talking to the camera and text appears: Ming Feng, CSHOR Project Leader, CSIRO]

Ming Feng: CSHOR is important because it brings together the Chinese and Australian scientists

[Images move through of scientists and then Larry Marshall and another male clapping and shaking hands]

to tackle the most crucial questions for the world ocean climate. 

[Image changes to show Prof Matthew England talking to the camera and text appears: Prof Matthew England, CSHOR Project Leader, University of New South Wales]

Prof Matthew England:  The Southern Ocean is poorly sampled.  It’s poorly represented in models that we use to predict the climate system and it’s poorly understood because of this lack of observations and models in the region. 

[Image changes to show a view of the ocean and the image shows a multi corer being drawn up out of the ocean]

So CSHOR’s filling this very important niche to get at the Southern Ocean climate system, how the oceans are warming and what the implications are for climate change.

[Images move through of Ming Feng talking to the camera, three people looking at a piece of marine science equipment and Ming Feng talking to the camera again]

Ming Feng:  So, CSHOR project will help us to use a cost effective, robotic technology to mirror the upper ocean and the copying between the upper ocean and the atmosphere which may lead to further development of the robotic technology to apply in other ocean regions.

[Image changes to show a rear view of scientists walking through a door and then the image changes to show Susan Wijffels talking to the camera and text appears: Susan Wijffels, CSHOR Scientist, CSIRO and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute]

Susan Wijffels: CSHOR is going to interact a lot with big, international campaigns. It’s going to help us understand how to build the new observing system for the ocean and how to evolve that and also some of the projects that we’re building in CSHOR have already entrained a lot of international collaborators.

[Image changes to show Xuebin Zhang talking to the camera and text appears: Xuebin Zhang, CSHOR Project Leader, CSIRO]

Xuebin Zhang: The CSHOR is a purely scientific uni, science orientated.  So, it’s very important. 

[Images move through of the side of a ship in the ocean and then the image changes to show Xuebin Zhang talking to the camera]

So even to… we got to address some of the cutting edge of scientific questions in the ocean and the climate and the model where it brings expertise from Qing LM and the CSIRO and UNSW the UTas.

[Image changes to show Steve Rintoul talking to the camera]

Steve Rintoul: CSIRO is important because it gives us the means to tackle some of the biggest open questions in the southern hemisphere ocean science.

[Music plays and CSIRO, Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, UNSW Sydney and University of Tasmania logos appears]

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The results

Answering fundamental questions to improve climate response

Research is undertaken across a number of key projects, answering the following fundamental questions about the southern oceans' role in future climate:

  • How will the El Niño – La Niña cycles that bring floods and drought to Australia will change with climate change?
  • How will changes in the ocean, including interaction with Antarctic ice shelves, impact sea level rise?
  • What is the role of the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annual Mode in the future climate?
  • What role will southern oceans play in future distribution of heat and carbon dioxide across the planet?
  • How do the oceans north of Australia influence regional and global climate, and how will these regions change in the future?

CSHOR research has begun to address some of the key challenges in climate science, such as El Niño-Southern Oscillation complexity, interactions between the three tropical oceans, and the role of Southern Ocean heat sequestration in the fate of the Antarctic sea ice, Antarctic land ice, and global sea level in a warming climate. 

Its research is also helping to underpin the next generation of climate projections needed to inform effective responses to climate change and variability, including those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

CSHOR's research is made publicly available and regularly published in high-profile peer-reviewed journals such as Nature and Nature Climate Change. This research contributes to Australian, Chinese and global efforts to effectively anticipate and adapt to future change.

The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Ocean Research opened in May 2017

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