Predicting long-term climate trends with near-term impact
Australia has one of the most variable climates in the world. Our climate's natural variability is further exacerbated by extreme climate events such as drought, flooding and bushfires. Research and observations also show that our climate is changing due to anthropogenic (human) impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere.
The frequency, persistence and intensity of extreme events are also shifting. It's therefore more important than ever to understand not only what long-term future climate trends may look like, but critically, how these changes will influence climate variability (and much of Australia's economy) in the near-future.
Many of Australia's industries, such as agriculture, aquaculture and energy, are climate-sensitive and are vulnerable to extreme climate events. Adding to this, decision makers, regulators and stakeholders working across these industries often plan resource management and business decisions on the one to ten year timescale – and therefore require climate predictions that can help identify periods of increased profitability and/or risk.
While current weather and seasonal forecasts can help predict conditions between several days and a few months ahead, we are currently missing a key piece of the puzzle: what will our climate look like anywhere between one year and a decade into the future? That research gap is now being filled by our work in decadal forecasting, providing invaluable insights to industry and beyond.
Decadal Climate Forecasting Project
We've undertaken the challenge of delivering useful climate forecasts, with our Climate Science Centre currently leading a Decadal Climate Forecasting Project to enable climate predictions on the annual to decadal scale.
Our researchers have built a system called the Climate Analysis Forecast Ensemble (CAFE). The CAFE system, which includes 100 climate models, assimilates a vast array of in-situ and remotely sensed ocean and sea-ice observations – including satellite observations, robotic instruments such as ARGO and new marine observation networks such as the IMOS (the Integrated Marine Ocean Observing System). These models provide forecasts and statistics as far out as 10 years.
While the development of CAFE is still in its preliminary stages, its forecast skill is comparable to current state of the art seasonal forecasting systems.
Equipping decision-makers with better knowledge
Climate prediction on an annual to decadal timescale has the potential to deliver huge benefit to the Australian economy, as well as communities and government by informing decision-making in areas such as risk management and natural asset management.
Near-term climate prediction remains a huge challenge. Fortunately, even in early stages, advanced climate forecasts are of significant economic value and can equip decision-makers in agriculture, energy and other sectors with the knowledge to better manage risks and opportunities - in addition to informing where to best direct resources.
The Decadal Climate Forecasting (DCFP) team is presently working with clients to explore the utility of their climate forecasts for managing hydroelectric, agriculture and fisheries.
In 2020, the DCFP team joined a World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) effort by becoming an accredited Global Data Producing Centre for near-term climate forecasting. The near-term climate predictions are now available through the MetOffice website.