Water Research and Innovation
WINNER - Oceanic predictors of drought cycles
Indian Ocean a Crystal Ball for WA
Farmers and policy makers in southwest Western Australia can now better predict rainfall, thanks to extraordinary new research undertaken at the University of New South Wales. Professor Matthew England and his team at the Climate Change Research Centre have found a pattern of Indian Ocean temperatures that control, and can be used to predict, year-to-year rainfall variations. The team has won the Land & Water Australia Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation for their discoveries.
Recent years have seen a dramatic decline in rainfall in southwest Western Australia. With a variation of up to 70% in yearly rainfall, this part of Australia presented a quandary for scientists and real problems for freshwater supplies and agriculture. Unpredictable rainfall has caused major business and personal loss in the region. The usual predictors of Australian rainfall, El Nino/Southern Oscillation, were found to be irrelevant to this region.
England and his team set out to examine sea surface temperatures in the adjacent Indian Ocean, hoping to reveal a correlation with the erratic and declining rainfall. They not only discovered correlations, but are now able to more accurately predict rainfall based on their research.
England and his team found the declining rainfall was part of a large scale phenomenon, spanning the Indian Ocean basin as far south as the Southern Ocean. During dry years, anomalously cool water appeared adjacent to a region of unusually warm water. Coupled with a major change in wind behaviour, these surface temperatures force variations in the region's rainfall.
The Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth, says the forecasts have been tested for two years now, and are more accurately predicting wet and dry years. "Discoveries of such clear relationships are rare in our complex climate system. This work has a direct impact on policy and water resource planning in Western Australia. Very few scientists have this kind of opportunity, to see the effects of their research so immediately," he said.
Seasonal prediction of freshwater supply will have important benefits for WA water management, for policy makers and for the wider community. The results are already being applied to other regions, including tropical Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Asia.
The Climate Change Research Centre's work has also enhanced the fundamental understanding of climate system functioning, and is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the field of climate system science.
The other members of the winning team are Dr Caroline Ummenhofer, Dr Alex Sen Gupta, Dr Agus Santoso and Dr Mike Pook.
The prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the Oscars of Australian science. Coveted among science prizes, the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced at a glittering event in Sydney on 19 August attended by a ‘who's who' of Australian science, government, academia and industry.
The $10,000 Land & Water Australia Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation is awarded to an individual, team or organisation for research and innovation that has made or has the potential to make an outstanding contribution to the sustainable use and management of Australia's water resources.
The Land & Water Australia Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation is sponsored by Land & Water Australia.
The Land & Water Australia Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation is awarded to an individual, team or organisation for research and innovation that has made or has the potential to make an outstanding contribution to the sustainable use and management of Australia's water resources.
The mission of Land & Water Australia is to provide national leadership in generating knowledge, informing debate and inspiring innovation and action in sustainable natural resource management.
Land & Water Australia invests in reserach and development (R&D) to underpin the productive and sustainable management of the land, water and vegetation resources underpinning Australia's primary industries and regional communities.
The Land & Water Australia Eureka Prize is awarded for a scientific research project that has the potential to lead to substantial change in the way Australia manages, uses or protects its water resources, particularly in rural Australia.
The emphasis is on the extent to which the research is genuinely original in its thinking, rigorous in its application and of practical benefit.
The research entered can cover any aspect of sustainable use or protection of water resources, including inter-alia research fields such as water use and reuse, ecology, hydrology, economics, policy, societal change, engineering and the biophysical sciences.
Entries must address each of the following criteria:
- to what extent does the research contribute original thinking, new insights or conceptual frameworks to the management of Australia's water resources?
- does the research address new and emerging issues or does it offer a new perspective or substantial advance in understanding current problems?
- has the research developed new techniques or methods, or substantially improved existing ones to enhance their usefulness?
- does the research have the potential to change the way people, primary industries or institutions act or think? If so, how?
- how can this research lead to a practical improvement in the use, management or protection of water resources in Australia?
- how widely applicable are the results to the Australian economy, primary industries or environment?
- how was the research communicated to the target audiences? (Identify the key stakeholders - eg scientists, land managers, policy makers, and general public - and explain how the research was communicated to them.)
- has the research reached, or will it reach, those responsible for managing and/or protecting our water resources?
- what examples are there of how the research has changed the management of water resources or related ecosystems?
The prize is open to individuals or groups. Entrants can either enter themselves or be nominated by others.
Research entered for this prize must have been undertaken:
• in Australia by an Australian citizen(s) or Australian resident(s)
• undertaken no more than five (5) years prior to the closing date for entries.
Online entry forms close 5pm AEST Friday 2 May 2008. Hard copy entries will not be considered until and unless an online entry form has been completed.
Completed entries must be received by the Australian Museum no later than 5pm AEST on Friday 9 May 2008. Entries delivered to the Australian Museum after this time will not be considered.
Entries with insufficient sets of documentation will not be considered. Submitted material will not be returned.
The research entered/nominated for this prize may not be entered/nominated for another Australian Museum Eureka Prize.
The deliberations of the judging panel remain confidential. All recommendations and decisions taken are binding and final and no correspondence will be entered into on such matters.
Information provided by the entrant(s) in relation to the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes (including photos), may be used by the Australian Museum for promotional/publicity purposes.
Personal information provided in connection with the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes will be used only by the Australian Museum and only in connection with the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.
1. Complete an online entry form
Complete the online entry form by 5pm AEST on Friday 2 May 2008. Make sure you print out a copy.
2. Prepare five (5) sets of the entry, with each set consisting of:
1. a printed copy of the online entry form as submitted (this can be accessed at site)
2. a brief description of the research entered, including objectives and results to date (two page maximum)
3. a brief description of how the research entered addresses each of the judging criteria (two page maximum)
4. a maximum of four (4) written reports addressing each of the judging criteria from assessors who are familiar with the entered research. NOTE: Judges rely on assessor's reports to provide additional perspective and informed opinion on the entry. Assessors should not be personally or directly involved in the work entered in this prize.
You may if you wish also include a copy of your work from at least one externally-refereed scientific publication.
3. Submit the entry
Submit five (5) complete and separate sets of the entry clipped together (not bound). Please do NOT bother with elaborate presentation when submitting the entry. This will be removed before material is sent to judges. The five (5) sets of the entry should be sent to:
Eureka Prize for Water Research and Innovation
6 College Street
SYDNEY NSW 2010
4. DEADLINE for submission of entries
The five (5) sets of the entry must be received at the Australian Museum by 5pm AEST on Friday 9 May 2008. Entries received after this time will not be considered.