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The challenge

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.

Our response

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.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo and then text appears: Decadal Forecasting Project]

[Image appears of a dry Australian landscape with shifting clouds in the sky]

Dr Richard Matear: Well, Australia is a land of variability in the climate system.

[Images move through of a flooding road, a car caught in floodwaters, a thunderstorm with rolling clouds and Dr Richard Matear talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Richard Matear, Decadal Forecasting Project Leader, CSIRO]

We experience drought, we experience flood, we experience extreme weather that has huge impacts on industry and just people in general. And this effort is trying to address the ability to try to better manage that extreme events in a more effective way.

[Images move through to show Richard working on a laptop, Richard talking to the camera, Richard and another male looking at something and then a group of people looking at data on a screen]

So, we’re calling our system CAFE which stands for Climate Analysis Forecasting Ensemble System and it’s a system that basically is going to bring in a bunch of observations from the oceans and the atmosphere to kind of initialise the climate state and from that initialised climate state we’re going to kick off a bunch of different ensemble members to basically predict how the climate evolved over the Near-Term and then the third part of that effort is really to analyse how that climate system evolves and try to extract information out of our prediction.

[Image changes to show Richard talking to the camera with the sea in the background]

The key science issues that we need to tackle are really how predictable is the climate system on these sort of time scales. What is the crucial information we need to acquire to basically realise that predictability and then three to build a system that actually can extract that information from the observations and build a realistic enough climate model to deliver useful climate forecasts.

[Images move through of Richard looking and talking, Richard working on a computer and then in conversation with a female and looking at data on a screen]

This field of Near-Term climate predictions emerged as a grand challenge in the climate space and CSIRO has taken on that grand challenge of trying to use a fundamental understanding of the climate system and our previous experience in modelling climate change to tackle a new and really important for Australia which is Near-Term climate prediction.

[Image changes to show Richard talking to the camera with the sea in the background]

Climate prediction has been incredibly valuable for Australian industry and the goal this project is delivering useful climate forecasts on the multi-year, decadal time scale.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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The results

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.

A world map which shows various centres, one of which is CSIRO in Tasmania.
CSIRO, through the Decadal Climate Forecasting Project, is a World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) accredited Global Data Producing Centre. It is the first centre from the Southern Hemisphere to participate in the WMO effort. ©  MetOffice

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