Goal: A customer- and partner-focused Group that is scientific, innovative, diverse and inclusive.
The Science and Innovation Group harnesses Earth science undertaken by an increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce to provide innovative systems and services that deliver great impact and value for the Bureau’s customers and partners. These systems and services are enhanced by mutually beneficial national and international relationships that allow the Bureau and our partners to achieve more together than they can alone.
At 30 June 2020, the Group consisted of three Programs with the following responsibilities:
Global and National Science Relationships
Enhancing our world-class science and innovation outcomes through high-value international and national relationships.
Whole-of-enterprise coordination of collaborations.
Enhance our influence in national and global forums.
Research and development to support the Bureau's scientific systems, and customers and partners.
Research to Operations
Transfer of the Bureau's operational prediction systems from research to operations.
Throughout 2019–20, the Science and Innovation Group focused on the delivery of three outcomes that support the delivery of the Bureau’s Strategy and purpose. The Group’s achievement in delivering each of these outcomes is discussed below.
Outcome 1: An adaptive weather, climate and water knowledge agenda informed by deep customer and partner insight and understanding.
Achieving the outcome
Creating a new vision for research and development
In April, the Bureau released a new ten-year Research and Development Plan 2020–2030 outlining its vision for research and development that reflects customer needs and ways to meet them. The Plan highlights four objectives focused on delivering targeted improvements to underpinning numerical prediction capabilities and to forecast delivery and services based on identified needs, to deliver more accurate, timely, and tailored insights over the next decade. The plan will help the Bureau implement its Strategy and deliver world-class services for all Australians.
Establishing an Antarctic prediction system
A scoping study was completed to document the requirements of an Antarctic prediction system to support the delivery of enhanced forecast services for the high southern latitudes. This system will provide forecasts for safe and effective aviation, shipping and other operations within the Antarctic region.
Strengthening international and national partner relationships
The Bureau continued to uplift its strategic relationships with priority international and national partners through an enterprise-wide partnership framework including the identification of partnership stewards, the development of principles for international representation and governance management tools to support the measurement and tracking of partnership health over time. The realignment of international relations functions to the Office of the CEO in 2020–21 will also enhance the Bureau’s role in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC).
Climate Processes Team Leader Dr Matthew Wheeler was appointed as an expert member of the newly formed WMO Research Board and the WMO research representative on the WMO-IOC Joint Collaborative Board, which now oversees all collaboration between meteorological and oceanographic activities in the UN system.
Developing an enterprise innovation framework
The Bureau progressed development of its enterprise innovation framework, which aims to strengthen and enhance the organisation's innovative capacity. The framework will enable the Bureau to best support the development of deep understanding, creative thinking and enduring partnerships and generate novel solutions for its customers and organisation. Implementation of the framework will begin in the second half of 2020.
Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 1 include:
implementing systems to deliver more frequent high-resolution predictions;
developing customer-focused products across different timescales; and
implementing the Bureau's enterprise innovation framework.
Outcome 2: A scientific capability of global standing and connectivity, excelling in a collaborative, innovative, diverse and inclusive workplace.
Achieving the outcome
Improving how the Bureau transfers research into operations
During the year, the Bureau consolidated the functions associated with the operationalisation of its numerical environmental and weather prediction services into a new Research to Operations Program. The establishment of this dedicated Program will improve the efficiency of applying the Bureau's research and development advancements into better products and services that ultimately enhance the impact and value delivered to the Australian community.
The Program's first operationalisation of a major Bureau numerical and environmental weather prediction system was for a new system of tropical cyclone prediction. This also involved decommissioning the superseded system of tropical cyclone prediction after a period of side-by-side running to confirm the new system was operating as expected.
Improving guidance post-processing
A large fraction of the value of numerical weather prediction model output is only realised when the ‘raw’ model output is processed to reduce errors and derive more useful quantities for end-users. The implementation of the new Aurora computing platform in August enabled the Bureau to make a significant upgrade to its gridded guidance post-processing. The resulting quality improvements enable greater automation of routine functions so that operational meteorologists can devote more effort to high-impact and customer-decision support tasks.
In collaboration with the UK Met Office, the Bureau commenced work on implementing a replacement post-processing system known as IMPROVER. This system will provide probabilistic guidance for basic weather variables based on Bureau state-of-the-art high-resolution rapid update weather models and international models.
Showcasing the Bureau’s scientific capabilities and achievements
The Bureau held its annual R&D workshop in November, focusing on recent scientific advances that have improved weather, water, ocean and climate services. Involving 225 participants from 48 organisations, the event provided an opportunity for the Bureau to engage and collaborate with its partners, customers and other stakeholders. A total of 76 presentations and six in-depth workshops showcased how the Bureau and partners can provide the Australian community with improved services and improved decision-making abilities, resulting in greater impact and value.
Weather, climate and water research for improved insight and understanding
The Bureau continued to undertake weather, climate and water research to discover insights and build on its understanding to improve services to its customers and create shared value with its partners. In particular, the Bureau:
continued to participate in the National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Earth System and Climate Change Hub, supporting world-leading, customer-focused research in collaboration with CSIRO and universities;
developed a new dataset of 'application ready' data to serve the hydrological community as it moves towards seamless services, from past climate records through weather and climate forecasts to projections; and
continued its partnership with the Victorian Government to deliver the Victorian Water and Climate Initiative. The Initiative is highlighting shifts in Australia's extreme hourly precipitation and the contribution of atmospheric greenhouse gas increases to the cool-season rainfall de cline in southeast Australia since the start of the Millennium Drought.
Welcoming interns for mutual benefit
In February, the Bureau's Research Program hosted five-week internships for three students from Monash University and The University of Melbourne with backgrounds in meteorology, mathematics and statistics, software engineering and biomedical science. The students were enthusiastic about exploring questions of relevance to the Bureau and participated in product and service improvement projects, including on rainfall guidance and fire weather forecasts. The students engaged with Bureau staff with various backgrounds and career experiences to learn what had helped them find meaningful, interesting and motivating work.
University internships have mutual benefits for the Bureau and supporting universities. It helps develop innovative thinking, bring in new ideas and thinking, and facilitate knowledge transfer of Bureau data, service concepts and research. Some previous interns have gone on to work for the Bureau, while others have noted that their internship experience helped them in a STEM career.
Highlights and significant events
Developing fire danger information on timescales from weeks to decades
Bureau researchers developed new capabilities for bushfire weather prediction that are consistent across different timescales. These include multi-week to seasonal predictions developed for the first time for Australia (in collaboration with the Country Fire Authority and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Victoria and the Bushfires and Natural Hazards CRC), as well as future climate projections throughout this century. A novel calibration method was developed to make these data consistent with observations-based fire weather data back to 1950 (available from http://www.bom.gov.au/jsp/ncc/climate_averages/ffdi/index.jsp).
The new suite of seamless products was used extensively during the devastating 2019–20 summer fires, including in long-range predictions provided to State and Territory fire agencies. The climate projections were used to help understand why the observed conditions were so severe compared to historical records. Future projections can also be used for long-term planning activities for bushfires and other hazards (including cyclones, thunderstorms and east coast lows); for example, as part of research summaries provided to the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC) and partner agencies for input to their climate adaptation applications.
Using new observations from the Timor Sea to improve weather and climate prediction
Bureau scientists led a voyage of the RV Investigator to the Timor Sea during October to December as part of the international Years of the Maritime Continent project. The aim of the voyage was to take measurements of the atmosphere and ocean in regions where global weather and climate prediction models have shown large errors. This information will then be used to target model development to reduce errors and improve forecast performance. The voyage involved scientists from other institutions and countries, all coming together to make the best possible use of the ship time awarded by the Marine National Facility.
Of particular interest for the Bureau were observations relating to atmospheric waves, the development and movement of storms, the diurnal cycle, and atmosphere-ocean transfers of heat, momentum and moisture. Radiosonde launches were made at least twice per day, and sometimes up to eight times per day, and storms were tracked by the dual-polarised Doppler meteorological radar. Work is continuing to quality-control the measurements taken during the voyage to ensure they are suitable for detailed studies of the processes that cause the model errors.
Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 2 include:
increasing the availability of satellite-derived inputs to numerical prediction systems;
developing coupled ensemble data assimilation for numerical weather prediction and water models; and
progressing development of seamless weather and climate forecasting processes, and near seamless national water prediction.
Outcome 3: Sustained deployment of excellent science and innovation outcomes in systems and services, delivering greater impact and value for customers.
Achieving the outcome
Supporting the Bureau's transformation through improved modelling
The Bureau continued to enhance its operational weather prediction models during 2019–20. A new system for tropical cyclone prediction was introduced, providing major improvements in the accuracy of the extreme wind speed predictions for these devastating phenomena.
A new suite of high-resolution systems was approved for deployment, including the Bureau's first high-resolution ensemble weather prediction system to provide information about the forecast uncertainty, as well as the mostly likely outcome. This information is in high demand by many users such as emergency services, transport and the energy sector. These high-resolution systems are made possible by the computing power available from the Bureau's supercomputer Australis.
In June, the operational ACCESS-G3 global model suite was updated to include extra observational sources, compiled to improve the resilience of the observing systems and inclusion of newer satellites with better-performing instruments. These changes generated four to six-hour improvements in forecast skill across several measures, equivalent to two to three years' worth of system development.
Climate model improvements through field campaigns in cold places
With support from the National Environmental Science Program and the Australian Antarctic Partnership Program, the Bureau gained significant understanding of the physical processes involved in aerosol-cloud-radiation-precipitation interactions over the Southern Ocean. The inaccurate representation of these processes in the Bureau's ACCESS climate model results in strong biases in the surface radiation budget that have far-reaching impacts on the ability to predict several aspects of the Australian climate of the future. Evaluating satellite products over this region to allow for them to be used quantitatively for process studies, and further characterising the underlying causes of the shortwave radiation bias in ACCESS using our observations.
Improved volcanic ash predictions for the aviation industry
The world's first volcanic ash ensemble forecasting system that produces probabilistic forecasts of volcanic ash became operational in June. Developed by the Bureau over several years, the Dispersion Ensemble Prediction System will help the Bureau's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) provide improved information to the aviation industry on where an ash cloud is likely to form based on real-time conditions when an eruption occurs. Once a volcanic eruption has been identified, the new system takes around 10 minutes to produce a probabilistic forecast before sending this critical information to the VAAC forecasting desk and on to the aviation industry. Previous models were deterministic, meaning one single answer was provided; however, small errors in wind direction or speed meant that there could be significant deviations in the position of the ash cloud relative to that which was predicted. The new forecasts will improve the volcanic ash advisories issued by the VAAC and enable the aviation industry to better manage risk.
Developing better numerical prediction systems for the marine environment
The Bureau’s global ocean modelling system OceanMAPS was upgraded in May to incorporate new physics and to utilise atmospheric forcing from the Bureau's ACCESS-G3 model. The upgraded version has demonstrated performance improvements, particularly for sea surface temperature predictions. The national storm surge system was updated to incorporate an ensemble wave model that will provide better storm surge forecasts for coastal communities and the emergency services during severe storm and cyclone events.
Advances in long-range prediction
In September, the first ever multi-week forecasts of the Australian climate were made available to the public. Research and development focused on expanding the set of available forecasts to include forecasts of temperature and rainfall extremes on both multi-week and seasonal timescales. This included undertaking research to understand the predictability of forecasting extremes, model strengths and weaknesses, and to generate a large set of prototype forecast products for trial by the agricultural sector, as part of the Rural R&D for Profit Program's 'Forewarned is Forearmed' project and the Northern Australia Climate Program (NACP).
Forecasts of the northern wet season onset and the Madden–Julian Oscillation were made operational, in part funded by NACP. The Bureau also produced a series of training videos to support its multi-week and seasonal prediction experimental products for the 'Climate Mates' group of farmers as part of the NACP project. A post-processing component was also added to the forecast suite to support the generation of prototype and operational forecast products.
In conjunction with the Energy Sector Climate Initiative, the Bureau ran high-resolution climate simulations for the remainder of the century to better understand the impact of a changing climate on Australia's coastal regions. This work supplements the high-resolution analysis of the current climate—Bureau of Meteorology Atmospheric high-resolution Regional Reanalysis for Australia (BARRA) —that was completed last year.
To test the validity of using the ACCESS-S2 model for longer-term forecasts, the Bureau has been running the model using historical observations from the last 38 years. This process, known as hindcasting, is useful because it tests the model performance using real observational data where the outcome is known. For the first time a limited trial set of ACCESS-S2 hindcasts were produced that forecast out to five years into the future. Initial results showed the potential for useful forecasts out to 18 months, but further work is required to assess the benefits of longer-term multi-year forecasts.
Highlights and significant events
Developing new tools to track the rapid intensification of agricultural drought
As part of the Northern Australia Climate Project, the Bureau has been working on tools that can help identify and potentially predict the rapid intensification of agricultural droughts. An example of this intensification occurred in eastern Australia during late 2019, when the existing dry conditions rapidly worsened due to a combination of very low rainfall, high temperatures and sometimes stronger winds. The Evaporative Stress Index (ESI), which is based on the ratio between actual and potential evapotranspiration, has been applied and studied in Australia for the first time to capture these aspects of drought that are important for vegetation.
In times of worsening drought, potential evapotranspiration far exceeds the actual evapotranspiration, meaning that rapid and strong decreases in the ESI can be used to indicate a 'flash drought'. Such changes in the ESI were observed over eastern Australia from mid-October 2019 to mid-January 2020. Work is continuing on using the ACCESS-S model to predict these changes in the ESI for valuable input to the Bureau's agricultural customers.
Real-time trial of the pyrocumulonimbus firepower threshold
Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) are deep fire-generated clouds which often heighten the volatility of existing fires by generating unpredictable wind gusts and lightning that may ignite new fires. The atmospheric favourability for the formation of pyroCb can be predicted by estimating the theoretical minimum firepower (fire intensity) required for these clouds to form, termed the pyrocumulonimbus firepower threshold (PFT). The Bureau developed a PFT 'flag'—the ratio of the PFT to a modified fire danger index—to identify a set of conditions that support both intense fires and deep moist plume growth. Forecasts of the PFT, PFT flag and their main ingredients were generated in a real-time trial for fire-weather forecasters and fire-behaviour analysts during the southern Australian fire season.
The trial was a great success, with some indication of pyroCb threat identified for almost all cases, and the PFT forecast products were strongly endorsed by users. The trial highlighted several broader issues with the understanding and definition of pyroCb, and the forecasting challenges associated with the phenomenon. The trial also identified opportunities for further development, many of which will be addressed in an upcoming project sponsored by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Next generation of hail analysis and nowcasting services
Hailstorms continue to have significant impacts on Australia’s economy, as demonstrated by events such the Canberra hailstorm in January. Early warnings remain one of the most effective ways to minimise hailstorm impacts, and the Bureau's Radar Science and Nowcasting Team embarked on a new project to modernise the hail analysis and nowcasting techniques used by forecasters. The HailTrack technique (developed in collaboration with the University of Queensland) was at the core of this project, which utilises the Bureau’s new polarimetric and Doppler radars to deliver a physically based approach for predicting hail impact. This approach provides increased lead-time for hail predictions and more accurate spatial mapping of hail impacts.
In collaboration Insurance Australia Group (IAG), gridded insurance loss datasets were analysed for a 2018 Sydney hailstorm event to quantify the skill of different radar techniques, and a machine-learning approach produced a short-term forecast of hail. Insurance data at the postcode level for other recent events were also used to quantify the skill of radar products and directly estimate losses from those events.
Work was also completed to support the next version of Monash University's WeatheX app, which gathers hail reports from the public, drone mapping of hailstone swaths, and in-situ probe measurements of hailstone trajectories. An initiative with IAG’s partner hail repair business, Smart Repairs, also began to utilise the data collected by their drive-through 3D scanner for quantifying hail size and concentration.
Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 3 include:
upgrading seasonal, ocean and wave predictions;
undertaking experimental numerical weather and ocean prediction; and
undertaking high-resolution water and water resources modelling.