Dr Susan Wijffels: observing and understanding the world's oceans
Dr Susan Wijffels aims to quantify and understand the role of the ocean in climate, key aspects of the large-scale ocean circulation and global ocean change.
30 September 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011
Dr Susan Wijffels is recognised for her international and national leadership in the design, implementation and exploitation of the Global Ocean Observing System.
Dr Wijffels contributed to the discovery of rapid warming of the abyssal oceans.
Dr Wijffels leads the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship's ocean observing system and operational modelling research. In addition, her current projects include:
- investigating variability of the Indonesian Throughflow and its role in climate (the international INSTANT project and follow-on long term monitoring via the Integrated Marine Observing System), and improving its representation in climate models
- leading Australia’s contribution to the global Argo project and co-chairing the International Argo Steering Team
- quantifying global ocean change over the past 50 years, including the anatomy and drivers of ocean warming, how changes in the earth’s hydrological cycle are expressed in large-scale changes to the ocean salinity field and if and how climate models exhibit these behaviours.
Working with colleagues at NASA, Dr Wijffels discovered and corrected small, but systematic biases discovered in 70 per cent of measurements in the global ocean observing system.
On the basis of the corrected data, a team of Australian and American climate researchers, including Dr Wijffels, calculated the world's oceans warmed and rose at a rate 50 per cent faster in the last four decades of the 20th century than documented in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.
She contributed to the discovery of broad-scale and rapid warming of the abyssal oceans, with implications for the planetary energy budget and rate of sea-level rise.
This informs our understanding of the sea-level budget and rates of global warming, and is driving an international effort to design a more comprehensive deep-ocean observing system.
Before joining CSIRO in 1994, Dr Wijffels was a postdoctoral investigator with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, United States between 1993–94.
Dr Wijffels has been awarded a:
- Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours from Flinders University, South Australia, 1986
- Doctor of Philosophy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography and Oceanographic Engineering, 1993.
She has received a:
- Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Priestley Medal for personal excellence in oceanographic research, 2000
- Royal Society of Tasmania MR Banks Medal for distinction in mid-career, 2009
- Australian Academy of Sciences Dorothy Hill Award for excellence in earth sciences, 2004.
She currently supervises three students. She has authored or co-authored more than 60 science papers, reports and book chapters, with more than 900 citations.
Learn more about Understanding Oceans.