Issue 50 | March 2009

Meet Helen Cleugh

Dr Helen Cleugh

Dr Helen Cleugh

Most of the science conducted by Marine and Atmospheric Research staff at the Black Mountain site sits within the Climate and Atmosphere Theme lead by Helen Cleugh. The Theme's goal is to 'provide the earth system science that creates new knowledge of Australia's climate, supports adaptation responses to increasing climate changes and variability, and informs mitigation strategies'.

A scientist with CSIRO since 1994, Helen was Deputy Director of CAWCR, the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, from 2007 to early 2009 when she stepped down to lead CMAR's Climate and Atmosphere Theme. CAWCR is a jointly managed research partnership between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO. Helen is also part of a dynamic and highly productive research team who maintain long-term measurements of carbon exchanges and water use in a variety of Australian ecosystems, including forests, vineyards, savannas and suburbs. These measurements are needed to observe, understand and model the dynamics of carbon, water and energy cycles in Australian ecosystems; and explore the effects of climate variability and change – especially the vulnerability of land-based carbon sinks.

'Our research has yielded one of the very few long-term records of evaporation and net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide in a native eucalypt forest. It demonstrated not only the strength of this carbon sink, but also its large variability and vulnerability with recent droughts not only reducing rainfall, but increasing air temperatures', Helen says.

The CMAR research team also pioneered wind energy prospecting in Australia, which includes wind monitoring, to assess which sites may be suitable for wind farms, wind forecasting, and energy storage technologies. The latter is part of the Energy Transformed Flagship. CMAR's boundary layer research wind tunnel, housed in the basement of the Pye Lab, is used extensively by researchers to measure airflow and turbulence in hilly terrain, plant canopies, and in urban environments.

'We collaborate extensively with scientists across CSIRO, as well as universities within Australia and overseas. A good example of this is a new satellite remote sensing method to determine land surface evaporation (i.e. water use by plants and soil), that has been developed in collaboration with colleagues from the United States and been applied to water resources assessments by colleagues in the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship', Helen says.

'And through collaboration with our CAWCR colleagues in Melbourne, we have developed a long-term, observation-based climatology of the distribution of aerosols (wind blown dust and smoke from biomass burning) across Australia. Given that aerosols are a major source of uncertainty in current climate projections and are implicated in affecting Australia's rainfall variability, this is critical information.'

Much of this research has been funded by CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Climate Change, especially through the Australian Climate Change Science Program that has been running for 20 years and is administered by the Department of Climate Change and its predecessors.

Helen holds a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours and a Doctor of Philosophy. In 2002, Dr Cleugh was an Erskine Fellow at the Geography Department in the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.