Issue 61 | March 2010

Susan Wijffels honoured with two significant science awards

Prof Neville Nicholls and Susan Wiffjels.

Prof Neville Nicholls and Susan Wiffjels

Hobart oceanographer, Susan Wijffels, is the recipient of two prestigious science awards, both in recognition of her leadership in ocean measurements.

Susan received the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society's Priestley Medal from the Society's National President, Prof Neville Nicholls, and in the next few weeks will be formally presented with the Royal Society of Tasmania's MR Banks Medal.

Susan leads Australia's primary ocean observation research group in the Wealth from Oceans Flagship (WfO) and the Australian Integrated Marine Observing System. She is a world expert on the way ocean currents transport salt and freshwater between oceans – a vital aspect of global ocean circulation and its role in the Earth's climate.

Making the AMOS Priestley Medal presentation, Prof Nicholls said Susan's research has been critical to our understanding and prediction of climate.

'Her innovative work on the Indonesian Throughflow and her development of methods for deducing long-term trends in the global hydrological cycle from ocean data, have resulted in landmark studies.

'In recent years, she has provided exemplary leadership of the Australian Argo team, yet continued to maintain an impressive publication record of highly cited journal papers', he said.

The awards were presented for her leadership in measurement techniques in global ocean studies, which have contributed to recognition that the oceans are absorbing and accumulating heat as a result of global warming.

In 1999, she led the first trial of ten Argo robotic profilers in the Indian Ocean, north-west of Australia. Since then, almost 6 800 profilers have been deployed in all the world's oceans, including in the past year under the ice in the Antarctic. As of 1 March this year, 3 350 profilers are operating and providing data to scientists, with Australia's 170 floats making it the fifth largest national contribution.

Another major project she led for Australia included INSTANT, a $3 million, five-nation project to deploy moored instruments in a series of straits and passages of the Indonesian Archipelago. With colleagues, Susan worked to resolve an ocean data issue from the 1980s relevant to heat content in the ocean and global sea level rise. This research was published in Nature.

As well as being a research leader with WfO, Susan led CSIRO's management of an international program to train young scientists in modelling, jointly conducted with the University of Tasmania.

Originally from Geraldton, Susan obtained her honours degree at Flinders University, South Australia, and undertook doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

In 1997, the Royal Society of Tasmania instituted the MR Banks Medal to be awarded biennially to a scholar of distinction in mid-career and in any field relevant to the Society. The Medal is to honour Dr MR Banks' contribution to science and to the Royal Society of Tasmania.

Previous CSIRO winners of the MR Banks Medal include:

Recent CSIRO winners of the Priestley Medal include:

For more information contact Craig Macaulay.