20 April 2018
L-R: Dr Michael Hewson, Dr Joelle Gergis and Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
L-R: Dr Michael Hewson, Dr Joelle Gergis and Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

More than 50 guests were treated to a hard-hitting overview of a new book by award-winning climate scientist and writer Dr Joëlle Gergis at the UQ Global Change Institute this week.

In Sunburnt Country, Dr Gergis explores what Australia’s climate was like before official weather records began.

At an event co-hosted by the Australian Meteorological & Oceanographic Society (Qld), Dr Gergis outlined how scientists use tree-rings, ice cores and tropical corals to retrace the past, while not forgetting the ancient oral histories of Indigenous Australians and their largely untapped knowledge and experience in this part of the world.

By collating information found in settler and explorer diaries, which sometimes recorded surprisingly detailed weather observations, Dr Gergis and a small team of researchers were able to assemble a more complete picture of Australia’s weather patterns, spanning more than 150 years.

Dr Gergis drew many sobering conclusions from the patterns of human intervention in Australia, ending her presentation with a heartfelt plea for society to work better together to address the worrying pace of climate change.

Australia, she argued, is dangerously positioned in one of the global regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through sea-level rises, increasingly severe droughts and bigger, more catastrophic, floods and bushfires.

During a moment of personal reflection, she said her work in this area had attracted unwanted attention and harassment from those opposed to climate change, at times forcing her to challenge her own desire to research and publish in the discipline.

She said that without the support of her friends and a strong mentor at the University of Melbourne she might never have completed Sunburnt Country.

About the author

Dr Gergis has held two Australian Research Council fellowships as an internationally recognised expert in Australian and Southern Hemisphere climate variability and change.

From 2009–2012 she led the Australian Research Council Linkage funded South-Eastern Australian Recent Climate History (SEARCH) project; a landmark initiative, spanning the sciences and the humanities to reconstruct the region’s climate variability from first European settlement in 1788.

From 2009 Dr Gergis led the international Past Global Changes (PAGES) working group on Australasian climate variability of the past 2000 years (Aus2K), until the project’s completion in 2017. This involved coordinating the development of the region’s 1000 year temperature reconstruction for input into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report.

In 2013 Dr Gergis was awarded an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellowship, and her team won the 2014 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research – informally known as the ‘Oscars of Australian Science’.

In 2015 Joëlle was awarded the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research in the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne. In February 2018, she was selected to serve as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report – a global, state-of-the art review of climate change science.

Her book, Sunburnt Country: The future and history of climate change in Australia, is available through Melbourne University Publishing.

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