[ASC-media] Media Release: Australian Scientist Who Overturned Climate Change Assumptions Awarded Prize

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Mon Oct 26 01:31:04 CET 2009

EMBARGO: Noon Tuesday 27 October 2009

Prize Awarded to Australian Scientist Who Overturned Climate Change  

Dr Michael Roderick has been awarded the 2009 Australasian Science  
Prize for climate change research that “has raised questions of global  

Now in its tenth year, the Australasian Science Prize recognises world- 
class science by Australasia’s most inspiring minds. Judging criteria  
include scientific originality, breadth of impact and communication to  
both the scientific and broader communities.

The Prize will be presented to Dr Roderick, a joint Fellow in The  
Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences and  
Research School of Biology, at ANU on Tuesday 27 October.

Dr Roderick’s publications in several peer-reviewed journals during  
the past 12 months are based on a deceptively simple experiment that  
measures the rates of water evaporation from about 300 standardised  
pans distributed around Australia and more overseas. Intriguingly, the  
pans reveal that although the world has been warming, evaporation has  
been declining.

Dr Roderick explains the paradoxical evidence: “London receives about  
600 mm of rainfall every year, and the surrounding landscape is green  
and wet. On average, Canberra also receives around 600 mm each year  
but the surrounding landscape is much drier and largely brown. The  
landscape differences are largely due to the different rates of  
evaporation. Evaporation is much higher in Canberra than London.

“Needless to say, there has been a widespread expectation that  
evaporation would increase as air temperature rises with global  
warming. It has been anticipated, for example, that wet and green  
places like London would become more like Canberra should global  
temperatures rise.

“There was surprise amongst the global scientific community when  
confronted with observations showing that the evaporation of water  
from pans has been, on average, declining over the last 30–50 years  
just as global temperatures have been rising. Understanding and  
unravelling the ‘pan evaporation paradox’ underpins the whole question  
of how water availability has changed and might change.”

Dr Roderick’s analysis of radiation, temperature, humidity and wind  
speed measurements has been comprehensive. He has shown that several  
factors are at work simultaneously, with declining wind speed and/or  
declining radiation being the major global factors behind declining  

Dr Roderick’s research has been published since the mid-2006 cut-off  
date for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Report  
(2007). It therefore updates the IPCC’s models, particularly in  
relation to rainfall forecasts.

Earlier in the year Dr Roderick and PhD researcher Wee Ho Lim released  
the Atlas of the Global Water Cycle. These maps, averaged from a  
number of the IPCC’s climate models, showed the history of rainfall in  
regions of Australia and overseas and outlined the best rainfall  
projections, with uncertainties stated.

A separate study of the water-stressed Murray–Darling Basin (MDB),  
released exclusively with this announcement, finds “fundamental  
differences” between public beliefs about climate change and  
scientific observations. The study by Dr Roderick and Professor Graham  
Farquhar, a plant physiologist at the ANU, finds that “the public  
perception is that it will get drier, whereas the scientific basis is  
that it will rain more on a global average basis. When averaged across  
all models, a robust prediction is for global precipitation to  
increase annually by 17 mm for every 1°C of warming.”

The study finds that some regions will become wetter while others will  
become drier. “We should not give up on agriculture and water  
resources in the MDB and other once-productive regions,” Dr Roderick  
remarks. “The future is not necessarily as bleak as appears from the  
recent and continuing drought.”

The awarding of the Australasian Science Prize to Dr Roderick has been  
lauded by independent reviewers. According to Dr Roger Gifford, Chief  
Research Scientist in CSIRO’s Plant Industry: “Observations and  
conclusions like Dr Roderick’s will improve climate change predictions  
and lead to more realistic assumptions about the nature of human- 
induced climate change that sit behind a great deal of climate change  
impacts and adaptation research. He is a scientist’s scientist.”

Dr Thomas Barlow, a research policy specialist, adds: “This is  
curiosity-led science that has raised questions of global  
significance. He starts with very simple but important questions and  
answers them with extraordinary rigour and originality. In my mind  
this is truly inspirational stuff – science at its best.”

Please credit AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE as the source of this story.

To arrange for an interview with Dr Roderick contact Penny Cox, ANU  
Media on (02) 6125 3549 or 0424 016 978. A photo of Dr Roderick on  
location and maps are available.

For a copy of a complete article in the magazine call the Editor, Guy  
Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015 or Senior Correspondent, Peter Pockley, on  
(02) 9660 6363. (Both will be in transit on Tuesday morning for the  

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