Climate change Environment

Climate change Environment

Between 2000 and 2014, we experienced 13 of the 15 hottest years on record – and experts claim there is only a slim chance this occurred because of natural variations in the planet’s climate.

At Macquarie you’ll study all aspects of the Earth’s climate system including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, drought, floods, fires and tropical cyclones. You will learn the myriad ways in which climate change will impact human health and society, economies and energy usage, biodiversity and managed ecosystems.

Climate change units

These subjects will be taught by some of the country’s leading climate scientists here at Macquarie, all with established teaching and research experience across the science and policy of this important field.

The CLIM subjects will provide a truly multi-disciplinary approach to the study of climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation. Introducing our three new, exciting postgraduate programs in climate change for study:

  • Climate Change and The Climate System [CLIM804] (4 credit points)
  • Climate Change Impacts [CLIM803] (4 credit points)
  • Climate Change: Policies, Management and Adaptation [CLIM805] 

Undertaking these specialist subjects at postgraduate level at Macquarie may open up career prospects and further research opportunities across Government, NGO, industry consultancy bodies, corporate, mineral exploration and primary production sectors.

For further information on undertaking any of these units as part of your postgraduate studies here at Macquarie please contact the relevant academic subject convenor for each subject listed on the program guide.

Professional experience

Interested in the health and wellbeing of our planet? Be at the forefront of environmental research and workplace endeavours with Macquarie University's PACE. This unique program takes you out of the lecture theatre and into the workplace well before you graduate.

Environmental awareness and conservation is a global responsibility. Through PACE you can have the opportunity to learn what it is really like to work with leading researchers at Macquarie and the industry at large.

Previous students have gained important industry experience working with partner organisations such as the Office of Environment and Heritage and Weatherzone. Their work has included forecasting rainfall, flooding and temperature; utilising real-time rainfall data to predict regional storm front timing impacts; helping to identify and characterise drivers of poor air quality in NSW and preparing weather-related stories for Weatherzone and other syndicated websites.

See the future in a new light. No matter what you decide to study at Macquarie, PACE has an an experience for you. Learn more about the opportunities available through PACE.

About the Eureka Awards

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.


Professor Lesley Hughes’ award is recognition for her work in engaging the community in science and changing the way we talk about the science of climate change.

Professor Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University goal has always been to help change sceptical minds about the science of climate change and advance public understanding of this important community challenge.

From over 20 years of researching and communicating the science of climate change, Lesley’s has learned some valuable lessons. That catastrophising is counterproductive for example. Focusing on catastrophic risks can switch people off, and entrench contrary views even deeper.

From a research background - Lesley commenced her research career as an ecologist from a background in zoology, Leslie research interests began to focus in on predicting and then observing the effects of a changing climate on biodiversity and ecological systems. Lesley’s work then evolved into communicating these important findings beyond her scientific peers to the broader community.

Her goal is to translate the science of climate change in all its breadth and complexity to the wider public.

Moving from a climate researcher to public communicator, Lesley found quickly that:

  • Plain English beats complex reports and rigorous statistics (vital in science)
  • Visual props grab attention better than graphs
  • Listening to your audience is crucial so you can address their individual situation
  • A rational, logical argument is insufficient. Understanding why someone believes something is as important as understanding what they believe. Speaking to hearts, as well as to minds.

Lesley’s recent free, online course via Open University Australia explains the science of climate change in straightforward terms for non-scientists. The course even received praise from climate sceptics - for them, what had been lacking was a clear explanation of the science.

“With issues like climate change, the science may be settled, but the debate rages on. For many scientists, this gap between science and public understanding is unfathomable. Lesley Hughes is bridging that gap,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said.

Dr Hughes was appointed commissioner of the independent government advisory Climate Commission in 2011 and became a pro-bono founding councillor of the Climate Council of Australia in 2013. She was a lead author for the UN’s IPCC Fourth and Fifth Assessment Reports.


Lesley Hughes’ introductory video on climate change communication challenges as part of her award category submission


Lesley Hughes’ previous research recognition award – The Jim Piper Award for Excellence in Research Leadership

One such expert is Macquarie graduate Manuel Pérez Gómez-Miranda, currently a Senior Consultant for Ernst & Young in Spain. Manuel uses his mix of scientific and business expertise to guide major companies in their environmental practices.

“I work for the Climate Change and Sustainability Services (CCaSS) Department and I am focused on carbon strategies and environmental intangibles,” he says. “I supervise a team carrying out projects related to climate change, CO2 emissions, business value creation and environmental intangibles.”

He says his role at Ernst and Young requires sound knowledge of environmental science, but also key business skills and the ability to advise a diverse group of clients.

“As well as project management, there are important commercial activities that I must take care of - meeting with potential clients, looking for new business opportunities and developing new service lines,” he says.

It was this extension of skills that attracted Manuel to the idea of pursuing a conservation biology masters degree in Australia.

“After completing my bachelor degree in biology I wanted to continue with my science studies but it was not challenging enough in itself,” he recalls. “So I decided to add English to the equation to make it a lot more interesting.”

“My masters study at Macquarie not only improved my knowledge in conservation biology but also awoke in me a great interest in climate change and its impacts – something that has influenced my whole career.”

Manuel says he was “amazed” by the quality of teaching he experienced at Macquarie.

“The educational system, and the way classes were developed, were completely different from what I was used to,” Manuel adds. “It really opened my mind.”

“My time at Macquarie improved my English significantly, made me more self-confident and gave me a large network of friends and contacts all over the world."

It does so by serving as a hub for interactions between:

  • leading climate researchers
  • governmental decision-makers
  • non-governmental organisations
  • businesses
  • other stakeholders, including vulnerable communities.

Our aim for the Centre is to engage with government and industry partners to develop long term research projects and educational initiatives, building capacity across Macquarie University and beyond.

Membership of the Centre for Climate Futures is drawn from across all four Faculties of the University. The Centre encourages interdisciplinary research and builds collaborative links between researchers.

Prospective members are encouraged to email the Centre and provide details of their work in the area of climate change.

Finr out more about the Centre for Climate Futures.

It contains information on three key research areas:

  • Biodiversity – This research area is led by Climate Futures at Macquarie University, with support from CSIRO. It will focus on increasing knowledge of the capacity of species, ecosystems and landscapes to adapt to current and future climate variability, identify refuges where species can survive extreme events, and explore ways to make integrated decisions for local land use plans that optimise biodiversity outcomes.
  • Adaptive communities – This research area is led by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, with support from CSIRO. It will increase knowledge of ways in which urban and rural communities adapt and respond to current and future extreme events and climate variability, and explore ways in which the government can support communities in building their resilience and adaptive capacity.
  • Coastal processes and responses – This research area is led by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) with support from the Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure (ACCARNSI). It will focus on providing local communities and councils in coastal zones with information on coastal and estuary impact assessment, risk management and adaptation responses.

The Hub draws on priorities developed through OEH knowledge strategies and a need to develop research that is operationally relevant.

The Biodiversity Node

Our vision for the Biodiversity Node of the NSW Adaptation Research Hub is a dynamic, collaborative partnership of researchers with OEH scientists, managers and policy makers, incorporating a broad spectrum of partners from universities, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship (CAF), the NSW Department of Primary Industries, local governments, community groups and business.

The Node will be a facilitative body catalysing and supporting the research efforts of the wider adaptation community by providing leadership and coordination with an emphasis on linking researchers to end–users.

Researcher Dr Trevor Keenan led the study across temperate forests of North America, where a strong trend of seasonal changes indicates an ecological adaption to extend the “green” seasons, thus enhancing ecosystem carbon uptake.

The study shows increased carbon uptake, for both an earlier spring and later autumn. This constitutes a positive response to climate change, and is serving to slow the rate of warming.

“In contrast to previous suggestions, this study shows that carbon uptake through photosynthesis increased considerably more than carbon release through respiration. We observed a strong trend for both an earlier spring and later autumn,” said Dr Keenan.

Researchers assessed changes of temperate forests, combining long-term ground observations of the timing of spring and autumn, satellite observations, and ecosystem-scale carbon dioxide flux measurements, along with 18 terrestrial biosphere models.

“The timing of plant life cycle (phenological) events exerts a strong control over ecosystem function, and leads to multiple feedbacks to the climate system.

“The terrestrial biosphere models tested misrepresent the temperature sensitivity of phenology, and thus the effect on carbon uptake. Our analysis of the temperature-phenology-carbon coupling suggests a current and possible future enhancement of forest carbon uptake due to changes in phenology.”

This study means researchers could directly observe the effect climate change is having on ecosystem function in North America. To date, little still is known about how Australian ecosystems have responded to global warming, but Keenan and Macquarie’s world-leading environmental sciences research team will continue to examine these questions.

The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Harvard University, Boston University, The Ohio State University, USDA Forest Service, Harvard Forest, the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Germany, and the Carbon Dioxide Informational Analysis Centre, USA.

This changed timing of rainfall may impact grasses and crops, with different rooting depths to trees, in different ways.

Because extreme precipitation, or changed timing of precipitation, changes soil water content, this is likely to affect plant growth. This means food production, forestry industry, biodiversity and carbon and water cycles may also be affected, depending upon the region, and soil types.  

Interactions with pests and pathogens, and invasive species may also be influenced by extreme precipitation changing soil water content.

Dr Melanie Zeppel and Jessica Wilks of Macquarie University,  in an international collaboration with Professor James Lewis, Fordham University, New York, conducted a global review of how plants respond to extreme precipitation in different ecosystems around the planet, such as dry grasslands, woodlands, warm humid tropical rainforests, savannas, as well as cold deserts. Their paper is published in Biogeosciences.

Dr Zeppel says that seasonal changes to rainfall “may have significant effects on plant water stress and growth rates.”

Despite the fact that we are seeing more intense droughts, storms and floods, we don’t currently know how many plants, particularly deep-rooted trees, will respond to this changed timing of precipitation.

“Knowledge of how plants respond to extreme precipitation is essential to understanding plant responses to future climates. This inspired us to examine the current state of knowledge.

“CSIRO and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agree that in future we are likely to experience more extreme weather, with many regions receiving intense droughts, floods, as well as hotter heatwaves and bush fires.

“Even if the amount of rainfall within a year stays the same, in future, rain is likely to fall in more intense and ‘extreme’ rain events. That means rather than many, small rain events, we are likely to experience, fewer, more heavy rain events,” she says.

Precipitation may also shift seasons, for example, with more falling in Autumn, and less falling in Spring.

Consequences included delayed flowering, significantly less fruit production, smaller plant size and mortality in some regions and soil types, with plants in other regions growing larger.

“We were excited to find some intriguing results. In certain low rainfall regions, extreme precipitation caused growth rates to go up, whereas in wetter regions, extreme precipitation caused plant growth to decrease. It will be fascinating to see if this pattern holds across different ecosystems, and whether there is a threshold, above which changed precipitation timing causes plant growth to decline.”

This research is presented in the paper ‘Impacts of extreme precipitation and seasonal changes in precipitation on plants in the EGU open access journal Biogeosciences.
Zeppel, M. J. B., Wilks, J. V., and Lewis, J. D.

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