As Oceans Rise, and Corals Bleach, Australia Fires Leading Ocean Expert
May 14, 2016
For John Church, a leading authority on sea-level rise caused by global warming, there was much that was fitting – and yet callous – about being sacked at sea.
The veteran scientist was well into one of dozens of research voyages he had taken since joining CSIRO as a post doctoral student in 1979.
His vessel, the RV Investigator, was midway between Antarctica and New Zealand and steaming north on the 170 degree longitude when he received Thursday’s call to tell him he was “potentially redundant”.
Sitting with a supporter in the ship’s conference room, Dr Church was told his services were no longer needed.
“I was OK during the call but it is certainly not a nice feeling to have what you have worked for – for so many years – thrown on the scrapheap,” the 64 year-old told Fairfax Media after finishing a 12-hour stint on watch.
Dr Church’s achievements include developing sophisticated models linking sparse tidal gauge information around the world with satellite data to reveal how much sea levels are rising.
The current mission is retracing previous journeys along the 170 W longitude line to measure precisely how key parameters such as temperature, salinity and acidity are changing.
As Dr Church notes, including in a Nature paper published last month, sea-level increases are accelerating as a warming planet melts glaciers and swells oceans.
From increases of a few tenths of a millimetre annually in the 1000 years before about 1850, the rate jumped 1.7 mm on average in the 20th century. Since 1993, the rise has quickened to about 3 mm a year, he says.
Despite this trend, CSIRO will slash about half the climate staff – about 70 scientists – in its Oceans & Atmosphere division. New hires will be made in climate adaptation and mitigation, the agency promises but numbers cited so far are much smaller.
As with other CSIRO staff, Dr Church will get a chance to save his job. The sole scientist on board to be told of a pending redundancy, he was granted until June 16 – or three weeks after the voyage ends in Wellington, New Zealand – to argue his case.