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Climate science will be sourced elsewhere after CSIRO cuts: chief scientist

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel appeared before a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Climate science will be sourced elsewhere after CSIRO cuts: chief scientist

Australia must ensure that climate programs are maintained following cuts to climate science jobs at CSIRO, according to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

In a statement and appearance before a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday, Finkel said there was a large capacity for climate science outside the CSIRO.

Last Thursday, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall announced 350 positions at CSIRO would change under a new strategic direction, in a move criticised by experts.

On Monday, Marshall clarified that critical scientific programs, such as the measurement of carbon dioxide levels at Cape Grim and ocean and climate research aboard its vessel the RV Investigator, would continue.

He also said the Oceans and Atmosphere Division of CSIRO would likely lose 65 positions out of 420 staff.

Climate science is one of the commitments under Australia’s National Science and Research Priorities, which lists as one of its goals:

Build Australia’s capacity to respond to environmental change and integrate research outcomes from biological, physical, social and economic systems.

Finkel said his most pressing concerns were the maintenance of long-term data collection and modelling.

“The critical obligation that the CSIRO fulfils is in some of the continuous data sets that have had 40-year histories. If you have a gap in the data set, that can never be replaced retrospectively. If you’ve got a continuous data set you can decades on always come back and refine your models and analysis,” he said.

However, he said he was pleased CSIRO had committed to a transition process that would ensure research capacity was maintained, and highlighted the contributions of research outside of CSIRO.

“Australia has a large climate science research community. It’s not just the CSIRO. So my view is we have to look across the capacity amongst many organisations, including the university and research sectors, to assess our climate science research capacity.

"For us to fulfil our obligations internationally as the premier climate research country in the Southern Hemisphere we need to ensure our capacity is preserved. But there is very substantial capacity outside the CSIRO as well as within the CSIRO,” he said.