Climate studies around the world are believed to be affected by Australia’s science agency’s decision to lay off 350 researchers and shift the Cape Grim Research station’s focus to more commercial enterprises.
The Cape Grim program originated in the early 1970s to monitor and study global atmospheric composition for climate change purposes. The Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station first began measuring the composition of the atmosphere in April 1976 and has been in continuous operation ever since.
Scientists around the world have protested against this major change. They say that the loss of the Australian data — from both Cape Grim and the agency’s role in a vital ocean-monitoring program called Argo — could impair their ability to predict severe regional weather and help people prepare for extreme floods, drought, bushfires and cyclones.
About 3,000 scientists from more than 60 countries have signed a petition calling the cuts “devastating” and saying that research stations like Cape Grim are “critical and irreplaceable” to global climate science, according to the New York Times
“This, for me, is such a big shock,” said Ronald G. Prinn , director of the Center for Global Change Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “To think that you could stop measurements or throw out the people, that doesn’t make any sense to me and to many, many other people around the world.”
The 350 layoffs are to take place over two years. Officials have not specified which jobs will be cut, but members of the climate science team said they expected to lose 70 to 100 scientists, half to three-quarters of their number. The Oceans and Atmosphere division, which analyses data from both Cape Grim and Argo, has been targeted for the deepest cuts.
Cape Grim is a joint responsibility of the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The latter argues that it is not closing the two programs, but shifting missions. The move follows the 2014 appointment of Larry Marshall as the agency director. He is a former technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
Air samples are analysed at the station to determine concentrations of greenhouse and ozone-depleting gases, other air pollutants, including aerosols and reactive gases, and radon.Since sampling began at Cape Grim, more that three billion measurements have been taken.
The work at Cape Grim is critical to monitoring compliance with global climate treaties like the one signed in Paris in December, scientists said. Cape Grim, the southernmost station in the network, is the main source of tracking greenhouse gas emissions for the Southern Hemisphere.
“If they are not checked,” said Dr. Prinn of M.I.T to New York Times, “countries may overestimate reductions.”