Women in STEM at the forefront of climate response

11 February 2020

A meeting today with four inspirational female scientists at the forefront of bushfire forecasting, flood management and rural climate management has highlighted the vital roles of women in science and the importance of encouraging more girls into the field.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it was a privilege to meet with four leading scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) at Parliament House to discuss their work and the ways we can create more opportunities for women and girls, who are still under-represented in science around the world.

Dr Mika Pearce, Victoria Dodds, Chantal Donelly and Dr Debbie Hudson are part of an amazing team of BoM scientists who are leading the way in our understanding of the nation’s key environmental challenges.

There are a number of other female scientists making vital contributions across the Environment portfolio – from Dr Sally Box leading Australia’s threatened species conservation, to Louise Emmerson working on seabird ecology in the Australian Antarctic Division.

Departmental scientists have had an integral role in the Australian Government’s bushfire response. While Dr Sally Box has been overseeing the wildlife and threatened species bushfire recovery Expert Panel, Dr Sue Fyfe and Alexis McIntyre their teams have delivered spatial analysis and mapping data to inform prioritisation of bushfire recovery and funding to fire-affected species.

At a time when science is at the forefront of so much global discussion, it is perhaps more important than ever that we are attracting the best and brightest young minds, and many of those will, of course, be women.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls and it is a day I am very proud to support.

On days like today we should not only recognise the outstanding contributions of those women working at the forefront of Australian science, but also encourage more girls to study and pursue a career in STEM-related fields.

About the scientists:

  • Dr Mika Peace is one of Australia's leading scientists in bushfire meteorology, specialising in how the atmosphere and fire interact—and often create their own weather systems—to allow for improved fire weather forecasting. The outcomes of Mika's research have been used during the recent bushfires to identify the impacts that fire may have on the surrounding atmosphere. Mika's also been embedded with a number of fire agencies around Australia during the recent bushfires to assist with critical fire forecasting for enhanced decision making by emergency services.
  • Victoria Dodds is the Flood Services Manager at the Bureau of Meteorology. Victoria has been on the forefront of enhancing the Bureau’s operational response to disaster management and in particular flooding.
  • Chantal Donnelly is the Water Investigation Manager at the Bureau of Meteorology. Chantal is leading work at the Bureau to enhance the accuracy and timescales of water resource information, working closely with the water and related sector to improve outcomes.
  • Dr Debbie Hudson is leading the research team focusing on multi-week and seasonal climate forecast applications. Debbie is one of the Bureau leads Forewarned is Forearmed project, which is supported by funding from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, in partnership with several rural Research and Development Corporations. This project will provide forecasts of multi-week and seasonal climate extremes to farmers, providing the information and tools for improved decision making across the dairy, beef, sheep, grains, sugar and wine industries.
  • Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box has a PhD in Plant Sciences and champions the implementation of the Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy and practical conservation actions to recover our most threatened plants and animals. Dr Box works with conservation organisations, governments, community and the private sector to develop new initiatives and approaches and increase momentum for threatened species conservation.
  • Kerry Cameron is a senior adviser in the Office of the Threatened Species Commissioner, where she assists Dr Sally Box with Government efforts to raise awareness and support for Australia’s threatened species. This year, Kerry is also completing her PhD on coral reef restoration with Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University, developing and refining new methods for recovering damaged reefs by seeding them with millions of baby coral larvae.
  • Seabird Ecologist Louise Emmerson leads the Seabird Ecology Research group based at the Australian Antarctic Division ensuring our science supports informed management decisions and improved conservation outcomes for Antarctic breeding seabirds. Their research focuses on identifying and minimising negative impacts on the birds from human activities in Antarctica and other current or emerging threats.
  • Dr Sue Fyfe leads the Terrestrial and Marine Landscape Analytics Section in the Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN). Sue and her team have been working closely with the Threatened Species Commissioner's Expert Panel of scientists to deliver spatial analysis, modelling, data analytics and biodiversity knowledge that inform the Australian Government's prioritisation of bushfire recovery and funding to fire-affected species, ecological communities, heritage places and the national reserve system.
  • Alexis McIntyre leads the Spatial Enablement Section in ERIN, the effort to provide a national picture of the full extent of the fires this bushfire season, along with providing the infrastructure to enable spatial analytics on the Matters of National Environmental Significance. This has allowed the rapid analytics and dissemination of information to support immediate bushfire response efforts and the prioritisation of Commonwealth government funding for bushfire recovery.
  • Dr Karen Arthur is a marine turtle ecologist in the Protected Species and Communities Branch, where she has been raising awareness of the impacts of artificial light on threatened and migratory species through the development on National Light Pollution Guidelines for Wildlife.