Dr Helen Cleugh, leader of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research's Land and Atmosphere research group.
Dr Helen Cleugh: tracking exchanges between land and air
Dr Helen Cleugh is leading research that explores the interactions and feedbacks between the land surface and the climate system.
17 July 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011
Most of the science conducted by CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research (CMAR) staff at the Black Mountain, Australian Capital Territory, site sits within the Climate and Atmosphere Theme led by Dr Helen Cleugh.
The Theme’s goal is to ‘provide the earth system science that creates new knowledge of Australia’s climate, supports adaptation responses to increasing climate changes and variability, and informs mitigation strategies’.
A scientist with CSIRO since 1994, Dr Cleugh was Deputy Director of The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research from 2007 to early 2009 when she stepped down to lead CMAR’s Climate and Atmosphere Theme. The Centre is a jointly managed research partnership between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.
Dr Cleugh is also part of a dynamic and highly productive research team that maintains long-term measurements of carbon exchanges and water use in a variety of Australian ecosystems, including forests, vineyards, savannas and city suburbs.
These measurements are needed to observe, understand and model the dynamics of carbon, water and energy cycles in Australian ecosystems; and explore the effects of climate variability and change – especially the vulnerability of land-based carbon sinks.
'Our research has yielded one of the very few long-term records of evaporation and net ecosystem exchange of carbon dioxide in a native eucalypt forest. It demonstrated not only the strength of this carbon sink, but also its large variability and vulnerability with recent droughts not only reducing rainfall, but increasing air temperatures.'
The CMAR research team also pioneered wind energy prospecting in Australia, which includes wind monitoring, to assess which sites may be suitable for wind farms; wind forecasting; and energy storage technologies. The latter is part of the Energy Transformed Flagship.
CMAR’s boundary layer research wind tunnel, housed in the basement of the Pye Lab, is used extensively by researchers to measure airflow and turbulence in hilly terrain, plant canopies; and in urban environments.
Dr Cleugh says the research has far-reaching implications, from better land and water management to improved urban design.
'We collaborate extensively with scientists across CSIRO, as well as universities within Australia and overseas. A good example of this is a new satellite remote sensing method to determine land surface evaporation (i.e. water use by plants and soil), that has been developed in collaboration with colleagues from the United States and been applied to water resources assessments by colleagues in the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship.'
'And through collaboration with our colleagues in Melbourne at The Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, we have developed a long-term, observation-based climatology of the distribution of aerosols (wind blown dust and smoke from biomass burning) across Australia. Given that aerosols are a major source of uncertainty in current climate projections and are implicated in affecting Australia’s rainfall variability, this is critical information.'
Much of this research has been funded by CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, especially through the Australian Climate Change Science Program that has been running for 20 years and is administered by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and its predecessors.
Dr Cleugh was awarded a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours from the University of Otago, New Zealand in 1981.
She was awarded her Doctor of Philosophy from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada in 1990.
In 2002, Dr Cleugh was an Erskine Fellow at the Geography Department in the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
Read more about Understanding the connections between land and atmosphere.
Cleugh H. 2003. Trees for Shelter: a Guide to Using Windbreaks on Australian Farms. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. Publication number 02/059. Canberra, Australia. https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/02-059 [external link]