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Australia will set up a new Climate Science Center at this CSIRO facility in Hobart.

Australia will set up a new Climate Science Center at this CSIRO facility in Hobart.

Simon Torok/CSIRO

Australia’s national labs learn details of staff cuts

After months of uncertainty, scientists at Australia’s premier research agency today learned their fate. More than 275 jobs will be cut, with climate science taking the biggest hit. Up to 75 jobs will be lopped from the Oceans and Atmosphere division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Technological Organization (CSIRO) as part of a restructuring first announced in February by CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall.

In what is widely viewed as a fig leaf, Marshall told staff that 40 climate research positions would be retained "for the next decade" at a new Climate Science Center to be established in Hobart, Australia. In an email sent this morning outlining the “changes underway,” Marshall said those surviving climate researchers would “focus on climate modeling.” Researchers not currently based in Hobart would move to the new center.

“Operating within CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, the center will be responsible for engaging across all entities that conduct climate science,” Marshall said in the email. According to a statement released by CSIRO, the center will work closely with the National Bureau of Meteorology. CSIRO is also planning to deepen its existing partnership with the Met Office in Devon, U.K.

Marshall said that there will be guaranteed support for CSIRO’s critical observational infrastructure, including the ice and air repositories of samples, the ARGO ocean floats, and the Cape Grim air pollution monitoring station, along with facilities such as the RV Investigator research vessel, based in Hobart.

The original plan would have cut 350 jobs over 2 years, including 110 climate positions. Those cuts to Australia’s climate research efforts drew condemnation from climate scientists worldwide. Scientists remain skeptical that the newly announced center reflects a renewed commitment to climate research.

“While the retention of some of CSIRO’s climate science capabilities is welcome, the level announced is analogous to trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound,” says climate scientist Dave Griggs, the former director of the Monash Sustainability Institute at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. The 2014–15 budget for climate and environmental science has already been cut by $15 million.

Marshall said in February that he plans to “realign and restore our business for growth.” The former Silicon Valley venture capitalist said he wants CSIRO to focus on more industry-oriented research. Staff positions will also be cut from the Minerals, Land and Water, Agriculture, and Food and Nutrition divisions.

Further details are expected to emerge on Wednesday when Marshall and his executive team will appear at a Senate budget hearing in Canberra. Marshall’s 2-year contract will expire in January 2017.