The future is what we make it, says winner of Prime Minister’s Prize for Science

November 22, 2022


Academy Fellow Professor Trevor McDougall AC FAA FRS. Photo: Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

Academy Fellow Professor Trevor McDougall AC FAA FRS has been awarded the 2022 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science for his outstanding contributions to the study of the world’s oceans and their role in regulating Earth’s climate.

The award recognises his ground-breaking research in the field of ocean thermodynamics, which looks at the role of the ocean in the movement of heat around the planet. This includes how to keep track of the heat that is exchanged with the atmosphere, and how heat is mixed in the ocean interior.

“Without the oceans, the equatorial regions would be much hotter than they are today and the polar regions much colder,” Professor McDougall said.

“The ocean is notoriously difficult to observe; we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the sea floor.

“There are relatively few of us in the field of physical oceanography, and we have tended to perpetuate assumptions that were first made a century ago and not question them – I’ve made it my business in the past three decades to question those assumptions.”

He discovered previously unknown ocean mixing processes, which greatly improved the work of both theoretical and observational oceanographers, and these discoveries have led to completely new research areas that have improved our understanding of ocean physics.

Professor McDougall’s work is used by oceanographers around the world and has improved the accuracy of climate predictions, including the climate modelling of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He said that young scientists should be encouraged to join the effort to study climate science and be part of the solution.

“The future is what we make it. At the beginning of my career La Niña had not been noticed and global heating was thought of as being important only in the distant future.

“It is the research of a few thousand scientists around the globe who have spent their careers studying these things and improving our knowledge.

“It has been frustrating to see the warnings of climate scientists being largely ignored for the past 25 years, but the world knows of the dangers now.

“Do come on board this science enterprise, because the world needs many answers to ever more questions about the environmental impacts of what we humans have been doing with our grand experiment in burning fossil fuels.”

Academy Fellows have featured each year since the prizes’ inception in 2000.

Recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science will be celebrated at a breakfast at the Shine Dome as part of Science at the Shine Dome.

See the full list of the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science recipients.

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