Climate science

Students learning in the Science facilities at the UNSW Kensington campus

Explore the structure and dynamics of the Earth's climate system 

Climate science explores the processes that change global, regional and local climates over time. It's a multidisciplinary area of study, which draws upon theory from a variety of domains including:

  • climate
  • oceanography
  • atmospheric science
  • ecosystems
  • carbon cycle
  • terrestrial processes
  • climate impacts
  • energy policy
  • climate model evaluation
  • palaeoclimatology

Studying climate science at UNSW

The UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC) is one of the largest university research centres of its kind in Australia. The CCRC applies basic scientific principles to pressing questions on climate dynamics, global climate change, and extremes of weather and climate. The Centre has expertise in the key areas of the Earth's climate - atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial processes. 

  • The CCRC's atmosphere research includes studies of large-scale dynamics, convection, radiation, climate feedbacks, and factors controlling precipitation changes and other meteorological impacts.
  • The CCRC's oceanographic research focuses on the ocean's role in the climate system, including large-scale physical oceanography, coupled climate modes and regional ocean circulation, palaeoclimate dynamics, the ocean's thermohaline circulation, global biogeochemical cycles and climate changes in Earth’s past.
  • On the land surface, the CCRC focuses on modelling terrestrial processes in climate models to develop our understanding of the effects of carbon dynamics, hydrology and vegetation processes on climate.

Scientists at the CCRC employ a variety of research tools including global and regional models of the atmosphere, ocean and land surface, coastal domain simulations and process models. The Centre also uses a great variety of data collected from satellites, ships, weather stations, eddy flux towers and aircraft from regions as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef, the tropics, urban surfaces, the Tasman Sea and Antarctica.

Through the CCRC, UNSW leads the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, a multi-university initiative to advance fundamental climate sciences in Australia formed in 2017. Researchers at the CCRC are also associated with the International Universities Climate Alliance, a UNSW initiative that brings the world's leading climate and environmental research universities together in a coalition of 48 member institutions, spanning every region on Earth.

Career opportunities in climate science

The need for students who understand environmentally relevant physical sciences has never been greater. Most researchers at the CCRC quantitatively study processes in the atmosphere, ocean, land surface or how they work together. There is a wide range of career opportunities available for graduates in these areas. To date, 100% of CCRC PhD graduates have secured full time employment shortly after graduating, if not before.

  • In a research career, you could expect to work within the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, universities or government agencies internationally. Work could include the development and maintenance of ocean, atmosphere and climate models or use of these to understand and predict our future climate or tomorrow's weather.
  • A more hands-on career could focus on the operational aspects of climate and environmental dynamics. Here, you might be involved in the collection of data and the interpretation of the variability of a system. This information could then be used to advise government agencies on environmental management issues. Agencies interested in these skills include Sydney Water, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
  • Finally, there is the decision-making or managerial path. Fisheries or oil companies require personnel trained in these areas to liaise with scientists to develop policies that require an understanding of the complex issues that surround the long-term preservation of our environment. Insurance companies need scientifically literate graduates in this area to assess the relative risks of weather-related events.

Environmental study areas

If you're passionate about the environment, studying science is a great way to have a meaningful impact through almost all disciplines. In addition to climate science, you might be interested in studying biologyEarth scienceecology, environmental managementgeographymarine & coastal science or physical oceanography.

Our programs

  • Climate systems science is offered as a major in the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours).

    Climate systems science major

    The climate systems science major is focused on a broad introduction to the science of the Earth’s climate system. You'll gain an understanding of the fundamentals of atmospheric science, oceanography and chemistry. You'll have the option to focus your studies on areas such as climate and vegetation, hydrology, biology, biogeochemistry or environmental and resource management. Courses are designed to highlight the interrelated nature of climate system components and give you the ability to critically analyse problems in multi-disciplinary science contexts. You'll also develop an ability to undertake directed research. 

  • Gain research experience and enhance your career prospects with an honours degree. These programs are designed to connect your undergraduate study with supervised independent research. An honours degree also provides a pathway into further study, such as a Masters by Research or PhD. You can take honours as a standalone degree or as part of an embedded honours program.

    Embedded honours program

    Standalone honours program

  • You can study climate science in the following postgraduate research degrees:

    Many different scientific disciplines study aspects of climate using a broad range of methods. Some projects are more numerically intensive (for example, applying fluid dynamical theory to the calculation of oceanic and atmospheric flows) while others are centred on analysis of field measurements with a relatively simple theory component. All projects benefit from skills in lateral and critical thinking, synthesis and communication. You'll develop a thorough understanding of the context of your project and master the fundamental principles behind your work.

    While the background needed varies substantially depending on the research area, certain areas of undergraduate training are particularly useful:

    • physics (mechanics, waves, basic thermodynamics)
    • maths (multivariate calculus, linear algebra, basic statistics, differential equations) 
    • chemistry or biology (basic or with environmental applications)
    • environmental sciences (meteorology, oceanography or hydrology courses)
    • computing (data mining, statistical analysis, data visualisation, low level languages)