This page belongs to: Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science 2022

2022 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year

Dr Adele Morrison 

The Australian National University’s Dr Adele Morrison has received the 2022 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year for her innovative modelling of the Southern Ocean. 

Her work explains how ocean circulation impacts Earth’s climate system and helps Australia to better prepare for future impacts of climate change. 

Adele was recognised for her high-resolution modelling to explore ocean circulation around Antarctica. Her work looks at the rate at which Antarctic ice sheets are melting, which is contributing to rising sea levels.

Her work has contributed to reducing the huge uncertainty in predictions of sea level rise.

Watch a video about her work

[Music plays and the Coat of Arms and an image appears of a Malcolm McIntosh Prize badge and text appears: 2022 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Dr Adele Morrison]

[Image changes to show the “Research School of Earth Sciences” sign on the side of a building, and then the image changes to show Adele walking past the building]

Dr Adele Morrison: My name is Adele Morrison. I'm a physical oceanographer at the Australian National University.

[Image changes to show Adele working on a laptop, and then the image changes to show Adele talking to the camera, and the camera zooms in on a close view of Adele talking]

Science has always been a part of my life, from studying physics at university, to teaching maths and physics at high school and then coming back to doing research in oceanography.

[Images move through of Adele and colleagues working on a laptop, a close view of the laptop they are working on, and a view of an iceberg floating in the ocean]

One of the things I love about science is being able to apply problem solving to real world problems like climate change.

[Image changes to show penguins swimming through the water]

My work aims to understand the impact of changes in the ocean on climate and sea level.

[Image changes to show Adele standing in the corridor of a supercomputer and the camera gradually zooms out, and then the image changes to show a world globe showing ocean current movement]

I use high resolution ocean models to understand what drives the ocean circulation and how it will change in the future.

[Image changes to show a facing view of Adele working on a laptop, and then the image changes to show a view of the snow covered landscape of Antarctica]

One focus of my work is to understand how the ocean influences Antarctica.

[Camera pans over the area, and then the image changes to show an Antarctic waterfall]

Antarctica is the largest ice sheet on the planet and has the potential to raise global sea level by up to 30cm by the end of the century.

[Image changes to show a large area of snow sliding into the ocean, and then the image changes to show Adele talking to the camera]

Antarctica is a remote and challenging location to take observations. My work, using modelling, allows us to fill in the gaps in those observations to understand the complex system of ocean circulation around Antarctica.

[Images move through of digital models of the different water flows in Antarctica]

These include rotating flows called eddies and descending waterfalls of dense water at the bottom of the ocean.

[Image changes to show a large shelf of snow falling into the ocean and melting as it enters the ocean to create a large wave]

By understanding these features, it allows us to create more precise projections of sea level rise coming from Antarctic ice melt in the future. This knowledge is absolutely critical to allow us to mitigate and adapt to climate change in the years to come.

[Image changes to show a sweal swimming through the water, and then the image changes to show ice floes in the ocean]

The Southern Ocean plays an important role in the climate system by taking up huge amounts of heat and carbon from the atmosphere and therefore limiting the effects of global warming.

[Image changes to show a view of an iceberg above and below the surface of the water, and then the image changes to show a digital image of the upwelling of cold water currents, and text appears: The majority of dense water upwells from a depth of 2-3 km]

The reason the Southern Ocean can take up so much heat and carbon is because of the upwelling of cold deep waters to the surface.

[Image changes to show a rotating digital model of the upwelling currents of the Antarctic ocean, and then the image changes to show Adele talking to the camera]

My work using high resolution modelling has helped us to unravel the complex dynamics of the upwelling circulation and how it will respond to climate change.

[Image changes to show Adele and a colleague looking at a laptop, and then the image changes to show Adele and a group of colleagues sitting at a table working on laptops]

This work could not have been possible without a great team.

[Images move through to show Adele talking to a colleague, Adele drawing on a whiteboard while a male watches, and Adele talking to the camera]

To receive the Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year is an amazing honour and a great opportunity to raise awareness of important issues like climate change.

[Images move through of Adele walking down the corridor of a supercomputer towards the camera, Adele in an office talking to a female, and Adele and a younger female walking towards the camera]

I hope I can be a role model for girls and young women, to show that it is possible to have a wonderful life both inside and outside of science.

[Images move through to show a rear view of Adele and the young female walking down a corridor, Adele talking to the camera, a close view of Adele talking, and then Adele smiling at the camera]

I hope my work can inspire the next generation of scientists to unravel new discoveries and technologies, to limit the impacts of climate change and transition us to a zero-emission world.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the Coat of Arms and a Malcolm McIntosh Prize badge and text appears: 2022 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year, Dr Adele Morrison]