Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas - marine ecologist & ecosystem modeller

Scientists of the Antarctic: Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas

Video transcript

I think the main thing I love about the work that I do is the challenge.

In my work I use field observations, ecosystem science and also mathematical models to understand and help manage risks for Antarctic marine biota, so particularly the effects of climate change and fisheries on Southern Ocean ecosystems.

You know these are really big questions and they’re urgent questions and I find that exciting.

The research that I do and that my group is involved with delivers into forums like CCAMLR, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, to inform the decisions they make on a year to year basis around managing fisheries and the conservation of dependent species like penguins and seals.

But it also delivers into some of the more global policy environments and bodies like the IPCC which is the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.

I think being in the field and experiencing the Antarctic environment is really important in terms of understanding the scale of these systems and the isolation and even just the effort that goes into collecting every piece of data that we use to inform the models. So I think that’s a really important part of being an Antarctic scientist and a modeller is to experience the environment itself.  

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Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas: BSc (Hons), PhD

Research interests

I’m a Research Scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division and a Project Leader with the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (ACE CRC). My research uses mathematical models of marine ecosystems to understand how these systems function and how they might respond to climate change and other human activities. In particular, my team and I use ecosystem models to simulate different future scenarios and to help determine what’s driving change in particular components of the system. These results can then inform where and how we might best coordinate and invest in further research and monitoring.

This work is part of the Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (ICED) program, which aims to develop a coordinated circumpolar approach to understanding climate interactions in the Southern Ocean, the implications for ecosystem dynamics, and the development of sustainable management procedures. I am particularly interested in the translation of science into decision-making.

In 2017 I was named as one of Science & Technology Australia’s 30 STEM Superstars, and was also named Tasmania’s Young Tall Poppy of the Year in 2015 for my research, science communication and policy engagement. I am passionate about encouraging greater representation of women in science leadership and was a finalist in the Women’s Agenda leadership awards for 2017. I was one of 12 women scientists to have my portrait featured as a constellation on the ceiling of New York’s Grand Central station, as part of GE’s Balance the Equation campaign.

I was awarded my PhD in Quantitative Marine Science from UTAS in 2010, and was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford from 2003-2005.

Current projects

  • Projecting ecosystem change in the Southern Ocean using end-to-end models (Chief Investigator) (#4347)
  • Assessing status and trends of marine ecosystems in the Indian Sector of the Southern Ocean (#4343)
  • Using size-based models to understand the role of mesopelagic fish and squid in Southern Ocean ecosystems (#4366)
  • Designing regular krill surveys of predator monitoring sites (#4321)
  • Assessment of habitats, productivity and food webs on the Kerguelen Axis in the Indian Sector of the Southern Ocean (#4344)

National and international collaboration/representation

  • Project leader, ACE CRC project R2.3 on Status and Trends in Ecosystems, 2014-2019
  • IPCC Lead Author, Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate
  • Theme co-convenor and local organising committee member for 2018 International Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean
  • Member of the Australian delegation to CCAMLR, 2013-2016
  • Southern Ocean Knowledge & Information (SOKI) Wiki Editor, 2012 – present

Key outcome areas

  • Marine Ecosystem Assessment for the Southern Ocean (MEASO)
  • Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (ICED)
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS)
  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)

Selected publications

Mori, M., S. P. Corney, J. Melbourne-Thomas et al. 2018. Modelling dispersal of juvenile krill released from the Antarctic ice edge: Ecosystem implications of ocean movement. Journal of Marine Systems 189:50–61.

Melbourne-Thomas, J., A. J. Constable, E. A. Fulton et al. 2017. Integrated modelling to support decision-making for marine social-ecological systems in Australia. ICES Journal of Marine Science: Journal du Conseil 74:2298–2308.

Meyer, B., U. Freier, V. Grimm, J. X. R. Groeneveld et al. 2017. The winter pack-ice zone provides a sheltered but food-poor habitat for larval Antarctic krill. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:1853–1861.

See more of Dr Melbourne-Thomas's publications at Google Scholar.