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Surging ahead: careers in water

Surging ahead: careers in water

There’s a lot more to the Bureau than just meteorology—while we’ve retained a strong focus on meteorological services over the past 100 years, these days we also focus on the interactions with our ocean, land and water resources, and the ecosystems that depend on them.

A balancing act

Water security is a major challenge facing Australia. Our capability to accurately monitor, assess and forecast the availability, condition and use of water resources is vital.

In 2007, at the peak of Australia’s water security crisis, the Bureau was given responsibility for compiling and disseminating comprehensive water information across the country.

Since then, we have employed a range of specialist staff to help improve Australia’s water information—including hydrologist Dr Alison Oke, who has played a major role in the delivery of the Australian Landscape Water Balance website.

‘One of the greatest challenges to effective water management in Australia has been the lack of information, particularly in rural areas,’ says Alison. ‘I’m really proud of our latest contribution to the water sector, the Australian Landscape Water Balance website, which has the potential to help an enormous number of people.

‘The website provides daily near real-time landscape water information for every location in Australia—including soil moisture, rainfall, runoff and evapotranspiration. It’s particularly valuable for farmers to better understand the variability in water on their farm and help them plan for the coming season.’

Alison graduated from Monash University in Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts/Science (Hons), but it was her PhD in Precision Viticulture—examining the role of environmental factors in driving variability in grape quality and yield—that inspired her to work in water.

‘Working with viticulturists in the early years of the Millennium Drought, I discovered just how dependent Australia’s agricultural industry is on water availability and how much it varies across the country. This experience is what drew me to the Bureau and the opportunity to help landowners and Australians more generally to manage our precious water.’

Alison says her role at the Bureau has provided plenty of variety, from water accounting to water resource modelling.

‘Growing up, my family owned an orchard and I always had an interest in the impact of the changing environment on the trees and fruit. In my work at the Bureau, I love that we are taking some of the most advanced water science in the country and using it to genuinely inform the people who need this information the most. But it’s my two little boys who I hope will be my greatest achievement in water conservation.’

Bureau hydrologist Dr Alison Oke Dr Alison Oke and son
Bureau hydrologist Dr Alison Oke

River of dreams

Carlos Velasco grew up in Colombia, a country renowned for having one of the highest annual rainfall averages in the world, so it’s unsurprising he decided on a career in hydrology.

Carlos always dreamed of working at the top of his field in flood forecasting, completing a Civil Engineering degree and a postgraduate degree in Water Resources Management in Bogota, Colombia, before undertaking a PhD in Hydrology in Barcelona, Spain.

Little did he know this dream would take him across the world to Australia, where he is now the Bureau’s Regional Hydrology Manager for Tasmania.

‘At school in Colombia, understanding our water supply and river systems was a key part of our learning,’ says Carlos. ‘Heavy rainfall, floods and drought and the impacts on our water supply were an ongoing problem in my community, and this is what drove me to study and work in water.

‘Working with some of the world’s most brilliant international researchers in the field during my PhD inspired me to crack some of the big challenges that hydrology and our water resources face, and led me to apply for a job at the Bureau, which is positioned at the top of research and operational water and flood forecasting.’

Since joining the Bureau six years ago, Carlos has visited almost every river station and rain gauge in Tasmania, working closely with State and local governments to build modern flood warning systems.

‘This beautiful island reminds me in many ways of Colombia,’ he says. ‘Tall, green mountains; windy roads; big rivers; and good, friendly people. Whenever I meet people in the community and introduce myself as member of the Bureau of Meteorology, I always receive a warm and welcoming smile, which I hope is recognition of our passion to provide the best possible water and flood forecasting services.

‘The ultimate job satisfaction is knowing that other Australians have made effective decisions as a result of our water forecasts or flood warnings. For example, farmers being able to manage their irrigation needs, people not driving through flood waters, or even just being able to enjoy a nice kayaking or fishing trip by checking our latest seven-day streamflow forecasts.’

Bureau hydrologist Dr Carlos Valesco Dr Carlos Velasco in Columbia

Bureau hydrologist Dr Carlos Velasco at work, and visiting one of Colombia’s famous lagoons.

For more information about the Bureau’s water information programme, visit www.bom.gov.au/water.

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