Graeme Ivan Pearman

By Colin WardMarch 23rd, 2011


Graeme Ivan Pearman was born on 15 May 1941 in Perth, Western Australia. His undergraduate degree was a double major in Botany and Zoology at the University of Western Australia. He obtained a BSc in 1962 and a First-Class Honours degree in 1963, working on plant ecophysiology. He carried out his PhD research at the University of Western Australia submitting his thesis entitled ‘Leaf Energetics’ in 1968. His thesis dealt with the partitioning of absorbed solar radiation by leaves and the relative importance of transpiration in arid zone species. During his PhD studies he was employed at the University of Western Australia as a Graduate Assistant from 1963 to 1965 and as a Senior Demonstrator in Botany from 1966 to 1968 and was responsible for the organisation of laboratory classes in second year plant physiology.

From 1967 to 1969, he was a Resident Fellow on the staff of Currie Hall residential college in Perth. In 1969, he was appointed Lecturer at UWA. He delivered courses in 1st, 2nd and 3rd year plant physiology covering development, respiration, photosynthesis, plant energy balance, etc. He also gave lectures on evolution covering the basic concepts of biochemical evolution, paleoclimatology, human and cultural evolution. During 1969, he was a member of the Vice Chancellor’s Council for Currie Hall; was a tutor in biology at St Catherine’s and Currie Hall University residential colleges for seven years and an examiner of matriculation Biology.

CSIRO appointments

In 1970, he was awarded a CSIRO Postdoctoral Studentship to study in the Soil Physics Department, University of Wisconsin, Madison, with Professor CB Tanner and joined CSIRO Division of Meteorological (Atmospheric) Physics (Research) in January 1971 as a physicist ecologist. He was promoted to Senior Research Scientist in 1974, and Principal Research Scientist and Section Leader for the Atmospheric Constituents Program of the Division of Atmospheric Research in 1977.

He was awarded a Visiting Fellowship by the Cooperative Institute for Research on Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado for the financial year 1978-79. In 1983, he was promoted to CSIRO Senior Principal Research Scientist and served as Acting Chief of Division for four periods: 17 June – 5 July 1985; 11 November – 13 December 1985; 27 October – 28 November 1986; 1 October – 30 October 1987.

He was appointed Assistant Chief of Division in March 1989 and Chief of Division in November 1992. In February 1995, he became Acting Director, CSIRO Institute of Natural Resources and Environment, resuming as Chief, Division of Atmospheric Research in July 1996 until November 2002. He was appointed Director, CSIRO CLIMATE, 2003 and elected a CSIRO Corporate Fellow in 2004.

Dr Graeme Pearman left CSIRO in 2004 to become a private consultant contracting to both private and public sector organisations and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow with the School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University. In 2007, he became Interim Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University.

Research interests

Graeme Pearman has contributed over 150 scientific journal papers primarily on aspects of the global carbon budget as summarised below:

Global carbon budget

In the early 1970s, Dr Pearman established one of the first ‘atmospheric chemistry’ research groups in the world. It was primarily directed at chemistry that potentially interfaces with the climate of the earth and the ozone depletion issue. His personal research concerned the confirmation of the fact that carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere. Major contributions that followed included:

  • the identification of a carrier gas effect on the carbon dioxide absorptions lines that invalidated inter-comparisons of carbon dioxide measurements made at different observatories around the world and led to the introduction of air-based standards to resolve the problem
  • the construction of one of the world’s first global atmospheric transport models to understand the time scale of inter-hemispheric and vertical transport of gaseous constituents through the atmosphere and inversely the interpretation of temporal and spatial observations of concentration differences as surface exchange rates. This identified quantitatively the role of the Southern Ocean in the uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide, and underpins modern inverse studies of many chemical species and our current knowledge of the regional sources and sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
  • the construction of one of the first global coupled atmosphere-ocean model of the world’s carbon cycle which was used to investigate the life time of carbon dioxide and led to the modern models that underpin our knowledge of how future emissions of this gas will accumulate in the atmosphere
  • the application of stable carbon isotopes as indicators of sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • the development and application of techniques for the extraction of air from bubbles trapped in polar ice for the extension of histories of atmospheric composition (in particular, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons) back in time for half a million years.

The Cape Grim Observatory

Dr Pearman played a seminal role in the design and establishment of the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station in Tasmania which commenced observations of the background composition of the atmosphere in 1976. The station enjoys an international reputation as being the finest such observatory in the world. It plays a global role along with four similar observatories operated by the USA in defining exactly what is happening to the composition of the atmosphere, particularly with respect to climatically active species (greenhouse gases, aerosols), and in fundamental research on the global biogeochemical cycling of compounds.

Public communication of the issue of climate change

Following the announcement in 1985 by the global climate science community that the issue of greenhouse was sufficiently well understood that the wider community needed to be alerted to its potential consequences, Dr Pearman commenced a significant program of public communication on the issue. This led to his being awarded a UN Global 500 Award in recognition of the fact that, at the time, the Australian public were as well informed about the issue as any community in the world.

His on-going communication of these issues has continued for over 25 years where he has briefed Federal and State Government Ministers, politicians and bureaucrats, non-government organisations, community bodies and industry peak bodies and boards as part of their development of risk assessments for their business around the climate-change issue. In the period 2000-09, he made a total of 439 such briefings on climate-change science and sustainability.

His interests in the 21st century are in describing holistic strategies that build resilient energy futures and emissions reductions appropriate for specific nations or communities; transport technologies and risks associated with bio-fuels; dimensions of human behaviour in the climate-change issue; and the role of science in modern societies.

Honours and awards

Graeme Pearman is a Member of the Royal Society of Western Australia and the Australian Meteorological & Oceanographic Society. He has received many honours and awards for his contributions to climate science. These include:


2005 Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
1997 Fellow, Royal Society of Victoria
1988 Fellow, Australian Academy of Science


2002 Finalist, Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year
2001 Australian Centenary of Federation Medal
1999 Australian Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to atmospheric science and the promotion of the science of climate change
1989 United Nation’s Environment Program Global 500 Award
1988 CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement – for his work in global atmospheric chemistry and the greenhouse effect
1986 Japanese Government Research Award for Foreign Specialists, (February – March) for study at the Japanese Meteorological Institute, Tsukuba, Japan
1983 Awarded the 1983 Editor’s Citation for Excellence in Refereeing from the Journal of Geophysical Research

Invited Memberships

Current Board and advisory memberships in 2010 included the START International (Washington: System for Analysis, Research and Training of the IGBP, WCRP and IHDP international programs) and the Climate Institute (Sydney); Chairmanship of the Antarctic Research Assessment Committee (Physical Sciences) of the Australian Antarctic Division and the South East Australian Climate Initiative Advisory Panel (Canberra).

He was science adviser to Former US Vice President Al Gore during his visits to Australia in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and was:

  • a member of the International Council of Scientific Unions and the World Meteorological Organization Joint Organizing Committee Working Group on Data for Climate Research
  • a member of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution
  • a member of the World Meteorological Organization’s Working Group on Environmental Pollution Measurement.

Other invited memberships are as follows:

2008- Member, Advisory Board, RMIT Global Cities program
2006- Member of the Board, The Climate Institute
2006- Member, Advisory Board, Greenfleet Australia
2006- Program Leader, Energy Futures, Australia 21
2004 – 06 Acting Director, Greenfleet Australia
2004 Chairman of the National Committee for Sustainability (Australian Academy of Science, 1998-2004)
2002- Member, Scientific Advisory Committee, World Wildlife Fund, Australia
2002- Member, National Advisory Council, Environment Business Australia
2001 – 02 Coordinator, Environment and Natural Resources Group, CSIRO
2001 – 02 Co-Chair, Scientific Planning Group, Asia Pacific Network for global change (Kobi)
2001 – 02 Member, CSIRO Science Forum
2000 – 02 Member, Council of the Australian Academy of Science
2000- Chairman, Chair Antarctic Research Assessment Committee (Physical Sciences)
2000 – 02 Director, Board, CRC for Greenhouse Accounting
2000 – 05 Deputy Chair of the ICSU Committee for Strategic Planning and Review (Paris)
1999 – 2003 Member, Climate Technology Initiative (CTI) Awards Panel
1999 – 2002 Member, Greenhouse and Agriculture Taskforce
1999 – 2002 Chairman, Joint Bureau of Meteorology/CSIRO High Performance Communication & Computing Committee
1998- Member of the Board, Greenfleet Australia
1998 – 2004 Chairman of the National Committee for Sustainability (Australian Academy of Science)
1998 – 2004 Chairman of the Joint Australian Academies Committee for Sustainability
1998 – 99 Member, CSIRO Science Outlook Forum Steering Committee
1998 Member, Editorial Advisory Board, Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences
1997 – 2000 Member, Australian Academy of Science Selection Committee for Fenner Conferences on the Environment
1997 – 2000 Member, Australian Academy of Science Sectional Committee 4, (Solid and fluid earth and planetary sciences)
1997 – 2000 Member, Greenhouse Science Advisory Committee
1997 – 99 Chair, CSIRO Environmental Management Committee
1997 Member, Local Organising Committee of the IAMAS/IAPSO Joint Assembly, July
1997 Member, Local Organising Committee of the 5th International Carbon Dioxide Conference, September
1996 – 2003 Member, Board, Western Australian Space Technology Applications Consortium
1996 – 2003 Member, Australian Sustainable Transport Roundtable (Hypercar) Group
1996 – 2000 Chair, SARCS (Southeast Asian Regional Committee for START International)
1996 – 2000 Member, AAS National Committee for Climate and Global Change
1996 – 99 Chair, Space Applications Board
1996 – 97 Member, Antarctic Science Advisory Committee Reference Group
1996 – 97 Member, State of the Environment Advisory Council
1995 – 2001 Coordinator, Sector Advisory Committee for Climate and Atmosphere
1995 – 99 Member, NRMA Clean Air 2000 Advisory Task Force
1995 – 99 Member, Society of Automotive Engineers Energy & Environment Committee
1995 – 99 Chair, CSIRO COSSA Steering Committee
1995 Member, Review Committee of National Institute for Resources and Environment, Tsukuba, Japan
1994 – 96 President, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
1994 – 95 Member, IGBP Evaluation Committee of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program
1994 Co-Convenor of the GREENHOUSE 94 Conference, Wellington, October
1993- Invited member, Scientific Advisory Panel, SARCS
1993 – 98 Member, International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) General Committee
1993 – 97 Membership of the Board of the CRC for Southern Hemisphere Meteorology
1993 – 96 Australian Academy of Science, National Committee for the Environment
1993 – 96 Membership of the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection of the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC)
1993 – 94 NGA representative on the National Greenhouse Advisory Panel (NGAP)
1992 – 2005 Member, Science Advisory Group for the Asia Pacific Network for global change (Kobi)
1992 – 97 Member, National Greenhouse Advisory Committee (NGAC)
1991 Invited representative of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Geneva) and the Climate Institute (Washington) at ministerial and government briefings on climate change in PR China (August/September), Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (November)
1991 Originator and Organiser of the NATO Advanced Study Workshop on the Carbon Cycle, Italy
1991 Chairman of the conference organised on behalf of DITAC for the Association for Science Cooperation in Asia, held in Melbourne in June
1990 – 92 Invited presenter on behalf of the scientific community of greenhouse science to the first Prime Minister’s Science Council in October 1990 and more recently, to update the science for the Council on 22 April 1992
1990 – 92 Originator and Chairman of the prestigious Dahlem (Berlin) Conference on Greenhouse: Options for Reducing CO2 Emissions, 1990. Also editor of a major volume arising from the meeting, Limiting the Greenhouse Effect: Controlling Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1992.
1989 – 2002 Co-Manager, Cape Grim Air Pollution Baseline Station
1988 – 89 Program Committee, World Meteorological Organization International Conference on Analysis and Evaluation of Atmospheric CO2 Data
1988 Invited member of ICSU Committee on Climatic Changes and the Ocean, Joint Global Ocean Fluxes Study, Ocean Carbon Dioxide Studies Panel, September
1988 Invited member of NASA Earth Orbiting Satellite Proposals Review Panel, September
1988 Invitee of the prestigious Dahlem Conference on Environmental Record in Glaciers, and Section Rapporteur, Berlin, March
1988 Co-Chairman of START International (Washington)
1987 – 95 Australian Academy of Science, National Committee for the International Geosphere Biosphere Program
1987 Invitee of the prestigious Dahlem Conference on Global Change, and Section Moderator, Berlin, September
1987 Convenor of the GREENHOUSE 97 Conference, Melbourne
1987 Elected Chairman of the International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Program, August
1987 Chairman, World Meteorological Organization/US National Bureau of Standards’ Meeting of Experts on CO2 Measurement, Washington, June
1986 Nominated by President (H Rohde, Sweden) and Secretary (R Duce, USA) of the Commission on Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Pollution to Vice Presidency of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics
1986 Australian Academy of Science, National Committee of Atmospheric Sciences
1984 – 85 Steering Committee of the US Global Tropospheric Chemistry Research Program
1984 Editorial Board of the new international Journal of Climate Dynamics
1984 Editor for the SABOAC issues of the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry
1982 World Meteorological Organization Working Group on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide
1975 Cape Grim, Baseline Air Pollution Station Working Group and Lead Scientist (carbon dioxide)


  • Pearman GI, 2010, Personal communication.
Find out more
  • Chandler J, 2009, ‘Journey to a hostile climate’ – an article about Graeme Pearman’s realisation that to get action on climate change warnings one must understand human psychology, The Age, June 13.