Picture of Principal Research Scientist - Dr John Church

Dr John Church’s research is critical to understanding the effect of climate change on sea level

Dr John Church: researching global sea-level rise

In a career spanning more than 30 years in Australian climate and ocean science, Dr John Church’s research interests have increasingly centred on sea-level rise.

  • 26 October 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Dr John Church’s record in sea-level rise research, with CSIRO colleagues, the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, and international climate science agencies, has helped generate a new benchmark in understanding the science and issues of sea-level rise.

His latest book publication, released in August 2010, is Understanding Sea-Level Rise and Variability (Wiley-Blackwell). Dr Church is the lead editor, with the book identifying the major impacts of sea-level rise, assessments of past sea-level change and all the factors contributing to sea-level rise, as well as how extreme events might change.

Current activities

Hobart-based Dr Church is a CSIRO Fellow and leads the Coasts and Sea-level Team in CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

His work contributes to the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, building understanding of:

Dr Church is coordinating lead author of the Sea Level Change chapter of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.
  • oceans
  • their interactions with climate and land processes
  • climate change and its impacts on land and sea.

His immediate team of scientists at CSIRO has a strong publishing record, centred on projects relevant to the international science of ocean warming and sea-level rise, and with implications for Australian communities.
The 420-page book of which he is the lead editor, Understanding Sea-Level Rise and Variability, brought together researchers from around the world to generate a new standard in knowledge of sea-level rise, while acknowledging that major uncertainties remain. Many authors were also contributing or lead authors for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment, released in 2007.
As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation, Michel Jarraud, highlights in his foreword:

'The findings in this book will help set priorities for research and for observational activities over the next decade that will contribute to future assessments of the IPCC. In turn, improvements in these assessments will better inform governments, industry and society in their efforts to formulate sound mitigation an adaptation responses to rising greenhouse gas concentrations and sea level, and their economic and social consequences.'

Dr Church has recently accepted a position as coordinating lead author of the Sea Level Change chapter for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, to be completed in 2013.


Dr Church has a background as a sea-going oceanographer with considerable experience in Southern Ocean science and as leader of many research voyages. His interest in climate and ocean processes expanded with the formation of CSIRO’s Division of Oceanography in 1981. He subsequently led climate and oceanography research programs at CSIRO, the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre, and the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.

At the same time, he became principal investigator for the NASA-French Space Agency TOPEX-Poseidon and Jason satellite altimeter missions, positions he still holds because of their relevance to his sea-level rise research.

He has had three substantial international appointments:

  • member and co-Chair of the Scientific Steering group for the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, designed as a 10-year snapshot of the world’s oceans (1989-98)
  • member of the international Climate Variability (CLIVAR) research program steering committee (1994-98)
  • member, vice-Chair and Chair of the Joint Scientific Committee of the World Climate Research Programme (1999-2008).

Dr Church was co-convening Lead Author for the Chapter on Sea Level in the IPCC Third Assessment Report completed in 2001, and since 2005 has been a member of the International Oceanographic Commission Scientific Advisory Committee.

Qualifications and publications

Dr Church graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physics, from Queensland University, Australia, and in 1979 was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy.

He has edited two books, published 94 refereed papers (including 10 in Nature and Science, plus seven in press). 

He has written more than 70 reports, and has more than 3000 citations (as of March 2010).


Dr Church’s achievements have been recognised by the following awards and honours:

  • appointed a CSIRO Fellow, 2010
  • member, Tasmanian Climate Action Council, 2009
  • Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society Clarke Lecture, 2008
  • member of the IPCC team that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
  • finalist, Tasmanian of the Year, 2007
  • Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, 2007
  • CSIRO Medal for Research Achievement, 2007
  • Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Roger Revelle Lecture and Medal, 2006
  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering; Fellow, Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, 2004.

Find out more about CSIRO's research into Understanding Oceans.