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Studio portrait photograph of Jess Melbourne-Thomas.

Marine, Antarctic and climate scientist
2020 Australian of the Year | Tasmania

Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas studies marine socioecological systems to understand how they might respond to climate change. She works to bridge the gap between complex scientific research and sustainable development and is passionate about female leadership in science.

Jess grew up exploring Tasmania’s spectacular coast and underwater environments. Witnessing the dramatic changes wrought on these places in just a few decades motivated her to become a researcher in marine, Antarctic and climate science.

Jess is a co-founder of the Homeward Bound project, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet.

Antarctic boots

Antarctica is a key site for scientific research and has played an important role in Jess’s career. She wore these boots on her first trip to the ‘Frozen South’ in 2012.

A pair of brown, lace-up, outdoor boots lined with an off-white fleecy inner.

Antarctic boots from Jess Melbourne-Thomas

On thin ice

I was wearing these boots out on the sea ice in Antarctica, when suddenly a whale poked its head through a hole in the ice to breathe. I was so completely mesmerised that I forgot to look where I was stepping and fell through a patch of thin ice into the freezing cold water beneath. Luckily my colleagues hauled me out quickly. But what an experience – to ‘swim’ with a whale in Antarctica!

Walking in her shoes

Historically, Antarctica has been a place for men. In 2014, I co-founded the international network of Women in Polar Science, which now has over 4000 members globally. I also co-founded the Homeward Bound program, which took the largest ever all-female expedition on a leadership journey to Antarctica in 2016, and has since undertaken three more voyages.

Connecting the dots

The work of scientists is critically important for understanding and addressing the impacts of climate change. My work is about connecting science with decision making, joining the dots from knowledge to action. It is vital that a range of people engage in these conversations as we don’t have any time to waste.

This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images supplied by the National Australia Day Council.

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