When CSIRO chief Larry Marshall agreed to lead a 16-member delegation of his senior executives to California next week, he would have had no inkling of the scientific storm brewing.
Instead of a triumphant homecoming for the physics-trained, long-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Marshall will instead find a lukewarm welcome at best.
That's if an open letter signed by scientists from about 60 nations and sent on Thursday to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other Australian politicians is any guide.
Marshall, as head of Australia's premier scientific body, has managed to trigger the disdain of scientists at home and abroad by his abrupt decision to axe 350 positions over two years.
Sparking particular ire is his move to cull 100 full-time positions (110 people in total) of the 140 scientists employed by CSIRO's climate monitoring and modelling units of the Oceans and Atmosphere division.
Resources saved are to be devoted instead to dealing with climate mitigation – cutting greenhouse gases – and adapting to the inevitable impacts. Growth areas of CSIRO's business will also expand, to claw back the job losses over two years.
"Personally, I have high hopes we can transmute commodity mineral sands into unique titanium ink for 3D printing to create a new multibillion-dollar industry," Marshall told staff in a rambling email announcing the cuts on February 4.
CSIRO's media team has been in a maelstrom ever since, trying to justify the move.
Even if the climate modelling and monitoring units do get back 35 new hires as executives indicate, their programs will still be half their current size. Insiders say there is no coherent plan on what positions must stay.
Some seemingly obscure work will stay because CSIRO has contracts with outside partners and can't unilaterally retrench those positions.
For instance, monitoring ocean salinity levels is one way to tell how oceans are changing and can help the navy to know where submarines are seeking a place to hide. Salinity and even the thermal gradient of oceans can affect how sound waves are received, potentially masking the whereabouts of potential threats.
And climate modelling is also the place to identify some major long-term risks facing a country that occupies the world's driest inhabited continent and is also home to a famously variable climate.
CSIRO's modelling team now has 26 researchers. CSIRO executives claim that half will eventually remain but the fact is the cuts may exceed 13 before any new hires are made.
"The decision to decimate a vibrant and world-leading research program shows a lack of insight, and a misunderstanding of the importance of the depth and significance of Australian contributions to global and regional climate research," the letter from 2900 scientists, including one-third from the US, states.
That CSIRO should blithely jettison talent and expertise gathered over decades bemuses scientists such as Tony Haymet, who ran California-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, after heading CSIRO's then marine and atmospheric research division.
"It's a sort of Yahoo! decision," Haymet says, referring to the US technology firm that soared and then dived, hiving off or restructuring businesses in a so far vain bid to halt its decline.
Stanford Business School "would have some work to do" trying to understand Marshall's plan and its execution, he says.
What is becoming clear in the week or so since Fairfax Media broke the news of the cuts is that CSIRO executives failed to consult widely.
As the appearance by CSIRO executive squad before Thursday's Senate estimates hearing – itself one for the historians to parse – revealed, careful research was not so evident.
For instance, a so-called "Deep Dive" submission prepared in December by Kenneth Lee, the business manager of Oceans and Atmosphere, recommended about 30 positions be cut from the 422 employed across the whole division. Suggested new hires would result in no net loss.
With little further interaction, however, Lee was told in late January the equivalent of 100 full-time jobs would have to go.
A former board member who requested anonymity said that good corporate governance would have required the board to assemble at least to consider if not approve the changes.
At the Senate hearings, however, Marshall was unable to recall when the board was informed.
Deputy chief Craig Roy eventually stepped in to clarify that the board was told of the changes on February 2, two days before staff and the public found out.
Repeated queries from Fairfax Media to CSIRO have failed to clarify whether the board members even gathered for a conference call – let alone met.
The Bureau of Meteorology learned of the moves only a day in advance, despite being directly impacted.
The Prime Minister's office was alerted of the changes, as was the office of Science Minister Christopher Pyne, CSIRO told the hearings.
But as, Fairfax Media has reported, the PM was apparently caught unawares that climate science was in the firing line – an impression his office has yet to correct if false. Pyne's spokesman won't disclose what the minister was told.
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman told ABC Radio on Friday he had called Pyne's phone repeatedly over the past week to learn more about how the cuts would hit his state – without hearing back.
A spokesman for Mr Pyne said the minister "discussed CSIRO changes today and a meeting is planned" next week for more talks.
"The Minister and his office has been in regular contact with the Tasmanian Government regarding a variety of issues across his portfolio including CSIRO," the spokesman said.
An exasperated Tasmanian senator Peter Whish-Wilson told the CSIRO executives at estimates that public science, which is not easily made profitable but is essential, is at risk.
"Without being rude, it seems to be to the average person who's watching what's going on here, you've got this arse about," the Greens senator said.
"You haven't looked at the consequences before you've announced you're going to cut these areas."
Hobart, with its cluster of science teams working on Antarctic and ocean research, stands to lose a globally competitive edge.
"It's something Australia does well, and it's something we should be proud of," Whish-Wilson said.
"It guts me to think we're going to be ripping resources out of this area that is so important not just to climate science but to our economy and the communities that rely on these scientists."
Marshall, though, is so far sticking to his guns.
"We have to choose where we invest to deliver the most value," Marshall told the senators. "What can CSIRO do to change things, where can we be really unique and what are the areas we need to work on?"
Part of his mission to the US is to secure deals.
CSIRO is "investigating helping a large overseas country who badly, frankly, needs our help solving some water problems there", Marshall said.
The target is understood to be India, which may be the beneficiary of World Bank funds for water aid that could be worth billions.
One insider said that while CSIRO may be in the running for such projects, it was the sort of work that private companies could deliver, unlike the climate programs facing the axe.
Marshall, though, has his eyes on a prize – even if the beneficiaries of the aid don't feature in his vision.
"We don't say how much money can we make. We say how will this help Australia, can we learn something by working with this other country, will it improve relations?" he said.
"Will it open up other opportunities that are important to Australia," he said. "The money part of it is to help grow our research capability that needs money."