What are climate models?

15 05 2012

A key way of understanding our climate and making projections about how it may change in the future is to use climate models.

These are essentially simulations of the Earth’s climate system. They are made up of millions of lines of computer code which represent the physical processes which govern our atmosphere and oceans.

Supercomputers then run the code using observations of modern day climate, with the models able to recreate the past (hindcasting) or give projections of the future (forecasting).

Looking at the past is important for understanding historical changes and influences on climate, and it also allows scientists to gauge how accurate the models are (by comparing model output to reality).

Looking at the future enables researchers to see how things might change given various different scenarios – such as changing levels of greenhouse gases.

The Met Office uses models to look at many different timescales and to study different aspects of the Earth’s climate system.

You can find out more about how climate models work in our YouTube video.


Met Office in the Media: 26 January 2012

26 01 2012

Today sees the launch of the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) highlighting the top 100 challenges faced by the UK from our changing climate. The research confirms the UK as a world-leader in understanding climate risk, ensuring the governemtn is well placed to make robust plans to deal with these threats. Coverage this morning includes the BBC report on the ‘First report on UK climate impact’  andthe Independent reporting on how the UK is ‘told to prepare for mass floods in future‘.

The Met Office contributed to the CCRA providing scientific guidance on the latest climate projections (UKCP09) and leading the risk assessment on the energy sector. In addition we also provided further research on urban heat islands and rainfall runoff. Utility Week have also covered the launch of the study, reporting on how ‘Utilities face some of the heaviest threats from global warning, a comprehensive government study shows’.

Elsewhere there was widespread coverage about the launch of our new Met Office Android App as it made ‘app of the day’ on TechDigest. At the same time we also launched an update to our iPhone App. Bothof these were covered in the Guardian as well as on android authority and intomobile.

Biodiversity award for the Met Office

29 07 2011

The Met Office has become one of only a handful of organisations to achieve a prestigious benchmark for protecting and promoting biodiversity at its Exeter HQ.

From creating wildflower meadows to introducing bee hives, the award marks years of work to integrate wildlife and environmental considerations into the day to day operations of the Exeter site.

The Wildlife Trusts has recognised that by awarding the Met Office its Biodiversity Benchmark Award. Only 15 organisations and 40 sites in the UK have met this rigorous standard so far and the Met Office is the first from the public sector.

Neal Pearce, Environmental Advisor, at the Met Office said: “This standard is very tough to both achieve and maintain, as it requires sites to be environmentally managed to the highest of levels. This award reflects the commitment of the Met Office to minimise our impact upon the environment, whilst endeavouring to promote and actively enhance the biodiversity performance from our sites.”

The work to get the Benchmark follows on from work of volunteer members of staff at the Exeter site who helped create its first wildflower meadow. These habitats have been in decline for decades but are important for supporting many species of wildlife.

Initially the area designated as a wildflower meadow covered three quarters of an acre, but this has now been extended to three acres.

Additional habitats have been identified across the site to encourage a wide range of wildlife, for example bee hives have been added, and nesting boxes for swifts and bats are being investigated as part of a regional project, supported by the Devon Wildlife Trust.

The range of work has already had a positive impact, with observations suggesting significantly more diversity of species noted on the site, including the rare ‘Maiden Pink’ wild flower, classified as a nationally scarce species.

Peter Dorans, Corporate Relations Manager for The Wildlife Trusts, said “I am delighted that the Met Office has achieved Biodiversity Benchmark on its Head Office site. It demonstrates that, even on a site used primarily as office accommodation, with careful and committed management wildlife can flourish.

“Like other public sector organisations the Met Office, both as a landholder and a part of the community in which it operates, has a major role to play in the realisation of our vision of A Living Landscape. Achievement of Biodiversity Benchmark is a major challenge and demonstrates the Met Office’s commitment to playing its part in the restoration of the natural world.”

Met Office in the Media: 01 July 2011

1 07 2011

The Independent has today reported about a partnership between the Met Office and NCAR and other leading climate scientists to investigate exceptional weather events to see whether they can be attributable to global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. In ‘Extreme weather link ‘can no longer be ignored’ Steve Connor reports on the Attribution of Climate-related Events (ACE) project which held its first workshop in August 2010 in Colorado.

Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office Hadley Centre said:  “We’ve certainly moved beyond the point of saying that we can’t say anything about attributing extreme weather events to climate change. It’s very clear we’re in a changed climate now which means there’s more moisture in the atmosphere and the potential for stronger storms and heavier rainfall is clearly there.”

More information on this work can be found in:

Climate change: how to play our hand? (Guardian)
Pakistan floods – More than just an active monsoon? (Met Office News Blog)

Elsewhere the Daily Mail and other papers have reported on a research paper that has suggested that aircraft taking off and landing increase the amount of snow or rainfall around airports, where due to the variability in weather is likely to mask any phenomenon within the observations.



Met Office strikes ‘Gold’ for corporate responsibility

16 06 2011

The Met Office is delighted to announce that it has achieved Gold in Business in the Community’s (BITC) 2011 Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI), the UK’s leading voluntary benchmark of corporate responsibility.

Achieving Gold means that the Met Office is able to demonstrate openness and transparency through effective public reporting of its material environmental and social issues, programmes and performance.

Rob Varley, Met Office Operations Director said: “Our work as a leading advisor on weather and climate change to Government, businesses and the public is central to promoting sustainable development both at home and abroad. We’re committed to meeting our objectives in a sustainable way, which means minimizing our environmental impact and acting in a positive way in our dealings with our community, our workplace and within the marketplace.”

The CRI helps companies to integrate and improve corporate responsibility throughout their business operations, by providing a systematic approach to managing, measuring and reporting on business impacts in society and on the environment.

Stephen Howard, Chief Executive, Business in the Community said: “I congratulate the Met Office on achieving Gold in the 2011 BITC Corporate Responsibility Index. It is a challenging time, but the results of this year’s Index demonstrate that companies are still focused on transforming their businesses in order to have a positive impact on society. All the companies who participated this year are at different stages in their responsible business journey, but they are all taking these issues seriously and are prepared to lead by example.”

The full results of the 2011 CRI, including commentary and analysis, were published in the Financial Times Responsible Business supplement.

Why our obsession with the weather could help save the planet

9 03 2011

The Met Office has been working on behalf of Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) at the Natural History Museum to encourage learning about weather and climate change. The

As part of OPAL the Met Office is coordinating a climate survey, an exciting national experiment that allows you to explore your local climate by conducting a number of experiments such as blowing bubbles to monitor local wind patterns, observe  aeroplane trails, or contrails and finally record how hot or cold they feel as part of efforts to see how people might cope with temperature changes.

The Met Office is also been asked by OPAL to answer your questions about climate change. Most people have questions about climate change,  and the Met Office, as experts in weather and climate science will take your questions and provide you with the answers you need to make sense of climate science.

Don’t believe all the climate headlines

10 01 2011

Steve Connor of the Independent has written a fascinating article today.  ‘Don’t believe the hype over climate headlines’ is about a story that ran in the paper ten years ago with which ‘climate contrarians have been making much of’.

Steve makes some fine points about the difficulty for scientists and science journalists to find a balance between writing interesting stories that catch the eye of the reader (the fundamental job of a good journalist) and the difficulties and conveying all the tiny caveats and nuances that go with science stories, especially those about climate science.

The case Steve refers to is about the likely chances of snowfall in the future under climate change. The headline used 10 years ago was “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”, but I can assure you that no self respecting climate scientist would ever make such a bold statement, not today or ten years ago.

The reason for this is quite simple – that kind of statement is just not true when taken out of context of the whole article that deals with all those caveats and nuances that can be so hard to understand.

The bottom line is that snow was and still is never going to vanish from our weather, although how often we see snow may well change. Snow and cold are part of the natural variability of our changing day-to-day weather.

Met Office in the Media: 01 December 2010

1 12 2010

The prolonged extreme cold and snow remain the focus of media attention leading most national news bulletins on TV and Radio and very close to the front of most newspapers.  Notably we have taken part in a live chat for ITV Evening News on both Monday and Wednesday, provided interviews to the Today programme, You and Yours and the ITV Evening News about the continuing cold.

Ewen McCallum, Met Office Chief Meteorologist, wrote and small feature in The Scotsman on the current cold spell and the Daily Mail wrote a small feature on how we are encouraging the public to provide snow depth reports via our website, producing a map of snow depths across the UK.

On the other side of the world the UNFCCC climate change talks, otherwise known as COP16 got underway earlier this week. The Met Office supports the UK government negotiations with robust scientific evidence on how the climate of the earth is changing allowing governments and others to make informed policy decisions. We have published more information on our website about COP16 in Cancun.

Also, in the first of our guest blogs on climate change, Jonathan Leake, Science Editor at The Sunday Times describes the latest research into ‘black carbon’.

Yesterday saw the launch of academic research partnership between the Met Office and the Universities of Leeds, Exeter and Reading. The focus of the research programme will be to combine the strengths of the universities and the Met Office to secure the UK’s position in leading the world in weather forecasting and climate prediction, and provide an outstanding environment to develop the atmospheric science leaders of the future. This was reported in Bioscience Technology and on the BBC

Met Office in the News: 26 November 2010

26 11 2010

The cold and snow across the UK is being covered extensively with coverage including, Britain ‘faces 10-day wintry blast’ (mirror.co.uk), North-east UK struggles as snow blows in (independent.co.uk), Fresh snowfall amid ice warning (bbc.co.uk), Snowvember (thesun.co.uk) and Forecasters predict more snow in UK (bbc.co.uk).

Today on BBC Radio 4 reported how the Met Office have issued a report on how this year is shaping up to be the hottest year on record, and how global temperatures may have been under-estimated. Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change at the Met Office, explained how we may be underestimating the rate of global warming.

BBC Radio 5 Breakfast (last 5 minutes) and BBC online also covered the story in Met Office says 2010 ‘among hottest on record’.

Other newspapers reported: World is growing warmer, but pace slows (ft.com), Global warming is slowing down, say scientists (dailymail.co.uk) and World is warming quicker than thought in past decade, says Met Office (guardian.co.uk).

Met Office scientists have been awarded the inaugural Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize for our work on long range hurricane predictions that will help tackle the largest single cause of insured loss.

Dr. Doug Smith, Met Office specialist in decadal forecasting, was awarded the prize for Best Overall Paper as well as the Science of Risk Prize for the Natural Hazard category. He led research that demonstrated for the first time the capability of climate models such as the Met Office Decadal Climate Prediction System (DePreSys) extends successful storm activity forecasts beyond the current season, to provide predictions years ahead.  An interview with Doug Smith followed the story.

How do we avoid the worst impacts of our changing climate?

16 09 2010

The world will need to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below current levels over the next few decades if the worst impacts of dangerous climate change are to be avoided. This was a key conclusion from UK and US climate scientists at an international workshop on the UK AVOID program in Washington, DC exploring the most policy-relevant aspects of understanding dangerous climate change.

Latest results from AVOID have shown that strong mitigation action to limit temperature rise to below 2 °C avoids many of the climate impacts, but not all of them. Examples show that 50% of the impact of water scarcity, and almost 40% of the impact of decreasing crop suitability can be avoided through early action on greenhouse gas emissions. Time is short and delaying action reduces the chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 °C and increases the chance of significant impacts.

The AVOID program is a unique inter-disciplinary research collaboration across the physical sciences, climate impacts and the technical and socio-economic implications of climate change. AVOID is targeted to provide policy-focused research and evidence needed to allow policymakers to develop mitigation and adaptation policy that is strongly grounded in scientific evidence. This workshop, the first international meeting of AVOID, was designed to discuss, engage and partner with US scientists.

Jason Lowe, Head of Mitigation Advice at the Met Office, United Kingdom, and Chief Scientist for the AVOID program, said “This workshop has provided the opportunity to compare approaches in the UK and US to identify the results that are the most robust.  The aim now is to work together to find concrete ways of taking forward the best UK and US science for the benefit of policymakers.

“Such work is essential to inform government policies both in the UK and the US with robust and up-to-date evidence.”

Peter Backlund, Director of Research Relations at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, and Director of NCAR’s Integrated Science Program, said “Designing mitigation and adaptation strategies to avoid dangerous climate change is a major challenge for the US, the UK, and other nations.  Scientific research is critical for informing this process, but the scientific community needs to do a better job in focusing research efforts on issues that are central to making decisions about how to respond to climate change.

“The UK AVOID program, with its integration of research from multiple institutions across the physical, social, and economic sciences, is one of the best examples of delivering advice that is directly relevant to policymakers.  The program is producing useful information about the probabilities of achieving emissions reductions, the consequences of different levels of emissions, and options for reducing impacts.  I am hopeful that we can create a similar program here in the US.”

Participating UK and US scientists agreed to explore further options for collaboration in this area of science of relevance to policymakers.


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