Met Office in the Media – 7 August 2015

7 08 2015

Earth from space

An article published today makes a number of claims about Met Office weather and climate science.

It would be difficult to cover all the points raised in this blog, but here we look at the science and facts behind a few of the assertions.

The first decadal forecast issued in 2007

We did indeed publish the first groundbreaking decadal forecast in 2007. It had two headline statements:

  1. that half of all years after 2009 would be warmer globally than the record year at that time (1998) – This is doing well so far with two out of five years (2010 and 2014) warmer than 1998 and given current temperature levels, it’s likely this will be 3 out of 6 by the end of this year, consistent with our forecast for 2015
  2. that 2014 would be 0.3 °C ± 0.21 °C warmer than 2004 (giving a range of 0.09 °C to 0.51 °C) – WMO figures show the global temperature for 2014 was 0.13 °C higher than that in 2004; which is within the range of the forecast

Adjustments to global temperature data

The article says we adjust our temperature figures ‘without justifying why it is scientifically appropriate’. In fact, numerous peer-reviewed science papers from research centres across the world provide detailed explanations of how and why datasets are adjusted to ensure they are as accurate as possible. This is available for anyone to view and analyse.

The conclusion that the world has warmed is supported by independent analysis of global temperature data.

European heatwaves

We published a paper stating heatwaves like that seen across Europe in 2003 would become more frequent under climate change. Subsequent observations back up these conclusions; 2006 saw comparable heat in the UK, 2010 saw intense heat across eastern Europe, and there’s been a prolonged heatwave across much of Europe this year (although not in the UK).

Weather extremes

Met Office research supports climate research centres around the world which concludes we expect more extremes of heat and rainfall as the world continues to warm. The article says this ‘simply hasn’t happened’ but in fact, research shows there has been an increase in both. While here in the UK, we have also seen an increase in the number of temperature and rainfall records.

The article also states ‘the Met Office did all it could to claim the rain that caused last year’s exceptional flooding… was the worst ever recorded.’ We’ve done studies (here and here) of the exceptional rainfall in winter 2013/14., which across southern England was one of the, if not the most, exceptional periods for winter rainfall in around 250 years. Here’s a fuller research piece about the winter 2013/14 storms.

Greenland ice

The article says that we claimed Greenland ice would melt in future due to global warming. We did, and we were clear that it would take thousands of years to happen, not ‘any time soon’. Observations show Greenland has been losing 300 gigatonnes (1 gigatonne is 1000,000,000 tonnes) of ice a year over the last 12 years and research shows surface temperatures have clearly risen.

Other claims

A series of other claims are made in the article, mostly focusing on our forecasts over seasonal to decadal timescales. The Met Office is at the forefront of this pioneering area of research and we are increasing skill in this area.

According to standards set by the World Meteorological Organization the Met Office is ranked as the most accurate global met service in the world. We will continue our research in collaboration with our global scientific partners to improve this vital area of science.

How the ‘pest from the west’ will beat the ‘Beast from the East’

10 12 2012

There was much talk at the end of last week about the ‘Beast from the East’ being set to bring some cold and wintry conditions to the UK this week. However, the balance in the atmosphere has changed and the current cold weather looks set to be replaced by milder, wetter weather by the end of the week.

So what has happened in the atmosphere to bring such a dramatic change in the forecast?

As expected at the end of last week, we do have winds blowing from the northeast, tracking across the North Sea from Scandinavia and bringing scattered showers to eastern parts of the country as shown on the chart below. So, we can expect a couple of days of cold and mainly dry weather with a few showers in eastern counties, sharp frosts and some freezing fog at night.

Actual chart Monday 10 December 2012

The atmosphere is always finely balanced and for the ‘Beast from the East’ to really ‘bear’ its teeth the high pressure area over Greenland would need to develop and draw the wind in from Europe. It now looks like this is not going to happen and instead the depression to the west of the UK is going to win the atmospheric battle and bring heavy rain and strong winds to us all from Thursday.

Met Office forecasters will be monitoring this developing weather situation throughout the week and have already issued warnings to give advanced notice of the potential impacts from the heavy rain in some parts of the country.

The latest forecasts and warnings can be found on the Met Office website, on our mobile apps and through TV and radio broadcasts on the BBC and ITV.

Times Atlas of the World and Greenland Icesheet

19 09 2011

The latest edition of the Times Atlas of the World shows a reduced amount of ice and snow over Greenland which has been attributed to climate change by the publishers. This has resulted in debate among climate science experts on if this is really the case. Without seeing the precise mapping methods used in the Times Atlas it would be wrong to comment in detail on the changes between editions.

However, there has certainly been widespread warming in the coastal regions of Greenland over the past 20 years, but whether this has been caused by increasing greenhouse gases or by natural climate variations (e.g. the North Atlantic Oscillation) is not definitely known yet.

The large Greenland ice sheet is of interest because of its potential contribution to global sea level rise. Complete loss of the Greenland ice sheet would result in around 6 metres of sea level rise globally, although the effect would be less around the UK, and sea level might actually fall near Greenland because the gravitational attraction of the ice sheet currently attracts sea water towards it. While the regions shown as lost permanent ice in the Times Atlas are quite large in area, the ice/snow thickness there is small so the effect on sea level would not be expected to be large.

Observations suggest that the Greenland ice sheet has recently been shrinking at a rate that contributes a few tenths of a millimetre per year to global sea level. Some of the outlet glaciers which discharge icebergs from the edge of the ice sheet into the North Atlantic have been accelerating, however it is not yet clear whether this is part of a long term trend or just short term variations.

Over the coming century it is expected that Greenland will contribute up to 20 cm to global sea level rise (from a total of around 20-80 cm), depending on the actual amount of increase in greenhouse gases and other factors. However, current scientific understanding of ice flow and outlet glaciers is relatively limited, so it is hard to make confident predictions of their contribution. Climate scientists are currently working to continue observing the ice sheet for longer and to improve models of the processes controlling ice flow. Over time this will result in more confident predictions of the future of the ice sheet and any changes to sea level.


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