New eye in the sky to help UK weather forecasts

A new weather satellite is circling the earth. The JPSS-1 satellite, launched this weekend (18 November 2017) will provide a huge array of observational, near real-time, data which will be shared with US national and international partners including the Met Office.

An artist impression of JPSS-1 in orbit.

An artist impression of JPSS-1 in orbit. Image courtesy of NOAA.

As well as gathering day to day weather data the satellite will monitor a wide range of events such as wildfires, snow cover, sea-surface temperature and aerosol detection, important in air quality monitoring. In addition, the satellite will measure the radiation coming from the earth and atmosphere, vital information for weather forecasting models such as those run by the Met Office.

Weather satellites perform a largely unseen but nevertheless essential role and their impact on our daily weather forecasts cannot be overestimated. The launching of this new satellite from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California comes closely on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Great Storm of October 1987. Many of us remember the devastation the storm bought to the southern half of the UK. Back in 1987 the Met Office was receiving very few daily observations from satellites. Today most of the 215 billion observations received daily by the Met Office are from satellites, these provide 65% of the observations used in the Met Office’s Global Numerical Weather Prediction model. Satellite data is behind major improvements in forecasting model accuracy levels over recent years, on a scale that former generations of weather forecasters could only imagine.

Dr Simon Keogh, who leads the satellite data, products and systems team for the Met Office, said: “The value we all get from satellites is simply enormous. Earth observations are an essential foundation on which Met Office services are built. They will help us deliver an expected overall £30bn socio-economic benefit over the coming decade, a 14 fold return on investment in the organisation, and will help us ensure the protection of people, property, businesses and critical national infrastructure.”

Portugal wildfires in June 2017.

Wildfires burning in Portugal on 20 June 2017. False colour image from the VIIRS imager on the Suomi NPP satellite. Image courtesy of NASA.

This new satellite provides a valuable US contribution to the Global Observing System that will complement the data provided to the Met Office by our work with European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

In addition to operating satellites, EUMETSAT also runs a satellite-reception station in Svalbard in the Norwegian Arctic, an essential part of the network to get the vast quantities of data gathered by satellites to the organisations that use it. At this latitude the station will receive information bursts from the new JPSS-1 up to 14 times per day.

Svalbard satellite receiving station in Norway.

Svalbard satellite receiving station in Norway. Image courtesy of EUMETSAT.

Dr Keogh concluded: “The new data will help drive our numerical weather prediction models and it will provide products for a wide range of earth observation applications from weather forecasting to oceanography.”

For more information and educational resources about JPSS-1 please visit the NOAA JPSS website.

 

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Met Office in the News – BBC weather service update

You may have seen reports in the media that the Met Office has signed a new contract with the BBC to supply their weather services until March 2018. It’s been pleasing to see the public support and response to this, thank you all.

It is important to us as the UKs National Weather Service that the UK public have the weather information they need to make informed decisions every day. This could be through our work with the emergency responders, directly on TV and radio or increasingly on the move on apps and mobile.

No matter who provides weather data to the BBC in the future, Met Office National Severe Weather Warnings will continue to be aired across all BBC channels, ensuring the UK public have access to vital warnings information and advice at times of severe weather.

We are also proud to be partners, recognised as providing great value for money, with ITV, Sky, Channel 5, STV, S4C and BFBS, as well as online news outlets such as the Guardian, Sun, Mirror and Daily Telegraph. We also supply Independent Radio News (IRN) with forecast scripts and warnings, reaching 27 million adult listeners per week (RAJAR, Q1 2017).

Following the awarding of the new weather contract to the Met Office, Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News and Current Affairs, said: “We are pleased to be extending our established working relationship with the Met Office, who continue to provide the highest quality and most accurate weather forecasts for our audiences.”

Over the last few years we have continued to demonstrate our world leading credentials in technology and innovation:

    • We have successfully procured and made operational the biggest weather and climate supercomputer in the world, within budget and ahead of schedule
    • Our popular weather app features video forecasts and has had nearly 4 million downloads and has ratings of 4.5* on Apple iOS and 4.3* on Android
    • Our new award winning Alexa Skill sees us enter the virtual assistant world delivering daily regional weather briefings to your home

This continues the proud Met Office history of being at the forefront of delivering weather services to the world — we issued the first newspaper forecast in 1861, the first radio forecast in 1922, and the first TV forecast in 1954. We are now bringing our expert forecasts to new channels, millions more users and younger audiences on Snapchat and Instagram at the tap or swipe of a fingertip, and thanks to ever advancing technology there are sure to be more innovations to come.

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Did You Know? We’re testing new weather balloons: from Cornwall to Antarctica!

The Met Office launches over 4300 balloons every year from 6 locations across the UK and is involved in launching thousands more around the globe.  These are not party balloons; they are weather balloons that take a small weather observation device, called a radiosonde, up through the atmosphere to the very edges of space.

Radiosondes take highly accurate temperature, moisture, wind and atmospheric measurements, which provide vital observations for weather forecasters, as well as data that helps monitor climate change. This data is then transmitted to a receiver on the ground to be fed into the starting conditions of our weather forecast model, along with thousands of other pieces of information.

Not only do these instruments need to work reliably in extremely challenging and varied conditions but they also need to be extremely light and, as they can’t be reused, they need to be cheap.

The Met Office has just completed trials for a new radiosonde as the one that’s been used since 2005 is being retired this year. Testing radiosondes isn’t straightforward – the atmosphere is constantly changing and a sonde can typically reach heights of 35 km, and travel many miles, before the balloon bursts and falls back to earth.  However stable, consistent measurements are vital for the climate record and we need to ensure that there are no breaks in data and that the data itself is not adversely affected by a change in technology.

A new radiosonde has been chosen and, to maintain continuity in the climate record, we are now launching both the old and new sondes at three trial sites for the next year – Rothera (Antarctica), St Helena (Atlantic Ocean) and Camborne (Cornwall). These sites represent a good spread of climate conditions and environments and allow us to continue long-standing climate records. Camborne alone has been flying radiosondes every day since the 1950s. Staff at the Met Office will analyse the data to ensure that the new radiosonde continues to operate as we expect, and that the vital climate data collected is stable.

Radiosonde trials at Rothera, Antartica (Credit Paul Samways, British Antarctic Survey) and Cambourne, Cornwall

The new radiosonde, the Vaisala RS41, has a few advantages over the sonde we have used for the past few years. It’s lighter which means we need less gas (we use helium) to lift it. Not only does this save money, it reduces our use of a valuable resource as well. At the same time, the new instruments are much easier to use. Before a launch, radiosondes have to be calibrated to ensure that the readings they take in the atmosphere are correct. They also have to undergo checks to ensure that they operate properly – we don’t want to waste money and resources launching an instrument that won’t give us any data. The RS41 allows these ground checks to take place incredibly quickly and easy, so the whole process is more efficient. The data is extremely consistent and stable, which means we can be confident in the information that we receive back and used by our forecasters and in our models.

To find out more about the 100’s of thousands of observations we receive each day and how they are a key part in the forecasting process, visit our learning pages on our website.

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UNISDR International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017

The idea behind UNISDR International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017 (IDDR 2017)  (13 Oct 2017) is to raise global awareness of the work that goes on worldwide to reduce the risk of disaster faced by millions, highlighting the effective actions, policies and practices in disaster risk reduction (DRR).DRR is central to much of the work we undertake at the Met Office, and throughout this week we have published a number of blogs looking at some of the ways we are involved.

Our Head of International Development, Dave Britton talked about the wide ranging work we undertake in a blog at the start of the week. We have also highlighted some of our international science and development partnerships such as the Tanzania Meteorological Agency.  This partnership has had a strong focus on user engagement in the development of weather and climate services.

Meanwhile, the CSSP China project, part of the Newton-funded Weather and Climate Science for Services Partnership (WCSSP) programme, included scientists developing an innovative technique to assess the potential risk of physically plausible – but as yet unrecorded – weather extremes. This technique was then used in the UK’s National Flood Resilience Review (2017).

A very different view of DRR was provided by Met Office Weather Impact Research Scientist, Jo Robbins, following her recent voluntary work in Sierra Leone. Working as part of a MapAction team and in partnership with the UN, Jo supported recovery efforts following the recent landslides. Not only was Jo able to put her Met Office experience and skill to good use, she also developed a deeper understanding of emergency response in situations such as these.

Crisis and humanitarian response work was also the theme of our most recent blog from Gavin Iley, Met Office Head of International Crisis Management and Resilience. In particular, Gavin was keen to highlight the importance of considering impact when using weather information in disaster response.

To conclude our DRR focus week, our Chief Executive Rob Varley talks about the importance of global DRR partnerships and the part that the Met Office and national weather and climate services from around the world play in reducing risk.

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Protection, prosperity, wellbeing: a focus on disaster risk reduction

Recent crises and disasters across the globe, including Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, floods and landslides in Sierra Leone, severe flooding in the United States and earthquakes in Mexico serve to highlight the very real and immediate need for disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts. With many nations still dealing with the impacts of recent events, the UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017 (IDDR 2017) taking place on Friday 13 October is perfectly timed to highlight some of the challenges faced around the world in preparing for and mitigating against the impacts of disasters, as well as celebrating how communities and nations are working to reduce the exposure to and impacts of disasters.

The UK is a world leader both in responding to crises and in building resilience against future disasters, and the UK Government is committed to continuing to help strengthen global peace, security and governance as well as resilience and response to crises globally. As the UK’s national meteorological service, the Met Office works as an advisor to government departments to help them deliver on these commitments as well as supporting early anticipation of developing severe weather events. This helps enable early civil contingency planning in the UK and humanitarian response across the globe.

In addition to immediate crisis response, we provide global expertise essential for long-term resilience building, supporting efforts to build capacity overseas. This helps improve local response to disasters and mitigation against the impacts of our changing climate. We work in partnership with the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, national meteorological and hydrological services, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to develop weather and climate services across the globe for the protection of lives, livelihoods and property.

In the lead up to IDDR 2017, we will be publishing a series of blog posts highlighting our global disaster reduction expertise and experience. From our use of ground-breaking science to support the development of critical weather and climate services, to our humanitarian response to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the Met Office is working at the forefront of disaster risk reduction efforts in the UK and across the globe.

View our DRR webpages for more information.

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Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre – third anniversary

Mark Gibbs – Head of space weather

It was nearly seven years ago, when my boss said “Mark we’ve got a little project for you called space weather “. Little did I know at that time what an adventure it would take us on.

We began forecaster training, utilising short-term project funding, in late 2011 following space weather’s inclusion by the Government on the National Risk Register (NRR). While the prospect of securing long-term funding from government looked remote and a viable future for Met Office space weather operations uncertain, we started producing our first routine forecasts in time for the 2012 Olympics. Then in late 2013, funding was secured and the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) was created. It began 24/7 operations in April 2014 and was officially opened on 8 October by the then Science Minister Greg Clarke.

Today, three years on, MOSWOC remains one of only three centres manned 24/7 by expert space weather forecasters. The other two are both in the US (NOAA Space weather Prediction Centre and US Air Force 557th Weather Wing). Space weather, in the Met Office, has moved from being a project to an on-going programme in its own right. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funds MOSWOC as a national capability and space weather remains as a ‘high’ risk on the NRR with Met Office being technical advisors to the UK Government on the topic. We continue to develop our capability and have just implemented an aurora prediction model (called OVATION) providing 30 minute ahead forecasts of the position and intensity of the aurora. It is available to the public via our website.

We hope the aurora model will significantly increase public interest and engagement in space weather over the coming months. Public engagement has been a focus over the summer with the aim of increasing understanding of space weather and its potential impacts. In addition to introducing automated alerts and warnings of space weather activity on our twitter feed to keep the public informed, we have increased our activity on this channel and have trebled our followers and secured official Twitter verification for @MetOfficeSpace.

To celebrate our anniversary, we are streaming a Met Office Live Space weather special on 10 October at 1pm. We will show viewers around MOSWOC and discuss space weather, the OVATION model and the recent activity with our team and Professor Lucie Green, space scientist at UCL’s Mullard Science Laboratory.

Through the first two weeks of September, MOSWOC handled the largest space weather event for over a decade. The whole team did a fantastic job throughout, providing advice to a number of users, stakeholders including UK Government, Swedish Government and the European Space Agency. While some minor impacts have been reported, the event was sufficiently large to test our knowledge and systems, without being particularly damaging and it has allowed us to identify some improvements for the future.

The last seven years has seen the Met Office transition from an organisation not involved in space weather, to become influential globally. The Met Office space weather team is represented on the committees of a number of UN agencies and I’ve visited the White House twice to discuss space weather, once to speak at the launch of the US National Space Weather Strategy in 2015.

When I look back at what we’ve achieved over the past seven years, I am incredibly proud.  I wonder what the next seven years will bring?

 

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Is La Niña on the way?

During 2015 and 2016, the planet experienced one of the largest El Niño events in a century.  El Niño (Spanish for the boy) is actually the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and climate scientists are now suggesting that this oscillation in tropical Pacific temperature is likely tipping towards its opposite cool phase, La Niña.

Ensemble members show an increasing likelihood of La Niña conditions developing during October and November. La Niña conditions are said to develop when the sea surface temperature anomaly goes below –0.5°C.

Perhaps less well known than its larger brother, La Niña (Spanish for ‘the girl’) is an event that can trigger significant impacts.  Professor Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office, said: “During El Niño, temperatures in the equatorial Pacific can warm by as much as 3°C. La Niña tends to be smaller and rarely exceeds 2°C, but its effects reach across the globe and can have just as much impact.”

Historically, La Niña events tend to occur about once every five years, but forecasts over the last few months show an increasing risk of La Niña developing this winter.  A really big La Niña like that in 2010/11 is very unlikely, but the chance of a moderate strength event is now several times the historical chance.

La Niña is associated with a shift in rainfall towards the western Pacific. Regions from Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and north-east Australia will all be at risk of heavier than average rainfall if La Niña develops. At the other side of the tropical Pacific, Peru would be at risk of drought, but local fisheries would receive a boost as fish stocks can access additional nutrients rising in upwelling currents driven by La Niña.

The effects of La Niña aren’t confined to the tropical Pacific. If La Niña develops, then North-western coastal communities of North America would be at increased risk of a cold winter as La Niña increases northerly winds there. Meanwhile southern Africa would be more likely to experience a cooler and wetter summer than normal, and Brazil would have an increased risk of heavy rainfall in coming months.

Adam Scaife concluded: “As well as its regional effects, La Niña can cause a temporary cooling of global temperatures but the strength of the current event suggests that this will be no more than a tenth of the global warmth we have accrued so far due to climate change.”

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Atlantic depressions bring above-average rain for some

During the first half of the month, a succession of low-pressure systems tracking close to the UK brought rain to most places as fronts swept from west to east. After a cool, showery interlude around mid-month, a more autumnal pattern emerged with some foggy nights and sunny days interspersed with further bouts of rain.

Following August’s trend, provisional statistics for the UK for September so far suggest it has been slightly cooler than average and rather unsettled, although frosts have been reported by very few stations up until 28 September. The cool trend isn’t apparent everywhere though, as parts of northern Scotland, including Shetland, Orkney and Caithness were the warmest spots relatively in Britain, when compared with average temperatures. Shetland enjoyed mean temperatures during the month more than 1 °C above the long-term September average. In contrast, the maximum daily temperatures in some parts of southern England were around 1 °C cooler than the September average.

Dr Mark McCarthy is the head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre. He said: “The UK receives weather influences from all points of the compass. However, the weather during September has been largely dominated by an influence from the Atlantic. This is evident in the above-average rainfall in parts of western Britain and Northern Ireland. The relative lack of northerly winds will have been partly responsible for keeping the temperatures of parts of northern Scotland above average.”

Up until 28 September, most places had already exceeded their average rainfall for the month, with a UK figure of 108.1mm with two days to go (UK September average is 96.4mm). Some locations, such as Cornwall and Plymouth, have had well above their September rainfall average.

Dr Mark McCarthy added: “Cornwall has experienced it wettest September since 2000 and there is more rain to come before the month concludes.” Other areas with well above average rainfall include parts of northwest England, northern and western Wales, Northern Ireland and northeast Scotland.

In contrast parts of southeast England, Herefordshire and Central and northwest Scotland have been rather drier. Provisional figures for Shoeburyness, in Essex, reveal that it has only received 26.8mm  of rain; just under two thirds of the long-term September average.

For temperatures, values have been close to or slightly below average so far, with daytime temperatures for the UK 0.5˚C below average at 16.0˚C. Some counties across southern England have had an average daytime maximum of 1˚C below normal.

With rainfall amounts generally above average, it’s no surprise that sunshine hours are below or close to average for most areas, with the exception of parts of southeast England near the Thames Estuary. UK sunshine amounts are 102.6 hours, 82% of average (124.7 hours) up until 28 September.

The forecast for the last days of September is changeable, with some persistent and heavy rain forecast for many areas as we head into the final night of the month. This means that rainfall amounts may increase substantially for some areas, while there is unlikely to be a surge of warmth to counteract the cool feel so far.

1-28 September 2017 provisional figures Mean temp (°C) Rainfall (mm) Sunshine (hours)
Actual  Diff to avg (°C) Actual % of avg Actual % of avg
UK 12.5 -0.2 108.1 112 102.6 82
England 13.4 -0.3 84.3 121 114.3 83
Wales 12.6 -0.2 149.5 128 96.4 75
Scotland 11.1 0.2 131.0 96 86.0 82
N Ireland 12.0 -0.3 137.6 150 95.6 84

You can keep up to date with the weather using our forecast pages, on our popular mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using.

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Harnessing the power of the weather forecast

You will be familiar with checking a weather forecast before planning a day out. But have you ever looked at a forecast to find out the greenest time to put your washing machine on? Well, now you can.

Using data from the Met Office, today National Grid, in cooperation with the Environmental Defence Fund Europe (EDF) and WWF, have launched a forecast to enable the public and businesses to better understand and plan their energy use.

Using hourly weather data from the Met Office and combining it with historical data from the grid, National Grid are able to forecast demand for electricity and also identify the contribution from renewable energy flowing into the grid. Using this information, they can forecast the carbon output of the grid over a 48-hour period, and identify the periods of lowest carbon output and highest carbon output. In other words, how green the grid will be during that period.

Using this information, the partners involved in the project hope that electricity consumers across Great Britain will be able to plan their electricity use around periods of high availability for renewable energy, reducing carbon output.

Patrick Sachon, Met Office Business Group Leader for Energy said: “The green energy forecast is a great example of innovative re-use of Met Office data. As a scientific organisation we encourage the re-use of our data, particularly if it can be applied to develop a deeper understanding of the interrelation between weather and something that is so integral to our everyday lives such energy.”

Accessibility of the new green energy forecast is important to the project partners and they have made it available as an API (application programming interface) so it can be used to develop new apps and services. Duncan Burt, Director of the System Operator at National Grid, said: “We’re providing our forecast data in a format that allows technology companies to build innovative apps and software that could make a real difference to how and when people use energy. Clear and concise information that can tell you in advance when’s best to turn on the washing machine, load the dishwasher or charge your car for example, is a step in the right direction towards a low carbon future. This technology puts people at the heart of it, helping everyone to use power when it’s greenest, and likely, more cost efficient”.

Patrick Sachon said: “We look forward to continuing to work closely with National Grid to explore how our weather data can be used to better understand energy use.”

 

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Climate models: an essential tool for guiding policy

Climate models have come under scrutiny. Stephen Belcher, the Met Office’s Chief Scientist, explains the nuances of the science and why it is imperative now to reduce atmospheric carbon.

Are climate models accurately predicting global warming?

This question has been a hotly debated this week. Whilst climate models do not represent all aspects of our climate, they provide an essential tool for guiding policy by simulating the warming we have seen since the pre-industrial era. So how well do they do?

The figure below shows observations of global warming (in black) compared to the range projected by the group of models submitted to CMIP5, which was used by the IPCC for their latest assessment report on climate change. The 1880-1919 period was chosen here to represent pre-industrial temperatures so that three observational data sets could be used in the comparison. The observations lie comfortably within the modelled range. For example, the warming seen between the 1880-1919 period and 2016 is 1.10oC in HadCRUT4, 1.19 oC in GISTEMP and 1.12 oC in NOAAGlobalTemp, which compares well with 1.14 oC, the average of the CMIP5 models (which have a 2.5 – 97.5% range of 0.70 – 1.58 oC).

Comparison of simulated temperatures from CMIP5 models (historical and RCP4.5 experiments) with three observed near-surface temperature datasets, as changes from the 1880-1919 baseline. The observational datasets are HadCRUT4 (with an estimate of the uncertainty on the dataset) produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climate Research Unit; GISTEMP produced by NASS GISS; and NOAAGlobalTemp produced by NOAA. The model and observational data have been re-analysed to the same coverage as HadCRUT4 to enable fair comparison.

What factors need to be considered in making comparisons between observed and modelled warming?

First, during the so-called slowdown during the 2000s the observations sit within the lower half of the model range. This has prompted questions about whether the models have been warming too much. Analysis at the Met Office shows that these variations are consistent with variations associated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We have since seen record-breaking temperatures in 2014, 2015 and 2016 which signal an end to the slowdown and a return of higher warmer rates.

Second, the CMIP5 simulations were initiated in 2005, and emissions of greenhouse gases from 2005 onwards were assessed, based on estimates for socio-economic development. So the CMIP5 simulations do not account for the cooling effects of small volcanic eruptions which recent research shows slightly cools the modelled warming. (Further information on these topics can be found in Ed Hawkins’ blog, and in the Nature journal paper by Medhaug et al)

Third, the observations themselves contain uncertainties, for example due to difficulties of estimating temperature changes in poorly-observed regions such as the Arctic and Antarctica, and due to definition of the pre-industrial temperature, when the observations have greater uncertainties.

So can we limit warming to the ambitions of the Paris agreement?

Policy makers need to have reliable information about greenhouse gas emissions because there is a direct link between the amounts of total CO2 we have emitted and the amount our world warms. By studying this link, it is possible to estimate how much more carbon we can emit while remaining within given levels of warming. There is currently an intense research effort to reduce the current uncertainties in the carbon budget.

One recent study has suggested that remaining carbon budgets may be larger than previously thought. (The close agreement between the models and the observations in the figure above does not change this conclusion.) Meanwhile other areas of research suggest they may be smaller. For example, the next generation of climate models will include processes such as the impacts of thawing permafrost, changes to wetlands, and the impact of the nitrogen cycle on plant growth. Early evidence suggests that accounting for these processes will reduce the amount of carbon we can emit while staying within the over all budget and the global warming targets.

The Paris Agreement to limit warming to ‘well below 2 oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 °C’ is driving a need for greater precision in climate science, both in the need to assess warming above pre-industrial levels, and in the need to assess carbon budgets consistent with these targets.

What remains clear, however, is that the aim of limiting warming to 1.5C remains a huge global challenge that requires rapid cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

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