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?