Now more than ever, it is clear that we are living in uncertain times, and we have all felt unsure of what the future will bring. At this time of great need, science has given us a beacon of hope, providing governments with the information it needs to take action and help society combat a global threat. Thanks to science, we can see a way to a day when the situation will be brighter again.
Against the backdrop of a pandemic is perhaps a poignant time to launch the Met Office’s latest science strategy, priming us to provide the best support and advice to cope with the twin global threats of climate change and extreme weather events.
There are other changes in our world that we must also respond to. From technological innovation, to the need for clean growth, to the change in the climate itself. We need to ensure that our exceptional research and innovation continue to drive improvements in our science, technology and operations – and vice versa. As the Met Office Chief Scientist, it’s important to me that the Met Office takes a key role in the development of weather and climate science and we can ensure we continue to deliver improvements in our services for our sponsors and the society, in our ever-changing world.
I’ve been at the Met Office since 2012: formerly as Director of the Hadley Centre and more recently as Chief Scientist, overseeing a team of 500 scientists. I feel immensely proud of the work the Met Office has done to boost its science base even further, but this goes hand-in-hand with a huge feeling of responsibility. People’s lives and livelihoods increasingly depend on avoiding the worst impacts of extreme weather events and climate change, and the Met Office has a responsibility to help people make the best decisions to stay safe and thrive. If anyone doubts the threats, the weather and climate records chart them perfectly. The period from 2015-2019 has seen the highest average global temperatures recorded since before the start of the industrial revolution. This isn’t just happening at a global scale, as last year we saw records for the highest overall and winter temperature broken.
But we don’t just passively monitor the records: We recently showed that the odds of us experiencing another heatwave like 2018 are thirty times greater now than they were in pre-industrial times. By continuing pioneering research like this, we will be better able to prepare for the challenges of our changing climate.
How can we do this? In the past we’ve had a Science strategy, which gave direction to the Science programme. But now, the focus needs to shift to encompass the broader research and innovation activities across Science, Technology and Operations. In this way, we can better respond to the emerging needs of society and get the best value from our increased computing capacity. As our ability to better understand and predict future weather and climate continues to expand, so too do the expectations of our customers and stakeholders.
These evolving demands, together with the opportunities provided by new technology, such as the announcement of a new high-performance computer, provide the drivers for this Research and Innovation Strategy.
The strategy responds to these challenges and sets out the priorities needed to develop our exceptional science, technology and operations over the next 10 years. This gives us a pathway to take us through from fundamental science that will improve our weather observations, and models of weather and climate, right through to developing new tailored services that will really make a difference.
The R&I Strategy describes how we do research and innovation in three activities:
1. The reason we work at the Met Office, is that we drive our Science to Services.
2. Weather and climate is ‘big science’ that needs large-scale observations, software and IT. So, one of our responsibilities is to maintain and develop this National Capability.
3. Our changing world will require new services, which in turn will require new Pioneering Research.
Under each of these three activities are three R&I themes, alongside which we have thee cross-cutting themes. You can explore the nine R&I themes and the three cross-cutting themes on our dedicated web pages. We have included some case studies to help bring these to life with real examples of the strategy in action.
In the first year we are going to particularly push three of these R&I themes as strategic actions, namely: exploiting the future of data sciences, delivering next-generation modelling capability and developing and nurturing capability partnerships.
This new strategy will ensure we continue the research and innovation that underpins all we do at the Met Office, and continue to be recognised as global leaders in weather, climate science and services in a changing world.
If we can deliver this strategy, we will have delivered better weather forecasts tailored to help decision making, a clearer view on what the world will look like in future climates, and a much better view of how we can transition to a resilient net zero economy.
Professor Stephen Belcher