Three decades of Met Office Hadley Centre science, and counting..

This week marks the 30th Anniversary of the opening of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on 25 May, 1990.

Professor Albert Klein Tank, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, reflects on the first three decades of our history.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher opening the Met Office Hadley Centre with Sir John Houghton

The Hadley Centre is a lasting legacy for the late Sir John Houghton (pictured above with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) who founded it with the aim of developing a centre of excellence in the UK for climate science. Sir John sadly passed away earlier this month.

In the last 30 years, climate science has advanced rapidly, and the Hadley Centre has been at the forefront of this development.

James Murphy, who has worked within the Hadley Centre since its opening, commented: “Margaret Thatcher’s original question was: can we predict the future changes in our climate, and potential consequences? This has been answered, but our subsequent research has also exposed the complex challenges associated with projecting future changes with regional detail and understanding better the human contributions to past changes. Our answers are conditional upon our knowledge, which has evolved substantially during the past 30 years, and must continue to do so in the future.”

Professor Klein Tank said: “When I joined as the new Director of the Hadley Centre two years ago, the increasing demand for climate services had already led to the changed name: Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services, with services always based on the highest quality science. At this time, we started thinking hard about the next decades to ensure the Hadley Centre is ready for a changing future. An activity that resulted in the new Met Office Research and Innovation strategy and the related roadmap for climate science.

The first 30 years

The impacts of climate change are already evident both in the UK and worldwide, through rising temperatures, diminishing snow and ice, rising sea levels and changes in extreme weather events. The development of global observation datasets such as HadCRUT (Hadley Centre and Climatic Research Unit global mean surface temperature dataset) and advances in attribution science have allowed these changes in our climate system to be detected and the human influence on these changes to be quantified.

The subsequent generations of Met Office HadGEM family of climate models have helped understand the importance of processes related to aerosols and clouds, and carbon cycle feedbacks. These models also demonstrated that it is possible to make skilful and meaningful predictions of future climate on seasonal to decadal timescales to provide early warnings and on centennial timescales to inform adaptation and mitigation. I’m particularly proud of the unique use of a seamless modelling system, developed in the Met Office over the last 30 years, allowing us to test the physical basis of our climate models through verification of weather forecasts and seasonal predictions.

Contributions to the UN Climate Panel IPCC and UK assessment reports

The Hadley Centre has a tradition of making significant contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process. Hadley Centre climate models, observational datasets and numerous peer-reviewed papers have been extensively assessed in all of the previous Assessment Reports and Special Reports and Hadley Centre scientists being authors and reviewers for these.

Hadley Centre scientist Richard Wood (back row, far right) at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, 2007, jointly awarded to the IPCC/Al Gore for efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures need to counteract such change. Back row from left: John Houghton (WG1 Co-Chair for the I and III Assessment Reports), Robert Watson (IPCC former chair). Front row: Qin Dahe and Susan Solomon (WGI Co-Chairs for AR4); Dan Albritton.

The Hadley Centre has also previously hosted the so-called technical support units for Working Group I and II. The Hadley Centre is making a significant contribution to the IPCC for its 6th Assessment Report, which will be published from 2021/22. Hadley Centre research has also underpinned the first three UK Climate Change Risk Assessments (CCRA) that inform the National Adaptation Programme. The 3rd CCRA is currently underway, and the Technical Chapters of the main report are being written by a consortium of academics and consultants led by the University of Exeter and the Hadley Centre. We will continue making significant contributions to the IPCC process and the CCRA as we have done in the past.

Professor Klein Tank’s review of Met Office Hadley Centre science concludes tomorrow with a look at the future of climate science.


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