Part II: Three decades of Met Office Hadley Centre science, and counting…

In Part I of this two-part blog series (published yesterday) Professor Albert Klein Tank described the history and highlights of the Met Office Hadley Centre over the past 30 years. Here the Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre focuses on the future.

The next 30 years

In the next 30 years, the role of climate science at the Met Office Hadley Centre will evolve to one of quantifying the predicted changes in climate, and providing more detailed information on what these changes mean to individuals.

How can we help societies plan for the future and manage the risks from extreme climate events and avoid impacts which are too drastic to cope with?

The next 30 years are extremely important regarding the need for stronger mitigation by proceeding towards a transition to a net zero emissions economy. Climate science will play an important part in informing adaptation to the consequences of climate changes that are already unavoidable, whilst informing the mitigation actions aiming to avoid more severe impacts. The emphasis on action and solutions implies a shift from climate science to climate services. But, underpinning science aimed at understanding climate system processes remains crucial.  Albert Klein Tank said: “I strongly believe that the climate services of the future rely on the pioneering and underpinning research of today.

“New frontiers of research including capability to robustly simulate and predict weather and climate extremes will bring additional utility to our forecasts and projections, both nationally and internationally.”

Following the 5th IPCC Assessment Report, the Paris Agreement in December 2015 marked a turning point in climate negotiations with 195 governments agreeing to take global action to tackle climate change and limit global temperature increase.

As a result of the Paris Agreement, the focus of climate research at the Met Office has changed to reflect these changing drivers:

  • moving from proving that climate change is happening and predictable to monitoring, understanding and managing current and future weather and climate risks
  • informing the development of strategies for lowering greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change and assessing the risk of abrupt, potentially irreversible, Earth system change (including so-called tipping points)

Preparing for inevitable climate changes will require more local information, an example of which is provided for the UK as part of the recently issued UK Climate Projections. Future projections require even more information on how global warming translates into local-scale changes in weather and climate extremes, such as windstorms, heat waves and coastal and inland flooding events.

© Crown copyright.Mark machin

The Met Office Hadley Centre is located in Exeter at the Met Office headquarters.

Importance of partnerships

Can the Met Office Hadley Centre do this on its own? The short answer is no. Building even stronger partnerships – both in the UK and internationally – will be essential to addressing the challenges we face in climate science and its applications. We will need to be able to deliver the science, given the increased complexity of observing and modelling the climate system. The Hadley Centre has a history of strong collaboration with: UK academics; partners sharing the same seamless modelling system; the World Climate Research Programme; and European partners. These will remain of high importance, despite the UK leaving the EU.

Climate Science Roadmap

The Roadmap for Hadley Centre research describes our specific contributions over the coming years. It details how we can deliver both the needs of customers, and the fundamental climate science questions to prepare for a changing future and help limit the impacts of climate change.

Albert Klein Tank added: “We do this by careful consideration of the changes in the demands for climate science, awareness of the next big things in science and technology, and bridging of the gap between the core science and solutions.” Quantifying, explaining, forecasting and projecting global and UK climate to inform early warnings, and adaptation-and-mitigation decision making will continue to be a key component. We will provide scientific evidence required to support the UK Government goals to reach NetZero by 2050.

For Met Office Hadley Centre scientist Ailsa Barrow – who was born on the opening day (25 May 1990) – the Roadmap gives direction to the priority areas she will be working on with colleagues across the global science community in the coming decades. Ailsa said: “I have witnessed first-hand, during my secondment to the Climate Evidence team in Defra, the recognition of Met Office Hadley Centre science in informing policy decisions of the UK Government.

“The breadth and versatility of our data helps users develop climate services as well as powerful tailored climate science communication.

“Now more than ever, in the lead up to COP26, the range of skills, experience and expertise across the Met Office Hadley Centre are required to equip policy makers, public, media and the academic communities with the evidence to make informed decisions to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Increasing the public’s understanding of climate science through traditional media and social media will become an ever-more vitally important activity to maximise the reach of important findings revealed by the scientific research. Albert Klein Tank added: “I am convinced that maintaining our impartiality does not need to conflict with increased evidence-based support for action as our contributions to COP over the past years have demonstrated.”

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Professor Albert Klein Tank, Director of the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services.

The role of science in decision making

The current coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of an evidence-based scientifically informed approach to inform society’s response to challenges. If applied to dealing with climate change this would mean that governments accept early warnings and future projections from experts about the risks (despite uncertainty) and adopt adequate measures. The recent changes in ways of working for our scientists, enforced by the coronavirus, are giving us valuable experience (such as working from home and holding virtual meetings and conferences) that we will use in future as we aim to reduce the impact of our working lives on the planet.

No doubt that climate science will remain vitally important for the forthcoming challenges that we will face as a society over the coming thirty years and I am confident that the next 30 years will be as acclaimed for climate science in the Met Office Hadley Centre as the past 30 years has been.

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