British climate scientist earns international acclaim

Decades of pioneering research by a Met Office-based climate scientist has been honoured with the presentation of a prestigious international climate medal.

Dr Doug Smith’s research and international leadership in predicting short-term climate variations and understanding the role of sea ice in the climate system has been recognised this week by the European Geosciences Union with the award of the Hans Oeschger Medal.

Doug’s work first came to prominence in 2007 when he published a seminal paper in the journal Science when he showed that including initial atmospheric conditions as well as the forcing from greenhouse gases could lead to increased accuracy and skill in climate predictions.

Professor Adam Scaife, head of the area in which Doug works, said: “Since Doug’s ground-breaking study there has been an explosion of activity among the international scientific community, and multiple groups are now taking these ideas and embarking on their own initialized climate predictions.”

Doug has now extended his work to show that even extreme events, such as Atlantic hurricanes, can be predicted on multiyear timescales which is now leading to applications in the insurance sector. He has also been involved in cryospheric science. In recent years Doug has co-led the Polar Amplification Modelling Intercomparison Project, bringing together multiple research groups worldwide to use an unprecedented large ensemble of individual climate simulations to pin down the atmospheric response to sea ice decline in state-of-the-art climate models.

In contrast to some of the wild claims that were being made at the time about the impact of sea ice decline on extreme winters, this very level-headed piece of work has shown that there is a response in the mid-latitudes: the jet stream does weaken and move further south as sea ice declines, but it is too small an effect, at least in the current climate models, to explain individual cold winters.

Doug has also conducted leading research on the possibility of climate models underestimating predictable signals, the so-called “signal-to-noise paradox”. Doug was involved right from the beginning in uncovering this paradox, which remains unresolved. Doug’s deep and clear thinking has helped to bring this to the attention of the climate science community, and it is now creating widespread interest. 

Doug is the first British winner of the Hans Oeschger Medal award for 18 years.

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