Global thinking

Global thinking

1 July 2010

The Met Office represents the UK Government on most global meteorological matters and attends and influences some of the most important conferences and programmes around the world. 2009 was a particularly busy year that saw the Met Office at the forefront of international climate science.

Within the last six months, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) - a UN specialised agency and voice on the state and behaviour of the Earth's atmosphere, oceans, climate and water resources - has hosted two key climate and weather science conferences: the World Climate Conference 3 in Geneva, and the Commission for Climatology meeting in Turkey.

One voice

In September 2009, the Met Office attended the World Climate Conference 3. The aim of the conference was to endorse the establishment of a Global Framework for Climate Services, which would help the international community better adapt to the challenges of climate change and variability.

Simon Gilbert, Deputy WMO Manager at the Met Office, says, "All 189 member states and territories that attended the event agreed that the Global Framework was a great idea and gave the go ahead to make it happen."

A High-Level Taskforce is currently investigating what already exists globally, and will make recommendations to the WMO about how the future of climate services should be structured.

Simon explains, "Effective climate forecasting relies on producing and having access to good observations. This will be one of the key elements of the framework." See pages 25 and 26 for more on observations.

Looking good

The subject of good observations was also addressed at the WMO Commission for Climatology (CCI) meeting, held in Turkey in February 2010. The CCI is one of the WMO's eight technical commissions responsible for a specific area of interest.

Here, the Met Office achieved a particular success by proposing a new international effort to analyse land-surface air temperature data. This new dataset will provide enhanced information, particularly about climate extremes.

As Simon puts it, "We've been looking at this idea for quite a while and decided to put together a proposal in time for the meeting. So there was a lot of engagement with our stakeholders in government and the scientific community both in the UK and abroad. At the meeting itself, the initiative was very warmly received with lots of messages of support and backing."

From land to ocean

Another important indicator of climate change is sea-surface height. However, there's only one way to do this with precision across the globe - by satellite. Currently, a sole satellite performs this function - the Jason series.

The future of the Jason series looked in doubt earlier this year but the continuation of the programme was made possible through the commitment of the Met Office together with substantial support from the British National Space Centre (BNSC) - now known as the UK Space Agency.

Met Office Space Programme Manager, Stewart Turner, says, "This was a big success against the odds. BNSC helped us raise Jason's profile by speaking to other governmental departments and putting together detailed proposals about why, as a country, we needed the Jason data. As a high profile organisation on climate change issues, it would have been damaging if we hadn't managed to get the necessary funding that we needed." See the opposite page for more information.

High flyers

In February 2010, the Met Office's WMO Manager, Ian Lisk, was elected as Vice President of the WMO's Commission of Aeronautical Meteorology (CAeM). One of the eight WMO Technical Commissions, CAeM is responsible for helping to ensure the provision of safe, efficient and high-quality aeronautical meteorological services by responding to WMO Members' needs in line with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

As Ian says, "It's all about making sure that aircraft can fly safely wherever they are on the globe. You just don't want to fly through thunder clouds, or for the aircraft to encounter severe turbulence or icing. Volcanic ash, low cloud and poor visibility are amongst the other aviation hazards that can be potentially dangerous and disruptive to flight operations." See pages 9 and 10 for the volcanic ash feature.

The Met Office is one of two designated World Area Forecast Centres (WAFC) - the other is in the United States. The two WAFCs share responsibility for providing global en route aviation weather forecasts for all civil aviation above 25,000 feet.

According to Ian, "To be elected Vice President of this Commission sends out a very strong message that we take our global aviation responsibilities very seriously. It is also an important strategic role for the UK because it enables us to continue to play a leading part in helping to shape and maintain worldwide professional flight safety and service delivery standards for aviation meteorology."

Copenhagen Climate Convention

In the run up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen last December, we worked closely with the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), providing scientific evidence to inform its negotiations.

During the meeting, through an exhibition stand and presentations, we showcased our latest scientific research, including the latest observations of climate, potential climate impacts and mitigation options. We also undertook numerous interviews with the print and television media.

The path to success

At the forefront of international meteorology, we take our power of representation very seriously, and continue to maintain the highest of standards in everything we do.

An eye in the sky

As well as representing the country at WMO conferences, the Met Office also has responsibility for the UK's part in many other international programmes.


EUMETSAT is an intergovernmental organisation created in 1986 to provide weather satellites. One of 24 members, the UK joined at the start and is the second largest in terms of contributions to core missions and optional programmes.

The Jason-3 Programme - part of a series of satellites that measure the sea surface height to a great level of accuracy - is classed as an optional mission. Yet its importance in the study of climate change is invaluable. Jason is made possible by the international collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the French space agency CNES, and EUMETSAT.


The Met Office worked closely with the BNSC for nearly two years to acquire the necessary funding from a number of interested parties in the UK, including Defra, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Thanks to this effort, the UK's contribution to the Jason-3 Programme will be around £9 million over nine years and will help continue the otherwise unbroken chain of climate data for the foreseeable future.

Helping the developing world

Opened in 1990, the Met Office's Hadley Centre undertakes scientific research on climate change. One of its key successes has been the development of a regional climate modelling system - PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impact Studies).

Developing countries can independently generate high resolution climate scenarios for their region of interest.


David Hein, PRECIS Technical Coordinator, explains, "Unlike our supercomputer-based climate models, we've developed a regional climate modelling system (PRECIS) that runs on a standard computer. This means developing countries can independently generate high resolution climate scenarios for their region of interest. Such scenarios are an important component in assessing a country's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and how it can adapt to these impacts."

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Countries that want to use PRECIS attend a workshop to gain the necessary scientific and technical knowledge to run it and make best use of its output. PRECIS has proven to be incredibly popular - it's now being run by over 300 users from over 95 countries.

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In brief