18 July 2012
Weather and climate change affect everyone, everywhere. As a world leading expert in both areas, the Met Office is forging international relationships to improve its science — and use this knowledge to help vulnerable communities.
This link between science and humanitarian issues is the very reason Tom Butcher, Head of International Business Development at the Met Office, began his career.
"Like many of my colleagues, I joined the Met Office to develop and apply science for the benefit of humanity," says Tom. "By understanding weather and climate, we can start to help communities strengthen their resilience - and adapt to a future climate too."
Climate variability and change have huge impacts on food security, water availability, human health and social and economic infrastructures. This is particularly so in Africa, where vulnerability to hazardous weather and the natural vagaries of the climate is already high.
The African Climate Science Research Partnership (CSRP), involving the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Met Office Hadley Centre, and African partners, is working to improve understanding and modeling of Africa's climate. The project is looking at how climate science can improve decision-making, livelihoods and, in turn, safety.
"Climate change isn't just about 50 years ahead. The CSRP is helping scientists in Africa to apply predictions of the coming rainy season across their countries. If you can help a community improve its climate resilience now then it will help it to build resilience in the face of climate change in the future," says Tom.
"By understanding weather and climate, we can start to help communities strengthen their resilience - and adapt to a future climate too."
Over the years, the Met Office has helped many National Meteorological Services - especially in Africa - set up TV studios and train staff to produce their own national TV weather bulletins.
After seeing what a difference these have made to improving the communication of weather and climate information, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now helping them to go digital.
"To date, the weather bulletins have been recorded on video tape, which presents some problems. Tapes often have to be delivered across town to the TV station. So delays caused by extreme weather conditions and travel problems are all too common," says Tom.
With funds from the FCO, over 25 national meteorological services in Africa will each receive a digital hard disk. This means that video files can be sent quickly and safely over the internet - and the image and sound quality is also improved.
Continuing work in Rwanda and Uganda
The Met Office continues to work with the Rwandan Weather Service - as previously reported in Barometer. A two-year extension to the Met Office project has now been signed, which will help to further improve weather and climate service delivery. The new project will include enhancements to observations processing; as well as the integration of the activities of the weather forecast office at the airport with those at headquarters in central Kigali.
Also previously featured in Barometer, the Met Office is working in partnership with the World Meteorological Organization and National Meteorological Services across East Africa to help improve forecasting of severe weather events over Lake Victoria.
Our contribution has included establishing a 4 km weather forecasting model over the lake.
"Together with the Ugandan Department of Meteorology, we're currently studying the benefits of this model to forecasters. We're also installing an observing system on a ferry to measure water temperatures on Lake Victoria" says Tom.
"The difference between the temperature of the water and that of the surrounding land surface is one of the key factors causing severe weather patterns over the lake. These new observations will increase forecasting accuracy, which in turn will help to improve safety for fishermen and other users of the lake."
Collaborating in the Far East and Australia
The Met Office is always looking at ways to strengthen its science. International collaborations with countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia are vital for sharing knowledge, expertise and technology.
In 2011 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Singapore National Environment Agency to build up the climate science capabilities of its national weather service to help prepare Singapore for climate change. It's a mutually beneficial partnership that will not only improve decision making around climate change for Singapore, but also for the surrounding region.
"This partnership has so much potential," says Tom. "And it's just one of a number of collaborations going on across the globe. After all, the best possible science creates the best possible forecasts - it's exactly what these collaborations are all about."
Met Office Chief Executive helps take WMO forward
In June 2011, the 189 countries that make up the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) met in Geneva to make decisions on the global priorities for the next four years. As well as agreeing to the establishment of the Global Framework for Climate Services, countries also agreed to explore ways for WMO to deliver more for global citizens by carrying out activities more efficiently.
All countries agreed that there is a real need for reform as the demand for effective weather and climate services is dramatically increasing while in many countries the funding provided by governments is static or declining.
The Met Office is delighted that the Met Office Chief Executive, John Hirst, was re-elected as a member of the WMO Executive Council and asked to lead the work. John plans to work with other countries to identify ways to make better use of resources and embed a culture of continuous improvement within the organisation. Concrete proposals will be discussed at the next meeting of the WMO Executive Council this summer.