Delivering world-leading science
13 November 2012
What are the causes of the recent trends in global warming? How resilient are vulnerable systems such as the Arctic and Amazon? And what impact is human activity having on extreme weather events? These are the kind of big questions the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme aims to tackle.
Running from 2012-2015, the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme - which is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - is at the core of the UK's climate capability. It draws on the expertise of scientists and academics in research institutes across the country and even further afield. Its main purpose is summed up by Kirstine Dale, Head of Climate Programmes for Government at the Met Office:
"It's about providing government with the impartial scientific evidence they need to make decisions to help the country mitigate and adapt to the risks of climate variability and change."
But importantly, the programme not only delivers tools for mitigation - it also helps policy-makers make the most of opportunities for economic growth in the context of a globally changing climate. And, in addition to this, it helps maintain the UK's position as a world-leader in climate science.
Since the Met Office Hadley Centre's inception in 1990, the government funded research programme has gone from strength to strength - and produced some impressive results along the way.
One such success was the delivery of the UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) - an analysis tool that the programme played a central role in developing. It provides comprehensive climate projections and uses them to illustrate the potential range of changes the UK could experience - and their likelihood. These are then broken down by geographical region.
It's the first time anywhere in the world that a product of this nature has been generated specifically to inform a risk-based approach to adaptation planning. In a recent development, the Met Office is now using results to examine how renewable energy systems, such as wind power, might be optimised in a future climate.
The flagship success of the programme has been the development of world-leading climate models, and the incorporation of important Earth system processes, to enable state-of-the-art analysis of long-term changes in global climate.
A major focus is understanding potentially dangerous rapid climate change such as accelerated loss of Arctic sea-ice extent or the potential from rainforest die-back.
Like a vast jigsaw, adding Earth system processes, such as ice-sheet dynamics and atmospheric chemistry helps create a much fuller view of our climate, how it has changed over time - and what it is likely to do in the future. This information provides key part of the evidence needed by government to plan and negotiate the UK's role in global mitigation strategies.
The big issues facing the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme today
- Monitoring the size of trends in temperature and other aspects of the Earth system, and understanding their causes.
- Understanding, in near-real time, how human activity is impacting the risk of extreme events. Historically such analysis has taken years to complete.
- Providing long-term datasets and climate models to support decision-making on renewable energy deployment - from wind to wave, now and in the future.
- Quantifying the resilience of key systems - such as the Arctic and Amazon - to changes in climate.
- Developing a world-leading Earth system model to include and improve the representation of important processes such as the nitrogen cycle, glacier melt and permafrost.
- Providing future climate projections on time and spatial scales needed to inform planning.
The programme is also key to the development of a system to produce global temperature predictions for the coming decade. 'Decadal' prediction sits on the challenging boundary between weather forecasting and much longer-ranging climate projections. Although still very much a research area, the development of decadal prediction gives scientists the opportunity to improve their understanding of climate mechanisms which are important for predictions in both the near and long-term.
This research will continue to develop, leading to improved predictions of the frequency of Atlantic hurricanes. It has huge implications for certain global industries, such as shipping and, especially, insurance.
Finally one of the key strengths of the new programme is the emphasis on knowledge integration. Led by Jason Lowe, Head of Mitigation Advice at the Met Office, the Knowledge Integration team aims to better explain the science and address the evidence needs of Government. In doing so it helps realise the value of Defra and DECC's investment in the underpinning climate capability by addressing the questions that enable policy development.
The 2012-2015 programme is already enjoying huge success. As for Kirstine's hopes for its future: "During the programme we're hoping to further develop and consolidate the science that underpins the programme and in doing so strengthen and build the UK's national climate capability," she explains. "We will also be looking for ways to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, and opportunities to realise the value of the underpinning science by delivering climate services not only for Defra and DECC, but for other organisations in the UK and beyond.