A climate of collaboration
10 December 2011
Dr Chris Huntingford, a Climate Modeller at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, explains why collaborating with the Met Office Hadley Centre works so well — and how that link aids climate science.
Q. Why the Met Office?
A. My relationship with the Met Office began 17 years ago, when I joined NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) on an initial two-year contract after my PhD in Applied Mathematics. I became aware of how much NERC and the Met Office depend on each other - forging successful links through climate research and building models to capture the many components of the Earth system and their interactions with humans. To this day, it's rare to feel tripped up by institutional boundaries getting in the way - something I'm grateful for.
Q. Why is collaboration important?
A. Both NERC and the Met Office benefit hugely from collaborating with each other. NERC has a wealth of experience of the natural system, while the Met Office operates a world-leading Global Climate Model (GCM) that pulls together all of those pieces of information. This combined effort creates a GCM that is ever-more accurate in its prediction of future climate. The collaboration occurs through many channels, including the JULES land surface model, the AVOID programme, and general interpretation of climate model projections. It's satisfying to know that our collective knowledge ends up in briefing notes for government ministers.
Q. What's your experience of the Met Office Hadley Centre?
A. I'm always made to feel very welcome, and I'm grateful for IT access and a pass. The open plan area is very different to my own office at CEH - seeing up to 300 people - from the ones working on intricate climate models, to those putting together briefing documents for Whitehall. I know other CEH colleagues who come to Exeter also report enjoying their visits.
Q. Are your visits a critical part of collaboration?
A. Yes. The Met Office is very generous in letting me sit at one of its desks, and I try to get to Devon roughly once every fortnight. I'm also extremely grateful to CEH for the internal science budget that pays for my time and travel to Exeter. Often, after a day spent with Met Office staff I'm exhausted but exhilarated by the new scientific concepts emerging to explore. I often journey back with my head spinning. The day after is frequently spent distilling notes and ideas. Having the Met Office Unit in CEH Wallingford (The Joint Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Research), for local collaboration with its personnel and IT access, helps enormously too, and in preparation for my next visit.
Q. Do you pass on the results of your joint research to an international body?
A. Yes, we do. The Met Office Hadley Centre provides the UK Government with estimates of implications of different emissions scenarios. Doing so can lead to joint peer-reviewed research papers between the Met Office and CEH. Every seven years the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) writes a major report on climate change, and we are hopeful that some of these papers will be selected for citation in the next report.
Q. What has been the focus of your work with the Met Office?
A. Most input from CEH has centered on predicted ecological and hydrological change. We know, at present, the land surface is mitigating the effects of about 25% of carbon dioxide emissions across the world. However, it's uncertain whether this natural mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions can be relied on in the future. One strand of collaboration is to try to reduce such uncertainty, by building better descriptions of the land surface, where the associated mathematical equations end up in the climate model.