Dr Ben Booth, Climate Scientist
18 July 2012
Understanding our changing climate
Making sense of the highly complex phenomenon of climate change is no small task. But it's one that Met Office Climate Scientist, Dr Ben Booth, is tackling head on.
Ben works as part of a group in the Met Office Hadley Centre that delivers climate projection information. A big part of his work involves trying to quantify the plausible spread of future changes that are consistent with the current knowledge of climate processes.
A visible example of this work is UKCP09, a set of future climate change projections providing probabilities of different levels of climate change for the UK during the 21st Century. This work is based on extensive research exploring the implications of current uncertainties about the spread of future changes and systematic comparison with our observations of how the world has changed in the past.
People use climate projection data in different ways, as Ben explains: "Some people are interested in the most likely projected changes. Other people are interested in high end, but plausible change (what is the worst they need to make their decisions robust to) whilst others are interested in low end change (what is the minimum level of change that they are likely to need to deal with). In many ways, ruling out which future changes are inconsistent with current knowledge is as important as information about what the more likely changes will be."
Ben's role involves looking at implications of uncertainties in climate feedbacks to determine the spread of future climate projections.
"When something changes in our climate, it's very likely to cause a knock on effect that alters our climate further," says Ben. "These are called climate feedbacks. And they are crucially important in understanding the future of climate change," he adds.
These feedbacks can offset the prevailing change in climate (negative feedback) or increase it (positive feedback). So with global warming, a negative feedback would have a cooling effect. Conversely, a positive feedback would create further heating.
Keeping tabs on the climate
Ben's research involves running not one climate simulation of the past and future, but many such simulations, each of which explores different plausible ways of representing climate processes.
"The resultant spread from these models tells us something about what climate change messages are likely to be robust," says Ben.
Given the delicate balance of our climate, a lot of Ben's work means dealing with a high level of uncertainty. His particular interest is in exploring uncertainties within the Earth System processes and how they are included in the climate projection advice that his team provides.
As Ben explains: "Exploring uncertainties within the Earth System involves understanding the role that vegetation will play in taking up carbon emissions in the future and how aerosols emissions drive global and regional climate changes."
This understanding of how aerosols (tiny atmospheric particles) emissions drive global and regional climate changes is related to Ben's research that was recently published in the journal Nature.
As the planet moves further away from its current climate, this will change the way things in our world respond. But for Ben, this is what's great about the work he does.
"It cuts across a lot of different themes and I get this unique perspective on the world's climate. What then emerges from seeing things from this vantage point can change how you see the role of every individual process," he says.
For someone whose job involves looking at the impact of uncertainties, Ben is certain about one thing: "As we go further into uncharted territory, we'll need to push our science on from what could happen and put greater emphasis on identifying robust messages about future changes."