Chris Gordon

The power of working together

10 December 2011

For Chris Gordon, Head of Science Partnerships at the Met Office, successful weather and climate science is increasingly about collaboration. It's his role to develop and manage the relationships the Met Office has with other leading organisations in the UK and around the globe — relationships that have, in many cases, led to genuine leaps forward in scientific capability.

The Scientific Partnerships team aims to build relationships with world-leading organisations, developing scientific collaborations that deliver powerful results.

One such collaboration is with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It commissions a large amount of climate and weather research in the UK and - while Met Office scientists have worked with its scientists for many years - there existed the opportunity to collaborate more strategically. With this objective in mind, the Joint Weather and Climate Research Programme (JWCRP) was formed in 2009.

"When we talk of strategic collaborations, we're referring to the Met Office partnering with other organisations in a programmed context, rather than just individual scientists working together," says Chris.

Today, under the JWCRP, the Met Office and NERC commission and manage a variety of projects, including a high performance computer for collaborative research (known as MONSooN), an aircraft used for airborne observations, and a range of projects concerned with evaluating and improving weather and climate models.

Building relationships

The collaboration with NERC focuses primarily on the development of large national science capability, but not all Met Office relationships work this way. The Met Office Academic Partnership is a new initiative for which the Met Office has jointly created professorships at the universities of Reading, Exeter and Leeds (each of which are considered to be leading institutions in weather and climate science). The academics work closely with Met Office scientists on common research themes, to advance weather and climate science and predictions.

"This scheme was initiated by the Met Office's Chief Executive and Chief Scientist in consultation with the universities' Vice Chancellors. The initiative has paid off - within a year, the scheme is already proving very successful."

Reaching further

As an internationally renowned organisation, it's natural for the Met Office's collaborations to reach beyond the UK. For example, the Met Office's Unified Model - considered to be one of the world's best weather and climate modelling systems - is now being used by other operational centres around the world. In fact, over the last five years, nations such as South Korea, Norway, New Zealand, Australia and India have adopted the model as part of their own in-country weather forecasting and, in some cases, climate modelling activities.

The model develops as it's used in each country and information on model performance and changes to the underlying code are fed back to the Met Office, which ultimately helps improve the system as a whole.

As Chris explains: "Clearly, running the Met Office Unified Model collaborations, and ensuring the benefits are orchestrated to the benefit of all, is a very major science management undertaking."

Planning ahead

There are more projects in the pipeline for Chris - as he helps develop future relationships as well as nurturing those that already exist. There is a joint seasonal forecasting system with South Korea due to launch next year, for example. Two joint workshops with China are also being planned for later this year and early in 2012.

But these are all projects Chris embraces wholeheartedly; he finds working with experienced people at the leading edge of their field, very rewarding. He especially enjoys the way in which collaborations provide a wider discussion forum on key issues around weather forecasting and climate research.

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