Dr Adam Scaife

Dr Adam Scaife, Head of Seasonal to Decadal Prediction

28 March 2012

The Met Office employs professionals and experts who are constantly expanding the boundaries of weather and climate prediction. Here we meet one of them...

In 2011, Dr Adam Scaife was awarded the Lloyd's of London annual prize for the Science of Risk in Climate Change. The prestigious award is given for ground-breaking research that helps the insurance industry manage risk caused by a changing climate. But, two years ago, when Adam began work on the study that would eventually win him the prize, he merely set out to prove - or disprove - a hypothesis.

Adam is Head of Seasonal to Decadal Prediction at the Met Office Hadley Centre. His team effectively bridges the gap between short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate predictions. The award-winning study drew on his expertise but focused specifically on how the upper atmosphere - or stratosphere - might affect surface climate and winter rainfall in Europe, over the next 100 years.

While other studies of this kind already existed, Adam felt they didn't give an accurate picture. "In the past," Adam explains, "climate models were limited because of computing power and vertical resolution (that depicts weather patterns, both close to the Earth and high into the upper atmosphere) was particularly restricted."

Previous simulations suggested the jet stream would get stronger and move northwards as the climate changes. This would, effectively, take a lot of stormy, wet weather away from Europe, potentially resulting in less flooding. But with recent advances in computer capacity - and therefore vertical resolution - Adam decided it was time to take a fresh look at the possible scenarios, and he began his study in earnest.

A moment of truth

After approximately two years of work, running climate simulations and analysing data, there was a real 'moment of truth':

"You work for months and months on something like this, then there's a single make or break moment when you press the button and the results pop up on screen. At that instant you find out whether all your hard work was worthwhile or not."

The results proved Adam's suspicions that previous studies were correct. His simulation showed a clear difference from previous estimates of winter climate change, with up to twice as many additional heavy winter rainfall events (those most likely to produce flooding) in Europe over the next 100 years than previously thought.

"...there's a single make or break moment when you press the button and the results pop up on screen. At that instant you find out whether all your hard work was worthwhile or not."

Each year, flooding and storms cause billions of pounds worth of damage in Europe alone, which make Adam's findings particularly significant for the insurance industry. Richard Ward, Chief Executive of Lloyd's said: "The record catastrophe losses facing the industry this year are a reminder of the importance of understanding risk."

Eye on the future

Adam conducted his study at the Met Office Hadley Centre. Over the last three years, he also led a large project team to build our new high-resolution climate model HadGEM3-H. Its completion marks the first time the Met Office global climate model has achieved an atmospheric resolution below one degree, giving it the potential to make significant improvements in climate simulation. With this, and other advances in computing and expertise, what does Adam think the future of seasonal and decadal forecasting holds?

"While we will never have seasonal or decadal forecasts like weather forecasts - where you can say 'tomorrow it will snow' - we will be able to make increasingly accurate forecasts of the risk of extreme events. And this will be of huge benefit to governments, business and people all around the world."

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