Gave a presentation on Quantifying Uncertainty in Model Projections — the Met Office Hadley Centre approach — at a workshop on regional modelling for climate scientists from around South America.
This month I have been:
working with José Marengo and Chou Sin Chan to develop some work that will complement existing research;
learning a new programming language ( GrADS) for the analysis and visualisation of model output;
developing software for analysis of the output of CPTEC's regional model Eta, to examine important features of the atmospheric circulation over South America, and how these may change in the future. This will build upon similar work which has already been carried out as part of a doctoral research project at CPTEC, using the Met Office regional model.
As in Exeter I cycle to work. Not many people do this. It's quite hilly. Am slightly wary of snakes on the road, although yet to come across any.
CPTEC runs a weekly presentation of the weekend weather forecast, like the Met Office does. My colleagues asked if I had understood much:
"Nothing," I said.
"Ah! Don't worry," they said. "That is because the guy who gave the presentation is from the Nordeste. Funny accent up there."
I can think of a more likely reason — language difficulties have featured very strongly in my life in Brazil. I spent a week at a language school in Rio, to give myself a bit of a leg-up and can just about get by, but still a very long way from being able to have a conversation with people, or understand the majority of what is going on around me.
I find getting computer support can be a little traumatic at the best of times. With a language barrier, it is almost impossible. Were it not for the kind intervention of my office mates, I'm sure I would still be unable to log in. Meetings tend to involve a mixture of Portuguese, English, and much waving of the arms.
Portanhol is the recognised Portuguese-Spanish hybrid. I have launched 'Portingles'. The language problems I have encountered have made me realise just how much we take for granted when we communicate in our own language. To have any chance of keeping up with the conversation, I have to concentrate so hard, all of the time. My lack of Portuguese even haunts me in my dreams!
Was asked a few weeks ago by a colleague to do English conversation classes a couple of times per week. The word has spread and attendance has risen to 12 this week. I need to be more organised now, everyone wants to learn or improve their English.
The first couple of weeks involved hammering out some ideas about how the Met Office could help in quantifying uncertainties in the projections of future climates in Brazil given by CPTEC's regional model Eta. Now a key component of the project.
Lots of phone calls and emails fired across the Atlantic between me and Dr Richard Betts and Ben Booth at the Met Office, formulating a methodology based on the principle that regional patterns of climate change, for certain key variables such as temperature and precipitation, scale remarkably well with large-scale (global) warming.
English conversation classes: attendance variable, but have around 15 students spread over two classes — basic and advanced. Based one of my basic classes around the theme of food, something everyone likes to talk about!
As part of their 'must know' vocabulary, I introduced haggis and chips and deep-fried Mars bar. Well, if they will ask a Scot to teach them English. Actually turns out that a remarkably similar dish to haggis exists in Brazil, called 'buchada'. Will be sure to sample some, if I come across it.
Decided my advanced class needed to have a bit of fun with the language, so introduced them to the limerick. Of the limericks they produced, one was extremely sweet, and one was downright rude about me and, in the grand tradition of the limerick, quite unsuitable for general consumption.
The Climate Impacts Team at the Met Office had two away-days, and Richard Betts, head of the team, wanted me involved. The first day, by phone, I reported on what I had been doing at CPTEC. The second day, we decided to try using Skype internet-based video-conferencing technology to include me and another member of the team who is working in Spain. I could be heard perfectly by the others, for me, the lack of sound quality was bad. Carlo, in Spain, commented on how well he could hear birds twittering — Brazilian birds!
With the methodology for the work finalised, my final month at CPTEC involved a lot of software development and subsequent number crunching:
From the regional model data, I extracted patterns of change of key variables (including temperature and precipitation) over the 21st century, for three major hydrological basins within Brazil — the Amazon, the Paraná and the São Francisco, which supplies water to the drought-prone north east. Sent these back to Met Office for the application of the method for attaching uncertainty to the results. Instead of having a single number representing projected change in a particular region, this method will produce a range of potential outcomes, which is more representative of the uncertainties that exist, and potentially far more useful for planning purposes.
Looked at the CPTEC regional model simulation of 21st century changes in the 'South American Low-Level Jet', a feature of the atmospheric circulation that is thought to be important in producing rainfall over the La Plata basin, and in which strong expertise has been developed by our Brazilian partners at CPTEC. This jet describes strong winds that travel south along the east side of the Andes. It is thought to transport moisture from the Amazon down to the La Plata basin. This large basin encompasses much of the south of Brazil, as well as parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay and is very important economically, in terms of agriculture and hydro-electric power. Therefore, it is important to examine how the models simulate this feature, and how it is projected to change in the future. It will be an extremely interesting area for future research, to look at the interactions between the jet and the Amazon rainforest, which may undergo large changes over the next decades associated with land use and climate changes.
The people who work at my guest-house don't speak English. They are very patient and we have learnt to communicate largely with actions mixed with snippets of Portuguese. Have come a long way from the day I first arrived, when I understood they were asking me if I wanted to eat. Using pidgin Spanish, I tried to explain I wasn't hungry — 20 minutes later an enormous plate of rice, beans and chicken appeared.
A favourite topic of conversation is the difference in climate between Brazil and the UK. I am met with utter disbelief when I say that winter in Cachoeira Paulista has been very much more pleasant than summer at home. Explain that 25 °C is a very warm summer's day in the UK, and would be marked by much of the population sitting around on beaches or in parks, wearing very little. When the temperature drops below 20 °C here, there is a chorus of "Tá frio, né?" ("Cold, isn't it?") and an array of hats and scarves appear on the streets.
For about six weeks, my guest-house was full of Federal Police, who were in town from all over Brazil to train the latest intake of new recruits. In spite of the sudden proliferation of guns at the breakfast table, I really enjoyed them being here. They told me about their different parts of the country — now have a long list of places that I must visit.
The police officers also invited me to their churrasco (barbecue) evening. They fired up the music and tried their best to teach me how to dance Forró, Calypso, Pagode and Funk. More difficult even than the Portuguese language. I apparently have no rhythm. One very patient guy tried to coax some Samba out of me:
"Move your feet like this, look, watch me," he said.
But even he was defeated.
"No, no, no," he ended up saying in a pained voice, shaking his head wearily.
Some things are not meant to be, but I managed to hold my own in the YMCA!
Was invited to the birthday party of a girl at work. It was a really nice evening, but it did expose a few cultural differences between Brazilians and the British. Have still not mastered the Brazilian art of being late. Instructions to arrive at 7.30 p.m. should be interpreted as: turn up any time between 8.15 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Arrived at the pizza restaurant on time, much to the surprise of the birthday girl. "Sou britânica." ("I am British."), I offered by way of explanation. When it came to ordering drinks I had a beer, but everyone else had Coca-Cola. My choice was noted and commented on: "Sou britânica..."
Two weeks holiday with sister, visiting from Scotland. Visited the Pantanal and Rio de Janeiro. We met many warm, interesting and highly entertaining people on our travels. It's so easy here to just get chatting. My Portuguese is still very basic, but enough to strike up a conversation. A little of the language really does open some doors and I feel like I am beginning to get more and more out of this fantastic country.
Notable event: the storm of 6 November. Evening storms are common at this time of year, and thought this one would be no different.
Had just got back to my guest house, feeling fortunate that the threatening, rapidly darkening skies had not rained on me on my cycle home, when lightning flashed, illuminating the landscape in eerie hues of green. Then the wind suddenly got up and the rain came battering down. Lights flickered, then all power was lost.
Could see rain coming in through the gap underneath the door, so opened it to have a look out and was met by a wall of water. Have never seen anything like it. There was nothing to do but sit in my room, wearing my head-torch, listening to the bangs and crashes of the thunder, and, ominously, things that weren't thunder.
In the morning there was a scene of destruction. Large, mature trees ripped out by the roots or snapped like twigs at the trunk; roof tiles blown off and flooding low down in the town. CPTEC was very quiet, with all of those who live in Cachoeira dealing with the damage. We learnt that winds had exceeded 125 mph, and there had been 45 mm of rain in 15 minutes — average rainfall over an entire month in Exeter is around 70 mm.
It was very localised, with towns just 20 minutes away experiencing nothing out of the ordinary. As is par for the course, I was blamed for the storm in Cachoeira by my guest house owners:
"You are a doctor of the weather! It is your fault!"
My final week was a blur of long days at CPTEC and farewell dinners and lunches. I've met some brilliant people here and made some good friends. My English students took me out for dinner. It was a bit of a case of get-your-own-back time:
"Only Portuguese is to be spoken tonight, ok? We're not in English class now!"
My return to the UK was via a circuitous route, involving a large international conferences in Manaus. From there I took a short trip into the Amazon.
On one of the tributaries of the Amazon, I saw evidence of the extreme drought in Amazônia during 2005, in the form of burnt remains of submerged trees lining the water edges. The river along which I was travelling had dried up completely during that year, leaving thousands of fish rotting on the river bed. it really was something to see the forest itself, wonderfully rich.
My final stop was in Brasilia to meet with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office customers for this project; report on progress and discuss new ideas that could form the basis of further collaborative work.
I am now back at my old desk in the Met Office, Exeter, a Brazilian flag sitting proudly on it. I am continuing with the work begun in Brazil, and in developing the next stage of the research.
Rio de Janeiro (Cidade Maravilhosa) — first time for an intensive week-long Portuguese course, so I didn't see as much as I would have liked. Did walk along the beach from Copacabana to Ipanema to Leblon, stopping on the way to watch some futvolei (cross between beach volleyball and football — very Brazilian!) and have a fresh coconut, and took the cable car up Sugarloaf Mountain at sunset. Second time with my sister, we went to a Samba club with a superb 10-piece band. The whole room was moving to the rhythm, from teenagers to old men who could barely walk, until they set foot on the dance floor.
The Pantanal — one of the world's largest freshwater wetland ecosystems and extraordinarily rich in wildlife. On holiday with my sister, we saw giant otters, giant anteaters, capybara, caiman, hyacinth macaws and armadillos. Caught piranhas for soup. The jaguar remained elusive, leaving only some prints. The Pantanal is also an important agricultural region, with cattle farming central to the economy, and cows and cowboys are equally part of the landscape. The seasonal cycle of the climate brings both inundation during the rainy season, and desiccation of the land during the dry season. The rhythm of life in the Pantanal is tuned to the rising and falling of the waters.
Am a big fan of the food and drink in Brazil:
Rice, beans, barbecued meat and salad forms the major part of my diet. Add lots of fresh fruit, juices, cake for breakfast and the ubiquitous cafezinho (espresso) and I am very happy!
The famous caipirinha cocktails live up to their reputation as being very nice and very strong. Cachaça, also known as pinga, is the alcohol.
My favourite drink is água de coco, coconut water, straight from the coconut — delicious.
A favourite fizzy drink is Guaraná, made from the berries of an Amazonian plant, which are reputed to contain five tines the amount of caffeine as a coffee bean.
Fruit of the Açai Palm. The juice is dark purple, almost black, and stains your tongue. The first time I tried it I could have sworn it had an after-taste of smoked fish, but subsequent tastings have left me unsure. It does have a very unusual flavour, but is very good. It is prepared in this part of Brazil with lots of ice, you eat it with a spoon and can sprinkle granola on top for a breakfast treat.