Dr Kate Szpek (née Turnbull)

Kate works in the Aerosol research group, which uses the FAAM BAe146 research aircraft to study aerosols and their interaction with radiation, clouds and chemistry.

Areas of expertise

Kate's areas of expertise include:

  • aircraft scientific instrumentation;
  • observational data analysis;
  • cloud and aerosol physics measurements;
  • weather forecasting;
  • and field campaign logistics.

Publications by Kate

Current activities

Kate is a senior scientist using observations from the FAAM research aircraft to understand the impact of aerosols on atmospheric radiation. In situ and remote sensing measurements made from the aircraft are compared to radiative transfer models to assess the model's performance and achieve an improved understanding of aerosols and their radiative impacts.

Recently, Kate has been analysing data collected during the South AMerican Biomass Burning Analysis (SAMBBA) project, for which the FAAM research aircraft was detached to Brazil during September 2012. The main drivers behind the project are to assess the impact of biomass burning emissions on regional and global climate, local meteorology, air quality and the biosphere, as well as to improve fire detection by satellites and aerosol-chemistry models. The project is a collaboration with colleagues from a number of UK universities including ManchesterLeeds, Reading, Exeter, East Anglia, York and King's College London as well as Brazil's National Institute for Space Research ( INPE) and the University of São Paulo. Kate is concentrating on establishing the aerosol's optical properties and working with scientists in the Earth System Science and Global Modelling teams to assess the performance of the Unified Model.

Another aspect of Kate's work is the calibration, characterization and development of instruments being used by the aerosol group, in particular the wet nephelometer system. The wet nephelometer is used to investigate the dependence of aerosol scattering on humidity since this plays an important role in the impact the aerosol has on Earth's radiative balance and is a key quantity in determining visibility.

Career background

Kate graduated from St Andrews University in 1998 with a degree in Chemistry. From there, she went to Selwyn College, Cambridge to study for a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry. Her project was to build and use a novel dew/frost-point hygrometer intended for tropospheric and lower stratospheric measurements of water vapour from a balloon borne platform. 

Subsequently, Kate joined the Met Office to train as a weather forecaster in 2003. During the next couple of years, she worked mostly at Met Office Aberdeen, forecasting for a wide variety of customers extending from the offshore oil industry and Maritime and Coastguard Agency to Public Weather Service, BBC Scotland and road gritters. There were also brief spells at RAF Lossiemouth and with the Army in Guetersloh forecasting for military aviation customers.

In early 2006, Kate moved from Aberdeen to Cranfield to become more involved with weather research. As part of the team operating the FAAM research aircraft, Kate was responsible for the cloud physics and aerosol instrumentation used on the aircraft. In addition ensuring the right instruments were available and in good working order for the projects, this job frequently required Kate to get assess instrument performance and make rectification work as necessary. During her four years at FAAM, Kate worked in some far flung places gaining all sorts of stories to tell.

Kate moved to the Aerosol Research Group late in 2009 where she is using her experience working with the FAAM aircraft and instrumentation in analysing data from a variety of projects.

Last updated: 8 April 2014