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Dr Vikki Thompson

Climate Dynamics Scientist

Climate dynamics is the study of how different components that make up the climate system interact with each other. It’s a key part of Vikki Thompson’s role to have a deep understanding of how a small change in one part of the system – such as the atmosphere or the ocean – can have large implications on the climate as a whole.

Interaction has very much characterised Vikki’s career as a climate scientist – starting with her cross-disciplinary academic background. It was while studying Physics at the University of Durham that she became interested in climate science.

She graduated with a BSc in Physics and Earth Science and, from there, completed a master’s in Oceanography, which incorporated elements of climate science. “This has been very useful,” she explains, “as the basic physics behind the ocean and the atmosphere is similar.”

After attaining a doctorate in Meteorology, Vikki joined the Met Office in 2015. For Vikki, working for a worldrenowned centre had big appeal. What surprised her was the sheer breadth of what the Met Office does. “It’s amazing the range of work that’s carried out here,” she says.

“I knew about the climate science, but there’s all sorts of other forecasting going on – like space forecasting, for example.”

Sharpening predictions

Vikki is a member of the Met Office Monthly to Decadal Prediction Group. Currently these decadal predictions currently range up to five years ahead, and as Vikki explains, “This is now developing really quickly, particularly thanks to the new supercomputer and increase in ensemble size.”

Vikki is also part of the team involved in studying the likelihood of extreme weather events. The novel approach of using the supercomputer to generate virtual simulations has already enabled the Met Office to generate more accurate risk calculations for extreme rainfall in the UK. Now, this method is being shared with strategic partners around the world.

Forging partnerships

As part of the Climate Science for Service Partnership China project (CSSP China), Vikki is involved in applying this new methodology to studying the likelihood of summer heatwaves in the Yangtze region of China. Vikki is quick to emphasise that the focus of the partnership is on providing climate services – in other words, turning the science into a service that’s useful on the ground.

As Vikki explains, “One of the aims of CSSP China is to form partnerships with scientists in China.” Vikki has visited China to meet and engage with her counterparts there – and the resulting knowledge exchange is hugely useful. “It’s interesting to see what our Chinese counterparts are doing and to forge links with scientists we wouldn’t otherwise meet.”

These strategic partnerships are tremendously valuable, and Vikki has just started working on CSSP Brazil. “We’ll be using the same new research paradigm to study the likelihood of droughts in the Amazon.”

For Vikki, applying this research paradigm in different ways is a fascinating area of study. “I like playing with the models; we have so much data and could do so many things with it. The possibilities are exciting.” Knowing that this research could have real and lasting benefits for the world is part of what makes it so fulfilling. As Vikki says, “This work matters to everyone.”