When the Met Office launched its regional climate modelling system in 2002, it broke new ground. For the first time, anyone anywhere could run high-resolution climate change scenarios from a simple Linux-based PC. PRECIS has since been made freely available to scientists in developing countries around the world - and David Hein has been involved in its development almost since its beginning.
Back in 2002, David joined the Met Office as a junior programmer, providing predominantly front-line technical support for PRECIS. With a Bachelors' degree in Computer Science and Maths, he knew how to code the system, but at that point had no background in meteorology.
A subsequent Masters from the University of Reading - sponsored by the Met Office through its graduate programme - changed all that.
Today, he plays a key strategic role in supporting PRECIS users and developing the model. Over the years he's given many workshops around the world, training participants both in how to use PRECIS, but also in the science of climate change. "This is what motivates me," he explains. "I like capacity building: being in the classroom, teaching and mentoring. I especially enjoy working with students because they're very motivated and they need time with experts to mentor their career."
David also regularly volunteers his time to participate in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) outreach activities, both in schools and at education events.
His particular passion is in exploring how to communicate complex scientific ideas in the most accessible way. When delivering workshops for example, he uses images to make the content more accessible to an audience for whom English is not their first language.
Clarity is also crucial when responding to queries from PRECIS users, whether by email or phone. When involved in specific research projects, he's often tasked with clearly communicating the results to policymakers and other stakeholders who may not have a background in climate science.
Getting software talking
Just as David explores ways to communicate complex ideas to diverse audiences, his work also involves getting different software systems to communicate with each other. Regional climate models have a different architecture and infrastructure to global climate models (GCMs) but those GCMs necessarily inform regional research, and vice versa. Developing interfaces between PRECIS and GCMs is crucial for researchers to obtain the data they need - and this is precisely what David and his team undertake.
The MaRIUS research project is a case in point. Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and run by the University of Oxford, MaRIUS is using scenario modelling with the aim of identifying mechanisms that trigger drought and water scarcity in the UK. David has not only built all of the software interfaces between the driving GCM and the PRECIS regional model, but he has also run the experiment throughout Europe.
No interface lasts forever. Every few years, institutions develop a new generation of GCMs. Each time, David's team has to write new code to interface between these new models and PRECIS. "As the models become more complex, this becomes more challenging," he explains.
Overall, his work is a finely pitched balance between highly technical software engineering and people-focused training. Ask David if he has a preference and the answer is immediate: "Teaching and working with people around the world - it's what I love most."