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Science summer placements 2015 - Land surface processes

Team photo of the 2014 summer placement students

The Met Office summer placement scheme offers students and recent graduates the chance to join one of the many diverse business areas of the Met Office to deliver projects that make a genuine contribution to the work that the Met Office carries out. Over 50 summer placement students joined the Met Office this year to undertake projects in departments such as Science, Forecasting and Observations, Corporate Services, and many others. One of our Science students, Aaron Neill, writes about his experiences in this article.

A placement in the Land Surface Processes team

For my placement, I joined the Land Surface Processes team in Foundation Science. This was my second summer placement with the Met Office; during the summer of 2014 I had a great experience working in the Flood Forecasting Centre in Forecasting and Services Delivery, undertaking projects looking at hydrological and coastal model performance, and flood forecast verification. Being able to return to the Met Office for another summer placement to gain experience in a new department was therefore a very exciting opportunity. I would like to use this article to share some of the details of the project that I undertook whilst with the Land Surface Processes team, and my highlights in terms of personal development that the placement afforded me.

The project: Metrology meets meteorology - A sensitivity analysis of the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES)

The project I undertook was an analysis of how sensitive outputs from the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) are to the parameters in the model. JULES models the exchanges of carbon, water, energy and momentum between the atmosphere and land surface by modelling key physical, biophysical and biochemical processes in response to meteorological forcing data. It is used as the land surface component of the Met Office Unified Model, and is also available for standalone use to evaluate the impact of climatic and land use change on terrestrial systems. Understanding which parameters the outputs from JULES are sensitive to is essential for guiding future research into accurately defining values for the parameters of the model to allow for the most robust representation of interactions between the land surface and the atmosphere to be achieved.

Schematic of the basic processes in the JULES land surface model

The first part of the sensitivity analysis comprised a very broad analysis which involved assessing the impact of varying all model parameters, one at a time, by +/-10% of their default values on a number of model outputs, using Cardington in Bedfordshire as the study site. This revealed that model outputs were sensitive in particular to parameters describing the properties of the plant functional types (PFTs; Broadleaf Trees, Needle Leaf Trees, C3 Grass, C4 Grass and C4 Shrubs) used in the model, parameters relating to the properties of non-vegetated bare soil surfaces, and parameters controlling the rates of simulated photosynthesis.

To then investigate the effect of different climatologies on the sensitivity of JULES outputs to model parameters, physically realistic minimum and maximum values for the parameters identified in the first part of the analysis were obtained and used to run JULES at the global scale. This allowed the sensitivity of outputs from JULES at about 65,000 points across the globe spanning the full range of climatologies to be assessed. Analysis of these results showed a climatological control on sensitivity. In particular, high sensitivities were observed in South America, eastern parts of the United States, parts of Asia, central and Eastern Europe, and in regions of boreal forest.

At the time of writing this article, the sensitivity analysis of JULES revealed not only which parameters model output appears to be sensitive to, but also that sensitivity also depends on climatology and hence geographical location. The next stage of the project will involve investigating in detail the form of the relationship between variations to the sensitive model parameters and changes to model output at a number of individual sites across the globe.

Personal development

Not only did the summer placement allow me to work on an interesting project within the Met Office, it also allowed me to develop a number of skills. From a technical point of view, the placement allowed me to further my ability to use Python for complex data analysis and visualisation, and also helped me to become more competent in using Linux. As a scientist and researcher, the placement expanded my knowledge of land surface processes and how these processes importantly interact with the atmosphere, and also gave me the opportunity to experience the different approaches taken to research by experts working within a world-leading organisation. Additionally, the chance to attend short courses offered by the Met Office College and the HR department, as well as seminars given by internal and external speakers allowed me to learn about topics outside of the area of science I was working in, such as climate change, innovative ways of working, and many more. From a career development perspective, the placement gave me experience of working in a busy and engaging office environment, allowed me to explore the many departments of the Met Office and what they have to offer, and helped me to build a network of contacts within the organisation.

The Met Office is a great organisation to do a summer placement with, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. With such a diverse range of business areas, there will likely be something for everyone.

More information

To find out more about our summer placement scheme and careers at the Met Office, visit our Jobs and careers.

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