Dr Kate Szpek (née Turnbull)

Areas of expertise

  • Aircraft scientific instrumentation
  • Observational data analysis
  • Cloud and aerosol physics measurements
  • Weather forecasting
  • Field campaign logistics

Publications list: here.

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.

Currently, Kate is analysing data from two projects that made use of a state-of-the-art spectroscopic instrument to characterise aerosol optical properties. The instrument - called EXSCALABAR - is designed to fly on the the FAAM BAe146 research aircraft and aims to fulfil the Met Office observational needs for aerosol absorption and humidified extinction, coupled with particle sizing, ultimately intending to improve weather, climate and air quality models. The Cavity Ring-Down and Photo-Acoustic Spectroscopic (CRDS and PAS) techniques at the heart of the instrument have been used successfully for airborne aerosol research by NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory. EXSCALABAR’s first major airborne campaign was CLARIFY-2017, during which highly aged southern African biomass burning aerosol was sampled and Kate has worked in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Manchester to characterise the aerosol’s optical properties. During CLARIFY-2017, some of the most strongly absorbing aerosol measured in ambient conditions was encountered**, providing much needed constraints on aerosol absorption for satellite retrievals and climate models. More recently, Kate has deployed EXSCALABAR to Exeter University’s WildFire Lab and Manchester Aerosol Chamber for lab-based experiments as part of Soot Aerodynamic Size-Selection for Optical properties (SASSO). During SASSO, a novel and unique combination of tools – including EXSCALABAR – has been used to study soot from a variety sources on a level of detail previously not possible. New models of soot optical properties will be developed, tested and implemented in the Met Office’s climate model to better understand the climate response to changes in soot emissions.

** Absorption closure in highly aged biomass burning smoke and Vertical variability of the properties of highly aged biomass burning aerosol transported over the southeast Atlantic during CLARIFY-2017

Career background

Kate graduated from St Andrews University in 1998 with a degree in Chemistry. From there, she moved to 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.

In 2006, Kate moved from Aberdeen to Cranfield to continue her interest in airborne weather research. As part of the team operating the FAAM research aircraft, Kate was responsible for wing-mounted cloud physics and aerosol instrumentation used on the aircraft. In addition to 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. Kate moved to the Aerosol and Cloud Research Group in 2009 where she is using her experience working with the FAAM aircraft and instrumentation to understand data from a variety of projects. Eyjafjalljökull erupted soon after Kate joined the group. Analysing airborne measurements of the volcanic aerosol and supporting the development of the Met Office Civil Contingency Aircraft formed her focus for a few years until turning to an intense period of instrument development work and now scientific deployment and analysis.