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 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.

Currently, Kate is heavily involved in a project to build a new state-of-the-art spectroscopic instrument to characterise aerosol optical properties. The instrument - called EXSCALABAR - is designed to fly on the FAAM BAe146 research aircraft with first scientific field measurements anticipated in 2016. EXSCALABAR aims to fulfil the future 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 builds upon the design of the NOAA instrument and will continue to share commonality in some optical, electronic and flow elements. Measurements of aerosol optical properties made using EXSCALABAR will benefit from lower uncertainties and greater sensitivity and time resolution than has been possible to date when using the FAAM aircraft.

Kate's contributions to the project include designing and building of the flow system, procuring a suitable instrument to measure aerosol size distribution and characterising it, setting up equipment to generate aerosols to test the instruments and establishing the instrument ground and flight test program required to fully characterise EXSCALABAR.

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. 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 BBC Scotland and road gritters. There were also brief spells at RAF Lossiemouth and with the Army in Gütersloh forecasting for military aviation customers.

In 2006, Kate moved from Aberdeen to Cranfield to become more involved with weather research. As part of the team operating theFAAM research aircraft, Kate was responsible for the cloud physics and some 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 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.