An external view of the Met Office building at night.

Dr Richard Cotton

Areas of expertise

  • Observations of atmospheric aerosol and cloud particles.
  • Model parametrisations of aerosol and cloud particle interactions.
  • Aircraft-based field campaigns.
  • Aerosol and cloud particle instrumentation development.

Publications by Richard

Current activities

Richard is a Senior Scientist in the Aerosol and Cloud Physics group within Observation Based Research (OBR), which is part of Foundation Science.

Richard is the Met Office lead on PICASSO (Parametrizing Ice Clouds using Airborne obServationS and quad-frequency dOppler radar) which is an on-going joint NERC-Met Office UK-based campaign using the FAAM BAe-146 aircraft and ground-based NERC and Met Office radars. The project involves researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Reading and Met Office scientists from OBR, OBS radar R&D and Cloud Scale Modelling groups. PICASSO is a technology led project with the key aim to collect a new unique large dataset combining co-located ground-based multi-frequency radars at the Chilbolton Facility for Atmospheric and Radio Research (CFARR) ground site and airborne in-situ cloud microphysics instrumentation.

Richard is currently building a large data set of in-situ observations of mid-latitude frontal cloud from both PICASSO and flights based over Northern Scotland carried out over the last ten years. Working with scientists from the Cloud Scale Modelling group who are developing the Cloud-AeroSol Interacting Microphysics (CASIM) scheme for use in the Unified Model, this combined data set will be used to validate the microphysics scheme in a more statistically robust way compared to single case-study type analysis.  The dataset will also be increased by the upcoming PICASSO-B campaign with around 60 flight hours planned during January-March 2021.

Richard's other area of research is to explore the impact of representing ice nucleation on cloud evolution to improve the numerical models used for weather and climate prediction. Richard, in collaboration with scientists from Leeds and Hertfordshire universities, is developing a new state-of-the-art airborne instrument - the Ice Nuclei Counter (INC), to operate on the BAe-146 research aircraft. The instrument is being built within the Airborne Facilities group of OBR and is currently undergoing engineering tests to ensure that it meets the design criteria. The INC is a Continuous Flow Diffusion Chamber (CFDC) that is designed to allow ice formation under controlled temperature and humidity conditions during continuous sampling. Ice and water supersaturations are created within the space between two ice-coated walls held at different temperatures. The plan is to have an 'aircraft-ready' instrument by late 2021, which has been extensively tested in the laboratory.

Career background

Richard obtained a Degree of Bachelor of Science with first class honours in Applied Physics in 1989 and a Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in experimental Particle Physics in 1994 at Brunel University Physics Department.  During this PhD Richard, as part of a team of scientists and engineers at Brunel University and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, contributed to the design and commissioning of the SLD Vertex Detector at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. During the first physics run, 13.9k events from electron-positron collisions were collected. Richard developed a new method based on the multiplicity of two-prong vertices for identifying events where the Z0 decayed into b quark-antiquark pairs to measure the hadronic branching fraction to bottom quarks.

Richard spent five years as a Research Scientist in the Soudan-2 particle physics group at RAL and with collaborators at Fermilab, Oxford University, and the University of Minnesota, contributed towards the derivation of the atmospheric neutrino flavour composition using the Soudan-2 calorimeter. Soudan-2 was a 1000 ton Iron tracking calorimeter around 700 metres underground in Northern Minnesota. While originally designed to search for Proton decay, the large mass and low cosmic ray background enabled the detection of a few hundred neutrino interactions over five years.

Richard joined the Met Office in 1998 as a Research Scientist in the Cloud Physics group within the Meteorological Research Flight based at Farnborough.

He has since engaged in a range of research from aerosol-cloud interaction studies, aerosol and cloud particle instrumentation development, to the development of model parametrisations for the Met Office weather and climate model. He has significant experience in the design, construction and operation of ice nucleation instrumentation for atmospheric measurements and has had a leading role in the planning, coordination and data analysis of aircraft-based field campaigns.