Atmospheric dispersion research and response

The release of both natural and man-made contaminants into the atmosphere can present numerous hazards to human, animal and plant health and infrastructure/vehicles. The degree of impact is dependant on the contaminant and its characteristics, the concentration and the sensitivity of the receptor (e.g. a person). Dispersion science is the study of the release, movement, dilution, loss and impact of such contaminants. Dispersion modelling is the use of computer models to represent the numerous complex processes that contribute to these processes and is the means by which we can predict the impact of a released contaminant over distances ranging from a few hundred metres to the entire globe.

The Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality team carry out a very active combination of research, model development, consultancy and support of emergency events associated with atmospheric dispersion. Our primary tool is "NAME" the Met Office Dispersion Model which is continually developed and applied to an ever-growing range of atmospheric transport and dispersion problems, ranging from research activities to numerous emergency response activities such as nuclear/radiological releases (e.g. Fukushima, 2011), volcanic eruptions (e.g. Eyjafjallajokull, 2010), industrial fires (e.g. Buncefield oil depot fire, 2005) and the spread of animal diseases (e.g. foot-and-mouth disease and bluetongue). NAME is now a hugely flexible and sophisticated atmospheric dispersion model.

An ability to deliver sound advice for releases of all these types of problem/event requires NAME to be able to represent a wide range of physical and chemical processes and reactions. When linked to the Met Office's world leading numerical weather prediction model, the Unified Model, it is possible for NAME to predict the spread of atmospheric contaminants over distances ranging from a few hundred metres to the entire globe. This enables the Met Office to help inform and advise for events anywhere on the planet.

Key aims

  • To carry out research in the field of atmospheric dispersion.
  • To develop and improve NAME.
  • To develop and improve the Met Office operational emergency response atmospheric dispersion modelling capabilities and services.
  • To provide expert support and advice to emergency responders, agencies, UK Government and the international community in the event of a release of contamination to the atmosphere.

Current projects

  • Validation of NAME against observations from real-world events.
  • NAME development e.g. for volcanic ash, radiological and chemical releases.
  • NAME code optimisation and parallelisation. Rapid turnaround of predictions for emergency response activities is vital.
  • Production and use of probabilistic dispersion forecasts. This involves quantifying the source, meteorological and impact uncertainties.
  • Scientific collaboration and developments with a number of agencies (e.g. Public Health England) and UK universities (e.g., Reading, Bristol, Leeds and Cambridge).
  • We are partners in the EUROVOLC project which aims to promote an integrated and harmonized European volcanological community.