Improve operational decisions with longer range forecasts

Dr. Edward Steele
Science Manager (Marine Applications)

Contents

The cost and complexity of offshore operations makes accurate and timely marine weather forecasting crucial but many companies are not making the most of the opportunity to plan further ahead and avoid costly downtime.

“If an offshore oil and gas company can factor in the likelihood of calm weather they will be able to make better operational decisions, earlier.”

Storms, calm weather, strong winds and varying wave heights have an impact on the viability of operations at sea. Currently, most offshore industry companies rely on deterministic forecasts that give them a single prediction. The appeal of these forecasts lies in the fact that they are easy to interpret. They provide a simple yes/no outcome to inform decisions. However, deterministic forecasts are usually only reliable when looking out to at most five days ahead. They are not suitable for industry decision-makers to use for longer-term planning.

In contrast, probabilistic forecasts assess this uncertainty by using many projections. These projections account for both the incomplete analysis of the initial state of the system, and the approximations within the numerical schemes used to determine its evolution.

The complete set of projections is called an ensemble, and the individual forecasts within it are called ensemble members. Ensemble forecast are designed so that each member should be equally likely. The proportion of ensemble members that forecast an event will be representative of the likelihood (or probability) of it occurring.

Finding the solution

By collaborating with offshore industry decision-makers over the last few years, we know that if an offshore oil and gas company can factor in the likelihood of upcoming calm weather – instead of relying on a single prediction of a few days’ lead time – they will be able to make better operational decisions, earlier.

Exploiting the complex ensemble information has traditionally been difficult. Our research has focused on making the science more accessible, useful and usable. It does this by developing tools that combine the benefits of the simplicity of a single prediction with the skill of ensemble forecasts. For example, we can come up with more reliable longer-term forecasts by applying certain criteria to the data, or by looking at a synoptic weather pattern over larger areas.

We can realise he full potential of the ensemble forecast by presenting the information in a way that is both easy and intuitive to interpret.

Better, earlier decisions

Using an ensemble forecast can increase confidence that a certain type of weather is more or less likely to occur in the coming weeks. Let’s say, for instance, a company wants to plan a routine operation or maintenance activity. With a single prediction, they could be fairly confident the calm conditions they need to carry out the work are coming up in three days’ time.

By using the full extent of the available uncertainty information, the company would have an early awareness of suitable conditions at a longer lead team, as well as an indication about whether it is likely to be the only workable weather window over the coming weeks ahead. This extra context is vital for planning. It means the company can book equipment and coordinate staff with much greater confidence, prioritising activities accordingly.

Still keeping safe – but reducing operational costs

The safety of employees is paramount to the offshore industry. Therefore, the final approval to start a planned operation is made immediately before its start. However, it is important that asset managers only book equipment if they are confident they can use it. From a planning perspective, as the event approaches, the greater the demand for resources grows. This can result in huge increases in the cost of securing offshore equipment, sometimes by over 1,000%! With a way to improve decision-making, companies would be able to book resources earlier. Thus, ensuring reduced costs and avoiding losing thousands of pounds per day in unplanned downtime.

Extending the benefits beyond the marine sector

The benefits of longer-range forecasts may be applied to other sectors. If the marine renewable energy sector integrates longer-range forecasts into their way of working, they could streamline their operations. This would make them even more cost-efficient – and could help the UK deliver on its Industrial Strategy.

Increased usability could also be exploited by other industries that need improved decision-making. As well as for the management of specific risk, such as demand modelling for the water sector.

Translating science into services for the future

In all industries and sectors, decision-makers want to reduce operational costs by being more efficient. A core part of our job at the Met Office is to consult and collaborate with customers to enable them to do so. This research not only helps to support this – it addresses a pressing industry need by developing the very latest in scientific and technological thinking.

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