Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Met Office Work Experience - Day 2 (for Tuesday)

My second day at the Met Office and I think I am starting to get used to being here - well what I really mean to say is that didn't get lost!

So, what did I learn today? As to be expected an awful lot - although again much of it went over my head and so I need to go away and do some more reading on some of the areas. First thing this morning I had a really interesting chat to a researcher who is currently running and then analysising the results of various models linked to the changes he estimates will happen to the contiental shelf, temperature and salinity of the oceans, risk of storm surges and sea level in the future. They have been running loads of these simulations in the hope that they will be able to provide a better and more reliable picture of future conditions to several organisations so that they can take the appropriate steps so that they can effectively adapt to the predicted changes. The majority of this session was spent going over the idea of Ensemble modelling anf forecasting (or atleast I think that is what it is called). Over the next few days I will try and explain the basics but first I need to either locate or draw some diagrams etc to help aid the explanation as it will be tricky enough without them. It is actually really interesting as by understanding the basics (and I refer to the real basics as all this modelling stuff soon gets really complex - just trust me on that one!) of the modelling system, you can see how various factors are linked to or provoke a certain reaction and start to understand why there is often much variablility and uncertainity over future projections. Listening to how and why he was doing the research he is doing at present (and I mean like right now - the plots etc he showed be had literally on that morning been completed!) was really interesting and some of the stuff he was looking into really fascinated me. This talk really demonstrated how the some of the work completed help to guide government policy on various topics. I was given a copy of the last MCCIP Annual Report Card which has some interesting regional snapshots of Marine Climate Change Impacts and various impacts, accompained by the risk of them occuring. Here is the link to the summary report which you can read online ; it is quite interesting to read and not that hard to understand as it was written for people and politicians who may not have a great deal of previous knowledge of the topic. We also discussed UKCP90 and went over loads of graphs, plots and data linked to various changes that are likely to occur due to climate change. Again here is the link to their webpage and if you click on 'Quick Downloads' you can download the pdf files of the report they produced which I worked through quite a bit of with this researcher. If anyone is doing an EPQ related to climate change they might find the stats, plots, graphs and diagrams included useful to use in their write up or presentation - I may try and sneak a few in!

After this, I attended another seminar but this time on "Climate sensitivity and ocean heat uptake" by Geoff Vallis of Princeton University, USA. I struggled to follow this seminar as, again, it involved lots of models, lots of acronyms I had never come across before, some horribly complicated looking equations and it kind of jumped around a bit. However I got some of the basics of what he was trying to show with his models and equations so I will go for explaining that - like I did with the other seminar. Essentially the overall sensitivity of the climate was discussed, with particular reference to surface temperature, to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. You probably got this from the title but it focused on the role of the ocean in all of this - remember that the atmosphere and oceans are coupled and they talk to each other (this is what all the scientists at the Met Office refered to the relationship as) and also that the oceans are both a source and sink of gases like carbon dioxide. The main basis of the seminar was on the speed of responses and so say if carbon dioxide instantaneously doubled then an aspect of the climate system would respond rapidly, with a thermal inertia (describes the ability of a given volume of a substance to store internal energy while undergoing a given temperature change, but without undergoing a phase change, so is said to be resistant to temperature change) which is determined by the mixed layer in the oceans.When you then look at long timescales there is a slower element to global warming, one that many consider is effectively irreverisble even if emissions would cease. A fast response, which is commonly classed as the 'transient climate sensitivity' ( I have been picking up some new words and phrases over the last few days!), on the other hand, is only relevant to a response timescale of a decade to century. So basically the seminar was about responses to different factors by the climate and the oceans and the speed of the responses (something which when asked about seemed to divide the conference room in two!). It included links to not only anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions but also links to volcanic eruptions and ENSO and various other things which he included in his models. The last aspect of this seminar was to look at the model which he referred to as being "embarrasingly simple" and used observational evidence of global warming over the past century to estimate the parameters(although it didn't really look that simple to me - but  the people I was with said that in terms of the equations used and parameters set it was quite simple) and compare it to the results from more complex models and show that the simple model had less uncertainity surrounding it and so is perhaps the better one to use. Over the last few days, one of the many things I have learnt, is that none of these models are perfect - something that was demonstrated in the 'Oceans and Iced Tea' meeting I attended in the afternoon - and that the scientists spend much of their time developing, refining, running and then criticising the models due to the uncertainities that they produce and the errors they sometimes generate. However, these models are crucial as they provide us a insight into the possible future conditions as the variables can be changed and things messed around with a bit to see how different factors provoke different responses. I have got so much I want to write about but I just have to find the time! Hopefully something on modelling (it will be the most simplistic explanation of the basics ever) and on climate sensitivity will appear over the next week.

The afternoon 'Oceans and Iced Tea' meeting was a bit easier to follow (perhaps as my knowledge of terminology on this topic is slightly better) and it was on the topic of erroneous eddies that were appearing on ocean models and why. The reasons discussed including the lack of bathymetry included in the models and the idea of the influence of continental shelves and the shelf currents. Work is always being down to improve the models that they use as they are used to generate data for some may things. Something that surprised me was that many of the models used across the different departments were quite similar and has only small adaptions to make the predictions generated more specific to certain areas.

I also had a rather long chat with some of the summer placement students who are doing like 12 weeks paid work experience at the Met Office where they get to do some proper research using on the models and stuff. These students were all at either the end of their degrees, doing masters or phd's but this scheme is something that I would strongly recommend you keep an eye out for if and when you get to that stage. They all said it was a really great and beneficial thing to do and, in reference to going into this line of work in the future, they all said excatly the same thing - you NEED to have evidence of have done some high level maths or physics from your degree and modelling work!

It was, again, another incredible day and I learnt loads and got a lot of good advice from various different people who definetly gave me a look to think about in terms my future!

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