Monday, August 5, 2019

Eskdalemuir Observatory – Centennial celebrations

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has recently awarded Eskdalemuir Observatory Centennial Observing Station status. The WMO issues this status to nominated stations that have provided long-term, high-quality climate records that tell current and future generations about climate variability and trends.

Eskdalemuir Observatory today. 

Eskdalemuir Observatory is owned by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and operated by the British Geological Survey (BGS). Eskdalemuir Observatory is part of the UK Met Office official observation network and the data that it provides is available in WOW. The observatory is also part of the Global Climate Observing System(GCOS); one of only 8 observing stations in the UK incorporated into this important climate monitoring network (Stornoway, Aldergrove, Waddington, Rothamsted, Camborne, Lerwick, Eskdalemuir and Shawbury are all classed as GCOS surface network stations).

Centennial celebrations


On Thursday 18 July, nearby residents and former staff joined BGS and the Met Office to celebrate its new status and find out more about the world-leading science that takes place in the observatory’s offices and bunkers.

Stuart Goldstraw (Head of Observations Operations, Met Office) & Pete Harvey (Senior Met Officer, Eskdalemuir).

Chris Turbitt from BGS (the Observatory Manager) said, "We were pleased that members of the local community and former staff members, both BGS and Met Office, were able to join us to celebrate. The observatory opened in 1908 and since then has been a renowned site for magnetic, seismic and of course meteorological observations."

Meanwhile, Stuart Goldstraw (Head of Observations Operations at the Met Office) said, “Eskdalemuir Observatory provides meteorological data for a global network of high quality sites, as well as forming part of the Met Office Climate and Synoptic network. We are proud this partnership of over 100 years has been acknowledged with the award of WMO centennial observing station status”.

Pete Harvey & Claire Brown (Eskdalemuir Site Manager).
Visitors to Eskdalemuir were given a tour round the observatory and enjoyed a series of talks from BGS and Met Office experts.

The History of Eskdalemuir Observatory


Eskdalemuir Observatory is world-renowned as a leading geophysical and meteorological observation station. This reputation comes from the long, unbroken, high quality recordings that have been made possible by a remote site that was well chosen and has remained almost unchanged for over a century.

The main building seen from near the Underground
Magnetograph House (note the anemometer mast on the roof).

The origins of the Observatory can be traced to London in the mid-19th century when measurements of the Earth’s magnetic field began at Kew Observatory. By the end of the 19th century, these measurements had become unsustainable in London as the electrification of the capital's tram network caused increasing disturbance to the magnetic records.

By 1903, The Royal Society had identified a new site for the Kew instruments - on Nether Cassock Farm in the Parish of Eskdalemuir; a location sufficiently far enough away from existing and future sources of electrical and magnetic interference (including the national railway network). The land was provided in trust by the Duke of Buccleuch to His Majesty’s Department of Works and Public Buildings, “for an Observatory or other scientific purposes, and for no other purpose what so ever”.

Aerial view of Eskdalemuir Observatory.
The labour required to build and run the new observatory was assigned to the recently formed National Physical Laboratory, assisted by a substantial contribution from a London tram company. Many of the early magnetometers were transferred from Kew Observatory and the magnetic measurements were supplemented in the initial years by atmospheric electrical measurements and daily measurements of air temperature and pressure.

Meteorological measurements began officially in 1910 (when the Meteorological Office took over operation of the Observatory). One of the early geophysics experiments in the post-World War One years involved laying a series of large loops of copper wire around the Observatory (and nearby Dumfedling Hill) to detect geomagnetically induced currents, although a more important role of these induction loops was to evaluate the feasibility of detecting passing submarines in the vicinity of estuaries and harbours.

Seismometers were housed in the main observatory building until 1925. However, a dedicated vault was built on site in 1964 to accommodate instruments of the World-Wide Standardized Seismograph Network (and latterly BGS and US Project IDA instruments); Eskdalemuir being one of the quietest seismic stations in the world at long periods. Recordings have since been used to locate events such as the magnitude 4.7 Longtown earthquake (Boxing Day, 1979), and by air crash investigators timing the Lockerbie disaster (1988).

View of part of the Eskdalemuir enclosure, showing the entrance to the underground room where seismological & magnetic 
instruments were kept.

Management of the Observatory passed from the Meteorological Office to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in 1967, and by 1974, staff numbers peaked at just under 30 (due to the wide range of science being carried out on site). However, with the advent of automatic instruments and digital communications in the 1980s, staff numbers gradually decreased. Today, one BGS member of staff remains, alongside two Met Office staff members.

Main buildings at Eskdalemuir Observatory.
These buildings provided office space & accommodation for staff, including Lewis Fry Richardson
(Superintendent at Eskdalemuir, 1913 - 1916). Richardson went on to develop the theory of Numerical Weather Prediction.
The variety of geophysical measurements has, however, continued to expand. Eskdalemuir is well regarded as a pristine measuring environment, hosting continuous GNSS monitoring, magnetic induction coils, geo-electric probes, absolute gravimeters and VLF radio detection – studying physical phenomena from the core of the Earth to the ionosphere and beyond. Today, magnetic recordings are used in real-time to navigate drilling for oil and gas below the North Sea and assessing the effect of space weather events on the electricity distribution network. Although the applications have changed, the fact that the site and the measurements made there are as relevant today as they were over a century ago is a testament to those scientists who made the decision to establish an observatory at Eskdalemuir.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Buxton Weather Station - A brief History

The following blog post has been written by Michael Hilton, a voluntary observer in Buxton. The original, unabridged, article can be viewed here. The weather station at Buxton has been part of the Met Office's network of climate sites since the 1870s. The voluntary observers at Buxton use WOW to upload their daily climate observations. The observer's thoughts and views below are their own. 

The Buxton Slopes Met Office site, is a Climatological Weather Station, (a Climatological Weather station takes daily readings to create a long term climate record, whereas a Synoptic Weather station records more frequent, often real-time, readings with the primary function of forecasting). The Met Office operates the Voluntary Climate Network alongside the automatic Synoptic Network.  The Buxton site is some 100 metres to the North of Buxton Town Hall, at map reference SK 058 733 (Latitude 53 15’ Longitude 1 54’). The site is at an altitude of 307 Metres above sea level.

This site is managed by The Met Office, and manned by a group of local volunteers, who attend the station each morning, 365 days a year, at 09.00 GMT, to take readings.  Some 22 readings and observations are taken on every visit, and these are entered by the volunteer team, each morning, through an online Met Office portal (WOW), for use in real time forecasting – and for inclusion in Long Term Climate Records for the UK.

We also maintain a written book of all the daily  observations – in much the same way readings have been noted since the mid 1800’s – of course these will be preserved, and passed on to future generations.



All approved Met Office sites, comply with global standards, set by the World Meteorological Organisation. Our Volunteers have received Met Office training in order to meet those standards. This ensures the quality and reliability of readings generated by the Buxton Station.  Maintained high standards, ensure Buxton readings are included in the Met Office Climate Records for the UK.   This national database is accessed by many researchers and others, for a myriad of purposes. The Buxton site continues to provide information to local people and visitors to the town, and to commerce, industry, schools and universities.


Buxton Climatological Station is one of the longest, continuously recording weather stations in the UK. The station has unbroken records going back over 150 years, to 1865.

In the middle of the 1800’s, there were many serious outbreaks of diseases like the cholera, typhus, etc. outbreaks which resulted in many deaths, particularly of young children.   Doctors before this time did not realise that these diseases were spread by contaminated water. They thought the diseases came from airborne sources, the famous “miasmas”That would explain a growing interest in climate data. When sinks were first installed in bedrooms to replace the old jug and washbasin arrangement, people were very suspicious of this new-fangled idea. They were afraid that the “miasma” would come up through the plughole and contaminate the bedroom with deadly diseases and the solution was to keep the plug firmly in the basin to stop the “miasma” spreading into the room!


Also, in the mid-nineteenth century, doctors considered that a change of climate and exposure to pure, fresh, bracing air had a stimulating effect on an invalid’s system. As a result, mountain health resorts became very popular and, in order to justify promoting the benefits of Buxton’s climate, it was essential to have accurate data.

So a major factor in the founding of the Buxton Station was in response to the realisation that the weather did have an influence on health and diseases.  Scientists knew by this time that there was a link between outbreaks of these kinds of disease and current weather conditions, but there was no local weather station making regular readings.  Without this data, doctors couldn’t predict or prepare for the outbreaks when they occurred.

In 1865, the people of Buxton, subscribed to the setting up of a weather station, to record temperatures, rainfall, and other details. This was initially placed in the grounds of the Devonshire Royal Hospital.  Readings in the late 1860’s to 1870’s were taken by Edwin J Sykes, FRAS, FMS.   Edwin J Sykes was a Dispensing Chemist.  He was the resident dispenser to the Devonshire Hospital from about 1868 to 1873, and in 1873 bought the business of Mr Acton at No 5 The Quadrant and succeeded him as a Family and Dispensing Chemist. He continued to act an honorary meteorologist at the hospital. The Devonshire Hospital and Buxton Bath Charity Annual Report for 1874, Records the following “Mr. Sykes, who had acted as Honorary Meteorologist to the Hospital during the five years of his residence in the Hospital, kindly continues to perform these duties without payment.”

In 1874, the Meteorological Office took on Buxton Weather Station as one of their official climatological stations:
The meteorological report which is annexed to the 1874 Devonshire Hospital annual report states “The year 1874 was one of great importance in a meteorological point of view. Several new and necessary systems have been suggested, and to a considerable extent carried out, under the superintendence of many distinguished naturalists- and meteorologists, who have established a method of co-operation for the investigation of such periodical phenomena of nature as depend on the progress of the seasons. To this end, several observatories have been recognised by the Meteorological Society, for the purpose of simultaneous observations twice daily: it has pleased the Council to distinguish the observatory at Buxton with that honour. The chief physical conditions to be observed are : The highest and lowest temperatures of the air daily;  the intensity of solar radiation; the humidity of the air; rainfall and snow; frost; occurrence of storms; direction of the wind; the movements and aspects of the clouds; and the general state of the sky.” (We still take most of these same readings today,  together with many other readings such as “wet bulb” temperature to calculate dew point & humidity, grass tip temperature - and temperature readings down into the earth at 10cm depth, 30 cm depth and one metre depth).

In August 1925, the equipment, together with the gated and railed enclosure, was moved to the present site, on The Slopes. 


Mr Sykes continued taking readings into the late 1880’s, and was followed by a succession of other volunteers from the town.

Around 1990, High Peak Borough Council took over the readings. At first, the readings were recorded by John Fletcher, the Market Inspector. Around 1995, a member of the Environmental Health Team took over - he became well known as  “Borough Meteorologist” – His name was Stephen Green – he took daily readings, and maintained the records, as well as transposing many long term records into "e-form".  Stephen tells me "as well as the morning readings, we also used to be part of the "Health Resort Scheme". This meant taking a second set of readings at 17.00 pm, and phoning them through to the Met Office. This was when Buxton readings (amongst others) appeared in the National newspapers. Stephen maintained his role for more than 20 years, until he retired in 2015.

After Mr Green retired in 2015, the Environmental Health Team continued to maintain the readings, but pressure on local government resources, meant that this daily duty was causing difficulties for the Council team. Because of these manning difficulties, in May 2015, the Met Office Regional Network Manager, Gill Allbones, advertised for volunteers to take over the readings, and maintenance of records. With 150+ years of unbroken records, it would have been a great loss to stop the recordings – these long unbroken records, are a valuable resource for researchers – and the long history, is a matter of some prestige for the town of Buxton, and the Borough of High Peak!

Our Slopes Team formed in June 2015, received initial training and support from the Met Office and support from the Environmental Health Team – and we have been in place since then – and we are proud to have never missed a day!  We currently have around 12, wonderful and committed volunteers, which seems about the right number to maintain regular attendance, whilst keeping the duties not too onerous.

I co-ordinate the activities of the team, and carry out day to day repairs and maintenance of the equipment. Our Met Office Manager ensures that replacement and consumable equipment is made available when required.  In addition, the Met Office inspects and calibrates every aspect of the equipment, and the site, regularly – this to maintain accuracy – and to ensure our compliance with global standards.


If you would like to know more about the Met Office Buxton site, access records, add to this tale, or even enquire about joining the volunteer team, please contact Michael via www.buxtonweather.co.uk


Friday, February 8, 2019

WOW in schools

WOW is a platform for anybody to submit, share and display their weather observations. A couple of new sites have recently appeared on WOW, linked to Primary Schools who have opted to join the WOW community. 

The Beacon Church of England (VA) Primary School, Exmouth, Devon, are now sharing their observations on WOW:





Mum of two, Debbie, decided to purchase a weather station for this school. After doing some research she opted for a Watson W-8681 wireless weather station. With the help of one of the teachers and the school's I.T specialist they built the weather station and mounted it on the roof of the school:




Advice about how to best site a weather station can be seen here. It may be difficult to find the perfect location, particularly in an urban environment. However if you share details on your weather station's exposure when setting up your WOW site, any siting issues can be taken into account, making the data more useful to others. More details on how to rate your site in WOW can be seen here. Once up and running the majority of weather stations will require some additional software in order to link them up to WOW. There are a number of freely available third party software packages, some of which are listed on this page. The WOW team are always looking to add more options to this list, if you want to share your software please comment below or send us some feedback. The Beacon School decided to use Cumulus weather station software to link their weather station to WOW.  This is currently running on a laptop, but the school are investigating using a Raspberry Pi to reduce running costs. 


St George's Catholic Primary School, Taunton, Somerset, have also recently set up their own weather station, with a little help from Dad Adrian. They installed a Davis Pro 2 Weather Station. In order to log and visualise the data from this weather station a data logger and the Davis 'WeatherLink' software are required. Once this was all up and running Adrian used Cumulus software to start uploading the data to WOW. This weather station has been mounted on a long pole on the side of a building to improve it's exposure:







  


 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Why do we need your data?


Note from the WOW team: This blog post has been written by a member of the National Climate Information Centre (NCIC) based within the Met Office. Observations for the UK, such as those entered into WOW by our network of voluntary climate observers, are essential to put recent weather into context and to detect variations and possible long-term trends in UK climate. The author's thoughts and views below are their own.


I work as a scientist in the NCIC team. Our work aims to understand the UK’s climate in terms of trends, variations and extremes. Absolutely critical to this are the observational data on which we rely. Important aspects include spatial coverage (so all parts of the UK are represented), continuity (so we can look at long-term trends), quality (so we can have confidence in the integrity of our products), and timeliness (so we can produce near real-time products using as large a network as possible).

Currently, official climate observations from the UK come from a network of approximately 260 automatic weather stations, but these are supplemented by the Volunteer Climate Network (VCN) of over 150 stations manned by volunteer observers. The UK’s climate is highly complex and variable over small spatial and temporal scales, and in reality any network will struggle to capture the full details of the weather on a day-to-day basis. The number of stations in the network is inevitably a compromise between what we would like in an ideal world and what is realistically achievable. Nevertheless, the additional VCN stations (over a third of the network) are an invaluable contribution to our work and the integrity of our climate products. A recent research project also made use of climate observations from all observers submitting observations through WOW, to compare against results from the ‘official’ network.

So, what do I do on a day-to-day basis? My time is roughly divided in three. Firstly: designing the software systems to use and extract historic climate data from our archives and generate climate products (for example, gridded data, time-series, maps). Secondly: analysing climate data to try to understand the results in detail. Thirdly, disseminating information, for example on the UK climate pages on our website, in reports, or for the wider media. Overall, the NCIC team’s science output is used in a wide range of applications, including helping fulfil our remit for the Met Office Public Weather Service, providing climate data for the Hadley Centre Climate Programme and external researchers, and products which can be used by businesses to understand their risks associated with weather and climate. Examples of NCIC’s UK climate products may be found on the Met Office website.


From this.... Stevenson Screen used to house thermometers in the field


To this... An example map showing the spatial distribution of daily minimum temperature across the UK on 15 October 2018.

To me, this seems like important work, particularly in the context of all the current and future pressures on our world. The NCIC team follow in the footsteps of many illustrious predecessors, such as George Symons and Gordon Manley. To go back to the original question, let me quote Gordon Manley on snow (Manley, 1969): “A great deal of needless romance has long been attached in Britain to the subject of snow. I soon learnt to distrust the exaggerated stories, bad reporting and general lack of knowledge, and I set out to rationalise the available data.”

I hope you enjoy taking observations from your weather station, whatever the instruments, whether ‘official’ or otherwise. I doubt that future scientists in 100 years’ time will be interested in the current work of NCIC, but they will undoubtedly be interested in our data, and yours. Thank you for submitting your observations through WOW.

Manley, G. (1969), SNOWFALL IN BRITAIN OVER THE PAST 300 YEARS. Weather, 24: 428-437. doi:10.1002/j.1477-8696.1969.tb03117.x


Monday, November 19, 2018

WOW Developments

The WOW team at the Met Office are continually working to improve the website. A lot of the changes we make are in the background, but you may have noticed a couple of the more recent developments to the map visualisations. 

Based on feedback from users we have made some changes to the map layer for wind speed/direction. The map layer originally looked like this:




The new visualisation looks like this:




The number of categories has been increased from 5 to 8 so it is now easier to pick out where the strongest winds are at a glance.  The new categories have roughly been based on the Beaufort wind scaleThe yellow circles showing where the wind is being reported as calm are still there, but are less dominant on the map.

We have also added a new map layer, showing observations of Dew Point Temperature. This is a measure of humidity  and tells us how close the air is to being saturated. This information is useful to meteorologists to help identify different air masses, and for forecasting dew, frost, and mist or fog. 




The option to provide feedback on WOW is in the footer of each page on the website, just click on the 'WOW feedback' link at any time!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Who are our Observers?


Note from the WOW team: This blog was written by the Met Office Regional Network Manager responsible for our voluntary climate sites in Wales and South West England. The Voluntary Climate Network consists of approximately 150 observing sites run by volunteers, who submit observations at 9am every morning. These volunteers allow us to better represent the climatology of the UK, with their observations supplementing those of our automated networks. This record is a valuable reference for climate statistics. WOW is the primary mechanism for our network of Voluntary Climate Observers to upload their observations. The observer's thoughts and views below are their own.

As regional Networks manager for Wales & South West England I am regularly found discussing weather with all sorts of people, both in the scientific community, and outside. One of the most common questions I get asked is who are our observers? Well here is an attempt to try and shed some light on this.

We have had a manual weather station in Prestatyn since the 1930’s. There have been many observers over the years, but the recent team began as an experiment. In the past we have generally had one, or maybe two observers at each site. We are however finding it harder to get individuals to take on such a workload. Therefore in 2011 we tried a different method. With the help of Denbighshire council, we began an advertising campaign to recruit a team of observers. This involved local papers, and even radio interviews on the BBC. After a little time and some further interviews, we settled on a team of keen observers. We had a senior observer in charge of data input and rosters, and a team of half a dozen observers. This team has changed over the years. Our new senior observer Geoff, leads a team of around a dozen observers.



The manual weather station at Prestatyn.

Below are some of the observers thoughts on why they volunteer to do this job.


Geoff - Senior Observer
"I started volunteering at the weather station after seeing an advert in my local paper (about 5-6 yrs ago), since then I have replaced the senior observer when he retired. I get a lot out of firstly being just an observer, to now being senior observer being responsible for the day to day running of the site in Prestatyn, North Wales on behalf of the Met Office & Denbighshire council. As the senior observer I have to be on hand everyday to firstly get cover in place should one of the team call to say they can not get to the site, also to receive the reading via email or phone once the duty observer sends them each day. Once I receive them I firstly check them to make sure they follow, and then I can input them into WOW. All this does take time each day but I feel a real sense of community by doing it. Other duty's I have as senior observer are sending monthly reports both to the Met Office and Denbighshire council, and putting together roster's each month in order to make sure there is a volunteer observer attending the weather station everyday."

Janet
"I was one of the first cohort of volunteers to start the rota when the gentleman that had previously manned the weather station died. Volunteering just after I retired and looking for a useful outlet for my energies.  It was something I had little knowledge of on the technical side, but having a large allotment and keeping bees gave me an insight into weather conditions and how they affect growing, insect life etc. I enjoy being on the rota and going down to the Nova to take the readings, even on the cold winter mornings, it has greatly increased my knowledge of weather conditions, wind direction etc. I wasn’t keen on the new digital equipment when it first went in, but I have got the hang of it now.  I think it is good for local people to be involved with the station and it would be a shame if we went all digital."

Maxine & Steve
"I started volunteering at the weather station after seeing an email sent round the office not long after I  started working for Denbighshire County Council. I have always found the weather a fascinating subject so the opportunity to get involved and provide the observations to the Met Office was too good an opportunity to miss. My husband Steve started to come down to the weather station with me when I no longer had my own car.  Then after a change of jobs I found it more difficult to have the time to actually take the readings, so Steve was trained to do the readings, but I still have involvement by reporting the observations to our Senior Observer Geoff. Steve volunteers because he enjoys it and finds it interesting.  He also helps to maintain the Stevenson Screen and keeps the surrounding area tidy."

Craig 
"My main attraction to the position was an interest in weather, having mental health issues means I’m unable to work, so this allows me some sense of giving back to the community. I continue to do this as being married with 4 children I’ll do anything to get out of the house!, I’m joking... I continue to do this as I feel it’s invaluable to collect the data to monitor the changes in weather for the U.K, manually read stations in my opinion must be kept as they’re a much more reliable source of weather observation." 


Further information about getting involved in the UK Voluntary Climate Network can be seen here.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Storm Bronagh

Storm Bronagh, the second named storm of the season, brought heavy rain and strong winds to the UK on 20th and 21st September 2018. See here for a full summary of Storm Ali and Storm Bronagh.

The footprint of Storm Bronagh was clearly visible in surface analyses based on WOW observations. The dense network of WOW observations over England and Wales, along with other sources of observations, meant that we could track this storm in great detail. See below for the evolution of the storm. At each time step an analysis chart showing the position of the low pressure centre and associated weather fronts has been provided, along with an analysis produced from WOW observations. The colours on which represent temperature, the arrows are wind vectors, and the dark blue lines show surface pressure.

                                                       20/09/2018 1800 GMT





Strong SSW winds can be seen in the warmer air (the warm sector, between the warm and cold fronts) across much of England and Wales.

21/09/2018 0000 GMT


The centre of the storm is now over NE England. Cooler air can be seen moving into the West behind the cold front. The wind is still very strong across Eastern England.

21/09/2018 0600 GMT


Bronagh has moved off into the North Sea. Cooler air and Westerly winds can now been seen across England and Wales.