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

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