COP27 – An oasis in the heat of the climate change emergency, or a deserting of hope?

Rosie Mammatt – r.m.mammatt@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Thea Stevens – thea.stevens@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Sitting in the COPCAS studio in the University of Reading we were able to watch the numerous talks and panels taking place each day. This allowed us to tune into the different discussions surrounding topics from the role of civil society to the importance of biodiversity, giving us a unique insight into the proceedings of the conference. Through our team of people attending the conference, we were able to interview those who were participating in the negotiations, such as Robert Muthami, a climate and social justice advocate from Kenya. This gave us a gauge of what the atmosphere was like within the discussion and negotiation rooms. This left us with mixed emotions nearly 4000 miles away in Reading…

Left: Thea with her team in the Climate Action Studio on Energy and Civil Society Day. Right: Rosie with her team in the Climate Action Studio on the opening day of COP27.

“Human actions are the cause of this problem, so human actions must be the solution”. These were the words spoken passionately by UN Secretary-General António Guterres during the World Leaders Summit on the opening day at COP27. Similarly rousing speeches followed from world leaders and delegates who highlighted the challenges their countries are facing due to the climate emergency. The tone was set as one of desperation.

A large focus this year was on loss and damage. Talking to some of the negotiators towards the middle of COP showed us the struggle which was occurring behind the scenes. However, this ended up as one of the more positive outcomes of COP27 as an agreement on the creation of a global “loss and damage” fund. This is a historic milestone, and something that the most vulnerable nations have been seeking for decades. This is great progress. However, it is the beginning of a long process which is going to have to unpick who puts money into the fund and who is eligible to get money out. So, there is progress, but it is predictably slow meaning the hopes of the most vulnerable nations should not be pinned on this shaky agreement.

There have also been some critical backwards steps from Glasgow, with a number of important statements being removed from the final text. Alok Sharma put it clearly in his closing remarks:

‘Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary.

Not in this text.

Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal.

Not in this text.

A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels.

Not in this text.

And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes.’

This shows a clear and frustrating reduction in ambition that was fought over in the last COP.

Boosting low emission energy was also agreed upon in the final text. Unfortunately, there is some ambiguity around what “low emission energy” refers too. One would hope that this means renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal or wave power, or even nuclear power. However, it could also mean coal power stations with carbon capture capabilities or gas power. The “dash for gas” is something that should not be encouraged, as it must not be forgotten that gas is still a fossil fuel. Many gas-rich countries, however, sent officials to COP27 hoping to strike lucrative gas deals. Ultimately, this is not a viable solution for these nations and certainly not the right solution for the climate.

The whole event was overshadowed by an issue surrounding the lack of freedom to speak or peacefully protest. People on the ground in Sharm El-Sheikh said that this ominous feeling permeated the event as a whole. News after the arrest of hundreds of peaceful protesters and the misconduct by the Egyptian police showed the extent of the human rights crisis. Protesters will hope for fairer treatment next year, but due to its location are likely to be left disappointed.

COPCAS has allowed us to understand the mechanisms behind the negotiations and has shown how long and hard they are to achieve. However, the lasting feelings of COP27 are mixed. Progress has been made but it is slow and some key victories from previous COPs have been watered down. It feels like this might be the end of the 1.5oC dream. These talks are critical for our future and we should be seeing ambition, and more importantly, action at this time.

See all the bogs written during COPCAS:

https://walker.ac.uk/about-walker/news-events/

European Space Weather Week and exploring Zagreb

Harriet Turner – h.turner3@pgr.reading.ac.uk

This trip contained several firsts for me – first flight, first international conference and first in-person conference presentation. The 18th annual European Space Weather Week was held in Zagreb, Croatia from 24th to 28th October 2022, with delegates from Europe, the US and Australia present. The week was full of interesting talks and lively socials, culminating with the Reading lot (plus a postdoc from Imperial) completing the “secret social” lunar themed escape room in the second fastest time of the week.

It always feels more official when your name is on a lanyard!

The week started with the standard conference registration followed by some tutorials and a live space weather forecast. Space weather refers to the changing plasma conditions in near-Earth space, which can pose a threat to modern life. It can lead to communication failures, damage to satellites, blackouts, and harm the health of humans in space. For this reason, it is important to forecast space weather so that these impacts can be mitigated against. The afternoon of the first day consisted of two parallel sessions and a poster session, with a reception buffet in the evening. The parallel sessions ran throughout the week, covering a wide range of topics from ways to improve our space weather forecasting capabilities to measuring and modelling geoelectric fields.

Tuesday was filled with more parallel sessions containing a wide range of talks, including my first in-person conference presentation of my PhD. I was rather nervous to present my work in front of a (quite large) room full of experts in the field, however I think it was well received and I had some interesting questions.

I study the solar wind, which is a constant stream of charged particles that flows off the Sun and is an important component of space weather. I have been using data assimilation (DA) to forecast the solar wind, which combines model output and observations to form an optimum estimation of reality. For DA to work in an operational context, it needs to work with real time data. This often contains more data gaps and erroneous observations when compared with the cleaned-up science level data, which has been used for previous analysis of solar wind DA. To cut a long story short, my work has shown that the real time data does not significantly worsen the forecasts, meaning that DA could be used for operational solar wind forecasting. Which is what we wanted to hear! I celebrated the presentation being over with a big pizza, followed by the conference music night hosted in a local bar. Turns out there are some talented musicians in the space weather community!

On the stage presenting the slide on the data assimilation scheme I have been analysing.

The rest of the week went by in a blur of parallel and poster sessions, with the conference dinner on the Thursday evening and everything wrapping up on Friday lunchtime. With flights back to the UK not until Monday evening, we had plenty of time to explore what Zagreb had to offer. Saturday was spent exploring the Mushroom Museum (spoiler alert, it was full of mushrooms) and the Museum of Broken Relationships. The latter of the two was filled with donated items that were special in some way or another and symbolised the end of a meaningful relationship. There were certainly some quirky exhibits, but a good attraction for sure.

There was not mushroom for anything else… (I’ll show myself out).

We filled Sunday with a tram ride to the north of Zagreb to the Sljeme cable car. The cable car took us from 267m up to the mountain summit at 1030m, which, for context, is 55m lower than Snowdon. One thing that will remain with me is just how foggy it was in Zagreb, so rising out of the fog in the cable car provided some great views. We could see the cloud hanging low in the valley and it was glorious sunshine at the top. The mountains were covered in trees that were turning into their autumn colours, which certainly was a beautiful sight.

With most of Monday to spare, we explored another museum. This time it was the Museum of Illusions, which was a lot of fun. There were a lot of interactive exhibits, including ones where you can make a kaleidoscope of your own face and play poker with 7 versions of yourself. It led to some truly horrifying photos.

View from the cable car over the mountains.

Overall, it was a tiring yet productive and enjoyable trip. I enjoyed networking with many scientists in my field, many of whom I had only seen as a name on a paper or on Twitter. It was great to see how work in the field is advancing and I look forward to being a part of that in the future.

Finally, a tip if you are visiting Croatia, try Čoksa salted peanut chocolate, it’s great. The forest fruits flavour is also great, but the banana has received mixed reviews!

Cape Verde with a Chance of Dust Storms

Natalie Ratcliffe – n.ratcliffe@pgr.reading.ac.uk

My PhD project was could have been done entirely from behind a computer screen, but I ended up in Cape Verde for 3 weeks in June 2022 on a field campaign.

Though the island of Sao Vicente is one of the Cape Verde (= green cape) islands, it wasn’t particularly green…

Working with Dr Franco Marenco from The Cyprus Institute (CyI) and my supervisor at Reading, Dr Claire Ryder, I managed to get some funding to spend 3 weeks in Cape Verde alongside an organised campaign. The ASKOS campaign was created to calibrate and validate aerosol, wind and cloud products from the Aeolus satellite, launched in 2018. They planned on using a combination of ground-based instruments and drones supplied by the Unmanned Systems Research Laboratory (USRL) with CyI to profile dust above Cape Verde to compare with the Aeolus aerosol products.

My PhD project is based around trying to understand how some large dust particles (diameter > 20 um) are travelling much further from the Sahara than expected based on their deposition velocity. One theory about how these particles are transported so far is that they are vertically mixed throughout the depth of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL, dry dusty air layer transported from the Sahara, typically up to ~6 km altitude) during convective mixing in the daytime. At night, with the removal of this convection, these large particles begin to settle through the SAL at a faster rate than other fine particles, before being mixed up again to the top of the SAL during the convective day. This is hypothesised to increase the time taken for the particles to reach the surface, encouraging long-range transport of these coarse particles. We proposed to fly drones with optical particle counters attached up through the SAL during the day and night to see if this theory has any standing.

Before I could go to Cape Verde came all the admin and preamble for going on a field campaign. Before booking flights and accommodation, the wonderfully long health and safety risk assessment form must be completed and approved. Reading through that form really makes it feel like you’re going to face every single threat known to humankind while you’re off campus; hurricanes, volcanoes, Covid-19, getting bitten by ticks (other animals/insects are available), sunburn (to be fair, a very real concern for me) and even getting hacked and bribed. I suppose being prepared for all these eventualities is meant to make it less scary

I had three virtual meetings with everyone involved in the campaign before we travelled, so I had a little bit of an idea what I was supposed to be doing when we were out there. Though to be honest, I still wasn’t entirely sure until a couple of weeks before we left! Claire and I had to introduce our work and what we wanted to achieve from this campaign. I was a little apprehensive as we were going to be requesting to collect data in the very early morning (3-6am ish) meaning we’d have to ask some of the other scientists to be up very early (or late depending on your opinion).

The Wall-e LiDAR. Wall-e was looking at the orientation of the dust particles. eVe was there too but she was basically just an all-white version of Wall-e (disappointing).

Now we get to the fun part where I actually go on the campaign (or on holiday as some people kept insisting. FYI, this was absolutely not the case). Most days would start with a few of us looking at the forecast to work out when we should aim to fly the drones. We would decide on a plan for the day, a suggested plan for the next day, briefly looking at data from the day before and then collating this all into a newsletter which was sent out to everyone on the campaign. These forecasts were useful for those collecting in-situ observations as well as those working on the ground-based remote sensing equipment. It also became very clear in these meetings that each scientist had a preferred forecasting model. We had so many options for forecasts (SKIRON, Met Office, CAMS, IAASARS, ECMWF etc), as well as varying satellite retrievals (EUMETSAT Dust RGB, MODIS NASA AOD, NOAA GOES-East visible images etc) and near-real-time observations from the ground instruments (PollyXT LIDAR, HALO Doppler wind lidar, CIMEL Sunphotometer etc) that there was occasionally some jostling to work out which forecast and measurements to trust and focus our planning based on! I was then able to go to the airport to help the flight team. I would refer to the most recent reading from the lidar and suggest which layers in the dust should be sampled with filters, as well as checking the wind lidar to make sure it wasn’t getting windier.

The USRL team getting ready for launch. The drones were thrown rather than taking off from the ground. The pilot is in the middle; he has a controller and a headset which he can use to pilot the drone.
The drone path, windspeed, ground speed and altitude can be watched from the ground.

Looking back, we should have focused our forecasting on the wind and cloud more than the dust concentration. Initially, we were planning to measure when there was an interesting or high concentration dust event over the island. However, we eventually realised that the wind and cloud cover were the most limiting factors for measuring in terms of the in-situ and ground-based measurements, respectively. This unfortunately meant that, on a few occasions, the flight team were stuck at the airport waiting for the winds to drop before they could launch the drones. Or that the remote sensing teams couldn’t take results at the same time as the drones because there was too much cloud. It was a learning experience for everyone involved!

I’ve taken away four things from this campaign that it seems will probably happen on any field campaign, so take note if you ever get the opportunity!

  • You’ll get to meet some really cool people
  • Probably get food poisoning
  • Your equipment will break at some point
  • And many things will go wrong… It’s an inevitability

Some of the issues we faced were: instruments taking longer to calibrate and setup than expected, helium arriving two weeks late, missing weather balloons, two got covid, five got food poisoning, one drone crash-landed, too windy to fly the drones, not dusty enough, too cloudy for the lidars… It was definitely an exercise in contingency planning. I did say that this was a fun experience and I do mean it! Though there were many tense moments where things went completely opposite to the plan, I got to meet a lot of cool scientists, learn about new instruments, go to Africa for the first time and get hands on with some dust at last!

Feel free to check out this blog post which I wrote for ESA’s Campaign Earth blog page: (https://blogs.esa.int/campaignearth/2022/08/03/delving-deep-into-dusty-skies-on-the-askos-aeolus-field-campaign/).

This blog article is part of the DAZSAL project that is supported by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 – Research and Innovation Framework Programme, H2020-INFRAIA-2020-1, Grant Agreement number: 101008004, Transnational Access by ATMO-ACCESS.

Arctic Summer-time Cyclones Field Campaign in Svalbard

Hannah Croad – h.croad@pgr.reading.ac.uk

The rapid decline of sea ice is permitting increased human activity in the summer-time Arctic, where it will be exposed to the risks of Arctic weather. Arctic cyclones are the major weather hazard in the summer-time Arctic, producing strong winds and ocean waves that impact sea ice over large areas. My PhD project is about understanding the dynamics of Arctic summer-time cyclones. One of the biggest uncertainties in our understanding is the interaction of cyclones with the surface and sea ice. Sea ice-atmosphere coupling is greatest in summer when the ice is thinner and more mobile. Strong winds associated with cyclones can move and alter the sea ice, but the sea ice state also feeds back on the development of cyclones, determining surface drag and turbulent fluxes of heat and moisture


My PhD project is closely linked with the Arctic Summer-time Cyclones NERC project, and therefore, I had the opportunity to join the associated field campaign. The field campaign team is comprised of scientists, engineers and pilots from the University of Reading, the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The primary aim of the field campaign was to fly through Arctic cyclones, (i) mapping cyclone structure and (ii) obtaining measurements necessary to characterise the cyclone-sea interaction. In particular, observations of near-surface fluxes of momentum, heat and moisture over sea ice and ocean are needed, as these fluxes dictate the impact of the surface on cyclones. These observations are needed to evaluate and improve the representation of turbulent exchange in numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, especially over sea ice where there are not many existing observations. To obtain accurate measurements of near-surface fluxes, we need to be quite close to the surface (no higher than 300 ft). To do this, we would be using BAS’s Twin Otter aircraft, equipped with Meteorological Airborne Science INstrumentation (MASIN). The twin-engine prop aircraft is small and light, and is therefore ideal for flying at low-levels just above the surface (as low as 50 ft!). There are many instruments fitted on the MASIN research aircraft, but the most important measurements for our purposes were temperature, wind speed, humidity (important for mapping cyclone structure), surface layer turbulent fluxes (from the 50 Hz turbulence probe), and ice surface properties (from laser altimeter).

British Antarctic Survey’s Twin Otter aircraft, fitted with the MASIN equipment. You can see the turbulence probe on the boom at the front of the aircraft, and the CAPS (cloud, aerosol, and precipitation spectrometer) probe on the left wing. The pilot is on top of the aircraft, carrying out final checks before a science flight. Photo from John Methven.

After a 1-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the field campaign took place in July and August 2022. We were based on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a 3-hour flight north of Oslo. The team was based in Longyearbyen, the main town on Svalbard. At 78°N, Svalbard is the most northern town in the world! Longyearbyen is located within a valley on the shore of Adventfjorden. The town is a strange but charming place with lots of eccentricities. Longyearbyen is populated with wooden buildings, with pipes above the ground (as the ground freezes in winter), and old mining structures on the sides of the valley. The town is small, but well provided for, with a few tourist shops, restaurants, and a supermarket. As Svalbard is in the Arctic circle, during the summer months it experiences 24-hour sunlight, which was very strange! Furthermore, Longyearbyen is one of the only places on Svalbard that is ‘polar bear safe’ – you should only leave the town limits if you have a rifle!


The field campaign team worked at Longyearbyen airport. The team would study the forecasts from different weather models for the next week, to decide on flight plans. We were primarily looking for strong winds (ideally associated with cyclones, but beggars can’t be choosers!) over the sea ice, within range of the Twin Otter aircraft (approximately 600 nautical miles). With flight planning, there were many things to consider. It was a case of waiting for good weather to come to us, and planning rest days for the pilots when the weather wasn’t looking so interesting in the forecast. Flight plans would consist of transit to and from the target region, where science would be conducted. Science flying included low-level legs to obtain turbulent flux measurements, vertical profiles of the boundary layer, and stacked cross-sections through cyclone features (e.g. fronts) in and above the boundary layer. For flights where low-level flying was planned, it was key that there should not be low cloud in the target area, as this would prevent the aircraft from flying below 1000 ft for safety reasons. It was also important that there were no bad conditions (poor visibility or strong winds) in Longyearbyen, which would prevent the aircraft from taking off or landing. Longyearbyen is an isolated airfield, and the aircraft cannot carry enough fuel to make it back to the mainland if conditions are too poor to land, so this was a very important consideration. Furthermore, the American and French THINICE project field campaign was being conducted at the same time in Svalbard, with the SAFIRE ATR42 aircraft flying at higher levels, looking downwards on Arctic cyclones. We were able to co-ordinate several flights through the same weather systems, with the Twin Otter aircraft flying below the ATR42.


The Twin Otter aircraft holds 3-4 people, including the pilot. With an instrument engineer also on board, this left space for 1 or 2 scientists on each flight (Note: to fly on the aircraft we had to do helicopter underwater escape training – see my previous blog at https://socialmetwork.blog/2021/07/16/helicopter-underwater-escape-training-for-arctic-field-campaign/). The cabin is very small (too small for a person to stand up), and is rather cramped, with a considerable amount of space taken up by the extra range fuel tank! The aircraft is flown between 50 and 10,000 ft, and so the cabin is not pressurized. For low-level flying, the crew must wear immersion suits and life jackets on the aircraft (in the unlikely event that the aircraft must ditch in the ocean). On the flight the crew wear noise-cancelling headphones (as the engines are rather loud), and everyone can speak to each other over the intercom. During the flight the scientists will alter the flight plan if necessary, depending on the conditions they encounter, and take notes of the environment and any notable events that occur during the flight. This includes noting what they can see out of the window (e.g. sea ice fraction, cloud), any interesting observations from the live feed of the instrument output within the aircraft (e.g. boundary layer depth), and any instruments that are not working or faulty.


I had the opportunity to fly on the aircraft on the third science flight of the field campaign (I wrote about this in another blog: https://research.reading.ac.uk/arctic-summertime-cyclones/first-field-campaign-flying-experience/). We were targeting a region to the north-west of Svalbard, in the Fram Strait, where there was forecast to be strong northerly winds over the marginal ice zone. The primary objective was to measure turbulent fluxes over sea ice at low-level. However, on reaching the target region, we were unable to descend lower than 500 ft due to cloud and Arctic sea smoke (formed as cold Arctic air moves over warmer water in between the sea ice floes) at the surface – not safe conditions for flying at low-level! Through gaps in the clouds, we got a glimpse at the Arctic sea smoke over the marginal ice zone (see below). (Note: Several other flights in the field campaign encountered better conditions and were able to get to low levels – see video below!). We searched for better conditions near the target region for an hour, but didn’t find any, so made the return trip home. It was a shame that we could not fly low enough to obtain turbulent flux measurements, but the flight was still useful for obtaining profiles of wind structure in the boundary layer, and for our understanding of forecast performance in the region.

Photos taken from the Twin Otter aircraft 500 ft above the surface, with a layer of Arctic sea smoke overlaying the ice floes of the marginal ice zone. Here visibility is too low to descend any further. Photos from Hannah Croad.
Flying over the marginal ice zone at 70 ft in good visibility conditions, with the shadow of the Twin Otter aircraft visible. Video from John Methven.

During the month-long field campaign a total of 17 science flights were conducted, flying in all directions from Longyearbyen, with an accumulated 80 hours of flying time. This included 4 Arctic cyclone cases, and 7.5 hours of surface layer turbulent flux measurements (more than we could have hoped for!). The data from the aircraft is currently undergoing quality control. Analysis will now proceed in two streams:

  1. Run simulations of Arctic cyclone cases in NWP models, evaluating against field campaign observations and using various tools to relate surface friction and heating to cyclone evolution (led by the University of Reading team)
  2. Use observations of turbulent fluxes in the surface layer over the marginal ice zone and sea ice properties to improve the representation of turbulent exchange over sea ice – i.e. develop parametrizations (led by the University of East Anglia team)

Building on the outputs and findings from these two work packages, we will then run sensitivity experiments of Arctic cyclones in NWP models, using the revised turbulent exchange parametrizations, to understand the impact on cyclone development.

A summary of all the science flights conducted during the Arctic Summer-time Cyclones field campaign. Flight routes are coloured blue-yellow, indicating flight altitude. Also plotted is the campaign mean sea ice fraction (AMSR2).

I really enjoyed my time on the field campaign, and I learnt a lot! It was great to help the team with forecasting and flight planning, and to be on a science flight. I also got to do a bit of media work, talking on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science programme (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0019z2y). It was a fantastic experience, and now the team and I are looking forward to getting started with the analysis and using the data!

Arctic Summer-time Cyclones field campaign team (some missing) in front of the Twin Otter aircraft. Photo from Dan Beeden.

Urban observations in Berlin

Martina Frid – m.a.h.frid@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Beth Saunders – bethany.saunders@pgr.reading.ac.uk

Introduction 

With a large (and growing) proportion of the global population living in cities, research undertaken in urban areas is important; especially in hazardous situations (heatwaves, flooding, etc), which become more severe and frequent due to climate change.  

This post gives an overview of recent work done for The urbisphere; a Synergy Project funded by the European Research Council (urbisphere 2021), aiming to forecast feedbacks between weather, climate and cities.  

Berlin Field Campaign 

The project has included a year-long field campaign (Autumn 2021 – Autumn 2022) undertaken in Berlin (Fig. 1). A smart Urban Observation System was used to take measurements across the city. Sensors used include ceilometers, Doppler wind LIDARs, radiometers, thermal cameras, and large aperture scintillometers (LAS). These measurements were taken to provide new information about the impact of Berlin (and other cities) on the urban boundary layer. The unique observation network was able to provide dense, multi-scale measurements, which will be used to evaluate and inform weather and climate models.  

Figure 1: Locations of the urbisphere senors in Berlin, Germany (urbisphere 2021).

Large Aperture Scintillometry in Berlin

The Berlin field campaign has included 6 LAS paths (Fig. 1). LAS paths consist of a transmitter and receiver mounted in the free atmosphere (Fig. 2), 0.5 – 5 km apart (e.g. Ward et al. 2014).

A beam of near-infrared radiation (wavelength of ~ 850 nm) is passed from the transmitter to receiver, where the beam intensity is measured. Changes in the refractive index of air are used to derive turbulent sensible heat flux. As the received intensity is the result of fluctuations all along the beam, derived quantities are spatially-integrated, and are therefore at a larger-scale compared to other flux measurement techniques (e.g. eddy-covariance).

Figure 2: One of six large aperture scintillometer path (orange) transects. Ground height (blue) is shown between the receiver site (GROP) and transmitter site (OSWE) in Berlin. The Path’s effective beam height is 50 m above ground level.

Our Visit to Berlin

During the first week of August, we travelled to Berlin for three days of fieldwork, to prepare for an intense observation period (IOP). This trip included us installing sensors, and testing they worked as expected. We visited three observation sites: GROP (123 m above sea level, Fig. 2), OSWE (63 m, Fig. 2) and NEUK (60 m).

One of the main purposes of this visit was to align two of the LAS paths (including the one in Fig. 2). Initially, work is undertaken at the transmitter site (Fig. 3, top) to point the instrument in the approximate direction of the receiver using a sight (Fig. 3, right hand side photographs).

At the receiver site (Fig. 3, bottom), the instrument’s measurement of signal strength can be displayed on a monitor in real time. Using this output as a guide, small adjustments to the receiver’s alignment are made by loosening or tightening two bolts on the mount; one which adjusts the receiver’s pitch, and one with adjusts the yaw. This was carried out until we reached a peak reading in signal strength, indicating the path was aligned.

Figure 3: Photographs of the large aperture scintillometer transmitter at site OSWE (top) and receiver at site GROP (bottom).

Our contribution to the IOP

Back in Reading, daily weather forecasts were carried out for the IOP, to determine when ground-based observations could be made. As the field campaign coincided with the central European heat wave, some of the highest temperatures were recorded during the IOP, and there was a need to forecast thunderstorm and the possibility of lightning strikes.

Ideal conditions for observations were clear skies and a consistent wind direction with height. A variety of different wind directions during the IOP was also preferable, to capture different transects of Berlin. For the selected days, group members in Berlin deployed multiple weather balloons simultaneously across multiple sites within the city and the outskirts. This was also timed with satellite overpasses. Observations of the mixing layer height (urban and suburban) were taken using a ceilometer mounted in a van, which drove along different transects of Berlin.

As the field campaign is wrapping up in Berlin, several instruments are now being moved to the new focus city: Paris. We are looking forward to this new period of interesting observations! Thank you and goodbye from us at the top of the GROP observation site!

References

urbisphere, 2021: Project Context and Objectives. http://urbisphere.eu/ (accessed 27/09/22)

Ward, H. C., J. G. Evans, and C. S. B. Grimmond, 2014: Multi-Scale Sensible Heat Fluxes in the Suburban Environment from Large-Aperture Scintillometry and Eddy Covariance. Boundary-Layer Meteorol., 152, 65–89.

Science Stand-up: Putting those Met Panto Skills to Good Use 

Max Coleman – m.r.coleman@pgr.reading.ac.uk  

A stage and red curtain

I’ve been keen to ‘do my bit’ for climate science communication for a while now. While I do like attending a good public lecture or seminar, I wanted to try something a bit different, particularly something I could bring my love of comedy into. So, when a science stand-up comedy event was pointed out to me (thanks to Tara Bryer of Climate Outreach!) I thought I’d give it a go. 

The event in question is ‘Science Showoff’, an event designed to communicate science via comedy. It’s held on the last Wednesday every month in London, currently held at The Harrison near Kings Cross station, and has been running for over 10 years. And it’s open to absolutely anyone to perform – no comedic credentials required. The only rules are it’s 9-minute sets, must be about something STEM related, and should (hopefully) be funny!  

I performed in the August event and decided to base my set broadly on my research field of modelling the effects of aerosols on climate. Basing the set on my research made it slightly easier as I knew the science content already and just needed to write the comedy – though one can definitely go for more adventurous topics. While to a non-scientist that might sound a bit dry, it’s actually not too difficult to come up with jokes about climate science – as anyone who’s helped write a Met Panto script will surely know.  

For example, framing it as an explanation of my hatred of something as innocuous as deodorant (which as it turns out, makes a decent low-effort physical demonstration of aerosols) seemed a good way to make content easier to understand and line up some more relatable jokes. Having a physical prop, even as simple as a deodorant can, also turned out to be an easy way to ‘wow’ the audience (they set a very low bar indeed for being impressed by my ‘live science’). There’s also a wealth of jokes from being a climate ‘modeller’ – you’ve just got to work it 😉 

On the day, while I was very nervous before the event and into the first minute or two of my set, after that it was great fun. The audience, of about 30 people, were incredibly friendly and the host, Steve, was very supportive. After all, while you’re there for comedy, there’s not much pressure as many of the acts (myself included) have never performed stand-up comedy before. The set mostly went to plan, though I did add a little improvisation in response to audience reactions when they liked a joke more than I’d expected, and when audience members were reluctant to participate – who’d have thought leading one of them into a joke at their expense would make the others so reluctant? It was also a lot of fun going from being an audience member worried about being picked on, to the one who gets to pick on people – the audience engagement was definitely the most enjoyable part.  

It was also huge fun just writing the set. I didn’t set myself loads of pressure, just occasionally thinking of jokes while walking or on the train and making a note of it, and then put it all together the weekend before and rehearsed the evening before. Again, if you’re ever helped write the Panto script or Sappo email, you’ll know how much fun this all can be (although I’m now regretting not getting pizza in while I wrote it).  

And as a bonus, I got to listen to the other five acts perform, sometimes riffing off my jokes too! We had everything from penguins in the Antarctic to the most embarrassing lab accidents you could imagine. The acts were by people from a range of scientific disciplines and backgrounds including PhD students, a lecturer, and a professional science communicator. 

I can’t say much more to describe the experience itself, but if you want an idea of what it’s like, you can check out some recorded previous sets (while there is some rather questionable footage of my own act, there is not a chance I’m sharing it here – I’m not that confident :P). Or of course, go attend the next Science Showoff or a similar science comedy event. 

What I would say though is if you also want to do climate science communication (or try a different format for it) and are a fan of comedy (looking at any and all Met Panto-ers especially here) then you should consider giving this a go! Yes, even if you’ve never done stand-up comedy before… I mean it can’t be more embarrassing than acting out a lecturer in Panto while they watch! 

Any questions about the experience or want to be persuaded to give it a try??? Feel free to comment or email me 🙂 

EGU 2022 

Charlie Suitters – c.c.suitters@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Isabel Smith – i.h.smith@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

Brian Lo – brian.lo@pgr.reading.ac.uk 

What is EGU22? 

With more events resuming as in-person, the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2022 (EGU22) was no exception. The European Geoscience Union General Assembly is one of the big annual conferences for Earth sciences. For some of us, EGU22 was our first in-person conference overseas, which made it both an exciting and eye-opening experience! This year, 12,332 abstracts were presented with the participation of 7,315 colleagues from 89 countries on-site in Vienna, accompanied by 7,002 virtual attendees from 116 countries. 

Venue of EGU22 – Vienna International Centre

With 791 sessions running throughout the week, working out our personal schedule was a challenge. Luckily, EGU had an online tool we used to add talks to a personal programme, without having to distribute printed programmes. Due to COVID restrictions, all presentations at EGU22 had the same format as short orals. These presentations were delivered and viewed both in-person and online in a hybrid format. Most talks were limited to 5 minutes, which meant it was not the easiest to summarise our work and also deliver effective science to the audience. 

Isabel Smith giving her 5-minute talk at the High-resolution weather and climate simulation session

What is a typical day like at EGU22? 

If you planned to attend an 8.30am session in the morning, then you would have had to take the U-Bahn to the conference centre, crossing your fingers there would be no breakdowns. Most sessions lasted for one and a half hours, consisting of between 15 and 20 presentations with some time for questions and discussion. There were coffee breaks between sessions, where we could recharge with a free flow of coffee and tea.  

A variety of short courses were also on offer, such as “Writing the IPCC AR6 Report: Behind the Scenes” or “Thermodynamics and energetics of the oceans, atmosphere and climate” co-convened by Remi Tailleux from our department. If you are likely to attend this conference in the future, sign up to the EGU newsletter, here you could see further details about the short courses and the EGU staff’s top sessions of the day.  

There was also a large exhibition hall featuring publishing companies and geoscience companies, some of which offered freebies like pens and notebooks. Outside the main exhibition halls, there were picnic benches, usually filled with conference attendees enjoying lunch or an afternoon beer after a full day of conferencing. 

What did we do other than the conference? 

Although there was an impressive showcase of presentations and networking at the 5-day long EGU, we also went sightseeing in and around Vienna. Some of us would take the opportunity of having an extended lunch break to take the U-Bahn to the centre of the city, or an afternoon off to explore a museum, or visit the Donauturm (Danube Tower) for an amazing if windy view of the city. 

We also enjoyed the dinners after long conference days, especially on the night when we filled ourselves with schnitzel larger than the size of our face and had late-night gelato after a few drinks. A few of us stayed over the weekend and visited the outskirts of the city, such as the Schönbrunn Palace and a free panoramic view of Vienna at the top of Leopoldsberg! 

Having met many familiar faces and networked with others in our field, EGU22 was a “Wunderbar” experience we would definitely recommend, especially in person! It is also a great excuse to practise your GCSE German. Just remember the phrase “Können wir die/der Rechnung/Kassenzettel haben, bitte?” if you want to claim back your meals and other expenses from the trip! 

Dinner gathering of past and present members of the University of Reading at EGU22

Met Office Climate Data Challenge 2022

Daniel Ayers – d.ayers@pgr.reading.ac.uk  

The Met Office Climate Data Challenge 2022 was a two day virtual hackathon-style event where participants hacked solutions to challenges set by Aon (Wikipedia: “a British-American multinational professional services firm that sells a range of financial risk-mitigation products, including insurance, pension administration, and health-insurance plans”) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Participants heralded from the Met Office and the universities of Reading, Bristol, Oxford, Exeter, Leeds and UCL. Here’s how I found the experience and what I got out of it. 

If your PhD experience is anything like mine, you feel pretty busy. In particular, there are multitudinous ways one can engage in not-directly-your-research activities, such as being part of the panto or other social groups, going to seminars, organising seminars, going to conferences, etc. Obviously these can all make a positive contribution to your experience – and seminars are often very useful – but my point is: it can sometimes feel like there are too few periods of uninterrupted time to focus deeply on actually doing your research. 

Fig. 1: There are many ways to be distracted from actually doing your research. 

So: was it worth investing two precious days into a hackathon? Definitely. The tl;dr is: I got to work with interesting people, I got an experience of working on a commercial style project (very short deadline for the entire process from raw data to delivered product), and I got an insight into the reinsurance industry. I’ll expand on these points in a bit. 

Before the main event, the four available challenges were sent out a few weeks in advance. There was a 2hr pre-event meeting the week beforehand. In this pre-meeting, the challenges were formally introduced by representatives from Aon and MoJ, and all the participants split into groups to a) discuss ideas for challenge solutions and b) form teams for the main event. It really would have helped to have done a little bit of individual brainstorming and useful-material reading before this meeting.  

As it happened, I didn’t prepare any further than reading through the challenges, but this was useful. I had time to think about what I thought I could bring to each challenge, and vaguely what might be involved in solutions to each challenge. I concluded that the most appropriate challenge for me was an Aon challenge about determining how much climate change was likely to impact insurance companies through changes to the things insurance companies insure (as opposed to, for example, the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events which might cause payouts to be required). In the pre-meeting, someone else presented an idea that lined up with what I wanted to do: model some change in earth and human systems and use this to create new exposure data sets (for exposure data set, read “list of things the insurance companies insure for, and how much a full payout will cost”). This was a lofty ambition, as I will explain. Regardless, I signed up to this team and I was all set for the main two-day event. 

Here are some examples of plots that helped us to understand the exposure data set. We were told, for example, that for some countries, a token lat-lon coordinate was used for all entries in that country. This resulted in some lat-lon coords being used with comparatively high frequency, despite the entries potentially describing large or distinct areas of land.  

The next two plots show the breakdown of the entries by country, and then by construction type. Each entry is for a particular set of buildings. When modelling the likely payout following an event (e.g. a large storm) it is useful to know how the buildings are made. 

One thing I want to mention, in case the reader is involved with creating a hackathon at any point, is the importance of challenge preparation. The key thing is that participants need to be able to hit the ground running in the event itself. Two things are key to this being possible.  

First, the challenge material should ideally provide a really good description of the problem space. In our case, we spent half of the first day in a meeting with the (very helpful) people from Aon, picking their brains about how the reinsurance industry worked, what they really cared about, what would count as an answer to this question, what was in the mysterious data set we had been given and how should the data be interpreted. Yes, this was a great opportunity to learn and have a discussion with someone I would ordinarily never meet, but my team could have spent more precious hackathon hours making a solution if the challenge material had done a better job of explaining what was going on.  

Second, any resources that are provided (in our case, a big exposure data set – see above), need to be ready to use. In our case, only one person in some other team had been sent the data set, it wasn’t available before the main event started, there was no metadata, and once I managed to get hold of it I had to spend 2-3 hours working out which encoding to use and how to deal with poorly-separated lines in the .csv file. So, to all you hackathon organisers out there: test the resources you provide, and check they can be used quickly and easily.  

By the end of the second day, we’d not really got our envisioned product working. I’d managed to get the data open at last, and done some data exploration plots, so at least we had a better idea of what we were playing with. My team mates had found some really useful data for population change, and for determining if a location in our data set was urban or rural. They had also set up a slack group so that we could collaborate and discuss the different aspects of the problem, and a GitHub repo so we could share our progress (we coded everything in Python, mainly using Jupyter notebooks). We’d also done a fair amount of talking with the experts from Aon, and amongst ourselves as a team, to work out what was viable. This was a key experience from the event: coming up with a minimal viable product. The lesson from this experience was: be ok with cutting a lot of big corners. This is particularly useful for me as a PhD student, where it can be tempting to think I have time to go really deep into optimising and learning about everything required. My hackathon experience showed how much can be achieved even when the time frame forces most corners to be cut. 

To give an example of cutting corners, think about how many processes in the human-earth system might have an effect over the next 30 years on what things there are to insure, where they are, and how much they cost. Population increase, urbanisation and ruralisation, displacement from areas of rising water levels or increased flooding risk, construction materials being more expensive in order to be more environmentally friendly, immigration, etc. Now, how many of these could we account for in a simplistic model that we wanted to build in two days? Answer: not many! Given we spent the first day understanding the problem and the data, we only really had one day, or 09:45 – 15:30, so 5 hours and 45 minutes, to build our solution. We attempted to account for differences in population growth by country, by shared socio-economic pathway, and by a parameterised rural-urban movement. As I said, we didn’t get the code working by the deadline, and ended up presenting our vision, rather than a demonstration of our finished solution. 

There might be an opportunity to do more work on this project. A few of the projects from previous years’ hackathons have resulted in publications, and we are meeting shortly to see whether there is the appetite to do the same with what we’ve done. It would certainly be nice to create a more polished piece of work. That said, preserving space for my own research is also important! 

As a final word on the hackathon: it was great fun, and I really enjoyed working with my team.  PhD work can be a little isolated at times, so the opportunity to work with others was enjoyable and motivating. Hopefully, next time it will be in person. I would recommend others to get involved in future Met Office Climate Data Challenges!