Between 6th-10th January 2019 I was fortunate enough to attend the 99th American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting in their centennial year. It was hosted in the Phoenix, Arizona Convention Center – its vast size was a necessity, seeing as there were 2300 oral presentations and 1100 poster presentations given in 460 sessions! The conferences and symposia covered a wide range of topics such as space weather, hydrology, atmospheric chemistry, climate, meteorological observations and instrumentation, tropical cyclones, monsoons and mesoscale meteorology.
The theme of this year’s meeting was “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive”. The cost of extreme events has been shown by reinsurance companies to have increased monotonically, with estimated costs for 2017 of $306 billion and 350 lives in the US. Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Science (NAS), gave a town hall talk on the continued importance of evidence-based science in society (view recording). She says that NAS must become more agile at giving advice since the timescales of, for example, hurricanes and poor air quality episodes are very short, but the problems are very complex. There is reason for optimism though, as the new director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is Kelvin Droegemeier, a meteorologist who formerly served as Vice President for Research at the University of Oklahoma.
“Building Resilience to Extreme Events” took on another meaning with the federal shutdown and proved to be the main talking point of this year’s annual meeting. Over 500 people from federally funded organisations such as NOAA could not attend. David Goldston, director of the MIT Washington Office, gave a talk at the presidential forum entitled “Building Resilience to Extreme Political Weather: Advice for Unpredictable Times” (view recording). He made the analogy of both current US political attitude towards climate change and the federal shutdown as being ‘weather’, and thought that politics would return to long-term ‘climate’. He advised scientists to present their facts in a way understandable to public and government, prepare policy proposals, and be clear on why they are not biased. He reassured scientists by saying they have outstanding public support with 76% of the public thinking scientists act in their best interest. During the talk questions were sourced from the audience and could be voted on. The frustration of US scientists with the government was evidently large.
Questions put forward by the audience and associated votes during Goldston’s talk.
A growing area of research is artificial and computational intelligence which had its own dedicated conference. As an early career researcher in urban and boundary layer meteorology I was interested to see a talk on “Surface Layer Flux Machine Learning Parametrisations”. By obtaining training data from observational towers it may be possible to improve upon Monin-Obukhov similarity theory in heterogeneous conditions. At the atmospheric chemistry and aerosol keynote talk by Zhanqing Li I learnt that anthropogenic emissions of aerosol can cause a feedback leading to elevated concentration of pollutants. Aerosol reduces solar radiation reaching the surface leading to less turbulence and therefore lower boundary layer height. It also causes warming at the top of the boundary layer creating a stronger capping inversion which inhibits ventilation. Anthropogenic aerosols are not just important for air quality. They affect global warming via their influence on the radiation budget and can lead to more extreme weather through enhancing deep convection.
I particularly enjoyed the poster sessions since they enabled networking with many scientists working in my area. On the first day I bumped into several Reading meteorology undergraduates on their year long exchange at the University of Oklahoma. Like me, I think they were amazed by the scale of the conference and the number of opportunities available as a meteorologist. The exhibition had over 100 organisations showcasing a wide range of products, publications and services. Anemoment (producers of lightweight, compact 3D ultrasonic anemometers) and the University of Oklahoma had stalls showing how instruments attached to drones can be used to profile the boundary layer. This has numerous possible applications such as air quality monitoring and analysing boundary layer dynamics.
Overall, I found the conference very motivating since it reinforced the sense that I have a fantastic opportunity to contribute to an exciting and important area of science. Next year’s annual meeting is the hundredth and will be held in Boston.