Describe your research using the ten-hundred most common words…

Online comic “xkcd” set a trend for explaining complicated things using only the 1000 most common words when they created this schematic of Saturn-V.  They have subsequently published more on how microwaves, plate tectonics and your computer work, using the same style.

tornado safety
Useful safety advice from xkcd

So we thought we’d jump on the bandwagon in a recent PhD group meeting, and have a go at explaining our research topics using the ten-hundred most common words. You can have a go yourselves, and tweet us with it @SocialMetwork on Twitter. Enjoy!

The Role of the Asian Summer Monsoon in European Summer Climate Variability – Jonathan Beverley

I look at how heavy rain in in-dear in summer makes rain, sun, wind and other things happen in your-up. This happens by big waves high up in the sky moving around the world. We might be able to use this to make a long know-before better and to help people live longer and not lose money.

Contribution of near-infrared bands of greenhouse gases to radiative forcing – Rachael Byrom

I study how the sun’s light warms the sky. This happens when these really tiny things in the air that we can’t see eat the sun’s light which then makes the sky warmer. I use computers to look into how this happens, especially how exactly the really tiny things eat the sun’s light and how this leads to warming. By this I mean, if I add lots of the tiny things to a pretend computer sky, all over the world, then will the sky also warm over all of the world too and by how much will it warm? This might be interesting for people who lead the world so that they can see how much of the really tiny things we should be allowed to put into the sky.

Wind profile effects on gravity wave drag and their impact on the global atmospheric circulation – Holly Turner

I look at waves in the air over high places and how they slow down the wind. When the wind gets faster the higher up you go, it changes how it slows down. I want to use this to make computer wind pictures better.

The pulsatory nature of Bagana volcano, Papua New Guinea – Rebecca Couchman-Crook

To be a doctor, I look at a fire-breathing ground thing with smoke and rocks on a hot place surrounded by water. I look at space pictures to understand the relationships between the air that smells and fire-rock bits in the air, and other stuff. It’s a very angry fire-breathing ground thing and might kill the near-by humans

Surface fluxes, temperatures and boundary layer evolutions in the building grey zone in London – Beth Saunders

I work on numbers which come out of the Met Office’s computer world. These numbers are different to what is seen and felt in real life for cities. True numbers, seen in real life, help to say how hot cities are, and how different the hot city is to areas that aren’t cities, with trees and fields, because of the city’s people, cars and houses. Numbers saying how fast the wind goes, and the wind’s direction, change in cities because of all the areas with tall houses. Finding times where the computer world numbers are bad for cities will help to make the Met Office’s computer give numbers more like the true numbers.

Cloud electrification and lightning in the evolution of convective storms – Ben Courtier

To be a doctor, I look at sudden light shocks from angry water air that happens with noise in the sky and how the angry water air changes before the light shock happens. I do this in order to better guess when the sudden light shock happens.


Inspirational Female Scientists #women1918

100 years ago today the UK parliament reformed the electoral system in Great Britain by permitting women over the age of 30 to vote. Unfortunately, there were terms to the act that meant women either had to be a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency. However, crucial and progressive steps had been taken for women’s rights, and it is the same for today as it was 100 years ago, that more is needed to be done to ensure global gender equality.

At Social Metwork HQ, we have taken our time to reflect and be encouraged by inspirational female scientists. Different students across the department have written short paragraphs on female scientists that have inspired them to where they are today. If you have any other suggestions for inspirational scientists, please feel free to leave us a comment.

Amelie Emmy Noether – Kaja Milczewska

emmy-noether-2A true revolutionary in the field of theoretical physics and abstract algebra, Amelie Emmy Noether was a German-born inspiration thanks to her perseverance and passion for research. Instead of teaching French and English to schoolgirls, Emmy pursued the study of mathematics at the University of Erlangen. She then taught under a man’s name and without pay because she was a women.  During her exploration of the mathematics behind Einstein’s general relativity alongside renowned scientists like Hilbert and Klein, she discovered the fundamentals of conserved quantities such as energy and momentum under symmetric invariance of their respective quantities: time and homogeneity of space. She built the bridge between conservation and symmetry in nature, and although Noether’s Theorem is fundamental to our understanding of nature’s conservation laws, Emmy has received undeservedly small recognition throughout the last century.

Claudine Hermann – Helene Bresson

Claudine-HermannClaudine Hermann is a French physicist and Emeritus Professor at the École Polytechnique in Paris. Her work, on physics of solids (mainly on photo-emission of polarized electrons and near-field optics), led to her becoming the first female professor at this prestigious school. Aside from her work in Physics, Claudine studied and wrote about female scientists’ situation in Europe and the influence of both parents’ works on their daughter’s professional choices. Claudine wishes to give girls “other examples than the unreachable Marie Curie”. She is the founder of the Women and Sciences association and represented it at the European Commission to promote gender equality in Science and to help women accessing scientific knowledge. Claudine is also the president of the European Platform of Women Scientists which represents hundreds of associations and more than 12,000 female scientists.

Katherine Johnson – Sally Woodhouse

26646856911_ca242812ee_o_1For most people being handpicked to be one of three students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools would probably be the most notable life achievements. However for Katherine Johnson’s this was just the start of a remarkable list of accomplishments. In 1952 Johnson joined the all-black West Area Computing section at NACA (to become NASA in 1958). Acting as a computer, Johnson analysed flight test data, provided maths for engineering lectures and worked on the trajectory for America’s first human space flight.

She became the first woman to receive an author credit on a Flight Research Division report in 1960 and went on to author or co-author 26 research reports. Johnson is perhaps best known (in part due to the excellent feel good film Hidden Figures) for her work on the flight trajectory for John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission.


She was required to check the calculations of NASA’s IBM computer and Glenn is reported to have asked for her to personally check the coordinates.


Katherine was also involved in calculations for the Apollo missions trajectories, including Apollo 11. In 2015 she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.

Marie Tharp – Caroline Dunning

World War II was an important period in terms of scientific advance. In addition, it enabled more women to be trained in professions such as geology, at a time when very few women were in earth sciences. One such woman was Marie Tharp. Following the advancement of sonar technology during WWII, in the early 1950s, ships travelled across the Atlantic Ocean recording ocean depth. maria-tharp-oceanWomen however were not allowed on such ships, thus Marie Tharp was stationed in the lab, checking and plotting the data. Her drawings showed the presence of the North Atlantic Ridge, with a deep V-shaped notch that ran the length of the mountain range, indicating the presence of a rift valley, where magma emerges to form new crust. At this time the theory of plate tectonics was seen as ridiculous. Her supervisor initially dismissed her results as ‘girl talk’ and forced her to redo them. The same results were found. Her work led to the acceptance of the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.

Ada Lovelace – Dominic Jones

ada-lovelace-20825279-1-402Ada Lovelace was a 19th century Mathematician popularly referred to as the “first computer programmer”. She was the translator of “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator”, (said “notes” tripling the length of the document and comprising its most striking insights) one of the documents critical to the development of modern computer programming. She was one of the few people to understand and even fewer who were able to develop for the machine. That she had such incredible insight into a machine which didn’t even exist yet, but which would go on to become so ubiquitous is amazing!

Drs. Jenni Evans, Sukyoung Lee, and Yvette Richardson – Michael Johnston

Leading Scientists at Penn State University, Drs. Jenni Evans, Sukyoung Lee, and Yvette Richardson serve as role models for students in STEM subjects. The three professors are active in linking their research interests to not only education but also science communication, and government policy. Between them, they highlight some of the many avenues a career in STEM can lead to. Whether its authoring a widely used textbook, leading advisory panels, or challenging students throughout their time in higher education – these leaders never cease to be an inspiration.


RMetS Impact of Science Conference 2017.

Email –

“We aim to help people make better decisions than they would if we weren’t here”

Rob Varley CEO of Met Office

This week PhD students from the University of Reading attended the Royal Meteorological Society Impact of Science Conference for Students and Early Career Scientists. Approximately eighty scientists from across the UK and beyond gathered at the UK Met Office to learn new science, share their own work, and develop new communication skills.


Across the two days students presented their work in either a poster or oral format. Jonathan Beverley, Lewis Blunn and I presented posters on our work, whilst Kaja Milczewska, Adam Bateson, Bethan Harris, Armenia Franco-Diaz and Sally Woodhouse gave oral presentations. Honourable mentions for their presentations were given to Bethan Harris and Sally Woodhouse who presented work on the energetics of atmospheric water vapour diffusion and the representation of mass transport over the Arctic in climate models (respectively). Both were invited to write an article for RMetS Weather Magazine (watch this space). Congratulations also to Jonathan Beverley for winning the conference’s photo competition!

Jonathan Beverley’s Winning Photo.

Alongside student presentations, two keynote speaker sessions took place, with the latter of these sessions titled Science Communication: Lessons from the past, learning for future impact. Speakers in this session included Prof. Ellie Highwood (Professor of Climate Physics and Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at University of Reading), Chris Huhne (Co-chair of ET-index and former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Leo Hickman (editor for Carbon Brief) and Dr Amanda Maycock (NERC Independent Research Fellow and Associate Professor in Climate Dynamics, University of Leeds). Having a diverse range of speakers encouraged thought-provoking discussion and raised issues in science communication from many angles.

Prof. Ellie Highwood opened the session challenging us all to step beyond the typical methods of scientific communication. Try presenting your science without plots. Try presenting your work with no slides at all! You could step beyond the boundaries even more by creating interesting props (for example, the notorious climate change blanket). Next up Chris Huhne and Leo Hickman gave an overview of the political and media interactions with climate change science (respectively). The Brexit referendum, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord and the rise of the phrase “fake news” are some of the issues in a society “where trust in the experts is falling”. Finally, Dr Amanda Maycock presented a broad overview of influential science communicators from the past few centuries. Is science relying too heavily on celebrities for successful communication? Should the research community put more effort into scientific outreach?

Communication and collaboration became the two overarching themes of the conference, and conferences such as this one are a valuable way to develop these skills. Thank you to the Royal Meteorology Society and UK Met Office for hosting the conference and good luck to all the young scientists that we met over the two days.


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Also thank you to NCAS for funding my conference registration and to all those who provided photos for this post.

Mountains and the Atmospheric Circulation within Models


Mountains come in many shapes and sizes and as a result their dynamic impact on the atmospheric circulation spans a continuous range of physical and temporal scales. For example, large-scale orographic features, such as the Himalayas and the Rockies, deflect the atmospheric flow and, as a result of the Earth’s rotation, generate waves downstream that can remain fixed in space for long periods of time. These are known as stationary waves (see Nigam and DeWeaver (2002) for overview). They have an impact not only on the regional hydro-climate but also on the location and strength of the mid-latitude westerlies. On smaller physical scales, orography can generate gravity waves that act to transport momentum from the surface to the upper parts of the atmosphere (see Teixeira 2014), playing a role in the mixing of chemical species within the stratosphere.

Figure 1: The model resolved orography at different horizontal resolutions. From a low (climate model) resolution to a high (seasonal forecasting) resolution. Note how smooth the orography is at climate model resolution.

Figure 1 shows an example of the resolved orography at different horizontal resolutions over the Himalayas. The representation of orography within models is complicated by the fact that, unlike other parameterized processes, such as clouds and convection, that are typically totally unresolved by the model, its effects are partly resolved by the dynamics of the model and the rest is accounted for by parameterization schemes.However, many parameters within these schemes are not well constrained by observations, if at all. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Working Group on Numerical Experimentation (WGNE) performed an inter-model comparison focusing on the treatment of unresolved drag processes within models (Zadra et al. 2013). They found that while modelling groups generally had the same total amount of drag from various different processes, their partitioning was vastly different, as a result of the uncertainty in their formulation.

Climate models with typically low horizontal resolutions, resolve less of the Earth’s orography and are therefore more dependent on parameterization schemes. They also have large model biases in their climatological circulations when compared with observations, as well as exhibiting a similarly large spread about these biases. What is more, their projected circulation response to climate change is highly uncertain. It is therefore worth investigating the processes that contribute towards the spread in their climatological circulations and circulation response to climate change. The representation of orographic processes seem vital for the accurate simulation of the atmospheric circulation and yet, as discussed above, we find that there is a lot of uncertainty in their treatment within models that may be contributing to model uncertainty. These uncertainties in the orographic treatment come from two main sources:

  1. Model Resolution: Models with different horizontal resolutions will have different resolved orography.
  2. Parameterization Formulation: Orographic drag parameterization formulation varies between models.

The issue of model resolution was investigated in our recent study, van Niekerk et al. (2016). We showed that, in the Met Office Unified Model (MetUM) at climate model resolutions, the decrease in parameterized orographic drag that occurs with increasing horizontal resolution was not balanced by an increase in resolved orographic drag. The inability of the model to maintain an equivalent total (resolved plus parameterized) orographic drag across resolutions resulted in an increase in systematic model biases at lower resolutions identifiable over short timescales. This shows not only that the modelled circulation is non-robust to changes in resolution but also that the parameterization scheme is not performing in the same way as the resolved orography. We have highlighted the impact of parameterized and resolved orographic drag on model fidelity and demonstrated that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the way we treat unresolved orography within models. This further motivates the need to constrain the theory and parameters within orographic drag parameterization schemes.


Nigam, S., and E. DeWeaver, 2002: Stationary Waves (Orographic and Thermally Forced). Academic Press, Elsevier Science, London, 2121–2137 pp., doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-382225-3. 00381-9.

Teixeira MAC, 2014: The physics of orographic gravity wave drag. Front. Phys. 2:43. doi:10.3389/fphy.2014.00043

Zadra, A., and Coauthors, 2013: WGNE Drag Project. URL:

van Niekerk, A., T. G. Shepherd, S. B. Vosper, and S. Webster, 2016: Sensitivity of resolved and parametrized surface drag to changes in resolution and parametrization. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc., 142 (699), 2300–2313, doi:10.1002/qj.2821. 


Understanding the urban environment and its effect on indoor air.


Recent estimates by the United Nations (2009) state that 50 to 70 % of the world’s population now live in urban areas with over 70 % of our time being spent indoors, whether that’s at work, at home or commuting.

We’ve all experienced a poor indoor environment, whether it’s the stuffy office that makes you sleepy, or the air conditioning unit that causes the one person under it to freeze. Poor environments make you unproductive and research is beginning to suggest that they can make you ill. The thing is, the microclimate around one person is complex enough, but then you have to consider the air flow of the room, the ventilation of the building and the effect of the urban environment on the building.

So what tends to happen is that buildings and urban areas are simplified down into basic shapes with all the fine details neglected and this is either modelled at a smaller scale in a wind tunnel or by using CFD (computer fluid dynamics). However, how do we know whether these models are representative of the real-world?


This is Straw city, which was built in Silsoe U.K during 2014. You can just see the car behind the array (purple circle), these cubes of straw are 6 m tall, or roughly the height of an average house. Straw city is the stepping stone between the scale models and the real world, and was an urban experiment in a rural environment. We measured inside the array, outside of the array and within the blue building so we could see the link between internal and external flow: which meant the use of drones and smoke machines! The focus of the experiment was on the link between ventilation and the external conditions.

Smoke releases, drone flying, thermal imaging and tracer gas release: some of the more fun aspects of the fieldwork

After 6 months of data collection, we took the straw cubes away and just monitored the blue cube on its own and the effect of the array can clearly be seen in this plot, where pink is the array, and blue is the isolated cube. So this is showing the pressure coefficient (Cp),  and can be thought of as a way of comparing one building to another in completely different conditions. You can see that the wind direction has an effect and that the array reduces the pressure felt by the cube by 60-90 %. Pressure is linked to the natural ventilation of a building: less pressure means less flow through the opening.


Alongside the big straw city, we also went to the Enflo lab at the University of Surrey to run some wind tunnel experiments of our own, which allowed us to expand the array.

Photos of the wind tunnel arrays. Left is the biggest array modelled, centre is the Silsoe array, top right is the wind tunnel and roughness elements. Bottom right is the model of the storage shed at the full-scale site and centre is the logging system used.

So we have a data set that encompasses all wind directions and speeds, all atmospheric stabilities, different temperature differences and different weather conditions. It’s a big data set and will take a while to work through, especially with comparisons to the wind tunnel model and CFD model created by the University of Leeds. We will also compare the results to the existing guidelines out there and to other similar data sets.

I could ramble on for hours about the work, having spent far too long in a muddy field in all weathers but for more information please email me or come along to my departmental seminar on the 8th November.

This PhD project is jointly funded by the University of Reading and the EPSRC and is part of the Refresh project:

Macmillan coffee morning


If there are two things that keep the Met department running it’s cake and coffee. This year the department got involved in the Macmillan coffee morning on the 30th September and raised a whopping £282 within three hours.

There was a bake off, a general cake sale and a guess the number of spots on a cake game, which got very scientific! The bake off had four categories, each with a prize: Savoury, bake your research, green theme and free-from, ensuring that there was something for everybody. As always the competition was good-natured but fierce and the judges (2 members of staff, 1 post-doc and 1 PhD student) had a sugar crash at around 3pm.

Here are some of the creations from the event:

First up (left) a chocolate cake carved into the shape of Africa, complete with wildlife, sprinkles and clouds. The judges didn’t want to cut this one, choosing to eat Madagascar first!

The next bake (top middle) went on to win the Best in Bake-off award, vanishing within minutes of being put on the sale table! Each slice was a decadent mixture of chocolate and lime.

The marvellous creations in the bottom middle image were free from everything except nuts. Using vegan marshmallows and chocolate alongside gluten free biscuits created a wickedly dark rocky road with plenty of crunch and just the right amount of marshmallows.

These gluten free wind turbines (right) were entered into all four categories of the bake off. Making gluten free pastry is no mean feat and unless told, no-one was aware that these moreish snacks were gluten free!

Finally, a shot of the table before it got too full of goodies! There are the edges of vegan pretzels (front left), a shop brought Victoria sponge (front middle), a supreme chocolate cake with Malteaser decorations (right) and a hazelnut and pear chocolate brownie which really captured the autumnal flavours and was the first to be completely sold!


Fortunately the department has its own running group to help counteract some of the cake eating.

That’s it from me for now, hopefully they’ll be more foodie posts soon!