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Predicting the hazards of weather and climate; the partnering of Bristol and the Met Office

Image credit Federico Respini on Unsplash

When people think of the University of Bristol University, or indeed any university, they sometimes think of academics sitting in their ivy towers, researching into obscurities that are three stages removed from reality, and never applicable to the world they live in. Conversely, the perception of the Met Office is often one of purely applied science, forecasting the weather; hours, days, and weeks ahead of time. The reality is far from this, and today, on the rather apt Earth Day 2020, I am delighted to announce a clear example of the multidisciplinary nature of both institutes with our newly formed academic partnership.

This new and exciting partnership brings together the Met Office’s gold standard weather forecasts and climate projections, with Bristol’s world leading impact and hazard models. Our partnership goal is to expand on the advice we already give decision makers around the globe, allowing them to make evidence-based decisions on weather-related impacts, across a range of timescales.

By combining the weather and climate data from the Met Office with our hazard and impact models at Bristol, we could, for instance, model the flooding impact from a storm forecasted a week ahead, or estimate the potential health burden from heat waves in a decade’s time. This kind of advanced knowledge is crucial for decision makers in many sectors. For instance, if we were able to forecast which villages might be flooded from an incoming storm, we could prioritise emergency relief and flood defenses in that area days ahead of time. Or, if we projected that hospital admissions would increase by 10% due to more major heatwaves in London in the 2030s, then decision makers could include the need for more resilient housing and infrastructure in their planning. Infrastructure often lasts decades, so these sorts of decisions can have a long memory, and we want our decision makers to be proactive, rather than reactive in these cases.

While the examples I give are UK focussed, both the University of Bristol and the Met Office are internationally facing and work with stakeholders all over the world. Only last year, while holding a workshop in the Caribbean on island resilience to tropical cyclones; seeing the importance of our work the prime minister of Jamaica invited us to his residence for a celebration. While I don’t see this happening with Boris Johnson anytime soon, it goes to show the different behaviours and levels of engagement policy makers have in different countries. It’s all very well being able to do science around the world, but if you don’t get the culture, they won’t get your science. It is this local knowledge and connection that is essential for an international facing partnership to work, and that is where both Bristol and the Met Office can pool their experience.

To ensure we get the most out of this partnership we will launch a number of new joint Bristol-Met Office academic positions, ranging from doctoral studentships all the way to full professorships. These positions will work with our Research Advisory Group (RAP), made up of academics across the university, and be associated with both institutes. The new positions will sit in this cross-disciplinary space between theory and application; taking a combined approach to addressing some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.

As the newly appointed Met Office Joint Chair I will be leading this partnership at Bristol over the coming years, and I welcome discussions and ideas from academics across the university; some of the best collaborations I’ve had have come from a random knock on the door, so don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

This blog is written by Dr Dann Mitchell - Met Office Joint Chair and co-lead of the Cabot Institute for the Environment's Natural Hazards and Disaster Risk research.
You can follow him on Twitter @ClimateDann.
Dann Mitchell

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