Apr 12, 2011
Meteorologists should explain, not just predict
Meteorologists should not only predict the weather on a daily basis but should also give regular updates about the reasons behind the weather conditions, including humankind's effect on the weather, says Myles Allen of Oxford University.
“We now have the tools available to quantify the role of external drivers on any weather event,” Allen told environmentalresearchweb. “We recently quantified the effect of human-induced climate change on the risk of the floods that affected England and Wales in 2000. There is no reason why the Met Office now cannot apply the same approach to give us an annual update about the reasons behind our weather patterns.”
Allen believes that this practice will help the public to understand better their impact on climate change and how climate change is affecting them on a daily basis. “The idea of climate change has been made far too abstract,” said Allen. “Most people think of it in terms of a long-term, doomsday scenario and do not consider the more prosaic aspects, such as how it can affect house prices or insurance premiums.”
He cites the example of daily ozone-level updates that are given to the public in New Zealand. These not only highlight the effects of ozone depletion on the inhabitant’s daily lives, but also remind people of the direct and immediate impact they have on the climate system. “Only with regular updates like this will people finally realize that climate change is not something that will only affect their great-grandchildren, but it is something that is happening right now,” said Allen.
Allen believes that distributed computing is an ideal technique for performing the massive calculations that will be needed to answer questions about why certain climate changes or weather events are happening. When estimating the contribution of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to the flood risk in England and Wales in 2000, Allen and his colleagues used publicly volunteered distributive computing power to perform the calculations. “I was really pleased when, after publishing our paper, no one really commented on the fact that it was members of the public who did the modelling for us,” said Allen. “What was regarded as a crazy idea 10 years ago and exciting five years ago is now considered normal.”
While he admits that setting up a distributed computing project is challenging, he is keen to see more research groups using this approach. “Rather than using supercomputers to run all of our experiments, it is often a much more cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money to use distributed computing, freeing up supercomputers for the experiments that need them” says Allen. “Developing a model that will run on a PC is the biggest hurdle, but now groups like ours have achieved this, that hurdle has been reduced considerably.”
About the author
Nadya Anscombe is a freelance science journalist based in Bristol, UK.