Peer review: what lies behind the curtains?


Twitter: @a_w_bateson

For young researchers, one of the most daunting prospects is the publication of their first paper.  A piece of work that somebody has spent months or even years preparing must be submitted for the process of peer review. Unseen gatekeepers cast their judgement and work is returned either accepted, rejected or with required revisions. I attended the Sense about Science workshop entitled ‘Peer review: the nuts and bolts’, targeted at early career researchers (ECRs), with the intention of looking behind these closed doors. How are reviewers selected? Who can become a reviewer? Who makes the final decisions? This workshop provided an opportunity to interact directly with both journal editors and academics involved in the peer review process to obtain answers to such questions.

This workshop was primarily structured around a panel discussion consisting of Dr Amarachukwu Anyogu, a lecturer in microbiology at the University of Westminster; Dr Bahar Mehmani, a reviewer experience lead at Elsevier; Dr Sabina Alam, an editorial director at F1000Research; and Emily Jesper-Mir, the head of partnerships and governance at Sense about Science. In addition, there were also small group discussions amongst fellow attendees regarding advantages and disadvantages of peer review, potential alternatives, and the importance of science communication.

The panel of (L-R) Dr Sabina Alam, Dr Amarachukwu Anyogu, Dr Bahar Mehmani and Emily Jesper-Mir provided a unique insight into the peer review process from the perspective of both editor and reviewer. Photograph credited to Sense about Science.

Recent headlines have highlighted fraud cases where impersonation and deceit have been used to manipulate the peer review process. Furthermore, fears regarding bias and sexism remain high amongst the academic community. It was hence encouraging to see such strong awareness from both participants and panellists regarding the flaws of the peer review. Post-publication review, open (named) reviews, and the submission of methods prior to the experiment are all ways either in use currently or proposed to increase the accountability and transparency of peer review. Each method brings its own problems however; for example, naming reviewers risks the potential for less critical responses, particularly from younger researchers not wanting to alienate more experienced academics with influence over their future career progression.

One key focus of the workshop was to encourage ECRs to become involved in the peer review process. In the first instance this seems counterintuitive; surely the experience of academics further into their career is crucial to provide high quality reviews? However, ECRs do have the knowledge necessary. We work day to day with the same techniques, using the same analysis as the papers we would then review. In addition, a larger body of reviewers reduces the individual workload and will improve the efficiency of the process, particularly as ECRs do not necessarily have the same time pressures. Increased participation ensures diversity of opinion and ensures particular individuals do not become too influential in what ideas are considered relevant or acceptable. There also exist personal benefits to becoming a reviewer, including an improved ability to critically assess research. Dr Anyogu for example found that reviewing the works of others helped her gain a better perspective of criticism received on her own work.

Participants were encouraged to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of peer review and potential changes that could be made to address current weaknesses in the process. Photograph credited to Sense about Science.

One key message that I took away from the workshop is that peer review isn’t mechanical. Humans are at the heart of decisions. Dr Alam was particularly keen to stress that editors will listen to grievances and reconsider decisions if strong arguments are put forward. However, it also then follows that peer review is only as effective as those who participate in the process.  If the quality of reviewers is poor, then the quality of the review process will be poor. Hence it can be argued that we as members of the academic community have an obligation to maintain high standards, not least so that the public can be reassured the information we provide has been through a thorough quality control process. In a time when phrases such as ‘fake news’ are proliferating, it is crucial more than ever to maintain public trust in the scientific process.

I would like to thank all the panellists for giving up their time to contribute to this workshop; the organisations* who provided sponsorship and sent representatives; Informa for hosting the event; and Sense about Science for organising this unique opportunity to learn more about peer review.

*Cambridge University Press, Peer Review Evaluation, Hindawi, F1000Research, Medical Research Council, Portland Press, Sage Publishing, Publons, Elsevier, Publons Academy, Taylor and Francis Group, Wiley. 

A PhD Student’s Guide to EGU 2017



Science is a community effort, requiring collaboration and lots of different people providing different parts of the jigsaw to try to understand more and more of the full picture. Despite a lot of research being carried out individually in a lab, or at a desk, no one individual can do everything themselves, no matter how much of a genius they are. Sharing, discussing and debating are key to the progression of scientific ideas, and this ethos is something large scientific conferences like EGU cultivates.

Attending EGU for the first time as a PhD student was both an exciting and overwhelming experience due to its shear size and number of people. This year 14,496 people from 107 countries participated, giving 4,849 talks, 11,312 posters and 1,238 PICO presentations throughout the week!  

With 649 scientific sessions running throughout the week, deciding how to spend your day was a significant challenge in itself! The EGU website and app allowed you to create a personal programme, cutting down the number of entire printed programmes being printed, aiming to try to make EGU slightly more environmentally friendly.

Vienna international conference centre, image courtesy of Matt Priestley.

A ‘typical’ day at EGU consisted of something like… 

7-8am: Wake up, shower and breakfast and then hop on the U-bahn to the conference centre. Pick up a EGU Today newsletter on the way into the centre, highlighting a few sessions happening that day that may be of general interest

8.30-10am: Division session of your choice consisting of six 15min talks. People also pick out specific talks in different sessions and hop between, especially if their work is more interdisciplinary and covers a few different sessions.

10-10.30am: Recharge with a much needed coffee break!

10.30am-12pm: Go to a debate on ‘Make Facts Great Again: how can scientists stand up for science?‘ There were a number of other topical debates throughout the week, including ‘Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats‘ and ‘Great Debate on Great Extinctions‘. This consisted of a short introduction from members of a panel, then questions from the floor.

12-1.30pm: Pick up something for lunch from one of the nearby bakeries or cafes around the conference centre, and sit in the nearby park and enjoy the sunshine (hopefully).

1.30-3pm: Explore the many information stands in the exhibition areas. These included publishing houses, geoscience companies, NGOs etc. Next go and vote in the EGU photograph competition:, before stopping to listen to some PICO (Presenting Interactive COntent) presentations. These are very interactive sessions where speakers give a 2min overview of their work, after which people have the opportunity to go and question speakers further afterwards by a poster/couple of slides.

3-3.30pm: Tea/coffee break with cookies in the Early Career Scientists lounge.

3.30-5pm: Polar Science Career Session aimed at Early Career Scientists (there were also sessions for other divisions), consisting of an informal Q&A with a panel covering a variety of different career paths.

5-7pm: Poster sessions in the big halls with beer/juice and nibbles. These were a great opportunity for in depth discussion, and meeting other people in your field.

7-8.30pm: Early career scientist (ECS) reception with drinks and canapes, meet other ECS from all fields and chat with division leaders. This year 53% of EGU participants were ECSs, and there was a definite effort to cater for them throughout the week.

8.30-?: Dinner and drinks in Vienna town centre with peers, followed by an early night if you plan to make it to a 8.30am session tomorrow…

EGU 2017 photo competition entries, image taken from the GeoLog blog, more information about the entries and results can be found at:

In addition to events highlighted, there were also a variety short courses running, for example ‘Tips and Tricks: How to Navigate EGU‘, ‘How to write a research grant‘ or ‘Rhyme your Research‘! EGU had its own official blog GeoLog, highlighting some of the events from each day:

However, EGU is 5 days long, and despite the impressive offering of sessions being put on it would be a shame to go to Vienna and only see the conference centre… The odd extended lunch break to take the U-bahn (included as part of the entrance to the conference) to walk around the centre, or an afternoon off to explore a gallery or museum, or simply sit in one of the beautiful parks or cafes to enjoy some coffee and Sachertorte is definitely a must to recharge and finish off the week!

Can we really use El Niño to predict flooding?

R. Emerton, H. Cloke, E. Stephens, E. Zsoter, S. Woolnough, F. Pappenberger (2017). Complex picture for likelihood of ENSO-driven flood hazard. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS14796


When an El Niño is declared, or even forecast, we think back to memorable past El Niños (such as 1997/98), and begin to ask whether we will see the same impacts. Will California receive a lot of rainfall? Will we see droughts in tropical Asia and Australia? Will Peru experience the same devastating floods as in 1997/98, and 1982/83?


El Niño and La Niña, which see changes in the ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, are well known to affect weather, and indeed river flow and flooding, around the globe. But how well can we estimate the potential impacts of El Niño and La Niña, and how likely flooding is to occur?

This question is what some of us in the Water@Reading research group at the University of Reading have been looking to answer in our recent publication in Nature Communications. As part of our multi- and inter-disciplinary research, we work closely with the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC), who are working on an initiative called Forecast-based Financing (FbF, Coughlan de Perez et al.). FbF aims to distribute aid (for example providing water purification tablets to prevent spread of disease, or digging trenches to divert flood water) ahead of a flood, based on forecasts. This approach helps to reduce the impact of the flood in the first place, rather than working to undo the damage once the flood has already occurred.

Photo credit: Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre

In Peru, previous strong El Niños in 1982/83 and 1997/98 had resulted in devastating floods in several regions. As such, when forecasts in early 2015 began to indicate a very strong El Niño was developing, the RCCC and forecasters at the Peruvian national hydrological and meteorology agency (SENAMHI) began to look into the likelihood of flooding, and what FbF actions might need to be taken.

Typically, statistical products indicating the historical probability (likelihood [%] based on what happened during past El Niños) of extreme precipitation are used as a proxy for whether a region will experience flooding during an El Niño (or La Niña), such as these maps produced by the IRI (International Research Institute for Climate and Society). You may also have seen maps which circle regions of the globe that will be drier / warmer / wetter / cooler – we’ll come back to these shortly.

These rainfall maps show that Peru, alongside several other regions of the world, is likely to see more rainfall than usual during an El Niño. But does this necessarily mean there will be floods? And what products are out there indicating the effect of El Niño on rivers across the globe?

For organisations working at the global scale, such as the RCCC and other humanitarian aid agencies, global overviews of potential impacts are key in taking decisions on where to focus resources during an El Niño or La Niña. While these maps are useful for looking at the likely changes in precipitation, it has been shown that the link between precipitation and flood magnitude is nonlinear (Stephens et al.),  – more rain does not necessarily equal floods – so how does this transfer to the potential for flooding?

The motivation behind this work was to provide similar information, but taking into account the hydrology as well as the meteorology. We wanted to answer the question “what is the probability of flooding during El Niño?” not only for Peru, but for the global river network.

To do this, we have taken the new ECMWF ERA-20CM ensemble model reconstruction of the atmosphere, and run this through a hydrological model to produce the first 20th century global hydrological reconstruction of river flow. Using this new dataset, we have for the first time estimated the historical probability of increased or decreased flood hazard (defined as abnormally high or low river flow) during an El Niño (or La Niña), for the global river network.

Figure 1: The probability of increased (blue) or decreased (red) flood hazard during each month of an El Nino. Based on the ensemble mean of the ERA-20CM-R 20th century river flow reconstruction.

The question – “what is the probability of flooding during El Niño?”, however, remains difficult to answer. We now have maps of the probability of abnormally high or low river flow (see Figure 1), and we see clear differences between the hydrological analysis and precipitation. It is also evident that the probabilities themselves are often lower, and much more uncertain, than might be useful – how do you make a decision on whether to provide aid to an area worried about flooding, when the probability of that flooding is 50%?

Figure 2: Historical probability of increased / decreased flood hazard map for February, with overlay showing the typical impact map for winter during an El Nino. This highlights the complexity of the link between El Nino and flooding compared to the information usually available.

The likely impacts are much more complex than is often perceived and reported – going back to the afore-mentioned maps that circle regions of the globe and what their impact will be (warmer, drier, wetter?) – these maps portray these impacts as a certainty, not a probability, with the same impacts occurring across huge areas. For example, in Figure 2, we take one of the maps from our results, which indicates the probability of increased or decreased flood hazard in one month during an El Niño, and draw over this these oft-seen circles of potential impacts. In doing this, we remove all information on how likely (or unlikely) the impacts are, smaller scale changes within these circles (in some cases our flood hazard map even indicates a different impact), and a lot of the potential impacts outside of these circles – not to mention the likely impacts can change dramatically from one month to the next. For those organisations that take actions based on such information, it is important to be aware of the uncertainties surrounding the likely impacts of El Niño and La Niña.

“We conclude that while it may seem possible to use historical probabilities to evaluate regions across the globe that are more likely to be at risk of flooding during an El Niño / La Niña, and indeed circle large areas of the globe under one banner of wetter or drier, the reality is much more complex.”

PS. During the winter of 2015/16, our results estimated an ~80% likelihood of increased flood hazard in northern coastal Peru, with only ~10% uncertainty surrounding this. The RCCC took FbF actions to protect thousands of families from potentially devastating floods driven by one of the strongest El Niños on records. While flooding did occur, this was not as severe as expected based on the strength of the El Niño. More recently, during the past few months (January – March 2017), anomalously high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the far eastern Pacific (known as a “coastal El Niño” in Peru but not widely acknowledged as an El Niño because central Pacific SSTs are not anomalously warm) have led to devastating flooding in several regions and significant loss of life. And Peru wasn’t the only place that didn’t see the impacts it expected in 2015/16; other regions of the world, such as the US, also saw more rainfall than normal in places that were expected to be drier, and California didn’t receive the deluge they were perhaps hoping for. It’s important to remember that no two El Niños are the same, and El Niño will not be the only influence on the weather around the globe. While El Niño and La Niña can provide some added predictability to the atmosphere, the impacts are far from certain.

Presidente Kuczynski recorre zonas afectadas por lluvias e inund
Flooded areas of Trujillo, Peru, March 2017. Photo credit: Presidencia Peru, via Floodlist

Full reference:

R. Emerton, H. Cloke, E. Stephens, E. Zsoter, S. Woolnough, F. Pappenberger (2017). Complex picture for likelihood of ENSO-driven flood hazard. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS14796

Press Release:

Met Office Academic Partnership Poster and Presentation Session


All photos courtesy of Carlo Cafaro

On 22nd and 23rd February, a group of students from the University of Reading visited the UK Met Office in Exeter to share our work and listen to talks from academics and Met Office employees. It was a great opportunity to discuss our work with other scientists from outside the university.

We arrived at the Met Office at 12 on the Wednesday. Once we had hung up our posters and had lunch, we listened to our first talk from Dale Barker, who is Deputy Director of Weather Science at the UK Met Office. He gave us an overview of the Met Office Academic Partnership (MOAP) and the variety of work that takes place within the partnership.  The MOAP brings together the UK Met Office with the universities of Exeter, Reading, Leeds, and Oxford to collaborate on projects and share science. It aims to pull together world-class expertise in weather and climate science to tackle key problems in these areas, and to provide an environment to develop the science leaders of tomorrow. The next talk was from Prof. Nadine Unger from the University of Exeter who spoke about aerosol pollution and work she has been involved in with African nations to reduce health problems caused by pollution. Our very own Dr Clare Watt then spoke about space weather, focusing on the magnetosphere and the impact of ‘killer’ electrons. The final talk of the day was from Dr Steven Böing from the University of Leeds. He spoke about semi-Lagrangian cloud modelling and how it can be used to increase forecast accuracy.

The poster session then took place in the Street. A lot of useful discussions were had during this session (and over the whole two days) as we were able to share our work with each other and also with passing members of Met Office staff. I certainly realized some new things about my results and had ideas about future directions for my work.

On the second day we had a presentation on career opportunities within the scientific areas of the Met Office from Mo Mylne, who is Science Project and Planning Manager at the UK Met Office. This really highlighted the breadth of roles that are available at the national meteorological service. This was followed by a talk from Prof. Coralia Cartis from the University of Oxford who spoke about parameter estimation for climate modelling using optimization techniques. After this, we were taken on tours of the Met Office to see some of areas that scientists are involved in. We then had lunch and a final opportunity to discuss our posters before the event finished.

Overall, then, it was a very enjoyable event with a great variety of subjects covered by the talks. I found the use of optimization techniques for parameter estimation particularly interesting and I hope to incorporate some of the ideas into my own research. I feel I have personally learned a lot, both about my own results and new ideas to consider. Thank you to all at the Met Office who organized the event.

AGU Fall Meeting – Posters and Protests


From 12th to 16th December 2016, the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting took place at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco. AGU remains the largest Earth and Space Science conference in the world with more than 25,000 scientists.

Overlooking the Poster Hall in Moscone South

At the 2016 Fall Meeting, I was one of around 8000 students who arrived in San Francisco to present one of the 15,000 posters that would be displayed over the course of the week. While I knew that AGU is one of the largest Earth science conferences, and had indeed spent hours on the plane fine-tuning my schedule to choose which of the ~200 hydrology sessions (let alone the meteorology sessions also related to my work) I would attend, the scope and diversity of the research presented throughout the week really sunk in when I stood on the mezzanine overlooking the poster hall on the first day of the conference.

I was lucky enough to be awarded an AGU student travel grant in order to present my latest PhD research that I’ve been working on at the University of Reading, in collaboration with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and funded by NERC as part of the SCENARIO Doctoral Training Partnership. My work maps the historical probability of increased (or decreased) flood hazard across the globe during ENSO (El Niño and La Niña) events, using the first 20th Century ensemble river flow reanalysis, created at ECMWF as part of this work. But more on that another time!

blogpostscreenshotUnlike other conferences I’d presented at, the poster sessions at AGU span half a day – while you are only expected to be there to discuss the work for two hours, it’s inevitable that you get caught up in discussion and I saw many presenters (myself included) who stuck by their poster for the full 4.5 hours! I thoroughly enjoyed my poster session, where several familiar faces dropped by for an update on my work, and others stopped to pose new questions and make a few suggestions for improvements to my maps (wait, why didn’t I think of that?!). As a student presenter, I could also register for the Outstanding Student Poster Award – which means that my poster was anonymously judged, and I will soon be receiving  feedback on my poster and presentation – an opportunity I was excited about to make sure I continue to improve the way I communicate my research.

For me, some of the sessions that were highlights of the conference included  ‘Global Floods: Forecasting, Monitoring, Risk Assessment and Socioeconomic Response‘, ‘Large-scale Climate Variability and its Impact on Hydrological Systems, Water Resources and Population‘, ‘Forecasting Hydrology at Continental Scale‘, ‘Transforming Hydrologic Prediction and Decision Making: Uncertainty’ and ‘ENSO Dynamics, Observations and Predictability in light of the 2015-2016 El Niño Event‘. With such a range of science being presented, there’s also plenty of opportunity (well, so long as you haven’t double- or triple-booked sessions in your schedule already!) to listen to talks outside of your own field – which is how I ended up in an 8am talk on operational earthquake forecasting and early warning. It was brilliant to learn about forecasting natural hazards outside of hydrology and meteorology!

There was also the social aspect that’s a big part of any conference – networking, networking and more networking! While it can be daunting, particularly at a conference of this size, to find and introduce yourself to scientists in your field whose work you’ve read but you’ve never met, I was pleased to first bump into some friendly faces who in turn introduced me to the new faces. Plus, it’s an AGU tradition that ‘AGU beer’ is served at 3.30pm sharp and the conference centre fills with groups of friends and colleagues in heated debates and discussions about anything from volcanoes to Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

It was impossible not to notice, however, the many more politically-themed conversations than would normally be overheard at such an event, as a result of uncertainty about the future of science in light of the recent US presidential election. While I was in the middle of research discussions at my poster, a ‘Stand up for Science‘ rally took place a few blocks away from the conference centre, where scientists donned lab coats and held signs – “stand up for science”, “ice has no agenda – it just melts” – protesting to raise awareness of the challenges, and to support science. You can read the Guardian article here.


All in all, AGU was a brilliant chance to present and discuss part of my research that I had just finished – it was certainly overwhelming and tough to choose which sessions to stop by (which meant I missed one or two presentations that sounded great), but I would recommend it for showcasing your work (and receiving feedback via the OSPA) and meeting scientists in your field that you wouldn’t normally bump into at conferences in Europe, especially if you can apply for one of AGU’s travel grants to help cover the costs of getting there.

P.S. You can watch presentations from the AGU Fall Meeting 2016 on the website.

Of course, I couldn’t fly all the way out to California and not find time to explore San Francisco a little.



Discovering COP22


Over the past two weeks 25,000 delegates have been gathering in Marrakech to discuss mitigation and adaptation for climate change. On the 4th November 2016 the Paris Agreement came into force and as a result discussions during the conference debated its implementation. The Walker Institute and the Department of Meteorology (University of Reading), with the support of the NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and an UNFCCC partnership, supported two PhD students to be official UN observers at COP22, and enabled remote participation with students back at Reading University. To find out more about our work with COP22 continue reading this blog post and check out:

Today (18/11/16) the UK government are set to announce that the United Kingdom has ratified the Paris Agreement. Yesterday, Boris Johnson (UK foreign secretary) signed the Paris Agreement after no objections were raised by the House of Commons or House of Lords. The United Kingdom in accordance with the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the European Union, are set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 emission levels. Today also marks the end of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and here are some quick summary points that PhD students took away from observing the process in Marrakech:

1) The significance of the Paris Agreement.

“Now that we have Paris, we need to take action immediately”

Teresa Anderson, ActionAid UK.

The Paris Agreement marks a change in the intentions during the COP process. Due to the success and ratification of the Paris Agreement more discussions can be based on the adaptation and mitigation against climate change, rather than negotiating global targets on climate change prevention. The Paris Agreement states that a global response is needed to respond to the threat of climate change and that global temperature rise should be kept well below 2°C and that efforts should be pursued to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. COP22 Marrakech, began by stating that this is the “COP of Action”, and therefore the focus seen during side events, negotiations, dignitary speeches and press conferences was on the need for action.

“Countries have strongly supported the [Paris] Agreement because they realize their own national interest is best secured by pursuing the common good. Now we have to translate words into effective policies and actions.”

Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.


2) A continued effort is needed to concentrate on the individual.

As SCENARIO PhD students we were challenged to understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. To do this we interviewed many conference delegates including policymakers, research organisations, industry experts, entrepreneurs, environmental consultants and funding sources to name a few. A common theme that ran through most of our interviews is that action is needed to prioritise the individual as well as thinking in terms of national- and community-level. To ensure the successful mitigation and adaptation to climate change, strategies need to come into place that protect the rights of the individual. This poses a global challenge, stretching from protecting the livelihoods of indigenous cultures and those impacted by sea level rise on low-lying islands, to supporting workers who rely on the non-renewable energy industry. In terms of climate research we need to ensure that we make our scientific conclusions accessible on an individual-level so that our work has a greater impact.

“a key goal for us is making climate change research accessible to the user community”

Clare Kapp, WMO Press Office Communications Leader.

3) Action is needed now, however the Paris Agreement only implies action post-2020.

Throughout our attendance in plenary meetings and side events there was an emphasis that whilst the Paris Agreement is an important stepping stone to combatting climate change, action is needed before 2020 for the Paris Agreement to be reached. Currently INDCs are proposed for between 2021-2030, however for the intended global temperature targets to be achieved it was argued that action is needed now. Although, pre-2020 action raises much contention, with the most popular argument against pre-2020 action being that more time and effort is needed for negotiations to ensure that a better understanding of national efforts to climate change mitigation is determined.

“We need to take action before 2020. Working for action post-2020 is not going to be enough. We need to start acting now.”

Honduras Party Representative.

“We need more time to work on the rule book for the Paris Agreement. Discussions on this should continue.”

Switzerland Party Representative.

4) There is a difference in opinion on whether 1.5°C can be reached.

For me the most interesting question we asked conference delegates was “do you think the target of 1.5°C can be reached?” This question brought a difference of opinion including some party members arguing that the change in our non-renewable energy dependence is far too great for the target to be achieved. Meanwhile, other political representatives and NGO delegates argued that accepting the target is unachievable before even trying makes negotiations and discussions less successful. There was also anticipation for the future IPCC report titled, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

“Of course we want to fight for 1.5°C, why fight for 2°C? It just makes sense to fight for 1.5°C”

Martina Duncan, Party Representative for Grenada.

COP22 has been a fantastic opportunity for PhD students in our department to interact and understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. Whilst the past couple of weeks have been dominated by the results of the US election and the associated uncertainties, there has been an increasing global recognition of climate change and that action should be taken. In the next few years the challenge to mitigate and adapt towards climate change will be an increasing priority, and let us hope that these annual UNFCCC conferences are key stepping stones for climate change action.

“This is a problem people are recognising, and that it is time to change”

Jonathan Pershing, US Climate Envoy

Thank you all those who have supported our work at COP22 this year. Thank you to the Walker Institute, NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and UNFCCC for this brilliant opportunity. Thank you to all those who have supported us with publicity including NERC, Royal Meteorological Society, members of staff and PhD students at the University of Reading and Lucy Wallace who has ensured the appropriate communication of our project. Plus a huge thanks to all delegates and staff at COP22 who volunteered their time to talk to us.

Robots and COP?


Robots aren’t a frequent topic of conversation amongst PhD students in the Met department, but currently everyone seems to be talking about a robot, virtual reality and COP. What’s going on?

COP stands for the Conference of the Parties, and forms the decision making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the UN body with the responsibility of “stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. They meet once a year to review and assess the implementation of the UNFCCC and associated agreements and protocols. The 22nd COP will be held in Morocco next week.

So what is significant about this year’s COP? Well 2015 was a landmark year in terms of creation of UN agreements. Firstly, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction aims to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health. Secondly, the Sustainable Development Goals, call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and encourage peace and prosperity. Thirdly, and finally the Paris Agreement, when all nations agreed to limit the global temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius and to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

We, as PhD students studying meteorology understand that robust evidence underpins the three major global agreements of 2015. The first priority for action under the Sendai Framework is ‘understanding disaster risk’, where science is one of the major contributors. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals, which link strongly with both the Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework , require a strong scientific basis. As early career scientists, appreciating the role of research and importance of our science is crucial.

So where does the robot come into this? Next week, Josh Talib and Caroline Dunning will be attending COP22 in Morocco on behalf of the Walker Institute. Accompanying us will be a robot avatar, which will enable remote participation in COP. Back in Reading, other PhD students will be running a Climate Action Studio, operating the robot and using virtual reality to interact with the COP and conduct interviews with participants. The hope is that, with the help of the robot avatar, we will all be able to engage with the discussions in Marrakech, and gain a greater understanding of climate governance.


If you are interested in hearing more, or intrigued about how we are using a robot to conduct interviews, we will be posting updates on this blog under the COP22 link ( We will also be tweeting using the hashtag #COPbot on @SocialMetwork. Thank you to NERC, SCENARIO DTP and the Walker Institute for this incredible opportunity.