The 2017 SCENARIO Conference: Frontiers in Natural Environment Research

Every year students from the SCENARIO (Science of the Environment, Natural and Anthropogenic Processes, Impacts and Opportunities) Doctoral Training Partnership organise an annual conference. Those invited include SCENARIO students, NERC employees and industrial partners. This year, after last year’s successful collaboration with the University of Oklahoma, it was decided that we would run the conference (Frontiers in Natural Environment Research) with the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) and London NERC DTPs, led by a variety of universities and institutions in London.

A similar conference was organised last year (Perspectives on Environmental Change) between SSCP and the London NERC DTP, which was a rousing success. This year, with the addition of Reading and Surrey, we had almost 200 delegates attending with a healthy proportion of supervisors and industry partners, with over 40 oral presentations and 40 posters from students at the various institutions. The conference was held in the Physics building at Imperial College, a literal stone’s throw away from the Royal Albert Hall.

Organising the conference was a daunting task; there was a lot of work involved between the nine PhD students on the committee! One of the challenges, (but also one of the most exciting parts of the conference), was the sheer variety of research being presented. Many of the attendees were from the Met department, but there were also students from Chemistry and Geography from SCENARIO, and students from the London institutions doing topics as varied as sociology, ecology, biology, materials science and plate tectonics. This made for a really interesting conference since there was so much on offer from such a wide range of fields, but made our lives quite difficult when trying to organise keynote speakers and sort abstracts!

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As well as the student presentations we also ran workshops and panel discussions, and had two invited keynote speakers. The workshops were about communicating science through social media, and also on getting published in one of the Nature journals (similar to the successful workshop ran by SCENARIO here at Reading). The panel discussions were themed around “Science and Development” and “Science in a post-truth world”, looking at ways in which science (particularly that within the NERC remit) can help to solve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and how we communicate science in a time of “fake news”.

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Perhaps my favourite part of the conference were the two keynote speakers. Finding speakers who would appeal to the majority of people attending the conference was no easy task, given the huge range of disciplines!

Opening the conference, Marcus Munafo, Professor in Biological Psychology at Bristol University spoke about the “reproducibility crisis” and how incentive structures affect the scientific process. I can honestly say it was one of the most thought-provoking lectures I’ve ever been to. His main argument was that ultimately science is done by people who have an incentive to do certain things, (e.g. publish in high impact journals), for the benefit of their careers. However, this incentivisation means that often one “big result” can mean more for the career of someone than all the work they’ve done previously, even if that result ended up being retracted or proven false later on, (he went on to demonstrate that happens a lot). One of the statistics he presented was that the higher the impact factor of a journal, the higher the chance of retraction, which I thought was really interesting and certainly made me re-evaluate the way in which I approach my own work.

The other keynote speaker was Lucy Hawkes, Senior Lecturer in Physiological Ecology at Exeter, talking about her work and career, particularly “biologging” of animals and looking at their migratory patterns. Aside from all the great anecdotes and stories (like swimming with sharks in order to plant bio-tags on them), from a meteorologist’s perspective it was interesting listening to her talk about how these migratory patterns change with the climate.

Of course any conference worth its salt has entertainment and things outside work. A BBQ was hosted in the courtyard underneath the Queen’s Tower, and drinks and comedy (the Science Showoff) in the wonderfully titled hBar at Imperial. The Science Showoff in particular was really good, hosted by a professional comedian but with most of the material coming from PhD students at the various institutes (although shamefully no-one from Met volunteered).

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One of the other really useful parts was meeting students from disparate fields at the other institutions. As Joanna Haigh (director of the SSCP DTP) said in her closing speech, the people we meet at these conferences will be our colleagues for our entire careers, so it’s really important to get to know people socially and professionally. In the end I think it went really well, and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing the London students again at next year’s conference!

Future of Cumulus Parametrization conference, Delft, July 10-14, 2017

Email: m.muetzelfeldt@pgr.reading.ac.uk

For a small city, Delft punches above its weight. It is famous for many things, including its celebrated Delftware (Figure 1). It was also the birthplace of one of the Dutch masters, Johannes Vermeer, who coincidentally painted some fine cityscapes with cumulus clouds in them (Figure 2). There is a university of technology with some impressive architecture (Figure 3). It holds the dubious honour of being the location of the first assassination using a pistol (or so we were told by our tour guide), when William of Orange was shot in 1584. To this list, it can now add hosting a one-week conference on the future of cumulus parametrization, and hopefully bringing about more of these conferences in the future.

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Figure 1: Delftware.

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Figure 2: Delft with canopy of cumulus clouds. By Johannes Vermeer, 1661.

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Figure 3: AULA conference centre at Delft University of Technology – where we were based for the duration of the conference.

So what is a cumulus parametrization scheme? The key idea is as follows. Numerical weather and climate models work by splitting the atmosphere into a grid, with a corresponding grid length representing the length of each of the grid cells. By solving equations that govern how the wind, pressure and heating interact, models can then be used to predict what the weather will be like days in advance in the case of weather modelling. Or a model can predict how the climate will react to any forcings over longer timescales. However, any phenomena that are substantially smaller than this grid scale will not be “seen” by the models. For example, a large cumulonimbus cloud may have a horizontal extent of around 2km, whereas individual grid cells could be 50km in the case of a climate model. A cumulonimbus cloud will therefore not be explicitly modelled, but it will still have an effect on the grid cell in which it is located – in terms of how much heating and moistening it produces at different levels. To capture this effect, the clouds are parametrized, that is, the vertical profile of the heating and moistening due to the clouds are calculated based on the conditions in the grid cell, and this then affects the grid-scale values of these variables. A similar idea applies for shallow cumulus clouds, such as the cumulus humilis in Vermeer’s painting (Figure 2), or present-day Delft (Figure 3).

These cumulus parametrization schemes are a large source of uncertainty in current weather and climate models. The conference was aimed at bringing together the community of modellers working on these schemes, and working out which might be the best directions to go in to improve these schemes, and consequently weather and climate models.

Each day was a mixture of listening to presentations, looking at posters and breakout discussion groups in the afternoon, as well as plenty of time for coffee and meeting new people. The presentations covered a lot of ground: from presenting work on state-of-the-art parametrization schemes, to looking at how the schemes perform in operational models, to focusing on one small aspect of a scheme and modelling how that behaves in a high resolution model (50m resolution) that can explicitly model individual clouds. The posters were a great chance to see the in-depth work that had been done, and to talk to and exchange ideas with other scientists.

Certain ideas for improving the parametrization schemes resurfaced repeatedly. The need for scale-awareness, where the response of the parametrization scheme takes into account the model resolution, was discussed. One idea for doing this was the use of stochastic schemes to represent the uncertainty of the number of clouds in a given grid cell. The concept of memory also cropped up – where the scheme remembers if it had been active at a given grid cell in a previous point in time. This also ties into the idea of transitions between cloud regimes, e.g. when a stratocumulus layer splits up into individual cumulus clouds. Many other, sometimes esoteric, concepts were discussed, such as the role of cold pools, how much tuning of climate models is desirable and acceptable, how we should test our schemes, and what the process of developing the schemes should look like.

In the breakout groups, everyone was encouraged to contribute, which made for an inclusive atmosphere in which all points of view were taken on board. Some of the key points of agreement from these were that it was a good idea to have these conferences, and we should do it more often! Hopefully, in two years’ time, another PhD student will write a post on how the next meeting has gone. We also agreed that it would be beneficial to be able to share data from our different high resolution runs, as well as to be able to compare code for the different schemes.

The conference provided a picture of what the current thinking on cumulus parametrization is, as well as which directions people think are promising for the future. It also provided a means for the community to come together and discuss ideas for how to improve these schemes, and how to collaborate more closely with future projects such as ParaCon and HD(CP)2.

RMetS Impact of Science Conference 2017.

Email – j.f.talib@pgr.reading.ac.uk

“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.

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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!

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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.

#RMetSImpact

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

A PhD Student’s Guide to EGU 2017

Email: r.frew@pgr.reading.ac.uk

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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.

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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: https://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/2017/, 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…

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EGU 2017 photo competition entries, image taken from the GeoLog blog, more information about the entries and results can be found at: http://blogs.egu.eu/geolog/2017/04/28/at-the-assembly-2017-friday-highlights/

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: http://blogs.egu.eu/geolog/.

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!