Robust Spatial Projections of Real-World Climate Change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


Climate change is one of the leading global challenges facing society and the planet. Predicting how the climate will change as human activities lead to emission of more greenhouse gases is a global scientific challenge for climate scientists.

We use models of the climate to make predictions. Because of limitations in computing power, and because of gaps in our understanding of the climate, these models are not perfect. Predictions from the models are, therefore, also not perfect. We are faced by the huge challenge of extracting robust information from climate models about how real-world climate will change in the future under specified scenarios of different greenhouse gas emissions. Such projections are central to leading climate change assessments, such as those produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This project will provide a step-change in the ability of climate scientists to produce robust projections of climate change and to quantify the uncertainties in projections. A new framework will be developed that combines information from models, observations and our basic understanding of climate with modern statistical techniques to produce projections.

This new framework will be applied to three important climate regimes of Earth: tropical and subtropical temperature and precipitation change; middle latitude cyclones and anti-cyclones; and polar temperature and sea-ice changes.

We will bring together leading UK scientists (many are IPCC authors) from the Universities of Exeter, Reading, Oxford and East Anglia, and the Met Office, to address this grand challenge in climate science. We aim to precipitate a cultural shift that unifies diverse approaches from techniques to understand climate process and statistical methods and consolidate the UKs position as a world-leading centre for climate projection science.

Planned Impact

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC - specifically Working Group I) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A major output from the project will be the ability to indicate robustness of projections on maps produced from model intercomparison projects such as CMIP6. Such communications techniques will be useful for producing figures in IPCC AR6 chapters that assess projections and in displaying regional information in e.g. the Annex I: Atlas of Global and Regional Climate Projections. The report is widely read by other climate scientists and policy makers, including the line-by-line approval of the Summary for Policy Makers by governments.

National policymakers: the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Department for International Development (DFID). The UK Committee on Climate Change, a statutory body formed in 2008 to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. These bodies will benefit by receiving more reliable information about projections of climate change, globally. They will pass on those benefits to the general public in the form of policy decisions surrounding climate change.

The Met Office, the principal project partner, provide significant research support for these bodies in the form of expert advice and data from observations and models. They are also the lead on delivering the next UK Climate Projections (UKCP - This product is accesses by local government and business to assess their vulnerability to climate change. A major set of model experiments, provided to the project by the Met Office, will be extensively scrutinised during the project. In producing large perturbed physics ensembles (PPEs), it is often difficult to examine each member of the ensemble in detail. By making the PPEs available to the project, the Met Office will draw on the combined expertise of the UK physical climate change community. These experiments are a core component of the next set of UK Climate Projections (UKCP18).

The general public, business and the education sector will benefit from the above events and from our public outreach work including press releases on high-profile papers and social media activity (e.g. Twitter).


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Description 1) We have discovered a key difference between the weather patterns that lead to heatwaves over Europe and western Russia. Over Europe, these patterns are strongly linked to the storms which move across the Atlantic towards Europe. Over Russia, in contrast, the events are linked to atmospheric waves around the whole hemisphere and evolve much more slowly. One consequence is that the Russian region is more vulnerable to 'surprise' events which can dominate a whole season, as in the 2010 Russian heatwave.

2) We have deepened our understanding of the mechanisms underlying atmospheric blocking events, which are persistent weather patterns often leading to high-impact weather scenarios. These events are related to atmospheric wave breaking, and we have found that the direction of this breaking has a clear impact on the likelihood of very persistent events developing. Encouragingly, this feature is found to be well represented in the Met Office climate model used for the UK Climate Projections, increasing confidence in the use of this product.
Exploitation Route Our findings are useful in assessing the risk of extreme events in todays climate, and in validating the models used to predict future climate.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare

Description We have been working with Met Office scientists to investigate the representation of atmospheric blocking in the UKCP18 climate projections for the UK. The results show that the climate model used has a good representation of blocking, particularly in winter, compared to many other climate models. This increases confidence in the projections of the range of climate conditions predicted for the UK. Biases in the model remain, particularly in summer, which suggests more caution may be needed in quantifications of summer heatwaves in the projections. This work has been performed with the scientists responsible for issuing the projections, and are being included in the documentation describing the product.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Construction,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services