Working Atmospheres: Applied and Industrial Meteorology in Britain 1950 - Present

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: School of Medical Sciences


In the last 60 years, industrial meteorology has become global in reach, diverse in outputs, and the subject of substantial research and development. Sectors such as construction, transport, utilities, agriculture, retail and insurance routinely rely on weather information to protect people, manage operations, optimise schedules and secure assets. In Europe, the value of commercial weather products and services, excluding aviation, is estimated at 300m euros (Pettifer 2008). Despite this, world economies register an increase in weather-related damages and economic vulnerability to weather events (WMO 2007, World Bank 2013).

Explores the role of applied meteorology in mitigating economic weather sensitivity in Britain in the last 60 years:
What historical, economic and institutional drivers have bolstered the growth of industrial meteorology?
Have applied meteorological information contributed to the reduction of UK industry's weather sensitivity?
What factors have facilitated/impeded knowledge flows between providers, intermediaries and users of weather information?
Which practices in industrial 'weather optimization' have been proven to mitigate risk in ways that can be streamlined into UK's climate adaptation policies?

Academic impact
Deepening our understanding of the implications of the commercialisation of meteorological science especially with regard to contemporary trend towards the public/private partnerships in the weather enterprise.
Adds to a burgeoning social science literature on the ways in which scientific knowledge becomes appropriated and tailored to facilitate real-life problem solving.
Contributes to the environmental risk analyses through its investigation into both the physical and organizational sources of weather sensitivity, exploring the factors that affect the system from the 'outside' as well as those created by the system itself.

The growth of industry-facing meteorology recast atmospheric research from primarily serving the research and forecasting communities to one meeting the needs of the market and public welfare. User interests have been increasingly represented in national services' information and research systems, while a client-oriented approach incentivized growth of private weather consultancies. With the 1990s rise in corporate risk modelling, firms and public sector shored up their safety cultures through tailored environmental products and, more recently, major initiatives geared towards developing climate and weather services in the context of anthropogenic climate regime (Hewitt et al 2012, Vaughan & Dessai 2014).

Main objective: provide a contemporary history and analysis of these developments: i.e. to account for the environmental, economic and academic aspects of industrial meteorology and to analytically probe into the role of applied weather knowledge in the mitigation of economic weather sensitivity.

Methods and sources:
A mixed method qualitative approach: systematic literature review of weather economics since the 1960s and semi-structured interviews with leading practitioners. Planned case study of UK construction industry's use of weather products. Additional archival research will be conducted.

Dissemination and outputs:
Scholarly journals in the history of science and technology, social studies of science and environmental policy. The student will be encouraged to present their findings at the Centre's seminars and workshops, local RMetS lecture series, international conferences, the wider NWSSDTP network and at the International Meteorology Technological EXPO. Beyond academic outputs, results could feature in Policy@Manchester. All results will be further disseminated through the mailing list of the International Commission on History of Meteorology and to the general public through the Weather Club, RMetS's public outreach arm.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000665/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2074039 Studentship ES/P000665/1 30/09/2018 29/09/2022 Robert Luke Naylor