Interview with Dr Stefan Lines, Senior Climate Information Scientist at the Met Office
Can you give us an insight into the work the Met Office does?
As the national meteorological and climatological service for the UK, the Met Office provides critical weather services and world-leading climate science to help the public, government, businesses, and emergency responders stay safe and thrive. As you can imagine, that provides us with an enormous remit – which is why our workforce is formed of dedicated and knowledgeable people across science, technology, operations, observations, consultancy, training, business, government services, finance and corporate to name just a few areas. Possibly the most visible element of the Met Office’s work in the UK is the Public Weather Service (PWS) which aims to produce timely weather forecasts for the UK, to warn people of extreme weather, develop weather and climate predictions through research, as well as providing access to historical weather information via the National Meteorological Archive.
Globally, the Met Office Hadley Centre, where I work, has a very high profile for its climate science expertise and is involved in a wide array of research, state-of-the-art modelling, collaborations, and service/product delivery. This area itself can span detailed investigations into complex numerical processes in the climate system, to developing our in-house, super-computer powered numerical models, to providing regional climate data for our clients, and all the way to delivering seasonal and climate science training in-country. If there’s a query involving weather or climate information, you can be sure the Met Office is interested in it!
What has been your involvement in the IPP CommonSensing project?
I commenced my involvement in the IPP CommonSensing project in late 2019 when I started my role at the Met Office as a Senior Climate Information Scientist – joining the rest of the fantastic CommonSensing team: Cathryn Fox, Laura Burgin, Hannah Griffith, Rebecca Osborne, Karen McCourt and Richard Jones. My personal contribution is spread across three strands: climate data delivery, regional climate projections and training.
The Met Office has been responsible for providing historical climate data for Catapult’s web-based data applications. Along with our team of scientists, my role has involved processing observation and reanalysis datasets, deriving key variables of interest, domain selection, ensuring format compliance and maintaining data integrity. These data will be critical for users of the app to make climate-driven decisions, by assessing regional trends in temperature and precipitation.
We’re also finalising a report into future climate projections of temperature and rainfall over the South Pacific, using high-resolution regional climate models (CORDEX) to provide insight into changes expected to have significant impacts in the region (heat stress, extreme rainfall, sea-level rise etc.) in the absence of, or even with, adaptation. My work has primarily focused on an investigation into the comparison and added value of using regional models instead of global simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).
Finally, the Met Office has been involved in assessing the scope for strengthening human capacity in the region by interviewing National Meteorological and Hydrological Agencies (NMHSs) and key sectoral policymakers. We then delivered tailored climate training to improve foundational skills in climate science and information which aim to enhance capabilities in adaptation. I was lucky enough to travel to Vanuatu in March 2020 as part of the second Climate Learning for Adaptation and Resilience (CLEAR II) workshop. During the event I delivered sessions on climate modelling, projections, and extremes – with another successful outcome of the workshops being improved connections between the regional NMHSs and climate-critical sectors.
There has been a significant and welcome rise in activities addressing climate impacts in recent years. Why do you think the work CommonSensing is doing, in particular, is important?
Given the timescales thought to be involved, it can be hard sometimes to put climate change at the front of our minds – especially when we’re facing so many other crises! However, it is crucial to be aware that our climate has already changed rapidly and will continue to do so even with immediate aggressive mitigation activities. That’s why identifying those most affected, and supporting them to adapt against these impacts, are absolutely critical. As small island nations and developing countries, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are prime examples of where focused climate activities would be most beneficial; rising temperatures and sea levels and increased extreme rainfall events are all expected to have significant consequences for the South Pacific.
The CommonSensing project is important because it has a multi-targeted approach at improving capacity in the region so that countries are able to adapt in a timely and informed way. New data portals, for example, will provide climate, socio-economic and impact data to identify current trends in climate-critical metrics, while bespoke training across the region has developed relationships and set a path for sustainability. We know that the CommonSensing project is just the beginning for climate adaptation in the region, with the effects of a continually changing and increasingly varying climate lasting well beyond the project lifetime – but the legacy of supportive software, and enhanced knowledge, skills and relationships will live on and hopefully set the scene for future involvement in the area.
Using data to inform decision-making is at the heart of the IPP CommonSensing project. How do you think the training and development provided by the project will impact SIDS once the project is over, and what will this contribute to their climate resilience?
The CommonSensing project has provided an enormous wealth of information that will inevitably be important in allowing for informed decision-making, but data are only as useful as their interpretation allows! It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, if you’re presented with new data unless there is some context and understanding of the processing behind its generation, they will have limited use and possibly lead to misinterpretation. The Training and development activities that have been delivered by the project will allow scientists and policymakers across SIDS to make good use of the data provided – understanding how they can be applied and their limitations. This is particularly true for climate projections where we have to carefully quantify the range of plausible future outcomes which depend on future emissions, our interpretation of the results from imperfect models and limited observations. Knowing how to apply the underlying data, provided by the project, will allow for informed, timely and appropriate decisions to adapt to our changing climate.
What do you hope to see as a result of the IPP CommonSensing project?
It has been a pleasure to be involved in the IPP CommonSensing project, both in terms of my interactions with the talented array of consortium members, but also the welcoming and enthusiastic meteorologists, hydrologists, and policymakers I met during my travels. During our ‘Communicating Climate Information’ sessions, I learned a great deal about the significant adaptation projects already underway in the region – it was clear that those in the South Pacific working on climate change are already pro-active in planning against the effects of climate change. What I hope the IPP CommonSensing will leave behind are the added tools, data and knowledge (and hence confidence) to further support those plans and, just like at the Met Office, help people stay safe and thrive.