Weather and climate research in Met Éireann

Eoin Moran, Director of Met Éireann

Posted: 11 December, 2017

If any area of science could lay a claim to a special relationship with the Irish public I daresay meteorology would feature.   Other countries might have more dramatic weather, in India for example the Monsoon rains is a major weather event, but such an event can most times be predicted to the day it will start and the day it will finish.   Whereas Ireland’s weather is much more variable and less easily predictable because of our geographical position, an island, between the Atlantic Ocean and a large land mass, continental Europe.

There is a lot going on meteorologically where we are located on the planet.  In our part of the world we experience weather which can be influenced by five different major air masses, for example polar maritime or tropical maritime or by the various interactions of these air masses to create our weather.  This is almost a unique mix on a global scale driving a fascinating and complex interplay of weather which has sparked cultural and scientific curiosity for generations on this island.

We in Met Éireann focus our research and scientific programmes on developing the best systems, infrastructure and services to help society protect life, property and wellbeing.  Operating in a rapidly evolving scientific and technical environment, the methods by which we produce and communicate our weather forecasts and warnings are by necessity shifting to a weather ‘impacts’ based approach.

By concentrating on the impacts of weather, we start with how the weather affects the public and then build everything we do around helping and supporting decisions to deal with those affects.  This involves for example development of weather information and warnings around the user response process. This impact-based approach is at the core of Met Éireann’s 2017-2027 strategy ‘Making Ireland weather and climate prepared’ which is aimed at helping Irish society to be ready for and responsive to weather and climate risks.

Weather forecast research at Met Éireann is mainly carried out in collaboration with the HIRLAM (High Resolution Limited Area Model) consortium – a long-standing European research network focused on the development of state-of-the-art high-resolution mathematical models used to simulate and predict the state of the atmosphere.  The co-ordinated research activities of this consortium continuously work towards successfully increasing the accuracy of weather forecasts by improving the dynamics, physics and spatial resolution of the weather forecast model in Met Éireann called HARMONIE.

Weather forecast models require detailed information about the current state of the atmosphere, these initial conditions are observations of meteorological parameters such as temperature, pressure and humidity. They are required at each grid point in the model, the accuracy of forecasts is highly dependent on this initial snap shot of weather.  As providing such  detailed information  at model grid point scale is not practical, a ‘first guess’ of initial conditions is made, but even small errors in the initial conditions can grow and become significant as the models move forward in time. To address this an ensemble of forecasts is run.  This involves running the model up to 50 times using differing initial conditions, producing an ensemble of equally likely forecasts. From this, the probability of occurrence of a particular weather event can be determined.  Met Éireann’s researchers are in the process of implementing such a forecast method known as ensemble prediction system; in the future most forecast products will be probabilistic in nature.

With regard to climate modelling and research, there is an ongoing collaboration with the EC-Earth community – a consortium of EU countries using the EC-Earth Global Climate Model (GCM).  Preparations are underway for the global climate simulations and its downscaling in support of the next IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment report. Met Éireann also participates in the European Research Area for Climate Services (ERA4CS). Met Éireann has been successful with three proposals submitted in partnership with other Met Services and academia – this research work will focus on analysis of extreme wind and wave events, climate indicators and climate attribution of extreme events.

Also, Met Éireann scientists have recently completed the production of the award winning high resolution simulation of Ireland’s past for the period 1981-2016. This climate ‘reanalysis’ called MÉRA (Met Éireann Re-Analysis) is expected to be useful for policy makers, planners and researchers in the context of climate adaptation in Ireland.

In the coming years we will continue to leverage Met Éireann’s unique combination of expertise as the National Meteorological Service and our reach and networks within the international scientific community to develop the best meteorological services for Irish society.  We are delighted to highlight with the Irish Research Council the importance of our meteorological and climatological research activities and look forward to further strengthening our collaboration with the Council through future initiatives.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are the author’s own, and do not reflect the opinions of the Irish Research Council or any employee thereof.