Better weather forecasting helps University score high in REF 2014

Researchers from the Global Environmental Modelling and Earth Observation (GEMEO) group in Swansea University’s College of Science have used satellite data to improve weather forecasts and climate predictions.

Using observations of the Earth’s land surface from NASA’s orbiting Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) flying on board the Terra and Aqua satellites, Swansea University has collaborated directly with two leading meteorological agencies — the UK Met Office and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) — to refine the way in which land is represented in their numerical weather prediction models.

Improved weather forecasting is of clear benefit to society, facilitating day-to-day planning by the public, agriculture, commerce, utility suppliers and transport sectors, as well as preparation for extreme weather events such as floods, heat waves and droughts.

The work was one of 50 case studies put forward for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, the results of which helped Swansea University achieve its ambition to be a top 30 research University, soaring up the league table to 26th in the UK from 52nd in 2008, making this the largest jump up the rankings of any research-intensive University in the UK.

The collaboration led to the Met Office stating that the research presented by GEMEO has resulted in significantly improved weather forecasts, in particular of rainfall and temperature, and more realistic climate simulations to inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In addition, the ECMWF reports improvement of precipitation forecast, increasing predicted summer rainfall by 7%, and its variability, which is relevant to flood and drought forecast, increased by 30%.

The Swansea University research and datasets were used to improve the two leading weather forecasting models for Europe, run by the UK Met Office and the ECMWF.

The UK Met Office model is also used to provide projected future climate information to the UK government and the IPCC, to inform policy on climate change and energy, and to plan mitigation strategies for likely future climate scenarios.