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Severe weather warning systems are an area of Exeter Climate Systems' research.

Exeter Climate Systems

Significant improvements in modelling and predicting weather and climate are being made by researchers in Exeter Climate Systems (XCS), an innovative interdisciplinary research centre based within the Department of Mathematics at the University of Exeter.

XCS was founded in 2007 by the director Professor David Stephenson. He summarised: “We are unique because we operate at the interface of mathematics and climate science. There aren’t many places in the world doing the same as us.”

XCS has grown impressively with now more than 50 staff and PhD students working to improve forecasting, and better enabling the public, businesses and governments to prepare for changes in the weather and climate.

Climate scientists within XCS are world-renowned for their expertise and several have served as authors on the recently published scientific basis volume of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

The three volume report assesses scientific, technical, and socio-economic factors concerning climate change, its potential effects and the options for adaptation and mitigation. Highlights will be discussed at the Transformational Climate Science conference, which will involve leading climate researchers from a number of institutions and explore the future of climate research.

XCS staff served as coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and contributing authors on several chapters of the report, including Professors Mat Collins and Pierre Friedlingstein on long-term climate change, Professor Stephenson on climate phenomena and their relevance for regional climate change, and Professor Peter Cox on the evaluation of climate models.

Professor Stephenson’s contribution looked at the effects of climate change on a regional scale.  He explained: “Most climate change research looks at things on a global scale. But people are interested in regions - if you want to know what regional weather such as storms are going to do in the future then our chapter has assessed this”.

Another research area in XCS is investigating how climate change is affecting the Arctic and how this could impact on mid-latitude countries such as the UK and US. Dr James Screen, a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow and contributing author for the IPCC report, is leading a project on this aspect of regional climate change.

He explained: “People have been hypothesising about whether the extreme weather we’ve had recently is due to the sea ice and snow cover melt in the Arctic. The theory is the melt can affect the jet stream, which brings a lot of weather to the UK.

“In a modelling experiment we did, changing the sea ice caused the jet stream to shift south in the summer, leading to more wet weather of over in that period. We’ve had some very wet summers recently which have coincided with unprecedented low levels of Arctic sea ice.”

The project has involved collaboration with partners including the Met Office and US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). NCAR are doing similar experiments, but using their own climate models, while the Met Office are looking at whether the information can be used to improve seasonal and decadal weather forecasting.

Other areas of interest at XCS include next generation weather forecasting models, environment and health, climate dynamics, and developing more objective decision-theory approaches to improve severe weather warning systems.

In the future, XCS aims to strengthen its core mathematics expertise, for example, in statistical science, which will then help to provide better frameworks for quantifying climate uncertainty and risk.

The Transformational Climate Science conference will take place at the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus from 15 to 16 May 2014. You can follow the event on Twitter using #climate2014.