Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 28

Submission from the Met Office


  1.  The Met Office makes significant contributions to marine science in the areas of climate change research, seasonal forecasting, short-range ocean forecasting and marine measurements. The National Centre for Ocean Forecasting was established in 2005, as a consortium involving the Met Office and four of the leading marine research institutes funded by NERC, in order to strengthen the exploitation of marine science. Measurements are indispensable for marine science and for monitoring and forecasting the ocean for a wide range of purposes. The Met Office participates fully in the international collaboration and coordination of marine science and has a leading role in the coordination of ocean forecasting both globally and within Europe. The Met Office develops ocean models as components within Earth System models and has a policy to encourage the NERC community to contribute to the scientific content of these models and to use them for scientific experiments. The strength of the UK marine science base has important impacts on the training of staff recruited and the collaborations in the parts of the Met Office exploiting marine science. The Met Office Hadley Centre assesses the likelihood and impacts of changes in the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation and the impacts of climate change on coastal flooding on the North West European shelf.


  2.  The oceans store much larger quantities of heat than the atmosphere. Ocean surface temperatures affect short-range weather forecasts, sub-surface temperature anomalies influence seasonal variations in the weather, and absorption of heat by the ocean is expected to delay global warming. Up-to-date knowledge of the state of the marine environment affects the safety and effectiveness of marine operations and is required to protect the marine environment. The Met Office exploits the results of marine research for all of these reasons.

  3.  As part of our research into climate change, the Met Office develops and validates ocean and sea-ice models for climate change simulations. We assess the surface temperature variability and trends, ocean heat uptake, sea-ice coverage and the probability and impact of a rapid slowing of the thermohaline circulation in the North Atlantic over the next 100-200 years in these climate simulations and seek to constrain the simulations using historical observations. We also study sea-level rise in higher resolution regional climate change models and model the biogeochemistry of the ocean and its impact on the global carbon cycle. The Met Office's seasonal forecasts also depend on the ocean sea-ice models developed for climate simulations. Defra, MoD, the European Commission and the Environment Agency provide in total some £1.8 million per annum to support this work.

  4.  The Met Office also develops systems which are used to make operational[38] forecasts of the "weather in the oceans" out to five days ahead. The quantities forecast include: heights of surface waves; heights of tides and storm surges; sea-ice concentrations and velocities; and the temperatures, salinities and velocities of the ocean. The systems generate high resolution forecasts for areas of particular interest (eg the waters around the UK) and most of the systems also generate coarser resolution global forecasts. Funding for the development of these systems is some £1.3 million per annum and is largely provided by MOD. Other contributors include the European Commission, the Environment Agency, the Department for Trade and Industry and the European Space Agency.


  5.  The Met Office leads the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting (NCOF). NCOF was launched in March 2005 with a mission to establish ocean forecasting as part of the national infrastructure based on world-class research and development. The initial members of the Consortium are the Met Office and four research institutions: the Environmental Systems Science Centre (ESSC), the National Centre for Oceanography Southampton (NOCS), the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the Proudman Oceanography Laboratory (POL).

  6.  The vision for NCOF is to enable joined-up research, development, operational production and exploitation of ocean forecasts for a wide range of purposes. The research institutes contribute to the validation and development of the systems and benefit from the operational exploitation of their research and from access to the measurements, forecasts and modelling systems generated by NCOF. The Met Office produces the operational forecasts, evaluates their accuracy and contributes to the scientific and technical development of the systems. It benefits from the scientific expertise of the research institutes.


  7.  DEFRA is leading the development of a UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy which will be owned by a high-level Marine Assessment Policy Committee (MAPC), of which the Met Office is a member, and implemented through a set of sub-committees. This strategy and set of committees is intended to address the requirements of all government departments.

  8.  In addition, national interests in marine affairs are co-ordinated through the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology (IACMST) which maintains an overview of marine activities across Government. Some 14 Government departments or agencies, including the Met Office, are members of IACMST. It encourages links between Government and the national marine community, as well as international links.

  9.  IACMST has two action groups to which the Met Office contributes, its GOOS[39] AG (Global Ocean Observing System Action Group) is the UK national GOOS co-ordinating committee and its MED AG (Marine Environmental Data) Action Group is concerned with improving access to marine environmental data.

  10.  The GOOS AG is charged with coordination of marine observation programmes operated by the UK and with improving the co-ordination, development and application of operational models of the shelf seas around the UK. The GOOS AG also works to improve co-ordination of UK input to the GOOS programme. In future the work of GOOS AG is expected to be absorbed by MAPC and its sub-committees.

  11.  The Met Office works to improve the accessibility and availability of UK data by contributing funding towards the activities of MED AG. The group, together with the Marine Environmental Data Co-ordinator, forms the UK Marine Environmental Data Network which has set up the OceanNET web site ( as a portal to data and information about the marine environment.


  12.  The marine science community devotes significant resources to international collaboration and coordination of its resources. The Met Office strongly supports this work and leads the coordination in several areas. We chair the North West Shelf Operational Oceanography System (NOOS)[40] and the Services Programme Area of the WMO/IOC Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM).[41] We run the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE)[42] Project Office and co-chair the International GODAE Steering Team. We also run the Global High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST) Project[43] Office and chair the GHRSST Science Team.

  13.  The Met Office contributes actively to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), providing probably the largest contribution to the Scientific Assessment Working Group, including the role of oceans in climate change. The Met Office also hosts the Technical Support Unit for the Impacts and Adaptation Working Group.


  14.  The Met Office develops complex models of the Earth System which are used to make weather forecasts, seasonal forecasts and to simulate the Earth's climate and changes in its climate. These models include separate model components to simulate the atmosphere, the oceans, sea-ice, land vegetation and other components of the environment. The components are coupled together to form an Earth System model. The development and maintenance of these software systems is a major and technically demanding engineering task. The Met Office has a policy to enable NERC staff to contribute to the scientific development of these models and to have access to them for scientific experiments and evaluation.

  15.  Marine and ocean observations are essential information needed to produce weather and ocean forecasts, and provide an important part of the climate record. These observations rely heavily on the use of technology (platforms, sensors and communications) in order to be able to operate reliably and autonomously at sea. Continued engagement in the appropriate international fora is necessary in order to ensure that the Met Office is able to exploit the latest developments. The Met Office, for example, manages and leads the UK's contribution to the international Argo programme. This revolutionary new observing system is designed to monitor the temperature and salinity structure of the global oceans to a depth of 2,000 metres. It was initiated in 1999 and over 30 countries have contributed to the system. It presently consists of nearly 3,000 profiling floats distributed throughout the world's oceans.


  16.  The post-graduate training in marine science provided by UK research laboratories is of significant importance to the Met Office. Most of our staff recruited in the last 10 years have benefited from such training. The majority of our scientific collaboration is with UK groups, although we are increasing our collaboration with other European countries (notably France).


  17.  The Met Office Hadley Centre produces projections of future climate change for the 21st Century and beyond. These include changes in the deep ocean circulation and properties (eg the North Atlantic thermohaline Circulation). More detailed scenarios are currently being developed for the European shelf seas, for assessment of impacts on coastal flooding, ecosystems, sediment transport. These scenarios will be fed in to the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) and UK Marine Climate Impacts Partnership (MCIP), both of which have strong engagement from potential users of marine climate change information.

January 2007

38   Operational meaning that the forecasts are produced by the Met Office routinely and without fail every day (and more frequently if necessary) and that their quality is monitored and assessed. Back

39   GOOS is intended to be a permanent global system for observations, modelling and analysis of marine and ocean variables needed to support operational ocean services worldwide. GOOS is co-ordinated by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) and is being implemented by national and international facilities and services, including the Met Office. Back

40   NOOS is an operational oceanography organisation operated by participating partners from the nine countries bordering the extended North Sea and European North West Shelf (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and UK), collaborating to develop and implement ocean observing systems for the NWS area, with delivery of real time operational data products and services. Back

41   The WMO/IOC Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) is an intergovernmental body of experts, which provides the international, intergovernmental coordination, regulation and management mechanism for an operational oceanographic and marine meteorological observing, data management and services system. Back

42   Through co-ordinated international effort, the aim of GODAE is to facilitate the provision of regular, comprehensive information on the state of the oceans for the benefit of the scientific community. Back

43   The purpose of the GHRSST project is to develop an operational demonstration system that will deliver a new generation of global coverage high-resolution (better than 10 km and ~6 hourly) sea surface temperature products. GHRSST data products will be derived by combining readily available but complementary satellite and in situ observations in real time to improve, amongst other things, spatial coverage, temporal resolution and SST product accuracy. Back

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