Science in the Met Office - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  We welcome the Minister's comment that the Government has no plans to privatise the Met Office and agree with him that it would be deeply irresponsible to do so on the grounds of the need to fill a hole in the Government's coffers. (Paragraph 5)

2.  We consider it too early to comment in detail on the Met Office's move from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). However, we welcome the potential for closer links between the Met Office and the research base, as well as the opportunity for the Met Office to develop its commercial activities further. (Paragraph 6)

Contracts and customer relationships

3.  As a matter of urgency, the Government should ensure that its Customer Service Agreements (CSAs) with the Met Office are signed and that these CSAs are truly multi-year agreements. Furthermore, we recommend that the Government sets out its minimum funding commitment to the Met Office for each year of the current Spending Review period by the end of this financial year. (Paragraph 10)

4.  It is our view that the Hadley Centre Climate Programme (HCCP) should be managed by a single Government department, as previously recommended by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. A less satisfactory alternative would be for the Government to ensure that the Memorandum of Understanding between DECC and Defra is signed as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 12)

5.  We recommend that the Government and the Met Office reassess whether the existing mechanisms intended to support a strong customer relationship between the Met Office and departments such as MOD, DECC and Defra are effective. Specifically, we invite the Government and the Met Office to consider, and report back to us, on whether there is a need for a Defence Customer Group and a Hadley Centre Climate Programme Customer Group, analogous to the current Public Weather Service Customer Group. One of the benefits of introducing these new customer-focussed groups would be that scrutiny of Met Office science could be streamlined under one review group, as we discuss later in paragraph 25. (Paragraph 14)

6.  We recommend that the Met Office continue to expand activities that generate commercial income; however, mechanisms must be in place to ensure that these activities do not put core services for the public sector or the Met Office's international reputation at risk. We invite the Met Office to explain in its response to us how this will be achieved. (Paragraph 16)

Oversight of Met Office science

7.  Given the move towards integrating weather and climate science, and with the Met Office Science Advisory Committee's (MOSAC) remit being expanded to include both areas, we question whether it is sensible to impose additional scrutiny by the Met Office Hadley Centre Science Review Group (SRG). We recommend that the Met Office consult with DECC and Defra to determine whether the Hadley Centre SRG is required in its current form. Our view is that it would be more sensible to formally review all science under MOSAC, whilst retaining a Hadley Centre Climate Programme Customer Group, as described in paragraph 14, to ensure that customer needs are being met. (Paragraph 25)

8.  We recommend that the Met Office publish MOSAC's terms of reference on its website. We also advise MOSAC to consider the Code of Practice for Science Advisory Committees (CoPSAC) at its next meeting, specifically considering whether MOSAC would benefit from adhering to the principles contained within it. (Paragraph 26)

Models and supercomputers

9.  Met Office models are highly regarded across the UK and around the world. It is a testament to the Met Office that its Unified Model is licensed to other national meteorological services. Collaboration with these international partners helps the Met Office to further test and develop its models and should be encouraged. Similarly, collaboration with the wider UK meteorology community should be encouraged to stimulate the development of Met Office models. We note that the MONSooN project has been held up as a particularly good example, providing a joint supercomputing system that allows scientists to collaborate on research into modelling issues. We encourage the expansion of MONSooN and recommend that NERC work closely with the Met Office to develop plans for the next phase that are suitable for the research community's needs. (Paragraph 35)

10.  It is of great concern to us that scientific advances in weather forecasting and the associated public benefits (particular in regard to severe weather warnings) are ready and waiting but are being held back by insufficient supercomputing capacity. We echo the recent conclusions of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and others, that a step-change in supercomputing capacity is required. We acknowledge, however, that affordability is an issue. The Met Office has over recent years built a good case for increased investment. However, we have not in the course of our inquiry assessed investment in supercomputing over recent decades. We recommend that the Met Office provide an overview of historical investment in supercomputing resources in its response to us. We encourage BIS to complete a formal business case on supercomputing, however, we do not consider that this process should take anywhere near the 18 months suggested by the Government. In our view, the Government should finalise the business case in the next six months. (Paragraph 40)

11.  Given that supercomputing capacity for weather and climate forecasting is a recurring issue, we recommend that the Met Office work with the Research Councils and other partners in the UK and abroad to develop a ten-year strategy for supercomputing resources in weather and climate. This should include an assessment of which areas in weather and climate research and forecasting might benefit from low-cost options to enhance supercomputing capacity. (Paragraph 44)

Accuracy of forecasts

12.  The Met Office is consistently within the top three centres internationally in weather prediction and is widely recognised as a world-leader in climate prediction. However, we note that the climate model did not accurately predict the extent of the flattening of the temperature curve during the last ten years. We have heard that the accuracy of short-term forecasts is easier to assess than the accuracy of longer term forecasts and infrequent events, such as volcanic ash dispersion. We encourage the Met Office to work with partners in the UK and internationally on developing metrics to assess the accuracy of longer-term forecasts of weather and climate and of forecasts based on infrequent events. (Paragraph 51)

Communication of forecasts

13.  The Met Office should continue to produce longer term ("seasonal") forecasts as they are useful for civil contingencies and a wide range of industries. These forecasts should always be communicated carefully and accompanied by explanatory notes describing the uncertainty. We recommend that the Met Office develop a communications strategy that sets out, for example, how it intends to enhance the ways in which it presents probabilistic weather forecast information. (Paragraph 55)

14.  The Met Office should also work closely with broadcasters, such as the BBC, to ensure that forecasts are communicated accurately. In particular, we are keen to see broadcasters make greater use of probabilistic information in their weather forecasts, as is done in the United States. Broadcasters should also make more use of digital technology to ensure that probabilistic forecast information is available to those that want it. (Paragraph 56)

Access to data

15.  We note that there are contrasting views on how easy it is to gain free access to Met Office data. While we take some reassurance from the fact that the Met Office tries to address specific concerns about this as and when they arise, we consider that the current consultation in collaboration with the Royal Meteorological Society on access to data should help the Met Office to deal with the problem in a more strategic manner. We recommend that the Met Office also look to other countries for best practice on making data more freely available. Alongside this, we welcome the Government's initiative under the Public Data Corporation to make more Met Office data available to drive innovation and growth. The Government should continue to work with the Met Office to ensure that the new arrangements are effective and do not add an unnecessary level of bureaucracy. (Paragraph 59)

Working in partnership

16.  We recommend that the Government consult with the Met Office on the need for Government representation on Met Office science partnerships. While such representation may be desirable to ensure strong links between the Government and policy-relevant research, care must be taken to ensure that there is no conflict with the Haldane principle—particularly where partnerships are co-funded by the Research Councils. (Paragraph 64)

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Prepared 21 February 2012