Blogs about weather and climate from a PhD student

EGU 2016: Part 2 — April 25, 2016

EGU 2016: Part 2

I’m back from a busy week at EGU 2016 in Vienna, an event attended by 13,650 geoscientists from 109 different countries! The size of the event is something I didn’t really appreciate until I was there. After a hectic first day (see EGU 2016: Part 1), the rest of the week continued in a similar fashion. Here are just some of the main highlights.

Tuesday was the day of the ‘Historical Climatology’ session. This was one of the 619 themed sessions at EGU. The sessions are typically broken up into an oral session followed by a poster session. The Historical Climatology oral session contained 6 talks about different uses of historical data sources. These covered studies spanning 5 different continents and showed the broad scope of this very much emerging field. Linden Ashcroft gave a great talk on the use of historical documents to identify extreme precipitation in South East Australia and assessed how they linked to ENSO. Timothy Patterson introduced me to the concept of ‘ice-out’, which is the date the ice disappears from a lake. He focused his research in North East USA, where records of ice-out date stretch back to 1822! The records of ‘ice-out’ dates have even been found on barn doors.

The poster session that evening was where I presented my research. This was the first time I had presented a poster at a conference before and I really enjoyed it. It was great to see people taking an interest in my work and stopping to talk about it.


Throughout the rest of the week I attended quite a few different sessions, as it’s easy to pop in and out of them. This included sessions on the ‘Causes of climate change in the 19th and 20th century’, ‘The global monsoon system’ and ‘Flood and weather extremes of the past’. I was surprised at just how popular some of the talks were, with many session having no empty seats and very little floor space left!


One of my favourite sessions was ‘Communication and Education in Geoscience: Practice, Research and Reflection’. This Friday morning session was a nice change from some of the more intensive sessions I had been to and contained some really interesting talks. Subjects included: how video games can be used as a tool for communicating volcanic hazards; the development of Geography and Geology Terminology in British Sign Language; some poetry; and a talk about an interesting concept play based on the Climate Change COP agreements. The unsuspecting audience members were turned into delegate members and had to make some important decisions on the future of our planet!

As well as the subject specific sessions, there are a range of other things going on at EGU. The geocinema was a great place to go and escape the busy conference and watch some short films about explorations, research expeditions and the impacts of geoscience on everyday life. I also attended a lunch time session ‘Working at the science policy interface’, which was a panel discussion which included Valerie Masson-Demotte, the co-chair of IPCC working group 1. Overall, the conference was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to other researchers. Over 53% were early career scientists, so great if it’s your first international conference! See more facts and figures on the conference here.

On top of all the conferencing, I had lots of time to explore Vienna too! Its a beautiful city, with grand palaces, museums, and parks. I’ll leave you with a few photos and I’ll head back to working on my PhD! Thanks EGU!




EGU 2016: Part 1 — April 18, 2016

EGU 2016: Part 1

As part of my PhD I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to conferences and share my research. I’ve been to a few conferences so far but I am currently attending my first international conference, EGU 2016 in Vienna. The European Geosciences Union General Assembly, EGU for short, is held in Vienna each year and is a meeting of over 13,000 geosciences from around the world. It covers a massive range of topics and is a great mix of different sub-disciplines. For me this is really useful as there are a number of session being held which I am really interested in, and have relevance to my PhD research. This years EGU has 4,863 orals scheduled and over 10,000 posters on display, one of which is my own! Today is Day 1 of the conference and I hope to do a few blogs throughout the week to share my experience here.

I arrived in sunny Vienna yesterday morning having taken a very early flight from a dark and cold Manchester. From Manchester Piccadilly all the way to central Vienna, I had great fun spotting out others going to the conference, quite easy if their hand luggage consisted of a massive poster tube, a bit more difficult if not. I’ve not been to Vienna before, but everything I’ve seen so far points to it being a great destination for a week away from the office! The main EGU schedule runs from Monday to Friday, so Sunday was a nice chance to have a look around the historic city centre, have some ice cream, and take in the views from the top of St. Stephens Cathedral.


In the evening, EGU held a welcome event at the conference centre. This was a great chance to go to the venue, pick up a program and mingle with the thousands of others who had come along for the event. I would recommend attending the Sunday evening event in future years, the vast amounts of free wine was a nice way to kick off the week.

My Day 1 started with a great session on ENSO: Dynamics, Predictability and Modelling. This session lasted all morning and covered topics from the 2015/16 El Niño to more modelling focused discussions. The room was packed out! My research is focused on historical ENSO, but to hear about the more modern events and the modelling side of things was pretty interesting and gave me a few things to think about when I get back to my work in Sheffield. This afternoon I’m heading to some talks on Flood and Weather extremes of the past and then to check out some of the posters. The poster halls here are massive! Much bigger than the 20 or 30 so posters I’ve seen at the previous conferences I’ve been to. They are pretty overwhelming but I’m hoping a few will catch my eye this afternoon.

Tomorrow I get to present my own work, hidden in the middle of one of these massive poster halls. For anyone at this years event, I’ll be in Poster Hall X3, number 180 from 17:30-19:00. My poster is titled ‘Reconstruction of El Niño Southern Oscillation using data from ships’ logbooks, 1750-1854’. Come along and chat if you want to know more. My poster is attached to the session ‘Historical Climatology’, which has some really intriguing talks in it. The topics cover a range of historical climate data sources including grape harvest dates! This is also on tomorrow (Tuesday) at 10:30 till 12:00 in room -2.47.

Ok, time to go and see some more talks!



Perks of doing a PhD — April 11, 2016

Perks of doing a PhD

A couple of weeks ago I reached the half way point of the funding of my PhD! Woohoo!

This got me thinking about what I’ve done so far (quite a bit) and what is still left to come (a lot!). Within the past year and a half my idea of what a PhD is and what doing a PhD is like has changed a fair bit. Some of the main unexpected benefits are the things that I have been able to do which aren’t actually the PhD, but that have come up because of doing it. So basically, I’m thinking about all the great things about doing a PhD, and ignoring the actual work of doing a PhD. That’s ok right?! Although in the past few months I’ve been enjoying the researching a lot more too, and will do a blog post on that fairly soon!

So here are my top 5 perks of doing a PhD (not including what my daily life normally looks like…


…because my love for computers and MATLAB can’t be explained in a blog post).

1. Teaching – I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of teaching during my PhD so far. It’s such a nice break from sitting at my desk constantly. It’s also a great way to get to learn a lot more about the department as a whole, to work with other members of staff and to meet lots of the undergrads. I’ve taught on a range of courses, from Environmental Change to Atmospheres and Oceans, to more general research skills courses. My favourites so far though have to be the two field classes I’ve helped out on, one in Blencathra, Lake District, last year, and more recently one to sunny Southern Spain. Looking at the photos below you can probably guess why! My advice, if you get the chance give teaching a go during your PhD. If it’s not for you, you don’t have to do it forever. If like me, you find it actually quite fun, then grab the opportunities when you can.


2. Twitter – Yes, I know you don’t have to be doing a PhD to use twitter… but basically, twitter is really useful to keep up to date with what’s going on out there in your research area. I’m not much of an active twitter user (@climate_hannah if you want proof), but I do go on every day and see what the weather and climate news is. I’ve been following ENSO updates on there for the past year. Its good for seeing what other PhD students are saying and really useful to know that there are so many others out there working towards a PhD. Reading just a couple of lines about what they are up to and how hard so many of them seem to be working can be quite motivational (and hopefully not too stalker-like!).

3.Conferences – In my first year I was mostly focused on figuring out what was actually going on with my PhD. Now that I’ve figured out at least a bit of that, I’m keen to get to more conferences and show off some of my results, starting next week with my first major conference, EGU in Vienna. However, I did manage to squeeze a few conferences in last year, the first of which was usefully hosted in my department, the RGS-Mid Term. This was a great first conference, as it was run by and for other postgraduate students. Student conferences are a great place to present your research for the first time. I also presented at RMets Student conference in Birmingham last summer, which you can read all about here.

4.The place and 5. The people – This one totally depends on where you end up. After undergrad, its not always certain that you’ll be staying in one place for at least 3 years again. Starting my PhD I was new to Sheffield. It is really given me a chance to appreciate a new place and get to know lots of people. Academics are an interesting bunch and there are certainly a few interesting characters around. It’s really nice to have found somewhere with a good atmosphere and an office that you want to go and work in. In terms of the place, after one and a half years, I’m still adding more to the list of things to do quicker then they are getting ticked off! Sheffield has a lot more going on then it first seems, and I’m looking forward to getting through the rest of what it has to offer!


The current state of El Niño: August 2015 — August 26, 2015

The current state of El Niño: August 2015

The weak El Nino discussed in my previous blog post El Niño: What’s all the fuss about?  has developed over the past months into a strong El Niño event. The forecasts suggest that this weather phenomenon will continue to intensify over the winter months. Many news articles are questioning whether it will be as strong as the 1997/98 El Niño which had huge global impacts and brought ENSO strongly into public and media attention. So what has actually been happening and what is expected over the coming months? Here is a quick update using information from a key ENSO research community at International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society and the US Climate Prediction Centre.

A key way to monitor the progress of El Niño is to asses how much warmer the surface water of the tropical Pacific Ocean is than normal. This is reported in terms of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) anomalies. Taken from the US Climate Prediction Centre’s weekly ENSO update, the plot below shows that over the past four weeks the central and eastern equatorial Pacific has been clearly warmer than normal. The pattern in SST anomalies below is typical of El Niño conditions. The oceanic patterns and their interactions with the atmosphere lead to typical weather impacts experienced during El Niño events.

SST mid aug1

The International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society produced the below graph in Mid-August. It shows the forecast of sea surface temperature anomalies in a key region of the central equatorial Pacific Ocean. Each coloured line represents a forecast from a different dynamical or statistical climate model. All models suggest that higher than normal SSTs will continue over the coming months, indicating a continuation of El Nino conditions and in many models an increase in its strength.

mid-aug plume

Tony Barnston of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society has suggested that the current El Niño may turn out to be one of the top four strongest events since 1950. He also explained how strong El Niño events are loosely related to stronger impacts, however the actual impacts of El Niño varying between different events making it difficult to prepare for and predict them completely.

Governments and companies around the world have already been reacting to this El Niño. A quick look at some recent news reports shows that weather hazards typically associated with El Niño are already impacting countries around the globe, whilst others are well on their way to preparing for possible impacts on their countries over the coming months. Here are just a few examples from the news of how this year’s El Niño is impacting different regions:

  • A state of emergency has been declared in Peru over concerns of heavy rain, flooding and mudslides related to El Niño. The Peruvian government is stating the current El Niño as an issue of priority and as a result the Dakar off-road Rally due to be held in Peru 3rd Jan 2016, has been moved to Argentina and Bolivia. The Rally won’t be held in Peru, in order to make sure emergency services are readily available should El Niño impact its population and/or infrastructure.
  • In contrast to Peru, Fiji is preparing for prolonged dry spells and drought. Fiji’s Disaster Management Minister, Inia Seruiratu, has explained how the ministry’s budget has already provided thousands of litres of water to regions experiencing water shortages, and expects further provisions will be required in coming months as the dry spell continues. Crop losses and diminishing water supplies are also affecting surrounding Pacific Islands.
  • Low water levels in the Panama Canal have caused officials to impose limits on shipping through the region. Lower than average rainfall in the watershed has caused the Panama Canal Authority to plan restrictions on the maximum draft of vessels (the depth of the part of the ship underwater) allowed in the water way. Although recent rainfall in the region means additional restrictions have been postponed for the time being, however this could become an issue again in coming months.
  • In California NBC report that El Niño predictions are creating a pulse in demand for roofing projects in the Bay Area of San Francisco, with heavy rains predicted this winter associated with El Niño. Whereas in Hawaii, scientist have raised concerns over the survival of coral reefs, as warmer waters cause increased threat of coral bleaching.

As El Niño develops further and reaches its peak strength in late autumn / early winter, we will be able to observe fully the strength of this year’s event and be able to compare past events. Then we can see if it lives up to its name as ‘Godzilla El Niño’…’


RMetS Student Conference 2015 — July 8, 2015

RMetS Student Conference 2015

 Royal Meteorological Society – Student Conference – 1st – 3rd July 2015 – University of Birmingham

Last week I attended the Royal Meteorological Society’s 2015 student conference, held at the University of Birmingham. Around 70 students and early career scientists had a chance to get together and present their current research to each other. There were a huge range of short presentations on topics such as climate change, weather impacts, oceanography, climate modelling and Urban Meteorology. There were also presentations from keynote speakers, a poster session, an icebreaker BBQ and a conference meal.


An interested crowd sat through over 30 student talks over the 3 days, with lots of questions being raised and discussions continuing into the breaks. Somewhat ironically, the main distraction from the presentations was the weather outside. The Met Office have since announced that Wednesday 1st July was the warmest July day since records began and the hottest day since 2003, and you could certainly tell that it was hotter than normal in the unairconditioned Birmingham lecture theatre. Being typical meteorologists, many heads turned to look out the window when it started to rain, there was constant discussion about what the temperature was and many breaks to get fresh air were needed.

The keynote speakers at the conference focused on the theme of Weather and Climate: Past, Present and Future. I was particularly impressed by Jenny Rourke’s talk about her career in Meteorology. She told her remarkable story of progressing from a PhD student at the conference 8 years ago, to her current position as Deputy Chief Meteorologist at the UK Met Office. Her role now involves looking at the weather across the globe and highlighting any weather patterns that might be of interest to customers globally. Another keynote speaker, Dr Simon Keeling,  interestingly pointed out how the internet has changed the way in which meteorology is communicated and how this has important implications on how we must go about communicating the weather to the public. Ed Hawkins also discussed the importance of communication within the discipline, highlighting how short term climate variability should not be misinterpreted as a longer term climate trend.

Thursday evening was the delightful conference meal, followed by a very entertaining after-dinner talk by Pierrette Thomet Stott and Peter Stott. The couple have brought together their very different interests from the worlds of music (Pierrette) and meteorology (Peter), to create a tool that brings weather and climate science to the wider public. Weather, Arts and Music (WAM) is a special interest group of the Royal Meteorological Society which puts on a range of creative and informative events. It was great to hear about their new, innovate way to communicate science and to see that they were clearly enjoying the challenge. Find out more here:

On Friday, I presented at 9am, in the Observations and Data Assimilation session. I gave a brief introduction to my PhD research focusing on the data source I am using, the data from historical ships’ logbooks. I then sat back and enjoyed the rest of the presentations on the final day.

Rmets22Thanks to Simon Clark (@simonoxfphys) for the photo.

Overall, it was a really good conference experience and I enjoyed meeting so many other students and early careers scientist. It was great opportunity to present to others interested in weather and climate, and to hear what they had to say. I hope future conferences will be just as good. Thanks RMetS!


Speak Up, for the love of… — June 19, 2015

Speak Up, for the love of…

On Wednesday 17th June, I participated in the UKs biggest ever climate lobby which aimed to raise awareness of the urgent need for action on climate change. It was an opportunity for constituents to explain to their MPs why climate change matters to them. This year is crucial for negotiations of climate change and emissions reductions, cumulating in the UN 2015 Paris Climate Conference at the end of the year.

P1100032This government, which will last until 2020, is positioned to make key decisions over whether we can stop dangerous climate change. A rise in global temperatures of 2oC above pre-industrial levels is often quoted as the threshold for ‘dangerous climate change’, with current emissions trajectories we are heading for a rise of around 5oC. Therefore there is a need for drastic action to cut emissions so we do not commit ourselves to such a large temperature rise, which will have costly consequences globally. A powerful message comes from Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change ‘ This Changes Everything’, ‘The International Energy Agency warns that if we do not get our emissions under control by a rather terrifying 2017, our fossil fuel economy will lock-in extremely dangerous warming ‘the energy related infrastructure then in place will generate all the CO2 emissions allowed’ in our carbon budget for limiting warming to 2 degrees – ‘ leaving no room for additional power plants, factories and other infrastructure unless they are zero-carbon’… The door to reach 2 degrees is about to close. In 2017 it will be closed forever… We either change now or lose our chance’.

The event in London was organised by The Climate Coalition, and over 9000 people from across the UK met in Westminster and lobbied over 330 MPs. More about the event can be found here:

As suggested we made bunting which voiced our key concerns about climate change and important things that are under threat. This included; Island nations under threat from sea level rise, the rise in extreme weather events, The Arctic, lakes and rivers, bees, beaches and food security.


Bunting to show our key concerns about climate change 

We met with Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. We talked for almost an hour and voiced our key concerns.


Meeting our MP Sharon Hodgson 

Key points we discussed include;

  • Climate justice – My key concerns surrounding climate change are for the vulnerable island nations and low-lying areas which are at threat of losing their homes due to sea level rise, as well as communities at risk from an increase in extreme weather events. The majority of populations which will experience the more immediate impacts of climate change are developing nations, whereas the majority of historical emissions are from developed countries. There is a need for social justice due to the unequal burdens created by climate change. It is the responsibility of countries like the UK to drive drastic emissions reductions and to invest in renewable energies, as well as providing financial aid to countries under more immediate threat from the impacts of climate change. It is hoped that this will be considered and acted upon in a just and fair way during the UN talks in Paris.
  • Renewable Energy Transition – The North East has huge potential in the development of renewable energies, a sector that could bring investment and employment to the region, as well as helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Sharon supported the idea of an increase in solar panels and wind farms in the region. She also informed us of the plan for an ‘International Advanced Manufacturing Park’ in the region which could include alternative fuel technologies such as electric vehicles, as well as offshore and renewable energy sectors.
  • Fracking – Next week (23rd June) Lancashire County Council will make a key decision on whether oil and gas company Cuadrilla can go ahead with fracking at two sites in Lancashire. If this passes, it will be the first approved case for fracking in England. Fracking has been suspended in Scotland and Wales while the health, environment and climate change risks are assessed. It has also been banned in France since 2011. If all the known conventional fossil fuels that are still in the ground are used, the emissions and consequences of using them would lead to dangerous climate change, therefore it is not necessary to exploit these unconventional methods of fossil fuel extraction. Investments in new energy sources should focus on renewables. We urged Sharon to sign the ‘Frack Free Promise’ to oppose fracking in the constituency and nationwide (
  • Local solutions – Bringing sustainable transport solutions to the constituency presents an opportunity to combat emissions reductions at a local level. Sharon actively supports bringing the Metro to Washington, a large population without rail transport. She has a petition on her website and has presented a case for the development of the metro in parliament numerous times ( By adding the argument that the metro would help combat climate change in the region and promote more sustainable transport, Sharon recognised that the campaign could get additional backing. We urged Sharon to consider that climate change can be worked into other agendas and should always be considered when making political decisions.
  • The urgent need to raise climate change on the political agenda – The time to act is now; this government will essentially decide whether we commit ourselves to dangerous levels of climate change.

It is hoped that climate change will be increasingly considered by politicians in the run up to global talks in Paris in December and that everyone will become more aware of the need to act sooner rather than later.

Onset of Indian Summer Monsoon Declared — June 5, 2015

Onset of Indian Summer Monsoon Declared

Onset of Monsoon Declared

Today (5th June), India’s Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a press release declaring the onset of the southwest monsoon over the Southern State of Kerala. Kerala is the location officially used for the declaration of the onset of the Indian Summer Monsoon. The monsoon then advances northwards across the country, with monsoon not typically hitting the most northern parts of India until later in the month.

What is the monsoon?

Monsoons are a key driver of annual climate regimes in many tropical regions. Monsoon climates are characterised by the seasonal reversal of winds which lead to distinct wet and dry seasons. The Indian Summer Monsoon is one of the main monsoon systems and it has a huge impact of billions of people. The rainfall is vital for agriculture and brings great relief from the heat and aridity of the dry season. The average date for the onset of monsoon over Kerala is June 1st, making this current declaration 4 days later than normal. The IMD map below shows the typical progression of the monsoon over India, indicated in red, as well as the 2015 actual progression, as observed so far, in green. The location of Kerala can be seen in the South West tip of India. As the monsoon progresses, the advance of the 2015 monsoon will be recorded and mapped.


 How does the declaration come about?

Guidelines for the declaration of monsoon onset over Kerala are focused on three key weather variables; Rainfall, Winds and Cloudiness.

  • The past two days have seen rainfall of over 2.5 mm in 70% of the 14 designated stations for reporting rainfall in Kerala.
  • A westerly/west-southwesterly wind in lowest 4.5 km of the atmosphere over the south Arabian Sea.
  • Increased cloudiness, measured by the amount of Outgoing Longwave Radiation over a pre-defined area to the South West of India.

As these three conditions have been observed over the past two days the IMD could officially declare the onset of monsoon.

Why this is important?

This year, India has also experienced an extreme heat wave prior to the onset of the monsoon, with temperatures reaching 48oC. Although the weeks leading up to monsoon are commonly the warmest of the year over much of India, this years heat wave has been more extreme than normal and resulted in around 2,000 fatalities. Water shortages and power cuts have made the unbearable conditions during the heat wave even worse. The monsoon and its rainfall will provide some welcome relief to the extreme conditions.

See IMD Press Release:


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