Andrew Russell's Researchers in Residence page
Andrew Russell: weather and climate scientist

Researchers in Residence journal 2008/09

I have now finished my Researchers in Residence placement! Below is blog/journal charting my progress, plans and initial ideas. Hopefully some of the ideas and experiences that I document here will be of use to fututre Researchers in Residence who are planning on doing something related to weather and climate.

RinR Progress, Plans and Ideas

Firstly, here is a pdf of the summary document that I gave to the students in the final session. It includes much of the material that follows on this webpage but also has some links to resources that I used during the placement.

Plot of all the weather station data 27/4/2009: Final session today! We looked at all the weather data from the entire project (click the picture to the left to see the plot) and noted some patterns: the highest temperatures occurred during periods of high pressure; the lowest temperatures occurred during nights when there was little cloud cover; the biggest rain events happened when pressure was decreasing quickly not when pressure was lowest and; there was very little rain during periods of high pressure. I also gave a couple of prizes to the students who made the best forecasts during the project.

20/4/2009: We made more forecasts this week. It was a good opportunity to revisit some of the ideas we had discussed in previous weeks (e.g. the Coriolis effect) and, as the current weather was dominated by high pressure, to think about why high pressure often causes the flow of weather systems the slow. (Thanks to the BBC website for the animation to the right.)

Life cycle of a depression from http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/weatherwise/factfiles/basics/weathersys_fronts.shtml
A cumulus cloud with crepuscular rays! 16/3/2009: What with it being Easter next week I thought I'd give the forecasting a miss this session. Instead, I thought we'd look at another fundamental aspect of meteorology: how clouds form. The key mechanism in cloud formation is pressure change - in the atmosphere this happens by convection, frontal uplift or air flowing up hills and mountains. In the classroom, the pressure change was demonstrated first by making some marshmallows expand in a bottle. We then all tried to make clouds in water cooler bottles by making the pressure change through a tube stuck in the top. However, this doesn't work at first becuase the water vapour needs particles to condense on to - these particles can be sucked into the bottle from a smouldering match and the process can be demonstrated by putting some peanuts into a fizzy drink (the bubbles only form on the salt particles). Overall, I had fun in the session and I hope everyone learnt how clouds form!

2/3/2009: Ok, so the first forecasts that the students made were pretty good (and we made some more for next session too) but perhaps we dived in at the deep end a bit and more questions were raised than answered from the first forecasting session. Firstly, why does wind flow parallel to isobars? To answer this I showed a video demonstrating the Coriolis force, which is kind of interesting in itself. The students also wanted to know why weather patterns look how they look so we thought about the general atmospheric circulation for a bit and how that relates to solar input, land/sea distribution, the vertical structure of the atmosphere and the rotation of the Earth.

Satellite image used to make our forecasts
Met Office forecast chart 16/3/2009: Today was our first weather forecasting session! I produced a handout with some important information about the structure of fronts and how to read Met Office surface analysis charts. I also brought along some satellite images which I always find both beautiful and really instructive for weather forecasting. We also had some weather station data so the students could see the ballpark figures for the temperature, pressure and rainfall at the school. I wonder how good their 1, 3 and 7 day forecasts will be?

2/3/2009: Studying chaos as an undergaduate was probably what inspired me to get into atmospheric science so I had to do a session on chaos in my placement! We looked at some really simple systems on calculators and saw that chaotic systems can be very simple. We then looked at the Lorenz system and thought about sensitivity to initial conditions and how this affects weather forecasing and climate prediction. The Lorenz attractor
Greenhouse effect model 23/2/2009: This was the first session where I covered some science so I thought I'd start at the beginning - the greenhouse effect. It's interesting to calculate how cold the Earth would be without the atmosphere and then use some more equations (see left) to look at the impact of the atmosphere. I also tried to do an experiment using a lamp, two jam jars, two thermometers, vinegar and bicarb to show what greenhouse gases can do. It didn't work. I'll it again next week - I don't want to be responsible for a generation of climate change skeptics!

18/2/2009: It's half term but I went into the school this week as the site manager put the weather station up. The photos below show the bits of the station mounted on one of the school out buildings, with a close up of the anemometer and a picture of the computer logging the data from the weather station console. The station isn't in the ideal location - we'll lose some wind data - but it's about as good as we'll get on a school site. So, we're now logging data and I need to think of things to do with it!
The weather station The anemometer Logging the data
My presentation 9/2/2009: It was my first session with the students today! We didn't do much science at this point but I thought it was useful to introduce myself and my research so I gave a 25min talk showing what my background is and what research I've done and what we do in the department at manchester. I also told them what we'd be doing over the coming months. I think it went well.

14/1/2009: I have bought a weather station using the money that RinR give us to spend. My idea at the moment is to set the station up at the school so that the students can collect data and we can analyse it together to see what's going on with the weather. It will also be useful to verify simple weather forecasts that we'll make but maybe using WRF (see my first post) was a bit ambitious!

The weather station
The school 19/11/2008: With a change in RinR staff at the university, my placement is taking a little while to sort out! I had my first meeting at the school today so it was good to see what they wanted to get out of the project and to throw around some ideas. I've written a plan but I want to keep it pretty informal so that we can look at what is interesting at the time.

11/04/2008: So, it's early days as I've not yet had any contact with the school that I'm hoping to be placed with. All the same, I'm looking into how I could get kids to either produce a weather forecast (probably using the relatively new Weather and Research Forecast (WRF) model that I've just started using myself) or looking at simple climate models. For the latter option I'm having a look through a book called "A Climate Modelling Primer" for ideas. McGuffie and Henderson-Sellers

Email: andrew.russell at brunel.ac.uk