Julia Macchi

Work Experience at the Royal Meteorological Society
Julia Macchi, April 2010

Article on Volcanic Ash

For my work experience, I requested a placement, via email, at the Royal Meteorological Society, as for no apparent reason, it had always been a subject of great interest to me. Therefore, I decided to look for a place where I would be able to enhance my understanding of the study and organisation of meteorology as a career, and to gain an experience of work within an office. So when I found RMetS on the Internet, I was very excited; regardless of the fact that it’s around a 2 hour train journey away...

Monday 19th

After an uneventful commute on the train, I arrived at Reading, from where a brisk walk found me stood outside the Society, far from your average grey tower of offices. Having stared with intrigue at the rather grand building in all its glory with columns for a while, I approached the door, where I was welcomed by Sue (S). I then met Liz, who discussed the agenda for the week with me, and gave me a tour of the society, upon which I marvelled at the decor. Liz introduced me to everyone at the society, while I began to realise the many different sectors of work within the Society, for example, the Information Technology department, Communication, Public engagement, etc. Althea then told me about her job as Membership Secretary, and how she manages and organises member applications, existing members, the requests to be fellows of the Society, and much more. She showed me the first members’ book written in the 1850s when the Society was founded, which was very fascinating and bore the resemblance of a museum artefact.
Next on the agenda was to write an article for the MetLink website on a current weather/climate ‘newsworthy’ topic. It just so happened that this was at the time of the whole volcanic ash cloud ‘crisis’, therefore I wrote a short piece on the correlation between the dispersion & movement of the ash cloud, and the weather over Britain at the time. Through my research, I learnt a lot about the subject, and how weather systems can affect other occurrences within the weather, which was very interesting and very worthwhile. By the time 4 o’clock arrived, I had concluded that the 2 hour train journey each way was in fact worth it!

Tuesday 20th

At the prospect of my second day of work experience, the train journey seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I found myself deep in meteorological study. Well, I mean to say that I extended my article by adding on how the Met Office monitors the ash cloud, and bases predictions on their findings, which gave me a great insight into how the weather is observed and measured by meteorologists in forecasting centres. Once I had finished the article, Rachael (Head of Education) discussed some of the Society’s membership initiatives, such as discounts for students, and a gift pack upon membership. It was the latter that I would be focusing on, as the Society were looking for suitable gifts to be distributed to new members, such as weather stations, anemometers, etc.
I then produced a document, having researched possible gifts, and their costs. The next task was to find the costs of meteorological instruments and equipment to be used in the weather road show that the Society are planning, to teach school children more about meteorology. Through these tasks I learnt a lot more on the different meteorological instruments, and how they operate, whilst experiencing the more office work side of the Society, by producing documents on costs in Excel. Yet again, I came away at the end of the day, having gained more experience of work, in a very insightful and interesting way.

Wednesday 21st

I spent the morning with Sue (S), who is the Society’s secretary, which involves, as well as taking any calls, organising details for events, and managing various elements related to the Society, so, for example, she is currently managing paperwork for an event involving the Society’s members in July. We then went through two databases of members with their details for this event, to verify that they matched up. Having found, to our dismay, that for some reason a number of members were missing from the list, I moved on to the brand new task of completing the database on the computer, which involved transferring details from paper onto an Excel document. Admittedly, not the most enthralling task, but I was very grateful for the experience of the Information Technology side of work, whilst contributing to the organisation of the Society. I was allocated that task by another Sue (B) - personal assistant to Paul, the Chief Executive of the Society- after she told me about her job, and explained how she deals with paperwork, manages conferences and council meetings, etc. She also explained the process of becoming fellows or members to the Society, and what a typical Council meeting would include.
I was then given a very different job, of sorting out the pictures of all the Society’s presidents, dating back from the 1850s. This involved looking through the large framed pictures, to see if any were missing, (as it turned out there were 6 missing) and then putting them in date order, so that they can now be placed up the staircase walls. I found it interesting to see the many various images and photographs of the presidents, and their achievements, and at the end of the day I felt I had managed to practice new skills within a work place.

Thursday 22nd

This morning I spent time researching ideas for the energy monitor webpage design, after Sarah told me about her job as the Public Engagement Programme Manager. I was allocated this task, as the Society are currently planning a page on the RMetS website to track their contribution to tackling climate change, and to monitor their carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. For example, one of the Society’s targets is to reduce their energy consumption by 20% by the end of 2010; therefore the web page would track their progression towards this. Basically I looked at how other companies have done this, on the Internet, and thought about which designs work best, for example which type of graphs to use and should a comparison of the energy consumption be made daily, monthly or annually.
After lunch, Liz and I looked at various forecasts for this weekend, and at fascinating satellite images produced by the Met Office, and European & American weather stations. Liz explained how you could find out information like the wind direction, air pressure, wind speed, cloud quantity, etc, just from looking at real time, near real time and images with the isobars on. From these images, we tried to predict how the weather will have changed by the weekend, and compared our ‘theories’ to forecasts from groups such as the Met Office, Met Check, BBC Weather, and so on. I noted down the forecasts, and now I shall have to wait until the weekend to find out how accurate they were...exciting!

Friday 23rd

I spent the first half of my morning with Kathy (she manages the IT system, and various other tasks), who was trying to upload the article I wrote earlier in the week onto the MetLink website, however, having encountered a few technical difficulties, we were unable to do so- hopefully it will be up and running on Monday though. I spent the rest of the morning, I must admit, catching up on this diary entry, as it has to be said, I’m not the most organised of people!
Then after lunch, I started to write short reviews for some books on weather, which ranged in target audience, but I certainly didn’t mind an excuse to read a ‘Horrible Geography’ book again.
Although it’s the weekend tomorrow, I shall still be focused, as Liz gave me a couple of thermometers to use outside, so I can assess the accuracy of many various weather forecasts, which should be interesting...

Monday 26th

This morning I met Georgina, who manages the publications of the Society, for example, the Weather magazines & quarterly journals. She told me about her job and the various tasks this includes, for example she showed me the publishing website, and told me about a meeting she was preparing for in Leeds tomorrow.
I then worked on a mailing list for the new general public membership, which involved collecting the contacts of various academics from Universities, who were either studying, or worked for related departments such as Environmental Sciences, Meteorology, Geography, etc, and therefore would be potential members. I gathered the information in an Excel document, which Rachael had already started.
After lunch, Liz and I assessed the accuracy of the forecasts that had been made prior to the weekend, by looking at observations made on the internet, and my recordings. Over the weekend, I had recorded the temperature outside during the night & day with two thermometers Liz had given me, which more or less correlated with the forecasts. However, only one website had forecasted the possibility of showers on the Sunday....disgraceful!
I spent the rest of the day looked at the new MetLink website, which can be found on the RMetS page, to test the links and make sure everything was ok, as Rachael will be presenting it to Council and the Education Committee this week. I couldn’t find any problems, and enjoyed exploring the various sections, for example, for teachers, children, teenagers, etc, all of which are very interesting and useful!

Tuesday 27th

I began the day by continuing the potential member mailing list, after which I helped Rachael pack some weather instruments and equipment, which had been requested by a couple of schools. Meanwhile, Rachael explained how they operated, and how the data could be used to make forecasts. I found it fascinating how such simple devices could tell you so much, instead of using complex machinery.
After lunch, Rachael told me about a magazine for people of around my age, that the Society are proposing, if they meet their target of 5,000 members by the end of this year. They are currently at the stage of ‘brain-storming’ features and ideas for the magazine which would appeal to the target audience. Therefore, Rachael thought I would be a suitable person to ask for any ideas, so I spent the afternoon researching other magazines, and thinking of contents for the magazine. I mostly thought of pretty original ideas, for example, competitions for the best article on a given topic, the occasional free item (e.g. a cloud guide), a section on climate change, etc.
I spent the last part of the day with Rachael & Liz, who were organising the technical side of the Council meeting (which is tomorrow), for example, checking that the webcam and conference call system was working. This also involved experimenting with the whiteboard, and making sure that the MetLink website could be presented on it.

Wednesday 28th

Being the last day of my work experience at RMetS, I found myself very busy, trying to wrap up all of the exciting work I had been doing, which once again included catching up on this diary! Basically I made sure I had finished tasks such as the costs spreadsheet for the road show, the mailing list, book reviews, etc. However, I also got a minute of fame! Well, RMetS were compiling a video for their next AGM, to show the development of the Society throughout 2009 + 10, and so they thought it would be nice if I did a short clip (around 30 seconds long) just explaining my experience at RMetS. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be going in for TV when I’m older...

But alas, all good things must come to an end...I feel honoured to have done my work experience at the Royal Meteorological Society, which has given me a wonderful insight into the way the Society operates, and the study of meteorology as a whole. It has also made me realise how the many sectors of work within the Society (for example, Education, IT, Secretarial, etc) all contribute to making the Society what it is. Therefore I would certainly recommend work experience at RMetS, for those interested in Meteorology and general work within an office. Plus you get a badge!

So, I would like to thank everyone at the Society so much for this fantastic experience!

Julia Macchi.

Volcanic Ash

How does the high pressure system currently above the UK affect the direction and dispersion of the volcanic ash cloud?

On 14th April, 2010, volcano Eyjafjallajökull, located on the south coastline of Iceland, erupted for the second time, having previously erupted in March. However, the latter eruption managed to cause great disruption not only to the UK, but primarily to Europe and other surrounding continents, with it having lead to the prevention of most flights. This was a result of vast plumes of ash emitted during the eruption, which went on to accumulate into an ash cloud at around 18,000ft. The amount of debris emitted into the atmosphere was a consequence of the volcano being situated beneath a glacier of around 100 square kilometers, therefore the plume largely consisted of glass particles, as well as various aerosols.

Very soon, the cloud had streamed towards the British Isles, being carried by north-southerly winds, in a clockwise direction, centered around an area of high pressure in North-West Ireland. Such high pressure extended over the rest of the UK, which meant that the ash cloud essentially became trapped in this particular layer of the troposphere, preventing much dispersion from occurring. Such meteorological behavior is often known as a ‘blocking high’, in which the air is in a sense ‘stuck’, therefore, not operating in the anticyclones as it should. It was for such reasons that meteorologists initially said that the ash cloud didn’t pose a threat to people’s health, for unless there was a significant decline in pressure, the ash wouldn’t start to fall. ‘Blocking high’ also means that other weather systems actually have to find a way around the high pressure area, therefore winds wouldn’t affect the cloud, and the ash cloud would remain more or less stationary above the UK. In actual fact, it was due to this high pressure weather system that so far this April has been exceptionally dry, instead of following the April showers ‘tradition’ that the British have become accustomed to, for high pressure usually prevents cloud formation, due to the subsiding characteristic of the air.

As a result, it is thought that in order for the volcanic ash cloud to disperse and decrease in density above the UK, there must either be a change in the weather, or over time if the volcano ceases to erupt further, the ash will disperse naturally, for the cloud would be ‘starved’ of new ash. However, this is looking fairly unlikely at the moment, therefore meteorologists are hoping for cyclogenesis to occur within the UK (the formation of low pressure areas), as then the cloud would be able to disperse in the general direction of the wind. Also, low pressure would lead to more cloud coverage, in which water molecules would condense upon aerosols such as sulphur particles, thus forming clouds, but possibly leading to acid rain.

volcanoTherefore, much of the UK is relying on meteorologists such as employees within the Met Office to monitor the current weather, and make forecasts and predictions based on observations and information gathered through technology. For example, the main source used to monitor and detect changes in the weather is satellites. For instance, the Meteosat Second Generation satellite detects infrared radiation, therefore it can monitor the ash cloud based on the infrared wavelengths it emits, in comparison with its surroundings. This produces images of the focused area, with a colour scheme to indicate the different infrared wavelengths, which is then sent back to the Met Office. Meteorologists may then gather a series of the real-time satellite images, taken frequently over a period of time, to form an animation, which can be used to observe the rate of dispersion, the direction of the cloud, and the speed of the winds it’s being carried on. This enables the Met Office to make predictions based on the findings, and prepare people for what may occur; for example, countries in the direction of the ash cloud’s journey would need to be warned.

Technology such as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which is onboard NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites, produces near real-time images, which can be used to monitor the movement of the ash in the atmosphere, for the images are as you would see the earth from space. For example, in the image on the right, the stream of volcanic ash can be seen heading towards the UK (light-brown ash).

The ash cloud can also be detected using radar observations, such as the Aerosol LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) radar at Manchester University, which can actually measure the cloud droplets and other particles and aerosols in the atmosphere. This information is gathered in a graph, such as the one on the left, which shows the various particles present, using a colour scheme.

volcano graphHaving assessed the risk, the Met Office actually sent up a light aircraft, manned by the Airborne Research and Survey Facility, who monitored and recorded levels in the troposphere using various equipment and instrument canisters.
Julia Macchi