Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: Newcastle University
Dates: Sep 2014-Aug 2019
Summary: Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing societies in the coming century but there are important gaps in our understanding of how climate change might affect local and regional scale hydrology. In Europe, observations suggest that there have been increases in rainfall in northern and central Europe, especially in winter, and also increases in rainfall intensity. These changes are consistent with atmospheric physics which indicate that warmer air can hold more moisture. We use climate models to examine how climate might change in the future and these suggest more frequent and intense heavy rainfall even in regions experiencing lower rainfall totals or overall increases in drought. This may cause increased risk of flooding of the sort witnessed over the last decade across the UK and Europe. As another example we could take the Himalayas where we know that most glaciers have been shrinking over the last 50 years or so. My research has shown, however, that something different is happening in the western region of the Himalaya, or Karakoram – summer
temperatures are cooling and glaciers are stagnating or expanding.
We can explore processes using observations and models, and most commonly both. My team at Newcastle and the Met Office have now run the first very high resolution climate model runs over the UK using a version of the UK weather forecast model. This model can simulate heavy rainfall events like those seen in the recent past, for example the Boscastle flood in 2004. We have forced this with greenhouse gas scenarios to look at how heavy thunderstorm rainfall might change in the future and it looks like this is set to increase with global warming. This is exciting as we now understand with more certainty what might happen in the future to flood risk and will allow us to prioritise investments accordingly. We are working with UK Water Industry Research to produce new urban drainage guidance for the UK based on our new climate model results.