EO Detective ID RG6-2502-RJT-RADAR

What do you work on?

I work with people around the world to improve estimates of how heavy rain will be. This helps us to produce better weather forecasts and more accurate flood warnings – potentially lifesaving decisions are made with this information. The technology behind the weather radars we use has taken a big leap forward in the last few years, so more information is available. This means there are opportunities for us to do things that were not previously possible or even thought about – so it’s a great chance to be creative.

How did you come to be an EO Detective?

My education was pretty traditional: at school, I did well in GCSEs and ‘A’ levels (Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry) and was encouraged to apply to Oxford or Cambridge – but I was already interested in environmental measurement so wasn’t interested in any of their courses. I wanted to do meteorology, but was advised to do a joint honours degree with physics. That was a good idea because the combination hasn’t restricted me, and gave me more options. I did an undergraduate project that included earth observation (it had a negative result as its conclusion because my idea didn’t work at the level of accuracy needed to make it useful). By the time I’d finished, I was hooked on weather-radar research, did a PhD on another cutting-edge aspect of it and have worked in the field ever since.

What does the image show?

This is a plot I made a few years ago that shows one of the problems with radar which I’ve worked to solve. Really heavy rain absorbs the radar beam, and makes rain behind it appear much weaker, or even disappear. There was flooding in south London on this day, but the radar image missed most of the rain. We’re aiming to correct data like this so we get more accurate rainfall totals.

How is the data you use collected and used?

There are weather radars in many places around, including sixteen in the UK operated by the Met Office. They provide live or near-real-time rainfall mapping over a wide area – a critical tool for weather forecasting and warning about floods, especially flash floods. I often use the world’s largest steerable weather radar at Chilbolton.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I’ve taught students about all sorts of things: weather maps, statistics, programming, fluid physics … Media is something I do quite a bit of in my job these days. I’ve given expert comments about weather events – particularly flooding and storms – on TV and radio and in newspapers.

Tell us about your favourite image of the Earth from space

This is a satellite image of Hurricane Matthew passing over the Bahamas and approaching Florida. You can also see Nicole to the east. This picture shows many features of hurricanes – a weather feature widely misunderstood by British public (there wasn’t one in the UK in 1987!).

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I race bikes, mostly on the road. It has a surprising amount in common with meteorology – aerodynamics, power, data, statistics – but, of course, it’s much less fun when it rains.