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School science inspired by improving weather forecasts

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High winds and heavy rain are regular features of the British weather, and forecasting these events accurately is a major priority for the Met Office and other forecast providers. One of the most challenging tasks is to predict the localised regions of severe weather that occur within larger-scale storm systems.

This is the challenge facing DIAMET, a project involving University groups from Manchester, Leeds, Reading and East Anglia, together with the Met Office. DIAMET is part of the Natural Environment Research Council’s Storm Risk Mitigation research programme, and is led by NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences.

The DIAMET scientists are trying to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts by improving our understanding of diabatic processes within the atmosphere and how the release of latent heat during cloud formation can affect storm development. The project also aims to improve the representation and the prediction of such weather systems in numerical weather prediction systems. The scientists have used a research aircraft to fly directly into storms and collect observations, producing detailed measurements of the temperature, humidity and wind distribution as well as the cloud particles. Together with ground-based radar and satellite measurements this provides a powerful insight into exactly what is happening inside the storms.

This major research project on storms also provides an excellent opportunity for school science engagement.
The project has produced two education videos. The first video goes ‘behind the scenes’ at the Met Office and investigates the science and technology of modern day weather forecasting. The second video focuses on the science of the DIAMET Project, including a tour of the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurement’s research aircraft and looks at ways in which scientists are striving to improve our understanding of how the atmosphere works and behaves. Both videos feature interviews with DIAMET scientists, graphics and to-camera explanations. They are freely available on the project website (http://www.ncas.ac.uk/index.php/en/diamet-schools/69-science-programmes/weather/weather-projects/diamet/310-diamet-video), or simply search for “ncas diamet” and go to “Diamet for schools”.  

The atmosphere, weather and climate change are also relevant and topical contexts to engage young people about a variety of scientific processes taught within the school science curriculum. The project website provides information, resources and activities to support teachers in the delivery of a range of content within Science Key Stages 3 and 4.  These include change of state, the particle model, latent heat and uses of the electromagnetic spectrum. There is also an opportunity for pupils to investigate some of the DIAMET data sets, plot graphs and draw conclusions about the meteorological conditions. This data handling activity could form the basis for an interdisciplinary learning project with social studies, numeracy and ICT.

We hope the educational resources produced as part of this NERC funded project can help to inspire school pupils about the importance of atmospheric sciences and also raise awareness about current research and the many career opportunities within this fascinating area of science.
Dr Heather Reid OBE (Education Consultant), Professor Ian A. Renfrew (University of East Anglia), Professor Geraint Vaughan (University of Manchester)   

http://www.ncas.ac.uk/index.php/en/diamet-schools 

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