It is once again that time of year when, after a solid few weeks of peace, university campus returns to its former state of a frenzied zoo. This down-time brought on by the lack of seminars or undergraduate students milling about had its perks, but also it had extinguished some of my motivation at the time. I realise now, that perhaps I had simply been stuck in one grey place for a little too long without a break away from my office. And so I was lucky to have escaped to not one, but to two beautiful cities for a slight academic deviation from my own studies!
First up was a short trip to York: meeting our cohort once again for a de-brief of the air quality field work done in Beijing, (which I have previously written about here). The only thing I can really say about this is that:
1) I still get super anxious about presenting my research,
2) York has an incredible Railway museum, and
3) it is a gorgeous place left right and centre. 100% would go again.
Later in September came a two-week NCAS climate modelling summer school in Cambridge. Albeit somewhat outside of the scope of my own work, this was the best thing I could have done this summer as I haven’t really had time away from work yet this year! It was *almost* like taking a break from my research, although 9am – 9pm was the length of our working day! It did exactly what it says on the tin: taught us about the ins-and-outs of climate modelling. The physics and dynamics of the atmosphere and oceans, how their complex interactions are translated into numerical methods and into ensemble (probabilistic) models. All taught via lectures, seminars, individual and group practicals, fuelled by endless biscuits and tea. And coffee. (You cannot be serious about academia if your soulmate is anyone/anything other than a caffeinated brew of godliness).
The bulk of the second week comprised a group practical. Using the coupled atmosphere-ocean GCM (global circulation model) FAMOUS, my group investigated the effect of flattening the orography of the Earth on the global climate. Effectively, we removed the mountains and saw what impacts this had on a 400-year simulation, with respect to surface air temperatures, global precipitation patterns, strength of the 250hPa winds, carbon content and vegetation types. One of our main hypotheses was that the 250hPa winds would become more zonal, a) because of the ‘removal’ of obstacles at the suface of the earth and b) because of a change in temperature gradient between land and sea. I focused on the effect on surface air temperature and found that globally, on average the temperature increased immediately by ~2K due to the idea of an air parcel descending adiabatically (i.e. air descending from where mountain ranges no longer existed, warming as it does). The next decade saw a transient reposnse of further gradual rise of ~1K, eventually equilibrating around 3K. This temperature rise wasn’t heterogeneous though; the largest differences were seen around the Himalayas, the Rockies and Antarctica, which could affect the meridional ocean circulation (MOC) and ocean temperature gradients, as well as precipitation rates globally and the intensity / location of the Indian monsoon due to the changing winds. If only I had saved some plots on my laptop from this exercise, it would make a GREAT blog post, but alas I have nothing to show… hey ho.
The great thing about this summer school was the way it brought together 30-odd PhD / post-doctorate students from all over the globe, working in teams and talking about the early stages of their research. It can be daunting to do either of those two things when you are naturally shy (…or just naturally inclined to believe that other people might think that you are not good enough to find yourself at such an event). I am not exaggerating when I say that I feel so refreshed to just crack on with work, inspired by the people I interacted with – of both the student and lecturer type. It is crazy for me to think that I am now in my second year of this PhD…. Bring it on!