Scientist Profile - Ian Renfrew
December's NCAS Scientist of the month is Professor Ian Renfrew who is based at the University of East Anglia. Ian began his career with a Mathematics BSc from Edinburgh and then moved to the University of Reading to complete a PhD in Meteorology.
Professor Renfrew's current research focuses on the Polar regions and he specializes in boundary-layer and mesoscale meteorology. Ian also teaches and supervises students of Meteorology & Oceanography or Environmental Sciences at UEA. Most recently Ian has been involved with DIAMET which we'll talk about later on.
Tell me more about what made you decided to do a phd?
I chose to do a PhD because I thought it would be an academic challenge, which it was! I guess I am a summit-motivated person. I was interested in applying maths to an environmental problem and weather and climate seemed a good prospect and quite topical at the time – global warming was in the news.
How did you progress from there?
After my PhD I was lucky enough to be offered a postdoc abroad, at the University of Toronto in Canada. This steered my research polewards and after 3 years, enabled me to get a position at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. After 6 years at BAS I moved to become a Lecturer at UEA.
What do you do on a normal day at work?
A massive variety of things from teaching to flying around in a research aircraft making fantastic quality measurements of the atmosphere.
What science are you working on at the moment?
I'm involved in several projects, one on Orographic flows over the Antarctic Peninsula, where we think the warm downslope foehn winds are playing a role in warming and melting the massive Larsen Ice Shelf and leading to its break up. Another is continuing the work we did in the Greenland Flow Distortion Experiment, looking at the role that topographic jets (and other polar weather phenomena) work, are represented in NWP models, impact on predictability locally and downstream over Europe and also their impacts on the ocean and climate. And currently Diamet – of which more later.
What was the last conference you attended?
I went to the ICAM (International Conference on Alpine Meteorology) Conference in May of this year which was organized by NCAS and held in Aviemore in the highlands of Scotland. Great conference (Europe's mountain meteorology conference), wonderful venue and topnotch organization too!
Thanks Ian. ICAM was a massive success and I think NCAS enjoyed organizing it! How do you think your work contributes to UK atmospheric science?
I hope my research improves understanding of some polar weather systems and the role they play in the climate system. I am also on (and have been on) some international panels (e.g. WMO creations) focused on the polar regions which I hope raises the UK's profile and enables me to inform people in the UK about progress and plans internationally. In some of my research we have made discoveries which have lead to model parameterization improvements or recommendations on observational use – working with the Met Office and others to turn these into NWP system changes makes a contribution.
What motivates you in regards to your work?
I enjoy supervising good PhD students and making progress in my research interests. Plus I like to think some of my work has some sort of impact. I also enjoy visiting places even if these always seem to be cold and windy!
You mentioned that you are involved with Diamet. Could you explain what questions DIAMET is trying to answer, why it is happening and when?
DIAMET is trying to understand the causes of particular mesoscale structures (10s to 100s of km in scale), and how we can improve the forecasting of such structures. A good example would be to consider a cold front approach the UK from the west, traditionally marked as a 2-dimensional line with blue triangles on a synoptic (weather) chart. However in reality (e.g. in radar images) we know that much of the "weather" (the precipitation and high winds) is not 2 dimensional, there is loads of structure related to particular atmospheric processes at work, as well as interactions with the surface. The question we are addressing is 'How can we improve our forecasting of these structures?'
How does DIAMET aim to answer this question?
DIAMET is making extensive use of FAAM's BAE146, which measures almost everything you can wish for! (There are always a few things extra we'd wish for of course, otherwise they'd be nothing to ask Santa for.)
DIAMET aims to collect an unprecedented amount of data about the severe weather associated with cold fronts over the UK. Their campaign has been exceptionally lucky as they were able to fly in and around the storms that battered the UK at the beginning of December.
What advice would you give someone considering a career in atmospheric science?
Make sure you do plenty of Maths and Physics at School and, if you go to University, that your degree programme has plenty of Maths in too.
How important is it for UK atmospheric scientists to collaborate with others across the world?
Much of my work is in the polar regions where collaboration with scientists from other countries is very common and pretty much essential for observational campaigns. I love collaborating with scientists from overseas it is great for hearing new ideas and stimulating new avenues of research.
I have developed a variety of collaborations, one thing that helped was doing a postdoc abroad – you meet a whole new community there and if you can make good contacts and work to keep them up this can help keep an international perspective to your science. I still regularly collaborate with contacts in Toronto (Canada), at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA), in Oslo and Iceland. I also collaborate in the UK of course, e.g. with people at Leeds, Reading and Manchester, as well as the British Antarctic Survey of course.
Thanks to Ian for answering these questions. Interview conducted on the 2nd December 2011.