In a year where environmental science has become even more relevant, we have taken a moment to reflect on how National Centre for Atmospheric Science research has made an impact.
To mark the end of 2023, we are looking back at our news from the past 12 months. Highlighting our science, services and topical feature pieces, the 2023 news round-up reveals stories that defined our year.
At the start of the year, we contributed to a parliamentary report about air pollution.
Our summary of the report highlighted how across the UK, concentrations of air pollutants are uneven – with urban areas typically having poorer air quality, particularly in deprived neighbourhoods.
In February, we highlighted the need for sustained investment in scientific research to improve indoor air quality.
People spend up to 90% of their time indoors, but more research is needed to understand indoor air pollution. Decision-makers need science-based advice to help them prioritise interventions, and to develop strategies for improving indoor air quality over the next decade.
In the spring, we announced that the FAAM Airborne Laboratory made its first flight using a blend of sustainable aviation fuel.
The FAAM Airborne Laboratory operates a specially adapted BAE-146 aircraft fitted with scientific instruments. It used a blend of sustainable aviation fuel for the first time on a routine crew training flight in the south of England. This is part of our efforts to minimise carbon emissions from research activities.
In April, we documented the deployment of a moveable weather radar. Weather radars are the most effective way to collect real-time rainfall information.
The new radar will help researchers to study clouds and different types of precipitation around the world – leading to improved weather forecasts and climate projections.
In May, we inspired collective action for carbon neutral research through art.
Paul Millhouse-Smith, a multi-disciplinary artist and technologist, used cutting-edge 3D ceramic printing technology and conversations around human impacts and climate change to make a collection of decorated ceramic vases. The collection encouraged people to look at the challenge of net zero for digital research infrastructure from a fresh perspective.
This summer marked the start of El Niño. El Niño is a climate pattern defined by anomalous warming of surface and sub-surface waters in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean.
We explained how El Niño has influenced a number of weather events, including the unusually high temperatures in the North Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, and the record breaking global temperatures.
The drone was able to make pressure, temperature, humidity, and 3D wind turbulence observations with unprecedented accuracy and resolution up to 2km above ground.
In other airborne related news, our scientists also discovered potential ozone layer depletion from small satellite iodine emissions. In our story, we shared that the growing number of satellite launches using iodine propulsion systems could lead to significant ozone depletion each year.
In August, we called attention to research showing that people in the most deprived groups of society typically live in locations with the highest emissions of air pollution across England.
Later in the year, this research contributed to a House of Commons Library briefing for MPs on air quality in the UK. The “Air quality: policies, proposals and concerns” covers evolving air quality policies and legislation across the UK, targets, statistics and health and inequality concerns.
At the end of summer, we reported that agricultural flash droughts are set to double in frequency for parts of Europe, South America and Africa in the coming decades with climate change.
Agricultural flash droughts are characterised by the rapid loss of soil moisture, which can ruin crops, increase fire risk, and jeopardise lives and livelihoods.
Earlier in the summer, we successfully implemented TAMSAT-ALERT, a forecasting tool, to assess the risk of droughts occurring across Africa. TAMSAT-ALERT forecasts are useful for a range of decision making processes across agricultural, humanitarian and conservation sectors.
In the autumn, we covered tests on engine emissions from sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). SAF is made from renewable biomass and waste resources, and can be used as a direct replacement for jet fuel sourced from crude oil.
SAF has the potential to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions – such as carbon dioxide – in aviation by up to 80% when compared to standard jet fuel. The engine tests were used to compare emissions between fuels from sustainable and non-sustainable sources.
In November, we went behind the scenes of the FAAM Airborne Laboratory’s maintenance inspection. The C Check happens every two years and involves removing, inspecting, and replacing all of the aircraft’s components.Specialist engineers were also working with the Mid-Life Upgrade team to implement some of the programme’s aircraft infrastructure changes.
In even more airborne related news, we covered how our scientists also deployed a Helikite to study clouds over the Greenland ice sheet to help better understand ice sheet melt. Earlier in the autumn, we drew attention to a Government report that advocates for Arctic climate change research – like our project known as CANARI.
At the end of the year, we summarised the 2023 Global Carbon Budget report. The report announced that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels have reached record levels in 2023, and there is a 50% chance global warming will exceed the Paris Agreement 1.5°C target consistently in about seven years.
For our final news story of the year, we covered the Warming Stripes featuring on Envision Racing’s next season’s Formula E electric race car.