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Tim Woollings - Four Way Interview

Tim Woollings is an Associate Professor in Physical Climate Science at the University of Oxford, leading a team of researchers in the Atmospheric Dynamics group. He obtained his PhD in Meteorology in 2005 and since then has worked on a variety of topics spanning weather prediction, atmospheric dynamics and circulation, and the effects of climate change. He has studied how the jet stream varies over weeks, years, and decades, and how we can better predict these changes. He was a contributing author on three chapters of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Tim worked at the University of Reading as a postdoc, research fellow and then lecturer before moving to the University of Oxford in 2013. He is now the Oxford Joint Chair of the Met Office Academic Partnership. His new book is Jet Stream.

Why climate?

It has never been more important to learn about how our climate system works, and how we are affecting it. You certainly get a lot of satisfaction when your work touches on hugely important and timely issues. But even putting these aspects aside, climate science is a wonderful area to work in because it's so varied, with projects often involving a mix of observations, theory and computer modelling. And the forecasting aspect really makes the subject special - every year we get to test all our theories in real time, for example by trying to predict what the coming winter might have in store for us. 

Why this book?

Any student who has taken an atmospheric circulation class will know how strongly regional climate patterns are shaped by the motion of the atmosphere, but there have been very few books which touch on this for a general audience. The more I researched, the more I realised that there are incredible stories to be told of how weather and climate patterns work and how they have influenced us. For me, it's all about understanding different parts of the world, so I structured the book as a travelogue, following the jet stream around the world and telling some of these stories as we go. 

What's next?

Most of my own work has focused on the northern hemisphere, particularly the North Atlantic / European region. Writing the book made me broaden my horizons and learn about lots of other places, but it is still largely about the north. Next, I really want to learn more about the southern hemisphere - what shapes its jet stream and how this impacts the human stories of the south. 

What's exciting you at the moment?

Now is an exciting time, as climate modelling centres around the world are releasing simulations from their latest computer models to contribute to the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So scientists have a lot of new, more detailed simulations to look at, and we are starting to see interesting new results from groups around the world. This set of models looks likely to have a better simulation of the jet streams than ever before, which is great news. More worryingly, several of the new models warm more strongly in response to greenhouse gases than the older models, suggesting the risk of dangerous climate change could be even more serious than we thought. 

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