Scientists in the School are at the forefront of research into the causes and effects of climate change and its implications for society.
Activities in the School centre on understanding the course and causes of climate change (Climatic Research Unit), developing sustainable responses to the potential impacts of climate change (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research), weather forecasting (Weatherquest) and the promotion of carbon reduction practices (CRed, Carbon Connections).
Climate scientists in the School study climate change on timescales of decades to millennia, and investigate climate feedbacks associated with the carbon cycle, interactions between the atmosphere and ocean, and also provide climate scenario data for impact assessments across Europe. Much of this work is carried out by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), founded in 1972. Datasets of various climate parameters, developed and updated in the School, are used worldwide to monitor and study the climate system. The world's leading dataset of global temperature change is compiled in CRU, as are key records of past climate derived from various proxy data over time scales ranging from seasonal averages to millennia and space scales ranging from global to local.
Examples of this work include the use of networks of tree rings, the width and density of which are indicators of either temperature or available moisture depending on tree location. These data can provide average time series of changing conditions over wide areas or explicit patterns of variability that allow recent conditions to be compared with changes in the past. Climate model calculations carried out using UEA's state-of-the-art computing facilities are used to improve our understanding of climate change, its causes and underlying physical processes. Recent high resolution simulations carried out by our scientists have demonstrated the role of stratospheric ozone depletion in southern hemisphere climate change.
The research of CRU has four main strands:
- Analysis of instrumental data (temperature and other records) over the last three hundred years.
- The use of multiple proxy records – such as tree-ring data and ice core records - to quantify large-scale average climate variability and spatial patterns of change over the last 2000 years.
- Development of future climate scenarios, for the UK and elsewhere, based on computer modelling.
- The output of state-of-the-art general circulation models (GCMs), regional climate models and statistical downscaling techniques.
A second element of the School's work in climate change is centred on the potential impacts of climate change on physical, biological and human systems and measures for mitigating the effects of, and adapting to, climate change. Much of this work is centred in the The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, a geographically distributed institution headquartered at UEA, that has established itself as a major centre for research on climate policy and solutions. The Tyndall Centre brings together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists, who together are working to develop sustainable responses to climate change. This is done through inter-disciplinary research and dialogue on both a national and international level - not just within the research community, but also with business leaders, policy advisors, the media and the public in general.
Notable achievements of Tyndall Centre research at UEA include:
- Construction of a coastal simulator to identify how the future coastline in eastern England might evolve under a range of shoreline management options and climate and socio-economic futures.
- Development of an integrated assessment tool to study the implications of different political, economic and technological choices for climate change - the results were widely used in the Stern Review on the economics of climate change and the recent IPCC 4th Assessment.
- Identification of the key determinants of the capacity of individuals, institutions and societies to adapt to climate change, together with the constraints that society imposes.
Members of the School edit, or are editorial board members of the Journal of Climate, International Journal of Climatology, Global Environmental Change, Climate Policy, and Climatic Change.
The School is also very active in knowledge transfer activities related to climate change science: Weatherquest, a short-range weather forecasting and analysis company was established in the School in 2001, and works with customers in the agriculture, insurance, marine, media and construction sectors. In 2003, the School launched CarbonReductions (CRed) to promote carbon reduction practices in private and public sectors, and among households, and in 2006 Carbon Connections was funded to roll-out and evaluate low carbon technology innovations.
The School's world-leading profile in all aspects of climate change research is reflected in the fact that UEA had more authors of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report than any other university in the world. The panel was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Al Gore.