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«Medium-Range Weather Prediction Austin Woods Medium-Range Weather Prediction The European Approach The story of the European Centre for Medium-Range ...»

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In spite of his administrative and management responsibilities, WiinNielsen maintained a close personal interest in the scientific work. Sakari Uppala, a Finnish scientist working on the FGGE data at the Centre, remembered Wiin-Nielsen regularly coming into the FGGE office, pulling up a chair, lighting one of his famous low-tar cigarettes, and asking: “OK now, what’s new today?” There was one major subject on which Wiin-Nielsen felt very strongly, and which led to some intense, even difficult, discussions between him and the staff of the Research Department. That was the use of the mathematical “semi-implicit scheme” in a global forecast model. This — to allow longer time steps in the model — was a major gamble taken on Bengtsson’s insistence. He needed to use this numerical formulation to allow the use of a high-resolution global model. Semi-implicit time differencing is relatively more stable and allows larger time steps than the explicit time differencing then used. A model with a time step of 20 minutes would need only one-quarter of the computing resources required by a model with a five-minute time step. He planned to use David Burridge’s experience of the semi-implicit scheme already in use at the UK Meteorological Office.

Burridge had been one of the first recruits to the Centre in May 1975 as a member of the Interim Planning Staff. He had been at Florida State University for a year from September 1979, when he had been awarded his PhD in mathematics by Bristol University. He had come to the Centre following five years’ experience as a scientist involved in forecasting research at the UK Meteorological Office, working as part of a strong team headed by the legendary Fred Bushby. They had developed a 10-level model with 100 km horizontal resolution extending over the Northern Hemisphere, which was designed to predict frontal development and rainfall. Burridge went on

16 Chapter 1

to become the Centre’s Head of Research, and later its longest-serving Director, holding that post from January 1991 until his retirement in June

2004. In 1995, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Burridge the prestigious title of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to meteorology.

Burridge was given overall responsibility for the numerical aspects of the first model. Bengtsson was convinced that successful medium-range prediction would require a resolution of at least 2° in latitude and longitude. This could not sensibly be achieved without replacing the explicit scheme with a semi-implicit scheme. Wiin-Nielsen was concerned that the scheme would in fact lead to a running time of the forecast that would be longer than operationally feasible, and that errors would be introduced into the forecasts.

Bengtsson and his staff stuck to their guns. Experiments showed that only insignificant differences were introduced in the forecasts when the more efficient semi-implicit scheme was used. Eventually Wiin-Nielsen, after being shown the experimental evidence of the benefits, reluctantly agreed. The scheme was used in the model. The first version of the model was tested in 1977, when the CRAY-1 was installed. Testing continued throughout 1978.

The Centre was ready to start operational forecasting in 1979, as planned.

The results were promising. Compared with forecasts produced in the USA, Britain, France, Sweden and Japan, the Centre’s trial forecasts were clearly best. By 1979/80 the Centre was already providing forecasts useful on the average for up to 5 or 6 days ahead — a wholly remarkable achievement.

One of the keys to Wiin-Nielsen’s effectiveness as Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Centre was his admired natural ability to forge creative working relationships: first between the Centre staff in its three Departments of Administration, Research and Operations, and then between the secretariat of the Centre, the Council, its Committees and various Working Groups. His ability to manage Council and Committee sessions became the stuff of legends. It was said that he would allow discussions to proceed, listen to the national delegates state their positions, and when discussion reached an impasse, would produce his own well-prepared proposal, to the relief of those sitting around the table, who were happy to approve it.

Wiin-Nielsen was proud to be able to say that the Centre and its staff, with their efforts, had delivered the forecast products on time, and with high quality. Wiin-Nielsen later noted that for him, this was the greatest experience of his life: to be allowed to head this major project, which required scientific insight, technical ability, practical action and a good working relationship with Council and its Committees. He recognised that this could never result from the work of one man. It called for collaboration, respect for other people’s opinions and abilities, and above all constant, unyielding hard work with a definite aim kept clearly in focus. Wiin-Nielsen noted that The first Director 17 the feeling of satisfaction that comes with such good results after five years’ work is quite different from the euphoria felt on achieving a scientific result in a limited investigation. Taking small steps never feels entirely satisfactory. Nor does taking action without complete scientific knowledge. But certainty and perfection have never figured prominently in the story of human progress. The Centre’s staff had to use all the collected knowledge that they and others had of the atmosphere’s behaviour on a grand scale of time and space to develop a model which would run on the Centre’s computer. The work of 40 or 50 people “wrestling with all the details, day in, day out, evenings and weekends too”, was brought to a successful conclusion. Wiin-Nielsen stressed that it is they collectively who should be honoured for the good results.

It has been said that “things are as they are because they were as they were”. There is no doubt that a large part of the credit for the success of the Centre as a world-renowned scientific research and operational institution is due to the initial leadership of one man — Prof Aksel Wiin-Nielsen, its first Director.

By early 1979, another change was in the air for Wiin-Nielsen. Arthur Davies from the United Kingdom had been Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) since 1955, and would be retiring at the end of the year. The representatives to WMO from the European States sought a suitable candidate to replace him. With his well-recognised and admired success in establishing the Centre as a world leader, Wiin-Nielsen’s name was soon being considered. He was not enthusiastic at the prospect.

Taking on the management of a long established secretariat, without a welldefined operational or research task, was, as we have seen, not a pleasant prospect for him. He was however subject to strong persuasion by some important delegates to the Centre’s Council. They were themselves the Permanent Representatives of their States to WMO, and knew of the importance of the task of the WMO Secretary-General. With reluctance he allowed his name to be put forward. Wiin-Nielsen was elected in summer 1979, and with considerable regret left the Centre at the end of the year.

In the event, Wiin-Nielsen remained in his post at WMO for only one term of four years. In 1984 he became Director of the Danish Meteorological Institute, and in that function attended sessions of the ECMWF Council. He was in fact elected as Vice-President of Council in 1985 and President in 1986. In 1987 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Copenhagen, and in 1995, Professor Emeritus of the University. In his retirement he had use of an office in the headquarters of the Royal Society in Denmark, close to his home, where he continued actively to pursue his research interests.

Chapter 2

The beginnings — the political background

Meteorology is international. The rain washing the dust from the vine leaves in France this morning is from the same frontal system that will be starting the windscreen wipers on the German autobahns this evening, and irritating the cyclists in Leiden tomorrow as they pedal their way to work.

Closer European co-operation in the field of meteorological research, and the practical application of the results of that research for forecasting the weather, has been of interest for a very long time. In July 1951, Prof CarlGustaf Rossby published a “Note on Co-operative Research Projects” in

which he stated that:

the relations between meteorologists in the south and in the far north of Europe are not nearly as intimate as one might wish.


Studies are now being conducted... to determine the advisability of organising international scientific laboratories... the organisation of an International Computing Centre appears to have been accepted in principle.

He also noted that:

the national weather services are likely to profit more from properly staffed and equipped independent research teams organised and operated in academic settings outside the regular government services than from any attempt to conduct the required research within the rigid framework of the official government meteorological bureaus.

As a result of the initiative taken by Prof Rossby, and with the strong support of the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Richard Sandler, the renowned International Meteorological Institute (IMI) in Stockholm was created in 1955 by a decision of the Swedish Parliament.

18 The beginnings — the political background 19 Its objective was “to conduct research in meteorology and associated fields and to promote international scientific co-operation within meteorology”.

Indeed, when the IMI was set up, work in using computers to provide weather forecasts had already progressed. By October 1954, Sweden was preparing to make the world’s first “operational” numerical forecasts;

“operational” in the sense that the forecasts were available before the actual weather.

In the 10 to 15 years following creation of the IMI, a great deal happened in the world of politics and science. Meteorological science and technology advanced on multiple fronts. Some form of rather undefined European political integration was under way.

The idea of setting up a “European Meteorological Computer Centre for Research and Operations” had an unusual starting point. The initiative came not from scientific or technical sources but rather from the political arena.

Previously it had been customary for meteorologists to develop plans for the improvement of their services. These plans were submitted to their Governments, who were asked to provide the financial resources required.

In this case, however, the stimulus came from the Governments. The meteorologists were requested to develop plans following a political initiative.

In 1963, in a recommendation to its Council, the Commission of the European Communities called attention to the importance of scientific and technical research. A Working Group on Policy in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research was set up within the EC Committee for MediumTerm Economic Policy. This Working Group, first chaired by Prof Maréchal, later by Prof Aigrain, made a decisive contribution to the establishment of

the Centre. The most important tasks of the Group were to:

define those areas in which the efforts in the field of applied research, especially in comparison with the efforts of other countries, had evidently been insufficient, and those developed areas in which the dynamic forces closely and directly depended upon the development of scientific and technical research.

We note in passing that bad, or at least tortured, English was apparently already established as the lingua franca for Europe!

In 1967 the Council of Ministers of the European Communities dealt with all aspects of general research policy. The European Community of Coal and Steel created in 1951, and the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), both established in 1957, had jointly prepared a document: “Memorandum on problems raised by the scientific and technical progress in the European Community”. This contained an analysis of the general situation, taking into

20 Chapter 2

account the economic state of Europe. The promotion of projects of great

economic importance was considered; co-operation was particularly emphasised. The document stated that:

The individual European countries can no longer develop and implement their own policies in the field of technology; on the contrary, they must... unite their forces, and aim at a common organisation,

and later:

Training of an adequate number of highly qualified researchers and technicians is another basic requirement for the success of every research work. In this field, for which the States are responsible in the first place, increased efforts are required. At the same time, it has to be considered how to prevent a great many European researchers and technicians from emigrating forever to third counties.

It appears that meteorological projects were suggested for the first time on 29 March 1967. In a document submitted to the Working Group “Policy in

the field of scientific research” we find that:

According to German belief, the possibility of international co-operation

in the following fields could be discussed:

1. Natural Sciences

2. Engineering Sciences

3. Medicine

4. Agricultural and veterinary sciences

5. Future sociological and political tasks in research and development.

Among the 11 subjects under “Natural Sciences” we find two relating to meteorology: “longer-range weather forecasts” and “influencing weather”.

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