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Green light for space weather forecasting satellite



The European Space Agency (ESA) today confirmed the contractors for the long-awaited Vigil mission which will transform global space weather forecasting.

The confirmation of the building of the satellite is the next step in the process positioning a satellite with a side-on view of the Sun to provide enhanced space weather forecasting.

The Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre, now celebrating its tenth year in operation, is one of a number of centres that will benefit from the new satellite.

The Vigil mission, as it’s known among space weather scientists, will enhance space weather forecasting capabilities and help provide more notice for potentially impactful space weather events such as coronal mass ejections.

Mark Gibbs, who leads the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC), said: “The Vigil mission represents a step-change in space weather forecasting capability. As well as replacing aging satellites, this mission will help to improve our forecasting capability and deepen our scientific understanding of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that generate geomagnetic storms.”

Confirmation of the contract for the mission, which is being managed by the European Space Agency, represents the next milestone in the process of launching the new satellite by the end of this decade and will revolutionise imagery and data available to space weather forecasts.

Mark continued: “A side-on view of the Sun-Earth line is critical to provide accurate predictions of CME arrival at Earth. We’ll get access to more reliable, more advanced data to initialise models to predict CME arrival and also to monitor their progress as they head towards the Earth. We’ll be continuing to work with ESA to help ensure there’s as much benefit as possible to not just us at MOSWOC, but also to forecasting centres around the world. The Vigil mission will work in tandem with the current and future US missions stationed at L1.”

The news comes after geomagnetic storms two weeks ago brought aurora visibility to much of the UK in what was the strongest event since 2003 to impact Earth. While auroras provide immaculate photos, impactful space weather has the potential to affect everyone and is recognised on the UK’s National Risk Register. The ability to forecast these events can help to mitigate the worst impacts.

Find out more about the contract announcement.

Find out more about the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre.

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Sea ice loss remains a serious issue



The Met Office has just published its latest briefing on Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.

The update doesn’t reveal any record-breaking figures, but it does reveal that sea ice loss remains a serious issue.

A view of Antarctica showing patches of sea ice, ice bergs and the Antarctic continent's mountains in the distance.

Alex West who co-ordinates the sea ice briefings said: “After last year’s record-breaking minimum extent of sea ice in the Antarctic, the latest update shows greater sea ice extent than last year, but it is still the second lowest on record for the time of year.

Following a warm June, Arctic sea ice extent is below average for the time of year but some way above record low levels, with conditions fairly typical of recent years.

“Extent is particularly low in the Laptev Sea and in the Atlantic sector, but nearer average in other parts of the Arctic.

“This year’s September Arctic sea ice extent is likely to be well below average, but there are not yet heightened indications of a new record low.”

See here for the full briefing.

Arctic insights

The Advancing Arctic Capabilities programme – a new project led by the Met Office -brings international partners to develop an improved understanding of what is happening to the region’s ice, ocean and atmosphere to support global climate resilience.

The project will deliver cutting-edge insights into Arctic weather patterns and ocean currents.

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What has been driving Hurricane Beryl?



Hurricane Beryl, which has been tearing through the Caribbean, has been hitting the headlines for several reasons.

Firstly, there is the undeniable fact that during her existence as a Category 4 and 5 hurricane Beryl caused much damage and loss of life across several nations and territories, including Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands.

Hurricane Beryl crossing Jamaica in early July 2024 as visualised by the Met Office computer model.

Satellite image of Hurricane Beryl crossing Jamaica in early July 2024

Secondly, Beryl has become infamous for being the earliest Category 5 hurricane in the historical record in the Atlantic Basin. Category 5 is the highest ranking for hurricanes requiring sustained wind speeds of at least 157 mph. Hurricane Beryl’s wind actually peaked at 165 mph on 2 July. The earliest date in the year any previous Atlantic hurricane had achieved winds of this strength was a full month later on 5 August.

Active hurricane season

Julian Heming is a Met Office tropical cyclone expert who has been studying these systems for many years. He said: “In the second half of May several prediction centres, including the Met Office, forecast an active Atlantic hurricane season with between 150% and 200% of usual activity.

“These Atlantic seasonal forecasts have been influenced by the development of cooler waters in the equatorial eastern Pacific in recent months – in line with the anticipated La Niña or cooler phase of the naturally-variable El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

“Developing La Niña conditions have a known association with a more active Atlantic hurricane season. So, we know that natural variation in the climate system has a huge observable effect on hurricane activity.

“But this trend towards La Niña favouring hurricane development would not solely explain Hurricane Beryl and the prediction of an active hurricane season.

“Sea temperatures across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea have been well above average since the Spring of 2023 which provides fuel for intense hurricanes like Beryl. There is much meteorologists do not yet understand about how these high sea-surface temperatures have developed and why they have persisted for so long. This is an active area of research.”

“Furthermore, higher sea-surface temperatures in line with a warming climate are expected to favour the development of a greater proportion of intense tropical cyclones in the long term.”

International effort

Will Lang is the Met Office’s head of Situational Awareness. He said: “Met Office forecasts are a crucial part of the international effort to predict Atlantic hurricanes, and our experts work at the heart of UK Government’s international response to damaging hurricanes such as Beryl.”

You can watch an interview about Hurricane Beryl here.

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How do autonomous vehicles react to the weather?



A new discussion paper from the Met Office and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) highlights the practical challenges of understanding the performance of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in different weather conditions. 

The paper draws from an ongoing project conducted by the Met Office and NPL and is funded by the UK’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)

This Sensor Assurance Framework (SAF) project aims to create a reliable and usable framework for understanding how well AV perception sensors (the eyes and ears of the vehicle) perform in different weather-related conditions. When fully developed, this framework will support validation, safety assurance and simulation testing of AVs across the UK.   

Central to SAF project has been the Cardington weather-sensor testbed, which has accumulated over two years of detailed weather measurements and corresponding AV sensor measurements as they observe targets set up at varied distances in a wide range of weather conditions including fog, intense rainfall, clear and cloudy skies and direct sunlight. 

Weather observations are made at the Cardington test site to compare with sensor performance

Met Office Observations Principal Consultant Dave Jones, who is part of the team leading the weather measurement side of the Cardington testing, said: “The effect of weather on sensor performance is very complex and it is challenging to reflect this when trying to capture the weather envelope for the AV as simply as possible. 

“This discussion paper gives examples of how this complexity reveals itself on our testbed and how we might begin to handle this by careful consideration of uncertainty.  We are very interested in hearing views from everyone in the wider AV community involved in safety assurance.” 

National Physical Laboratory’s Andre Burgess, who looks after strategic partnerships, said: “As well as the scientific and technical aspects of our joint SAF project, we are placing a huge emphasis on engagement with regulators, industry, standards bodies and academia to ensure that these testbed results make a positive difference to the AV industry and public safety.” 

The discussion paper comes as the Automated Vehicles Act became law this week and paved the way for self-driving vehicles to be possibly on the UK’s roads as soon as 2026.

Lidar imagery of the team working at Cardington

Ongoing research 

The Met Office and NPL’s Sensor Assurance Framework research at Cardington has been undertaken for around two years, with the aim to test sensor performance against as many different weather types as possible, including rain, hail, sunshine and fog.  

The research so far demonstrates an observable relationship between weather conditions and sensor performance, though further study is needed to fully understand this area, including the impact of different locations, road surfaces, vehicle movements and a broader range of weather types. It’s hoped this research will help the autonomous vehicle industry to develop further in the coming years.  

The Met Office and NPL will continue collecting weather data and assessing sensor performance in the coming months, with a new testbed at NPL’s headquarters in Teddington and plans to develop a relocatable testbed which can be deployed in a wider range of weather conditions.  

The SAF principles also extend to marine autonomous vehicles. Plans are already well underway to build a demonstration testbed around Plymouth Sound UK, as part of the Maritime Autonomy Assurance Testbed (MAAT) project, which is lead by NPL and Lloyds Register with partners including the Met Office, Plymouth Marine Lab (PML), University of Plymouth, and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG). 

Read the AV and weather discussion paper on the NPL website.  

Find out more about the Met Office’s services with Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

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