Mountains warming faster, say scientists

An international team of scientists is calling for urgent and rigorous monitoring of temperature patterns in mountain regions after finding evidence that high elevations could be warming faster than previously thought.

The research team says that without substantially better information, we risk underestimating the severity of a number of already looming problems, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna.

The research is published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Caucasus Mountains, Russia

Caucasus Mountains, Russia

Co-author Dr Maria Shahgedanova, University of Reading, said: “The evidence that mountains are warming faster than low elevations is growing but we still lack detailed information from both observations and models and, as a result, cannot reliably assess impact of the high-elevation warming. These can potentially affect not only high-altitude ecosystems but also water supply from snow and glacier ice and hazards associated with shrinking cryosphere which will impact population at lower elevations.

“To address the issue of elevation-dependent warming and its impacts, we need to employ a combination of automated ground-based measurement networks in different mountainous systems, high-resolution models and satellite imagery. Scientists from the University of Reading work on the development of all three components in the mountainous regions of Europe and Asia.”

The most striking evidence that mountain regions are warming more rapidly than surrounding regions comes from the Tibetan plateau. Here temperatures have risen steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is speeding up. But masked by this general climate warming are pronounced differences at different elevations. For example, over the past 20 years temperatures above 4,000 m have warmed nearly 75 per cent faster than temperatures in areas below 2,000 m.

The team of scientists came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a mountain global change research effort funded by the Swiss National Foundation. The team includes scientists from the UK, US, Switzerland, Canada, Ecuador, Pakistan, China, Italy, Austria and Kazakhstan. Between them, they have studied data on mountain temperatures worldwide collected over the past 60-70 years.

Lead author, Dr Nick Pepin, of the University of Portsmouth said: “Most current predictions are based on incomplete and imperfect data, but if we are right and mountains are warming more rapidly than other environments, the social and economic consequences could be serious, and we could see much more dramatic changes much sooner than previously thought.”

Improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and climate model simulations are all needed to gain a true picture of warming in mountain regions, the researchers say. Much of that requires international agreement and collaboration – and funding.

Among the reasons the researchers examined for faster rates of temperature increase in mountain regions are:

–          Loss of snow and ice, leading to more exposed land surface at high elevation warming up faster in the sun;

–          Increasing release of heat in the high atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which, when condensing as clouds at high elevation, releases more heat to the mountain environment;

–          Aerosol pollutants at low elevations, including haze, dust and smoke, reduces  warming at those elevations, thus increasing the difference in rates of warming between low and high elevations;

–          Dust and soot deposited on the surface at high elevations causes more incoming sunlight to be converted to heat;

–          The complex combination of any or all of the above factors in different regions and at different times of the year.

Records of weather patterns at high altitudes are ‘extremely sparse’, the researchers found. The density of weather stations above 4,500 m is roughly one-tenth that in areas below that elevation. Long-term data, crucial for detecting patterns, doesn’t yet exist above 5,000 m anywhere in the world. The longest observations above this elevation are 10 years on the summit of Kilimanjaro.


Read more about Dr Shahgedanova at her staff profile.

Professor Hannah Cloke awarded Vice-Chancellor’s Public Communications Prize 2015

NERC H ClokeCongratulations to Hannah Cloke, who has won another prestigious award for her high impact research and media engagement.  Hannah has been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Public Communications Prize, which she will receive at the meeting of the University Court next month.

The prize is in recognition of Hannah’s work during the flooding crisis, with high profile appearances in the national and international media which led to a secondment to Government to advise Downing Street on the ongoing crisis.

To find out more about Hannah’s work, check out her staff profile and follow her on Twitter.


Professor Hannah Cloke wins NERC Impact Award

Hannah with Professor Dame Julia Slingo DBE, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, Professor Duncan Wingham, Chief Executive of NERC and Professor Alan Thorpe, Director-General of ECMWF

Hannah with Professor Dame Julia Slingo DBE, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, Professor Duncan Wingham, Chief Executive of NERC and Professor Alan Thorpe, Director-General of ECMWF

Professor Hannah Cloke won the NERC Impact Award for Early Career Researcher at an awards ceremony in London last night. This is awarded to  “an early-career researcher who has achieved exceptional economic and/or societal impact within the UK or internationally” and recognises Hannah’s work in understanding flood risk.

The awards are the first in a series of activities and events that will mark NERC’s 50th anniversary. The programme of events will demonstrate how NERC science has contributed to the UK over the past 50 years.

The award was presented by Helen Czerski, currently a Research Fellow at UCL, who is quoted as saying “Early career researchers are the most diverse group of scientists- we need that diversity of ideas”.

About Hannah

Hannah Cloke is a hydrologist and physical geographer specializing in land surface modelling, flood forecasting and catchment hydrology. She works closely with the Environment Agency, the Met Office, the Flood Forecasting Centre and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts as well as a wide range of other national and international partners. She advised government on the Jan/Feb 2014 floods crisis and provided substantial expert commentary in the media.

Hannah is currently a member of the of the Environment Agency-DEFRA R&D flood science programme advisory group. She is a member of the NERC Peer Review Panel C, Floods theme coordinator for the International Hydrological Programme (IHP): FRIEND network, and a committee member of the EGU Hydrology section: Catchment hydrology. She is on the editorial board of the journals Meteorological Applications and Hydrology and Earth System Sciences and is guest editor for Hydrological Processes.

Hannah is an active member of the HEPEX project and recently served on the British Hydrological Society committee.

New PhD Studentship in Land Surface Hydrology

A four year award studentship is available at the Department of Geography and Environmental Science. The title of the project is “Representing Uncertainty in Land Surface Hydrology for Seasonal Forecasting“.This PhD is part of a wider research project led by the University of Reading and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC):  IMPETUS: Improving Predictions of Drought for User Decision-Making. The application deadline is 15th May 2014. For more information about the studentship, please follow this link.



Global Floods Working group

Dr Liz Stephens and Dr Hannah Cloke were invited to attend a workshop 4-5 March. Liz presented her work on GloFAS and Hannah presented her Flooding From Intense Rainfall SINATRA project (). 

The 4th workshop of the Global Flood Working Group, hosted at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in the UK,  gathered around 90 scientists, practitioners and users to kick off the Global Flood Partnership (GFP). GFP is a unique international forum aimed at developing global flood observational and modelling infrastructure, leveraging on existing initiatives, for better predicting and managing flood disaster impacts and flood risk.

It has wide buy-in from international organisations, including the European Commission, World Meteorological Organisation, UNISDR, World Bank, World Food Program, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, as it is complementary with existing efforts and has the  specific goal of bridging the gap between science and operational/policy needs. In fact, within the coming months the GFP will be delivering daily information on upcoming and ongoing floods to a wide range of different end users including the European Emergency Response Coordination Centre, the World Food Program, national services and private industry. From the scientific point of view, it is the only forum where the meteorological, hydrological, remote sensing and disaster management communities meet to discuss floods at global level, and is attended by top scientists from Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

Launch of the CPCC at the Royal Geographical Society on 9th January 2014

The CPCC was officially launched by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International and External Engagement), Professor Steven Mithen, on the final evening of the Quaternary Research Association’s 50th Anniversary Meeting “Revolutions at 50” at the Royal Geographical Society. More than 70 people from academia, government agencies, the press, and the public joined us for the launch. Professor Dominik Fleitmann’s inaugural lecture “Learning from the Past to Understand the Future” demonstrated the breadth of work already being undertaken by members of the CPCC, as well as the important lessons about climate-environment-human interactions that can be learnt from the study of speleothems. Thanks to all who made this launch such a splendid event.

Dominik FleitmannProfessor Dominik Fleitmann conducting his research on speleothems

Flood Risk remains as rain eases

With ~200mm of rainfall in just over 3 weeks, the Thames Valley along with many other parts of the country are again under water. This morning flood levels in many areas are still rising and many Environment Agency flood warnings remain in place. With very saturated ground, recent rainfall has led to a combination of river flooding and also the water table rising above the ground to flood roads and properties. Dr Hannah Cloke, a flood hydrologist from the Department of Geography and Environmental Science has been observing the flooding on the River Thames and talking to Thames Valley Residents. The current flood levels are in some areas similar to the floods of January 2003.


Dr Hannah Cloke surveys the flooding from the river Thames at Pangbourne on Thursday 

Welcome to Sandy


We are pleased to welcome Professor Sandy Harrison, a world expert on past climate change who has moved to Reading from Macquarie University in Australia.

Sandy is setting up a Centre for Past Climate Change at Reading which will focus on generating new observations, including the development of new reconstruction techniques. A web page to introduce the group has now been created:

Read about Sandy

Read about the Centre for Past Climate Change

Soil research photographic competition

Ploughed soil in the Harris Garden

Ploughed soil in the Harris Garden

Do you work with soils? If so, we’re interested in finding out more about what you do through our photo competition. Photos can include images from the field in the UK or overseas, or work in the laboratory. We’re particularly interested in images showing people at work with soils or those that illustrate a particular ‘global issue’ like food security or climate change. Photos can been taken of any activity carried out in the University, including:

  • BSc/MSc field and lab classes showing students working with soils
  • Dissertation projects
  • PhD Research
  • Research projects

Photos will be displayed on the Soil Research Centre web pages later this year.


Amazon Gift Vouchers will be awarded. The winner will receive £100 voucher; £50 will be awarded for second place and £25 for two highly commended images.


This competition is open to all students and staff at the University of Reading.

How to enter

E-mail a high resolution jpeg/tiff/pdf file containing your image to Sue Hawthorne ( ). Please enter ‘SRC Photo competition 2013’ as the e-mail subject. Remember to include your full name, degree programme (if appropriate), e-mail, contact phone number and a short description of the photo in the e-mail message. Please also confirm in your e-mail that you (and all those shown in the photo) are happy for this photo to be displayed on the Soil Research Centre web pages. It would be a good idea to check with everyone in the picture before entering the competition.

Closing date

Entries must be submitted by 22 August 2013.

SINATRA to study flooding from intense rainfall

Erosion and deposition derived from before and after LiDAR images from the Cockermouth floods

Erosion and deposition derived from before and after LiDAR images from the Cockermouth floods

Hannah Cloke has won a large NERC consortium grant as part of NERC’s Flooding From Intense Rainfall (FFIR) call entitled: ‘Susceptibility of catchments to INTense RAinfall and flooding – SINATRA’.

Extreme rainfall events may only last for a few hours at most, but can generate terrifying and destructive floods. Their impact can be affected by a wide range factors such as the location and intensity of the rainfall, the shape and steepness of the catchment it falls on, how much sediment is moved by the water and the vulnerability of the communities in the flood’s path. These events are by their nature rapid, making it very difficult for researchers to ‘capture’ measurements at the time. The complexity, speed and lack of field measurements make it difficult to create computer models to predict flooding.

NERC launched the FFIR research programme to reduce the risks from surface water and flash floods by improving our identification and prediction of the weather, flooding and sediment and debris moved by floods. A major requirement of the programme is identifying how particular catchments may be vulnerable to sudden flooding, due to factors such as catchment area, shape, geology and soil type as well as land-use.

Project SINATRA will address these issues in three stages:

  1. Increase our understanding of what factors cause FFIR
  2. Use this new understanding and data to improve models of FFIR so we can predict where they may happen nationwide
  3. Use these new findings and predictions to provide the Environment Agency and other professionals with information and software they can use to manage FFIR, reducing their damage and impact to communities.

Co-Investigators at Reading are Anne Verhoef (GES), David Mason and Richard Allan (Meteorology) and Sarah Dance (Maths and Statistics).

The  other institutions in the consortium are Newcastle University, University of Bristol, King’s College London, University of Exeter, University of Hull and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

There has been severs flooding in Germany. Read about it in Spiegal online.

The European flood awareness system (EFAS) is designed to predict such floods on the medium range (15 days in advance) and its operational centre is situated in Reading. Hannah Cloke works closely with the EFAS team researching ways to improve flood forecasting.


Read about Hannah