On writing, panicking, and presenting my work.

The last time I wrote, it was May. Seemingly, nothing significant has happened since then; I haven’t managed to publish a paper or win a poster prize or anything of the such, only reserved for the best PhD researchers on the table. 

Shocking as it is, I have actually made some progress with my work, and any progress is good at this rate. It is a requirement of the department to produce either a draft of a paper or a working thesis chapter by the end of your second year. This normally involves pushing the giant red ‘PANIC’ button and over consuming caffeine alongside academic papers for the literature review. After a month of writing, it is hopefully easy to see why I did not feel like writing another word about PhD work!

Alas, here I am again. 

In July, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting a poster at the RMetS Atmospheric Science Conference (read all about it over on our Reading PhD student blog!) It was possibly one of the first conferences where I felt like my research *actually* fitted in with others’, allowing me and whomever I was conversing with to bounce ideas off each other and compare some preliminary findings. Poster presentations are my favourite, because the two-way interaction the presenter has with their audience makes  it a much preferable semi-formal discussion than trekking up the mountain of anxiety caused by oral presentations.

Because my research is sort of interdisciplinary (in the sense that my project attempts to string together atmospheric chemistry, boundary layer meteorology, numerical weather prediction (NWP) and air quality (AQ) forecast verification), I often feel like conferences often lean to one of those areas more than others, resulting in me feeling a little lost. Or maybe the fact that I am finding these meetings somewhat easier to cope with lately is simply an artefact of “growing up” as a PhD student in the field? Very few of us know how to fully engage in and keep up the concentration in seminars or continuous conference presentations, especially so in the first or second year! But the more we attend these kind of events and the more we force ourselves to give presentations, the more natural and easier they become. Theoretically…

Also, I attended a Met Office NAME (Numerical Atmospheric-dispersion Modelling Environment) user workshop, where I presented some of our recent work on simulating chemical  tracer dispersion within a boundary layer, i.e. the layer of air closest to Earth’s surface. The purpose of this was to investigate the importance of downward entrainment of air from above this layer on surface tracer concentrations, influenced by the sign of the sensible heat flux at the surface. This latter parameter is important because it contributes to the buoyant production (/suppression) of atmospheric turbulence and convection, in relation to the mechanically generated turbulence through the vertical gradient of wind (shear). The two are related via the Richardson number, which is effectively a measure of stability of the air. If this number is large and positive, the air tends to be “stable” and air flow tends to be laminar because the buoyancy part of the function is negative, i.e. it suppresses any mechanical turbulence. If this number is close to 0, we are in a “neutral” regime and flow is turbulent. If the number is large and negative, there is convection. (If you are interested, I would highly recommend Holton’s “Dynamic Meteorology” textbook. It is gold). Convective eddies are important for dispersion of pollutants in the boundary layer, whether they are emitted over land within the domain of the model, or whether they are transported aloft through the boundaries of the model. In real life, this usually means pollution flowing in to the UK from the continent under easterly winds. I should really write about my work at some point here…

Attendees of the 5th NAME user workshop. Photo credit: UK Met Office. (https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/2018/5th-name-user-workshop

Anyway, I am digressing again. The point was that the NAME workshop enabled me to present initial results of numerical experiments that have not really been conducted in this manner before (or at least, not published), to a room of people who are experts on the topic, including even some “parents” of the model itself! Daunting as it was, the entire experience was wholly enjoyable and informative, giving my research a sense of purpose and made me fall a little in love with it all over again. Funny how that happens. 

Thanks for sticking 🙂

Also, I just love the Met Office HQ in Exeter. It is SO COOL.

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