Sept. 29, 2021

SDG 13 | Atmospheric circulation, Teleconnections and Climate Models with Grantham Professor Ted Shepherd

SDG 13 | Atmospheric circulation, Teleconnections and Climate Models with Grantham Professor Ted Shepherd

Welcome back to another episode of SDG Talks where we highlight change makers and their inspirational work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)!

What do you know about climate models?


  • Climate scientists need to find ways to make their knowledge meaningful at the local scale. We are used to adjusting the real world to fit our theories, but we need to start adjusting our theories to fit the real world, which is a paradigm shift.
  • Climate modelling and the distinction between certain influences (Thermodynamic ie transfer of heat energy) and uncertain ones (Dynamic - Jet stream, Indian Monsoon etc).
  • Why near-future social tipping points may be as bad as climate tipping points.
  • The missing link between climate science and adaptation planning.

Theodore (Ted) Shepherd FRS is Grantham Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading. He is a specialist in large-scale atmospheric dynamics and circulation and its role in climate change, including extreme events. During the first part of his career at the University of Toronto, he initiated and led, for 20 years, a large university-Environment Canada collaboration on the development and use of the Canadian Middle Atmosphere Model (CMAM). Ted has held leadership roles in international scientific assessments of climate (IPCC) and stratospheric ozone (WMO/UNEP), and in the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). He co-authored the US National Academy of Sciences report on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution (2016), and chaired the Science Review Group of the Met Office Hadley Centre (2017-2021).

Since moving to the UK in 2012, Ted has highlighted the large uncertainty in aspects of climate change related to atmospheric circulation, which is in striking contrast to thermodynamic aspects of climate change. Ted’s recent research has focused on how to effectively characterize these circulation-related uncertainties, including their impacts. As part of this research he has been pioneering a ‘storyline’ approach to representing uncertainty in physical aspects of climate change, including extreme events, and beginning to engage in inter-disciplinary collaborations. The storyline approach, which has influenced the current IPCC WGI report (AR6), asks what would be the consequence of particular choices or actions under different imagined futures. It thereby represents a paradigm shift compared with the traditional probabilistic ‘predict-then-act’ approach to climate risk. Ted is currently trying to implement this approach through his co-leadership of the WCRP’s new Lighthouse Activity called ‘My Climate Risk’.


“The future cannot be forecast, but it can be explored” (E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful, 1973)

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