The world is benefitting from a UK-China Climate Science Partnership

Posted April 15, 2020

CSSP China is improving global weather forecasting – a blog from the IEA’s VIEWpoint project, part of the Climate Science for Service Partnership

The Climate Science for Service Partnership (CSSP) China project launched in 2014, forging relationships between leading climate scientists in a number of UK and China-based organisations. This collaboration supports the development of climate services – climate information which can be used to help make a decision such as when to grow a crop or when to protect homes from flooding.

VIEWpoint is the latest CSSP China project, run by the Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA), and funded by the Newton Fund. It is taking a bird’s eye view of the CSSP China outputs and increasing their visibility to organisations in China so they can benefit from the services.

The CSSP China project is now bearing fruit. It has recovered vital historical weather data which would otherwise be lost to us; it can look into the future and warn about upcoming extreme rainfall along the mighty but often destructive Yangtze river and it can warn about the number of tropical cyclones hitting dry land, with all its terrible consequences for East Asia.

The tools, techniques and best practice developed in CSSP China have been applied to deliver benefits around the world.


New data from China is improving global weather forecasting

The Met Office has been working with data from China’s new Earth observation satellites. China’s satellite data are fed to the Met Office, in real-time, via EUMETSAT, a global operational satellite agency. As well as sharing the Met Office’s analysis with its counterpart – the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) – scientists have established that the observations are valuable and can feed into the Met Office’s computer models to enable more accurate weather forecasts.

Brett Candy, Senior Satellite Scientist at the Met Office, says: “So far the Met Office has decided to use data from the instruments sensing humidity and temperature on board the most recent Chinese satellites – there’s a definite value in it. This activity is leading to at least a 1% improvement in global weather forecasts from the Met Office.”

Improving global records of weather and climate with old ship logs

To understand how our climate is changing we need a clearer view of the past. CSSP China is supporting the ACRE (Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth) China project to extend historical climate records. This is done by extracting weather observations such as temperature, pressure and wind speed from many historical records including old ship logbooks found over the last 200+ years, as well as land and marine expeditions, voyages and station series.

These newly acquired data are being fed into large international weather datasets which enable the production of high-resolution, four-dimensional reconstructions of the global climate that estimate the weather conditions for every day going back to the 1800s. This enables a fuller and more complete understanding of the weather and climate record globally and how it is changing.

In 2019 alone, CSSP China rescued and digitised around 82,000 weather observations over China and about 2 million over India, while a further 64,000 old weather observations were digitised in partnership with the ACRE Japan and ACRE South East Asia projects.

In addition, there is an ongoing effort to make a specific reconstruction of the weather conditions that caused the 1931 flooding of the Yangtze River in China, which is thought to have killed up to 4 million people and destroyed 15% of China’s wheat and rice crops.  Understanding the specific weather conditions that led to such devastating impacts will help inform more accurate warnings of similar events around the globe in the future.

Quantifying the current risk of extreme weather and climate events

Extreme weather and climate events are rare which means we have relatively few observations for them and it is therefore difficult to understand our current risk or vulnerability to such extremes.

To overcome this, CSSP China pioneered a tool using thousands of possible weather scenarios generated on the Met Office supercomputer to generate a large body of virtual observations – 100 times more than is available from the observational record itself. This enabled plausible extreme weather and climate events not yet seen in real life, but possible in the present-day, to be examined.

This tool shows there is currently about a 10% chance of record-breaking warm summer months in Southeast China each summer. Applying this to food security reveals the chance of the maize crop in China and the United States failing simultaneously as a result of extreme heat and dry conditions is higher than previously thought, about 6% over the coming decade, which would have a major impact on the global food market as together they grow 60% of the world’s maize.

This tool is versatile and has been applied around the world. For example, it has been used in the WCSSP India project to specify the current risk of floods and drought during the Indian summer monsoon and in CSSP Brazil to understand current risks of extended dry and wet periods.

In addition, it was used to show that one or more monthly record rainfall events are likely in winter every few years in the UK.  This has proven to be the case with the wettest February on record in 2020. This analysis informed the UK’s National Flood Resilience Review which was set up to make the UK as resilient as possible to future flooding events.

Knowledge exchange and acceleration of science for services

More than 80 scientists have travelled between the UK and China to spend extended periods of time working alongside their counterparts, up to the end of 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak. Collaboration on climate science between the two countries on this scale would not have been possible without the CSSP China project. UK climate researchers have been given access to experts at CMA, Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP) and other institutes within the Chinese Academy of Sciences while Chinese climate researchers have visited many UK institutions including the Met Office, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the University of Reading and the University of Exeter. Knowledge exchange has extended outside of climate change, including air quality, water resources, health, energy and agriculture.

This invaluable exchange has significantly contributed to the more than 250 peer-reviewed research papers which have been published through CSSP China. This includes a special issue of the Journal of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (AAS) and a second special issue, in the Journal of Meteorological Research, which is due to be published at the end of 2020 (the deadline to submit is June 30th, details here).

In addition, a science conference is held each year for all organisations taking part – alternating between UK and China – and topic-specific workshops are held regularly in both countries.

With such a wealth of high-quality scientific output it is not surprising that the CSSP China Science Review Panel, an independent expert panel chaired by Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, has concluded that CSSP China continues to make significant scientific advances. It highlighted the strength of the UK-China partnership, especially among early career researchers, with ‘high levels of interaction’ and ‘promise of a powerful legacy’.

Contact the VIEWpoint team by emailing

VIEWpoint Climate Science for Service China logo with Chinese translation
In this computer-generated image a Chinese Earth observation satellite sits in space, high above Earth
A Feng-Yun satellite. Credit: China Meteorological Administration artist's concept
Historical, hand-written ship logs, such as this one, are being digitised and contributing to historic weather data records
A Ship Log from the HMS Magpie whilst off Hainan island, China in August 1880
A group photograph
CSSP China project scientists at the latest annual workshop in Edinburgh, September 2019