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- Student Stories
Professor Tim Woollings
Fellow by Special Election, Associate Professor of Physics
In 2013 I joined the Physics Dept as a Lecturer and Pembroke College as a Fellow by Special Election. I work in the sub-dept of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics where I lead the research group on Atmospheric Dynamics. I am an atmospheric physicist with interests in fluid dynamics as applied to both weather and climate science.
I lecture some of the fluid dynamics on the fourth year module C5 on Phyiscs of Atmospheres and Oceans. I also lecture a graduate module on Atmospheric Circulation for the Environmental Research Doctoral Training Partnership. I give tutorials mostly on maths and fluid dynamics options.
College & university roles and committees
I am a member of Pembroke's Governing Body.
My research focuses on the dynamics of weather and climate in the extratropics, particularly in the North Atlantic region. Our weather patterns are strongly influenced by the jet stream which blows across the Atlantic towards northern Europe. The Atlantic storm track is closely associated with the jet: individual storms are strongly steered by the jet stream winds yet they themselves feed kinetic energy and momentum into the jet. The result is a strong two-way coupling between the jet and the storm track. The fluid dynamics of this system has been studied for decades but continues to offer surprises. Some of my work aims to deepen our understanding of this system, for example how the jet varies from year to year and from decade to decade.
The pictures below show two different examples of blocking events. Here the jet has been diverted or blocked by a large and dramatic breaking of atmospheric Rossby waves. The result for Europe is an easterly wind regime and a relative lack of storms. This can lead to extreme weather at all times of the year: heatwaves in summer and cold spells in winter.
The work of our group has direct relevance to many societal issues. At the forefront of these is climate change. There is now overwheliming evidence that climate change on the global scale is in progress as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. The scientific challenge now revolves around the regional details. How the jet streams and storm tracks respond to this forcing will be critical for the changes which will be experienced on the ground. As examples, I have highlighted the role of ocean dynamics in storm track change and also the changing impact of atmospheric blocking events.
Climate models are a essential tools for making projections of future change. These models have improved greatly over recently decades but still require further improvement and also a solid understanding of the physics and dynamics they represent so that we can have confidence in their projections. I work closely with the Met Office and other scientists around the UK to evaluate and improve our climate models, for example looking at whether we should trust projected changes in extratropical cyclones.
Physics is one of the most fundamental sciences. Studying physics is analysing nature to understand how the universe works. At Pembroke, Physics can be taken as a single honours course, or as a joint degree with Philosophy...