How to make the most of a conference trip to Europe

Students at the summer school in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the border of Germany and Austria.

Some of the great benefits of being a graduate student within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science are the encouragement and support we get to travel for our work, and the ability to tap into a network of the world’s best researchers. I was lucky enough to take advantage of both of these aspects on a recent trip to the UK, France and Germany.

This year in March I started a PhD in the field of urban climatology; looking at the processes and associated parameterisations within urban land surface schemes. It is a continuation of my work in honours, where I tested how the performance of an urban climate model developed here in Australia compared to 32 urban models used around the world.

In December 2014, with the encouragement of my supervisor, I applied to attend the 9th  International Conference on Urban Climate in Toulouse, France. As it is held only once every three years, it would be a shame to miss out on an opportunity to interact with researchers in my field so early in my PhD. Of course the flip side was I was nervous I wouldn’t have anything interesting to talk about. When the word came back that I was accepted to present, we started thinking of how to make the most of the airfare.


UK Met Office

With a suggestion from Andy Pitman I organised a visit to the Met Office in Exeter, UK to meet Martin Best and his team who specialise in land surface schemes for use in the UK’s Unified Model (UM), which forms part of Australia’s ACCESS model. Martin also ran the urban intercomparison project on which I based my honours work.

From outward appearance, the Met Office seems like a great place to work; dynamic, engaged with the worldwide scientific community and the general public alike. I was surprised on the first Friday afternoon when a large group of school kids tramped in carrying tents and sleeping bags, it was the first night of Science Camp where kids stay overnight at the office meeting researchers and running experiments about weather and climate, with their bemused parents looking on. The following week another group of older students arrived for their work experience week. What great ways to engage with the community!


Reading University

Martin urged me to visit Reading University Meteorology Department while there, and put in the work to organise meetings with the appropriate people.

Reading has a world-renowned group working in urban model development, climate and weather prediction, idealised modelling, observation, theory and wind tunnel experiments. The people there were extremely generous with their time, and were genuinely keen to help. The meetings I had helped shape the direction of my PhD, and I’m sure will set up collaborations in the future. Well worth the effort.


Toulouse Urban Conference

The difference between the weather in the south of England and the south of France couldn’t be starker. From two weeks of overcast drizzle to a week of blindingly sunny days in a city full of music and people dancing in the street. Europe was in the midst of another summer of record heatwaves with temperatures reaching 40º in Toulouse; timely for a conference on urban heat islands, mitigation, observation and modelling. There was the strange instance of paper bedsheets in the student quarters, which led to a few uncomfortable hot nights, but the conference itself was a great success.

With around 400 people attending, it was small enough to chat to the big names of urban climate but big enough that there was always an interesting session. Other ARCCSS’s attending included Melissa Hart, Carlo Jamandre, Daniel Argueso and Cassandra Rogers, while our own Stephanie Jacobs came away with the William P.Lowry Graduate Student Prize Award for the best graduate student presentation in the area of urban biometeorology/bioclimatology!



My final visit was to attend a 10-day summer school on land-atmosphere interactions in picturesque Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the border of Germany and Austria. The program was run by the long-winded Helmholtz Research School on Mechanisms and Interactions of Climate Change in Mountain Regions at the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, or MICMoR at KIT/IMK-IFU for short!

The program was a great mix of land surface and boundary layer theory, site visits and modelling. We visited multiple eddy-covariance flux observation sites, saw a robotic lysimeter and took some basic measurements on a glacier in Austria with the Innsbruck Summer School of Alpine Research.

We also had the opportunity and the relevant technical support to run a simple experiment in one of six land surface/ atmosphere models. I chose to try out an idealised study of airflow in urban street canyons using the Large Eddy Simulation (LES) called PALM. As I told the organisers, meeting the instructors, participants and learning new tools and techniques will have a lasting impact on my work.


I would like to sincerely thank the financial support provided by ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, and from my supervisor Melissa Hart, which allowed the trip to take place. I’d also like to thank all the great people I met and the work that went into organising my visits.

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