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Find out about us: our research


ECMWF has a wide-ranging programme of research and development directed at improving the quality and variety of forecast products for the medium range and beyond. Approximately 70 staff and consultants work in the Research Department on all aspects of the forecast and data assimilation systems. The result of this research is one of the most comprehensive earth-system models available anywhere.
The benefits of the research are seen in the steadily improving performance of the medium-range forecast and the expanding range of operational products which maintain the status of ECMWF as one of the world's leading centres for operational forecasting.

Data assimilation and forecast model

ECMWF has played a leading role in the development of forecast and data assimilation systems. In recent years ECMWF has pioneered the development of variational data assimilation methods. The current '4D-Var' method provides a physically consistent best fit to observations over a 12-hour period, taking account of the time each observation was made, and is particularly useful for the increasingly important assimilation of satellite data. When it was introduced in 1997, this was the first such system to be used in operational weather forecasting, representing the culmination of years of research and development.

The forecast model is an integral part of the data assimilation process. Model developments have contributed to improvements in forecast skill both directly and through helping improve the initial analysis. Recent model changes designed to improve data assimilation include the extension of the top of the model atmosphere from 30 km to 65km, and the introduction of a significantly more sophisticated representation of the interaction between the atmosphere and the underlying land surface (an important step towards the better use of satellite data over land).
The increasing detail and sophistication of the forecast and data assimilation system makes huge demands on computational resources. The current operational system could not have been implemented without the major increases in computational efficiency provided by the continual development of the numerical algorithms used to solve the forecast equations.

Predictability research

Despite the increasing accuracy of the analyses and forecasts, there is still an element of uncertainty in the predictions. Since 1992, ECMWF's pioneering ensemble prediction system has provided a growing range of new products to help forecasters deal scientifically and quantitatively with the day to day variations in the predictability of the atmosphere. There is now a substantial research effort devoted to the assessment of predictability on monthly and seasonal timescales.

Ocean wave forecasting

A range of products forecasting sea-state is provided by an ocean wave forecast model. This model is directly coupled to the atmospheric model: the ocean waves are driven by low-level atmospheric winds, and in turn the roughness of the sea determines how much the air is slowed down as it flows over the ocean surface. This coupled wave model forms part of the ensemble prediction system, providing valuable probabilistic information on future sea states.



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