Irina Sandu

Director of Destination Earth Service
Research Department


Irina Sandu is the Director of Destination Earth (DestinE) at ECMWF, a flagship initiative of the European Union to develop a digital twin of planet Earth. Prior to taking the lead of ECMWF’s involvement in DestinE in summer 2023, she was Science Lead for the initiative from January 2022.

Irina joined ECMWF in 2010 as a scientist working on the representation of turbulent processes and then lead the Physical Processes team for several years.  

Her research activities spanned a wide variety of topics ranging from process understanding to model development and evaluation; from idealized models to modern Numerical Weather Prediction Systems (NWP); from in-situ and satellite observations to reanalyses; and from the representation of physical processes to the use and impact of observing systems in NWP systems. They also spanned a wide range of processes (from land-atmosphere interactions and surface drag, to turbulence, clouds, convection, radiation, aerosols, pollutant dispersion and gravity waves); of spatial and temporal scales (from local to global, from tropics to poles and from hours to seasons and climate); and of modelling tools (from large-eddy simulations, to pollutant dispersion models, regional meso- scale models and global forecasting systems).

Through the work carried out at ECMWF, Irina played an instrumental role in improving understanding of the impact of surface drag, as well as the representation of both stable and cloudy boundary layers in the Integrated Forecasting System (IFS).  In particular, her work led to various improvements of low-level winds in the IFS, which were subject to some of the most longstanding errors of the ECWMF forecasts, and to a number of studies demonstrating the impacts of the uncertainties in the representation of orographic drag in models on the Northern Hemisphere winter circulation at both NWP and climate time scales.

Irina has also coordinated polar prediction related activities at ECMWF for several years, most prominently in the context of the ongoing WMO Year of Polar Prediction and the H2020 project APPLICATE. Irina is also the co-lead of  the H2020 nextGEMS project, which develops the next generation of storm and eddy resolving models which underpin the DestinE climate digital twin.

More recently, Irina has helped shaping the science plan for DestinE and led the DestinE science activities at ECMWF. Irina is now leading the implementation of the activities ECMWF is responsible for delivering in DestinE by working closely with partners throughout Europe, related to the first two high priority digital twins and digital twin engine.

Professional interests:
  • bringing global coupled models km-scale models from prototypes to fully developed operational systems
  • numerical prediction systems development and improvement, across all their components: Earth-system modelling, observations, data assimilation and ensemble techniques and optimal use of (novel) supercomputing architectures
  • the representation of physical processes in weather and climate models, more particularly, momentum transport and drag processes, turbulence, clouds and land-atmosphere interactions
  • polar prediction.
Career background:

Irina completed her Phd from Meteo-France and Universite Paul Sabatier, Toulouse (2007). Her PhD research based on Large-Eddy Simulations helped demonstrating that aerosol-cloud interactions are far more complex than initially thought and that the parametrizations used in climate models are inadequate. 

Irina then spent a couple of years as an Alexander von Humboldt post-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg (2008-2010). Irina used a combination of observations, reanalysis and Large-Eddy Simulations to study the controlling factors of the stratocumulus to cumulus transitions, one of the most prominent and difficult to model characteristics of marine boundary layer clouds. Based on this work, Irina proposed, and led, an intercomparison exercise for single column models and Large-Eddy Simulations in the framework of the Global Atmospheric System Studies (GASS) of GEWEX.

External recognitions
  • WCRP/WWRP international prize for model development (2016)
  • member of the WMO World Weather Research Project (WWRP) Scientific Steering Committee (2021-2022)
  • member of the WMO Polar Prediction Project (PPP) Steering Group (2018-2021)
  • member of the GEWEX Global Atmospheric System Studies (GASS) panel (2018-2022)
  • member of the scientific advisory committee of Meteo-France (since 2017)
  • external reviewer of the NERC/MetOffice PARACON project (since 2016)