Interview with Dr Colm Clancy

Postdoctoral Researcher, Environment Canada, Montreal, Canada

 

typicalweather_clancy

 Colm on a typical day in the Irish hills.

1. Why did you decide to do a Ph.D. in meteorology?
It was a combination of luck and not knowing what else to do. To be honest I hadn't ever thought much about how weather forecasting worked (my childhood notion of meteorologists staring at the sky every night was pretty much intact into my early twenties). In my final year in UCC I decided I wanted to continue with applied maths for awhile, rather than getting a real-world job. Then, on the department notice-board I spotted a poster for UCD's Meteorology & Climate Centre; it seemed interesting. I made some inquiries through UCC contacts and paid a visit to UCD. Things moved from there.
2. Can you describe your PhD work? (in a nutshell)
I work in the area of numerical weather prediction. Weather forecasts and climate simulations are carried out on computers by solving the equations governing atmospheric motions; to project forward in time based on the current observations. Specifically, I design and test the mathematical methods used to solve these equations. My PhD, then, in a tiny nutshell: there was one such method devised by my supervisor in the 80s and then left in hibernation. We resurrected, developed and tested it further, showing that it is at least as good as some currently used forecasting techniques and has a number of additional benefits which would warrant its further investigation.
3. You studied under the great Prof. Peter Lynch - what was it like to have such a world reknowned supervisor?
It was a great experience. As well as learning a vast amount from him, having him as a supervisor meant that people paid some attention to me and the work at conferences. We had a productive and relatively argument-free four years, although I continue to stubbornly defy him
on the issue of split infinitives....
4. You hail from Cork - what are the main differences between the climate of Dublin and the real Capital?
Dublin generally seemed drier, and colder in winter. No doubt you could easily find people who'd tell you that Cork has its own unique climate (and possibly ecosystem). It was always handy getting texts from home, saying it was raining there: a good warning of rain on the way in the next few hours.
5. What's your favourite type of weather?
Dry, somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees and strong wind. Heavy rain is great to look at from indoors, or to walk in if you've a shower and dry clothes awaiting you. The worst are those warmish days with heavy drizzle, swirling under your umbrella.
6. You're now based in Canada. Weatherwise what are the main differences between there and Ireland (although you're at a similar latitude)?
The word "extremes" comes to mind. When I arrived in April, there were still snow-piles  everywhere. Spring seemed to occur over a couple of days in May; everything was grey and barren, then one day all of a sudden the trees had leaves. Very dramatic. The summer has had some very hot and humid weeks, not particularly pleasant. These have brought some rather spectacular thunderstorms. And, of course, I haven't yet experienced a winter here. That should
be interesting.
7. What does your Canadian research entail?
Right now, I'm essentially continuing on from my PhD research, but working with a different atmospheric model (one that divides the surface of the Earth into thousands of triangles, rather than a traditional latitude-longitude grid division). This is a new model, still in its infancy. It's great to get the chance to work on something from its early stages. There's also the existing, operational Canadian forecasting model. I will probably be here for 3 years, so should get a chance to work on many different things.
8. You're a mountaineer - has weather ever got in the way of your treks? What's the tallest mountain you've climbed?
As long as I'm carrying a good rain jacket and/or bottle of suncream in my bag, I don't mind what the weather is like. Although it is a bit disheartening if it's already raining before you've gotten out of the car. I'm not sure what the highest altitude I've ever been at is, though I have a photo of me at 12,000 feet in Colorado (admittedly having been driven up by bus). The highest I've climbed is our own, always-wonderful,  Carauntoohil. My favourite is Mount Brandon; I've yet to find a better view than that from the summit. While Irish mountains may not be the highest, they still provide a great and under-appreciated challenge due to unpredictable weather (despite climbing Hungry Hill in West Cork three times, I've only ever properly seen it once, due to lack of visibility).
My most memorable climbs have been as a result of low-level inversions, trapping a low layer of cloud. Once above this, the view is spectacular, the mountain peaks appearing as islands in a sea of cloud.
9. You are a regular at the European Geosciences Union conferences in Vienna - is that because of the meteorology or the sachertorte?
Isn't it great to have a job that combines the two?
1. Why did you decide to do a Ph.D. in meteorology?
It was a combination of luck and not knowing what else to do. To be honest I hadn't ever thought much about how weather forecasting worked (my childhood notion of meteorologists staring at the sky every night was pretty much intact into my early twenties). In my final year in UCC I decided I wanted to continue with applied maths for awhile, rather than getting a real-world job. Then, on the department notice-board I spotted a poster for UCD's Meteorology & Climate Centre; it seemed interesting. I made some inquiries through UCC contacts and paid a visit to UCD. Things moved from there.
 
2. Can you describe your PhD work? (in a nutshell)
I work in the area of numerical weather prediction. Weather forecasts and climate simulations are carried out on computers by solving the equations governing atmospheric motions; to project forward in time based on the current observations. Specifically, I design and test the mathematical methods used to solve these equations. My PhD, then, in a tiny nutshell: there was one such method devised by my supervisor in the 80s and then left in hibernation. We resurrected, developed and tested it further, showing that it is at least as good as some currently used forecasting techniques and has a number of additional benefits which would warrant its further investigation.
 
3. You studied under the great Prof. Peter Lynch - what was it like to have such a world reknowned supervisor?
It was a great experience. As well as learning a vast amount from him, having him as a supervisor meant that people paid some attention to me and the work at conferences. We had a productive and relatively argument-free four years, although I continue to stubbornly defy himon the issue of split infinitives....
 
4. You hail from Cork - what are the main differences between the climate of Dublin and the real Capital?
Dublin generally seemed drier, and colder in winter. No doubt you could easily find people who'd tell you that Cork has its own unique climate (and possibly ecosystem). It was always handy getting texts from home, saying it was raining there: a good warning of rain on the way in the next few hours.

5. What's your favourite type of weather?
Dry, somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees and strong wind. Heavy rain is great to look at from indoors, or to walk in if you've a shower and dry clothes awaiting you. The worst are those warmish days with heavy drizzle, swirling under your umbrella.

6. You're now based in Canada. Weatherwise what are the main differences between there and Ireland (although you're at a similar latitude)?
The word "extremes" comes to mind. When I arrived in April, there were still snow-piles  everywhere. Spring seemed to occur over a couple of days in May; everything was grey and barren, then one day all of a sudden the trees had leaves. Very dramatic. The summer has had some very hot and humid weeks, not particularly pleasant. These have brought some rather spectacular thunderstorms. And, of course, I haven't yet experienced a winter here. That should be interesting.

7. What does your Canadian research entail?
Right now, I'm essentially continuing on from my PhD research, but working with a different atmospheric model (one that divides the surface of the Earth into thousands of triangles, rather than a traditional latitude-longitude grid division). This is a new model, still in its infancy. It's great to get the chance to work on something from its early stages. There's also the existing, operational Canadian forecasting model. I will probably be here for 3 years, so should get a chance to work on many different things.

8. You're a mountaineer - has weather ever got in the way of your treks? What's the tallest mountain you've climbed?
As long as I'm carrying a good rain jacket and/or bottle of suncream in my bag, I don't mind what the weather is like. Although it is a bit disheartening if it's already raining before you've gotten out of the car. I'm not sure what the highest altitude I've ever been at is, though I have a photo of me at 12,000 feet in Colorado (admittedly having been driven up by bus). The highest I've climbed is our own, always-wonderful,  Carauntoohil. My favourite is Mount Brandon; I've yet to find a better view than that from the summit. While Irish mountains may not be the highest, they still provide a great and under-appreciated challenge due to unpredictable weather (despite climbing Hungry Hill in West Cork three times, I've only ever properly seen it once, due to lack of visibility).My most memorable climbs have been as a result of low-level inversions, trapping a low layer of cloud. Once above this, the view is spectacular, the mountain peaks appearing as islands in a sea of cloud.
inversion_clancy
9. You are a regular at the European Geosciences Union conferences in Vienna - is that because of the meteorology or the sachertorte?
Isn't it great to have a job that combines the two?
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