Medal recognises 'revolution' in weather and climate prediction

03 July 2014

© Oxford Martin School

Professor Tim Palmer, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin School's Programme on Modelling and Predicting Climate, has been honoured in this year's Institute of Physics Awards.

Awarding Professor Palmer the Dirac Medal, which recognises outstanding contributions to theoretical physics, the judges said his work on developing probabilistic weather and climate prediction systems had "led a revolution in the fields of weather and climate" and benefited all sections of society.

"He has challenged old ideas and has changed the way that weather and climate are viewed both by the public, by associates in the same field, and by scientists in other disciplines," said the judges, continuing: "Palmer’s work in weather and climate predictions is a beautiful blend of theoretical insight and practicality. Based on his insights into chaotic behaviour of fluids, he has created a system that gives the wealthy and the poorest of the poor throughout the world a determination of the probability of drought, flood, tropical cyclones or hydro-meteorological hazards in general.

"This probability has allowed them to determine their levels of risk and, if worthwhile, allows them to instigate mitigation. For example, Palmer’s probabilistic predictions have been used in Bangladesh where, for the first time, societies can anticipate slow-rise, long-lived floods. The savings for the mitigating actions in Bangladesh are of the order of annual incomes.

"Normally, the societal benefits of ideas take a long time to permeate to the practical level. But Palmer, having practical applications in mind, has formed an almost immediate link between his theoretical insights and practical applications."

Previous winners of the Dirac Medal have included Peter Higgs and Stephen Hawking. Professor Palmer said: "I think this is the first time someone from the area of geophysics has won this particular award. As such I do feel especially proud of this prize; it is very good for my subject to receive this recognition from the theoretical physics community."