Cathryn Birch

EMS Young Scientist Awardee 2014: Cathryn Birch

The EMS Young Scientist Award 2016 was awarded to Cathryn Birch, United Kingdom.


Her scientific work brings together models and observations to quantify the processes leading to major biases in weather and climate models in both the Arctic and the Tropics. The results of her work are one of the key inputs for further improvements of weather and climate models.

The Award was presented on 07 October 2014 at the EMS Annual Meeting & ECAC 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Cathryn gave a Young Scientist Award Lecture on her work at the EMS Annual Meeting & ECAC in Prague, in session ASI-1 Dynamical Meteorology: Using convection-permitting models to better understand tropical convection.

Cathryn is currently a UK Met Office Research Scientist, based at the University of Leeds. Her research interests include convection initiation and land-surface interaction over West Africa, water cycle in tropical regions, dynamics of the Saharan boundary layer and Arctic boundary layer and clouds.

Cathryn Birch has published a series of important papers that bring together models and observations to quantify the processes leading to major biases in weather and climate models in both the Arctic and the tropics. One of the most recent, ’Impact of soil moisture and convectively generated waves on the initiation of a West African mesoscale convective system’ shows how synoptic-scale processes, soil-moisture heterogeneity and convectively generated gravity waves interacted to trigger an observed mesoscale convective system over the West African Sahel. That such processes contribute to the initiation of moist convection over the Sahel has been known for some time, but Cathryn’s paper is one of very few that quantifies the relative importance of these processes for both the location and timing of the convection. The representation of convection is a key source of model bias in the tropics. Importantly, the paper takes the process understanding gained from detailed analysis of high-resolution models, to examine how these processes are represented in less complex models and assesses the implications for weather and climate prediction.

One of Cathryn’s particular strengths has been in confronting the weather and climate models with novel observations from field experiments to highlight modelling deficiencies in key physical processes. More recently, she has extended this analysis to comparing convection permitting models & observations with the coarser resolution (parametrised) models.


Cathryn graduated from the University of Leeds, UK, with a BSc Environmental Science in 2006, and received a PhD from the same institution in 2009 for her research on surface-atmosphere coupling over the central Arctic Ocean.
Until 2013 she was a Research Fellow at the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds, working on convective life-cycles over African continental surfaces, the evaluation of convective contributions to water cycle feedbacks between the the land-surface and the atmosphere, high-resolution modelling of case studies and the evalution of operational weather and climate prediction models.

Cathryn is a now Research Scientist at the UK Met Office but is based in the School of Earth and Environment in Leeds. Her position was created as part of the official academic partnership between the UK Met Office and the University of Leeds and was designed to improve collaboration between the two research bodies. Her current work involves using convection-permitting model simulations to better understand tropical convection and the water cycle. She works with scientists both at the Met Office and the University to identify key convective processes and help develop and improve parameterisations.

A full list of her publications is available at