S2S Prediction Project: paving the way for the next generation of researchers in impact-based forecasting and climate research

The S2S Prediction Project co-chair, Andrew Robertson, discusses the S2S project and how early career researchers can explore its unique S2S forecasts database to conduct exciting research for societal use.

Members of the Sub-Seasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction Project Steering Group.

Andy Robertson, International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, United States

Dr. Andrew W. Robertson, co-chair of the WWRP/WCRP Sub-Seasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction Project, is a senior Research Scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, adjunct professor, and head of the IRI climate group. Since joining the IRI in 2001, Robertson has worked extensively on sub-seasonal to seasonal scale forecasting for climate risk management, especially in developing countries.

What are the major scientific and societal questions this project addresses?

The S2S project is focused on answering questions such as where and under what circumstances can short-term climate fluctuations, such as in weekly and biweekly averages of precipitation and temperature be usefully predicted several weeks to months ahead? What are the physical mechanisms or “sources” of predictability in this range? What are the sources of noise at the local level that prevent it? Can the “gap” in current forecasting capabilities between medium range weather forecasting (up to 10-14 days ahead) and seasonal forecasts be filled? Can S2S forecasts from ensemble forecast systems be translated into forecast products that can be of important societal value in providing early warning of weather & climate extremes and enable “climate smart” decision making to help adapt to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

It’s often said that “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get”. The S2S project bridges this division, which makes it an exciting area for climate-impacts forecasting research.

What are the project achievements so far? Can you share a specific highlight?

Our signature achievement has been the creation of the S2S database that makes available the forecasts and hindcasts from 11 global producing center S2S models to the global research community. This database has over 1400 active users across 90 countries, and is being used for research on mechanisms of S2S predictability, assessing forecast skill and developing forecast products. The S2S database can be accessed from the two official archiving centers at ECMWF and CMA, and through the IRI Data Library, which also hosts the closely related  Sub-seasonal Experiment database (SubX), funded by NOAA. The project has spawned a large international community of researchers, operational centers, and increasingly potential users of S2S forecasts.

What opportunities does this project offer for Early Career Researchers (ECRs)?

The novelty of the S2S forecasting range is a big opportunity. The S2S database has made model data available for the first time, making it accessible in a systematic way which opens up new opportunities for research – both in climate science as well as in interdisciplinary science toward harnessing these new predictions for societal use. An Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning competition is being organized in 2021 where anyone can try to beat the ECMWF model, either using purely statistical means, or by designing hybrid methods that combine S2S forecast model output with data.

Are the project outcomes (e.g. published papers, data) available as open-resource?

Over 160 papers have been published which can be found on the S2S project website. The database can also be accessed from there.  

What do you expect from an early career researcher contributing to your project? E.g. What skills do you look for in a candidate for this project? 

Creative ideas, drive and enthusiasm are the first and foremost expectations. A background in dynamical meteorology, oceanography or climate is a good basis for the more upstream science aspects, while experience in climate services – which is very diverse – is useful for the application development end. Python skills are becoming more and more attractive.

Is equity, diversity and gender-balance taken into account when selecting participants for this project?

The S2S project is community based and we are always seeking ways to make it more diverse and inclusive. The website contains wiki pages for several sub-projects which are ways to get involved. We will soon be adding wiki pages for geographical regions to help promote S2S initiatives around the world.

In these times of competition and uncertain career prospects, if there is one piece of career advice that you can give to the ECRs, what would that be?

I would suggest following your passion and strive to do what you want to do and take the initiative to develop your own ideas using resources like the S2S database. It’s not an easy or safe path to go into research, but it can be very fulfilling. 

The participants were interviewed by Priyanka Yadav (YESS ExeCom member). The article is edited for length and clarity by the YESS Interviews Team.