I study theoretical aspects of geophysical fluid dynamics, with an emphasis on large-scale atmospheric dynamics. Although atmospheric dynamics is based on fundamental physical laws, this is often forgotten in applications, particularly as the field becomes increasingly specialized. I see my role as helping to ensure that atmospheric dynamics is built on a solid theoretical foundation, which is the ultimate basis for progress in any science. Much of my research has therefore focused on theoretical analysis of the governing equations, with a particular emphasis on the interaction between disturbances and mean flows.

Just as the real atmosphere obeys the fundamental laws of physics, so too should any model of it, including climate models. My more applied research aims to determine the extent to which climate models provide a physically realistic and reliable description of the atmosphere. Given the importance of climate models in understanding climate change, this work has high societal significance: it is essential to understand and improve the reliability of our models. During my time in Toronto my special focus was on the middle atmosphere, including the ozone layer, and much of my research in this area was stimulated by my role as PI of the Canadian Middle Atmosphere Model (CMAM). I found it immensely stimulating to work with a state-of-the-art model that really simulated the real atmosphere, in all its complexity, and became convinced that it was crucial to be able to connect simpler ideas to these more complex models.

In 2012 I moved to Reading, and turned my attention to tropospheric circulation. It is quite striking that almost everything we have any confidence in with regard to climate change concerns its energetic or thermodynamic aspects, rather than its dynamical aspects, which involve the atmospheric (and oceanic) circulation. As attention has shifted from detection and attribution of climate change to predicting its effects at the regional scale, our lack of knowledge concerning circulation has become increasingly apparent. Thus I regard understanding the circulation response to climate change (including its variability) as the next grand challenge for climate science.  I have articulated this challenge in a Nature Geoscience Perspective.

In recent years I have been developing a ‘storyline’ approach to the representation of uncertainty in the circulation aspects of climate change, as an alternative to the more traditional confidence-based language. The case for this is articulated in a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society A. As part of this development, I have been increasingly involved in inter-disciplinary research.

I have been heavily involved for some time in international assessments concerning the science of ozone and climate, especially the WMO/UNEP Ozone Assessment. I was honoured to be among the scientists designated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as making a significant contribution to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPCC. I find the focus on policy-relevant aspects of one's science to be an important stimulant for new research.


Theodore (Ted) G. Shepherd FRS

BSc (Toronto, 1979)
PhD (MIT, 1984)
Post-doctoral (Cambridge, 1984-88)

Grantham Professor of Climate Science
Department of Meteorology
University of Reading

PO Box 243, Earley Gate, Whiteknights

Reading RG6 6BB U.K.

theodore.shepherd AT reading.ac.uk

Tel:  +44 (0)118 378 8957

Go to my University web page

Research Interests