Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford. His PhD was in general relativity theory at the University of Oxford. He declined a postdoctoral position at the University of Cambridge to continue this work, and instead decided to change fields and move to the field of weather and climate physics, joining the UK Meteorological Office. He made a name for himself in the field of middle-atmosphere dynamics studying stratospheric sudden warmings, and then began working on developing the first ensemble prediction system for long-range prediction. In 1986 he moved to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts where he led the team developing the ECMWF ensemble prediction system and the ECMWF season prediction system. During this period, he coordinated two EU climate prediction projects, led the international scientific steering group of the World Climate Research Programme CLIVAR, and was lead author of an IPCC assessment report. He has advised the UK Government on various committees related to weather, climate and supercomputing. On returning to Oxford and with two European Research Council Advanced grants, he has worked on stochastic parametrisation in Earth-System Models and developed the notion of imprecise computing for weather and climate modelling. He has won the top prizes of the European and Meteorological Societies and the Dirac Gold Medal of the Institute of Physics. He is a member of various learned societies around the world. He has become active again working on the foundations of physics and was in 2020 invited to join the Foundational Questions Institute.

Research Interests

A theme common to much of Tim Palmer's research has been nonlinearity. In his PhD he provided a first fully covariant quasi-local formulation of gravitational energy momentum in general relativity. Working in middle atmosphere dynamics he co-discovered the world's largest breaking waves in the stratosphere. This work led to the widespread use of potential vorticity as a global diagnostic of the global circulation in both the stratosphere, the troposphere and in the oceans. Variations in predictability associated with the nonlinear dynamics of weather and climate underpins the necessity for developing the ensemble prediction techniques in operational weather and climate forecasting which Palmer has pioneered. As part of this work, Palmer introduced the notion of stochastic parametrisation into ensemble forecasting and showed that the nonlinear rectification effect of noise could help reduce some of the systematic errors in conventional deterministic climate models. Palmer has emphasised the role of nonlinear circulation regimes in framing the regional response to climate change. In recent years he has been a strong advocate for dramatically increasing the resolution of climate models in order, amongst other things, that long-lived circulation regimes can be modelled with more fidelity. In foundational physics he has promoted the role of fractal state-space geometry as a means to understand the apparent nonlocality of quantum physics.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 16: Geophysics

Secondary Section

Section 13: Physics