Thomas Hornigold

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Thomas Hornigold

Graduate Student

I obtained my Masters’ in Physics (MPhys) degree from the University of Oxford in 2017, where I was ranked third overall in the cohort. I have since joined the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department here - via the DTP for Environmental Research - to work alongside colleagues at climateprediction.net, the volunteer ensemble computing and climate modelling project that offers the ability to run uniquely large ensembles of climate models.

I have previously worked as a summer research student in the Particle Physics department; my Masters’ research project was supervised by Dr Alves-Batista and dealt with the propagation of cosmic rays; and I have also been employed by Anglo Scientific as a research intern.

Current Research

I’m interested in global climate modelling with potential applications towards geoengineering, possibly through carbon dioxide removal, stratospheric aerosol injection, marine cloud brightening, or (idealised models of) the sunshade idea and other (potentially) politically relevant scenarios.

There are very few people, and fewer scientists, who would argue that these scenarios represent the best solution - either environmentally, or politically - to the climate change crisis. It is already clear from the research that has been done that the only permanent solution without potentially damaging side-effects is to reduce our carbon emissions to zero. Nevertheless, scientific questions remain - and the political question of whether Plan Z is worse than a worst-case scenario has not yet been answered.

I would like to refine and explore these and other mitigation scenarios and explore the question of whether, in this case, the cure might be worse than the disease – given concerns like the termination shock and the spatial inhomogeneity of the response, can we optimise the methods that are currently being considered? Is it possible to deploy a “limited amount”? How does SRM interact with CDR? Can we create a model of a realistic scenario and compare it to a realistic alternative to help policymakers in their decisions? These and other research questions I hope to explore and answer through computational modelling, using the climateprediction.net project.

The initial focus of the project involves examining how the model responds to inhomogenous aerosol forcing. If aerosol forcing is limited to the Northern or Southern hemisphere, or even a few adjacent individual latitude bands in the model, how does climate respond? Is the response linear - both in the magnitude and location of the forcing? This then allows us to make statements about how feasible it might be to "tailor" the distribution of a stratospheric aerosol to achieve a desired outcome.

In my spare time I’m an active science communicator, with freelance articles published on Singularity Hub. I write about science, technology, and society. Notable examples include my piece on negative emissions, next-generation solar panels, and cyanobacteria. The articles tend to range from giving perspectives on science and technology issues in the news, reporting new developments, or explaining an aspect of scientific research that caught my eye to the general public.

I also host a podcast, Physical Attraction, aiming to explain concepts in physics to the general public. Given that I take every possible opportunity to plug the show, I see no reason to make an exception here. You can listen to the episodes wherever you listen to podcasts, if you know what a podcast is, or via the website here. Topics include the life and times of Isaac Newton, an upcoming series on the history of attempts at nuclear fusion, and - surprising no-one - climate change.