Conservation Series

New Weather Station for Ben Nevis

A temporary weather station has been installed on the summit of Ben Nevis, 113 years after the original weather observatory closed. The team behind the project hope one day to make it permanent - an idea that will no doubt find support among winter climbers.

Installing the temporary weather station
© National Centre for Atmospheric Science

Between 1883 and 1904 a manned weather observatory operated at the summit of Ben Nevis. Once home to three people, who took weather readings every hour day and night, throughout the year, all that remains of it today are the familiar summit ruins.

Now a group of scientists from the Natural Environment Research Council's National Centre for Atmospheric Science has installed new weather reading equipment on Ben Nevis, to record live data from the summit for the first time in over a century. This is the latest stage in Operation Weather Rescue, a project in which thousands of volunteers have already digitised more than two million weather observations from the days of original summit observatory.

These measurements of atmospheric pressure, temperature, rainfall and wind will help fill gaps in our knowledge of the climate of the UK, and serve as a 'baseline' from which to measure any changes. The team aims to focus on how extreme weather in western Scotland may have changed between the time the observations were taken and now, particularly heavy rainfall.

"Thankfully, technology has moved on so there's no need for our team to be stationed on the summit over the winter months" said Dr Barbara Brooks, who led the project.

"Having access to Ben Nevis's records through Operation Weather Rescue means we will be able to start making comparisons, looking for any patterns and better understand the conditions on our mountain tops."

Accompanied by Ron Walker of Cairngorm Mountain Guides, the team of scientists led by Dr Brooks sited the temporary weather station on the summit on Tuesday, in some suitably wintry conditions.

This short film snippet shot by Ron Walker gives a good flavour of the day:

Bolted to a metal frame not far from the summit trig, it will remain in situ only until December.

However the team hope that interest in the project could help secure funding for a more established meteorological presence on The Ben. As well as being a boon to science, there's no doubt that a live data stream from the summit of Ben Nevis would prove popular with winter climbers and walkers.

"If we can prove that the technology works and the data is robust, we're hopeful this could lead to a new, permanent weather station on the summit, which would be invaluable for meteorologists" said Dr Brooks.

"The weather data would be useful for scientists but of course for the local community it would be more than that - not to be too dramatic about it, it could save lives."

"They would be able to point and say to walkers, 'it may be the middle of August but it really is that cold at the top of Ben Nevis'."

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