The World Meteorological Organisation has bestowed Centennial Station status on the Institute for its global importance in long term monitoring.

  • 13
  • DEC
  • 2018

Rothamsted manages the longest serving of the five sites in Great Britain announced by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), with continuous records dating back to 1853.  

Tony Scott, who runs the weather recording station, says sites like Rothamsted have been crucial in aiding scientific understanding of the rate and scale of man-made climate change and their effect on agriculture and the environment.

He said: “Measuring, understanding, and predicting climate change is only possible because of long term data sets that allow you to separate natural year to year variation from longer term trends.”

The link to agriculture is significant, because in addition to being affected by it, farming can also cause - and potentially prevent - increased greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Institute is already well known for its long-term data sets, thanks to the world’s oldest running field experiments, and this announcement comes at the end of 12 months of celebrations marking Rothamsted’s 175th year.

This experimental data, along with the weather records, are freely available via Rothamsted’s Electronic Archive (e-RA).

Whilst the Harpenden campus has been returning weather records to the UK’s Met Office since the 1870s, continuous recording of rainfall began in 1853 with other instrumentation being added in later years to study the effect of weather and climate on plant growth and yields. 

And whilst these days the weather station is fully automated, with measurements uploaded directly to the internet, some of the original collection equipment is still in operation.

Scott said: “Weather recording, at what is known as the Rothamsted Weather Station, was set up by our founders, Lawes and Gilbert, when they became interested in the amount, and the chemistry, of rain that fell on an acre of land.

“In 1872 they took their interest in the amount of rainfall and its impact on arable crops to wanting to know how much rain water percolated through bare soil.”

For this purpose, Lawes and Gilbert built three drain gauges each of an ‘one thousandth of an acre’ in size to match the rain gauge and to depths of 20 inches, 40 inches and 60 inches.

Later, cylinders with pen recorders were fitted so that the rate of drainage could be measured as well.

Today, these gauges are the oldest pieces of equipment still in use at the recording station.

Weather recording at Rothamsted has in fact an even longer history.  The earliest records were made by Lawes’ ancestor, Sir John Wittewronge, who, for five years from 1684, kept a weather diary.  

He had no instruments but his notes provide useful information for those interested in climate change and long-term variations in weather. 

The WMO award makes Rothamsted one of only two such centres in England, with a further four in the rest of the UK.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.