IT sits miles above the country but is crucial in deciding what kind of weather we are subjected to on a daily basis, whether it be hail, rain or glorious sunshine.

Now Scottish scientists have embarked on a major study of European glaciers and how they affect the movement of the jet stream in an attempt to predict the weather patterns of the future.

The study, led by the University of Aberdeen, has so far provided the clearest picture of ancient weather patterns in Europe that could now improve models used to predict how climate change will affect the Continent in future.

In the biggest study of its type, a network of European scientists from eight universities analysed a wealth of data on ancient glacial deposits that were used to reconstruct 3D models of the glaciers themselves.

By working out the shape of those glaciers, they were then able to work out how much snowfall they needed to survive.

From this, they hope to determine how the climate behaved during the so-called “Younger Dryas”, a period of rapid climate cooling that happened about 12,000 years ago.

The results indicate the weather in north-western Europe and most of the Mediterranean was much wetter in this period compared to the present day, whereas it was previously thought to be drier.

Crucially, the results have also allowed the scientists to understand the consequences of movement of the jet stream – which governs our seasonal weather patterns – past, present and future.

The study analysed more than 120 glaciers stretching from Norway and Ireland to Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, the Balkans and Turkey and the findings can now be used to improve numerical models to better inform us about the long-term effects of ongoing climate change.

Professor Brice Rea and Dr Matteo Spagnolo, from the University’s School of Geosciences, led the study in collaboration with colleagues from the universities of Madrid, Manchester, Bergen, Pisa, South-Eastern Norway, Lund University and ETH Zurich.

Mr Rea said: “Current climate models are not very clear on exactly how the jet stream will change, and the measured records go back little more than 100 years.

“But what we have here, for the first time, is a clear picture of where the jet stream was towards the end of the last glaciation, and its impact on seasonal weather. Now that we understand where the jet stream was located 12,000 years ago it tells us a lot about the climate of the past.

“Our technique involved studying the glaciers from that time to work out the quantities of snowfall and how the atmosphere was moving. There

are existing reconstructions of temperature, but they don’t tell us about how the atmosphere was behaving nor where the weather was coming from.

“That is what is unique about this study. The results are extremely valuable in terms of providing data to test how climate models can predict movements of the jet stream and the resulting weather into the future.”

Mr Spagnolo described the techniques they used as being similar to those used by palaeontologists – but instead of studying fossils, they studied the landscape to determine the location and height of glaciers, allowing them to build an understanding of past climate.

He said: “The techniques we use rely on the ‘landscape memory’ left by ancient glaciers as a proxy to understand the circulation of air masses across Europe 12,000 years ago. Here, for the first time, we take them all together and we see a Europe-wide picture of how the climate behaved back then.

“Ultimately this study is about climate change. Current climate models rely heavily on recent data, but to improve these models we have to go much further back into the past.

“This is the most accurate proxy-based representation of the atmospheric circulation at the end of the last glaciation that’s ever been produced, and the data can be used to improve the models that predict what’s going to happen to our climate when – as is likely – the jet stream shifts as a result of ongoing climate change.”