European Capacity for Monitoring and Assimilating Space-based Climate Change Observations – Status and Prospects


EUMETSAT headquarters. Image courtesy of Heidas, GNU FDL

The European Union’s Joint Research Centre has published a technical report titled „European Capacity for Monitoring and Assimilating Space-based Climate Change Observations – Status and Prospects.“  This report, which is based on the findings of a workshop at Ispra, provides the scientific background to a forthcoming Commission response to the Space and Competitiveness councils requests that the commission assess the needs for full access to standardised climate change data, the means to provide these data and together with ESA, EUMETSAT and the scientific community define how GMES services can contribute effectively to providing these data. The report therefore focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on space-based Climate data sources. Standardised climate data are needed for climate monitoring, prediction and research, while climate information informs the policy cycle at four key points – Policy definition; Management and scenario building; Reporting requirements; Alarm functions. The workshop identified the 44 Essential Climate Variables defined by GCOS as the minimum set of standardised climate data that the commission should be considering and a gap analysis for the provision of these observations was undertaken. In addition European capacity is analysed according to maturity, differentiating between sustained operational capacity (Envelope Missions/EUMETSAT), non-operationally funded repetitive capacity and additional infrastructure needs in order to fill the gaps are identified. Finally the report discusses co-ordination and governance issues and how to overcome them. The key findings and recommendations are contained in an executive summary, which reads:

Europe’s scientific community, in conjunction with the EC, EEA, ESA, EUMETSAT, ECMWF, EUMETNET and Member States Institutions have proven capacity for climate monitoring to determine the prevailing climate of any given region and to measure rates at which variables such as temperature and rainfall change. Europe has the capacity for climate prediction to determine the future state of the climate system years and decades ahead. Our monitoring and prediction work is supported by climate research to assure continued developments in the collection, archiving, analysis and application of climate data and information.

The accuracy and completeness of observations of the past and current state of the atmosphere, ocean and terrestrial components affect the accuracy of climate monitoring and prediction. Over the last decade the UN-sponsored Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) has established scientific requirements for systematic climate observations needed to characterize the state of the global climate system and its variability, to monitor the forcing of the climate system, help determine the causes of climate change, improve climate change prediction and to assess impacts, adaptations, risk and vulnerability.

Translating capacity and potential into operational services can occur by securing a stable financial platform. Sustained funding would strengthen observational networks (the space segment making measurements, plus processing, product generation and quality control) enabling the consistent generation of Fundamental Climate Data Records (FCDRs), which are essential for the derivation of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). It would support reanalysis and assimilation schemes needed to turn these data into policy relevant information. It would promote the design and construction of information management systems and promote effective use of climate information and prediction services in climate-sensitive policy sectors.

The need for full access to standardised data for climate services provisioning Europe’s governments, public and scientific community with climate information is extremely high. This was underscored at the 3rd World Climate Conference, held in August 2009, and is already expressed in the UNFCCC, the Convention’s Protocol as well as studies such as the Stern Review. Existing capacities and networking in Europe provide a solid foundation, however the climate monitoring objectives will not be met without increased computing power for this distributed skills-base and a move away from the current dependence on research funding.

Key discussion points

1) European climate monitoring and prediction services would provide much needed but currently missing information for climate-sensitive policy sectors including health, transport and energy, insurance, civil protection, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, development-cooperation, and maritime planning. Climate information would support policy definition and implementation, help in fund allocation and prioritisation, meet mandatory reporting requirements and form part of public alarm systems protecting both our own citizens and those of partner countries.

2) The Global Climate Observing System has identified 44 essential climate variables as the minimum needed to provide reliable climate information. Peer-review of each variable by the international scientific community has established specifications, such as frequency and scale of observation as well as accuracy and acceptable levels of uncertainty. At least 31 of the ECVs can be measured from space such that they meet these specifications.

3) Europe has proven capacity in space hardware development and construction, processing algorithm development and generation of ECVs. The European satellites flying today, along with systems already commissioned provide the potential to generate around 29 of the ECVs. Current commitments (including the ESA Climate Change Initiative, EUMETSAT Satellite Application Facilities, ECMWF ERA reanalysis, some EC Framework Programme research projects and the GMES Services) support end-to-end production of around 40% of these over the next five to ten years – but long-term guarantees for operational production still have to be secured.

4) Participation in International programmes including the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) provide a framework for calibration, inter-comparison and benchmarking of European ECVs with others, along with task-sharing so complete provision of all 44 ECVs becomes possible.

5) Europe has world-leading capabilities in the reanalysis of climate data and assimilation of these and other observations to provide analysis of climate and climate change.

6) Unfortunately ECV production, reanalysis and assimilation activities in Europe are based on research funding or are performed on the margins of routine operations by satellite operators or by numerical weather prediction (NWP) services.

7) Joint Programme implementation is an imperative; to fill gaps, avoid overlaps and ensure that the existing disparate elements of a “European Climate Infrastructure” are formally recognised as such. Existing efforts, by the European Commission, ESA, EUMETSAT and others need to be connected, strengthened and sustained.

8) Increased computing resources (computational/storage, bandwidth and skilled personnel) are needed to ensure that coupled Earth System models can be run, and that the spatial and temporal resolution of these can be improved). The improvements should build on established skills centres; for example around the framework being put in place by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). A centralised facility is not needed, but substantial and sustained funding is required to reinforce a number of large installations and to provide the necessary communication and networking infrastructure.

9) Europe has the scientific and technical skills to provide full access to standardized data for climate but the current reliance on research budgets and ad-hoc “envelope” programmes for funding limit activities to test cases and demonstrator projects. The lack of a stable financial platform, analogous to that underpinning Numerical weather prediction is a fundamental block to reliably generating products for operational users.

10) Because activities are funded from many sources the overall amount is difficult to establish. A dedicated study is urgently needed to identify the current levels of public expenditure on climate information provision. This would provide a basis for estimating budget levels needed to secure operational climate information services in Europe.

11) Because funding is not provided from an operational budget line Europe is unable to make the move from research to operations. We are in the unacceptable position of having to de-scope planned activities, even where these are essential and based on proven world-class science. This underplays European scientific capacity, is a severe handicap to joint implementation and makes it impossible for a climate service to deliver sustained information, as required in any legal or operational setting.

Read the full report in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: European Capacity for Monitoring and Assimilating Space-based Climate Change Observations – Status and Prospects, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2010, EUR 24273 EN, ISBN 978-92-79-15154-5, ISSN 1018-5593, DOI 10.2788/70393

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