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WMO strengthens satellite strategy to monitor climate change

Hi-tech efforts to better understand global warming have been strengthened after the world’s space and meteorological agencies gave their support to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) strategy for the enhanced use of satellites to monitor climate change and weather.

The backing came during a two-day high-level meeting that ended 16 January, 2008, in New Orleans, USA. The annual WMO Consultative Meetings on High-level Policy on Satellite Matters was attended by top officials of space agencies contributing to global Earth observations on research and operational bases.

WMO presented its updated space-based Global Observing System (GOS) to top officials representing agencies from across the world. Agencies participating in the meeting welcomed WMO’s initiative to set an ambitious and forward-looking goal to foster international cooperation towards an enhanced global satellite system for the coming decades. The agencies also expressed readiness to help make this vision become a reality.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created and co-sponsored by WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme, for its work on monitoring the man-made impacts on the Earth’s climate came as a further recognition of the need for global, accurate and continuous observations.

At least 16 geostationary and low-earth orbit satellites currently provide operational data on the planet’s climate and weather as part of the GOS. They are complemented by numerous experimental satellites designed for scientific missions or instrument technology demonstration. A record number of 17 satellites are planned for launch in 2008 to further strengthen the GOS.

Satellites have been used for decades to monitor climatic and weather conditions. But better integration of satellites and the constant refinement of their capabilities are crucial to keep check on the effects of climate change, such as atmospheric changes, sea-level rise and desertification. This can only be achieved through increased cooperation and data exchange among nations, which is at the heart of the WMO Space Programme plan.

Other key accomplishments from the meeting included:

The first contribution by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais), which operates a joint satellite program with China monitoring the environment. Brazil provided data and products from its space observations over South-America, Africa and China, which will be freely available to WMO’s 188 Members.

Major progress on the WMO-run International Geostationary Laboratory (IGEOLAB) to use satellites for highly elliptical orbits, which allow almost permanent coverage of high-latitude areas for weather, ice and snow monitoring, as well as for telecommunications and data collection.

Guidelines developed for the transition of successful research and development satellites into more permanent, operational missions. Guidelines will be submitted to the WMO Executive Council for approval.

The start of the Regional Specialized Satellite Centre in Climate Monitoring, which is necessary for the continuous and sustained provision of high-quality Essential Climate Variables satellite products on a global scale.

The goal of the space-based component of the Global Observing System is to meet the observation needs of all WMO Programmes dealing with weather, climate, water, the atmosphere, and disaster prevention and mitigation, as well as WMO co-sponsored programmes such as the World Climate Research Programme, the Global Climate Observing System, Global Ocean Observing System, and Global Terrestrial Observing System. It is a major component of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

Paul Garwood | alfa
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