The United Nations family, the ocean and scientific communities and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services around the world rallied in support of World Meteorological Day and its theme ‘the ocean, our climate and weather’.
More than 400 people participated in a virtual ceremony addressed by WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson, UN Climate Action Assistant Secretary General Selwin Hart, Alfred Wegener Institute Director Antje Boetius, yachtswoman Alexia Barrier, and youth campaigner Salvador Gómez-Colón, and featuring video messages from Members and partners around the world.
The ceremony presented a new WMO video and special edition of the WMO Bulletin highlighting the vital role of the ocean in our interconnected world, the increasing impact of climate change, and the need for better ocean services, science and observations to protect lives at sea and in coastal areas. WMO Members also held special activities to promote their 24/7 work in protecting lives and livelihoods, be it on land or at sea.
“The ocean and the atmosphere are two titans of the Earth system. Carefully balanced and inextricably connected, the relationship between air and sea dictates weather and climate around the globe. Climate change is disrupting this delicate equilibrium,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a message.
“Sea-level rise has accelerated because of melting glaciers and ice caps, threatening coastal megacities and small island nations alike. Science is also revealing how melting could affect mighty ocean currents, further exacerbating climate disruption. Scientific research and better ocean observations are increasing our understanding of the changes taking place. But, as we embark on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, big gaps remain. Only by understanding and protecting our planet can we ensure a sustainable future for humanity,” he said.
Science and observation gaps impacting services
The WMO community has a major stake in supporting research, observations, predictions, and services for the ocean as much for as the atmosphere, land, and cryosphere and has a large number of partnerships, including with the UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), as part of its Earth System approach.
“Major gaps in data over the ocean hinder our ability to accurately forecast weather at extended time scales and, more so, sub-seasonal to seasonal,” said Prof. Taalas. The WMO Data Conference in November 2020 highlighted the need for free and open access to Earth system data, to maximize the overall economic impact of these data, he said. The full Statement is here.
Decade of ocean science
“It still amazes me that with it covering over 70% of the planetary surface, and with the majority of life on this planet harbored in the Ocean, that so much of our economic and scientific endeavor has just ignored it. In fact, the great majority of the Ocean’s properties remain unknown to science and we are only scratching the surface of the potential benefits of the sustainable blue economy,” said UN Ocean Envoy, Ambassador Thomson, whose home country Fiji symbolizes the benefits and hazards of the ocean.
Ambassador Thomson said the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which includes activities such as this year’s World Meteorological Day, would yield a huge upsurge of knowledge about the ocean.
“I have no doubt that WMO’s commitment to the Decade’s success will play a big part in reaching its agreed goals of achieving a safe, predicted and transparent Ocean,” said Ambassador Thomson. ‘The upcoming COP-26 in Glasgow, and the 2nd UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, will be important events to progress science action for sustainable development and policy’ he said.
"By any measure – our oceans are in crisis. The implications of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement could not be higher for the health of our oceans. Failure to limit the increase in global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, will fundamentally alter ocean systems as we cross dangerous tipping points and undermine any other attempts to protect our oceans. We cannot safeguard the health of oceans if the 1.5 degree goal is breached,” said Mr Hart.
Polar oceans and climate
Prof. Boetius gave an overview of the largest polar expedition in history, the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC). The research icebreaker Polarstern made a huge contribution to increasing understanding of the Arctic and provided new insight into the dynamics of the exchange of energy, fluxes, chemical compounds and heat.
The journey was record-breaking: never before had an icebreaker been near the North Pole in winter, and never before could international researchers comprehensively gather such urgently needed climate data in the Arctic, which is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world.
Mission participants took observations ranging from 30 km in the air to 5 km below ice in the sea floor.
“The fish they observed were Atlantic fish. We have evidence of how life is changing in the Arctic,” said Prof Boetius.
Prof. Boetius also commented on the recent iceberg that calved from the Antarctic ice-sheet, in late February, noting the melting of ice due to warming atmosphere and ocean is a concern for both Poles. The Polarstern was the closest Research Vessel to the ice-berg at the time, and scientists aboard are currently exploring the seafloor, exposed after decades of being covered by ice.
Ms Barrier, a French yachtswoman who competed in the 2020–2021 Vendee Globe round-the-world race, recalled how she deployed ocean buoy, contributing to the Global Ocean Observing System’s network of observations.
Five months of navigation and 20 000 miles covered, she brought back more than 1 million surface water data to European ocean observation programs and spread ocean citizen science among the followers of her 4myplanet organization.
Salvador Gómez-Colón, a climate-resilience and youth-empowerment advocate from Puerto Rico, recalled the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and linked the Hurricane force being driven by warming ocean temperatures. He was 15 years old when he lived through this worst natural disaster in known history to hit Puerto Rico. On seeing the devastation and being told that there would be no electricity for about a year plus fears for lack of clean water, he created Light and Hope for Puerto Rico, raising nearly $200,000 to distribute solar-powered lamps and hand-crank washing machines to 3,500 families.
Since then, Mr Gómez-Colón has launched other climate-resilience initiatives including responses to Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and the 2020 Puerto Rico earthquakes.
A member of Marvel’s Hero Project, which streams on Disney showing the positive impact of real-life youth heroes, he has received a number of awards.
“As natural disasters become more frequent and deadly, we have to adopt more sustainable practices and a more sustainable infrastructure,” he said.
As well, the value of ocean observations for early warning of marine heatwaves influenced by La Nina, was highlighted by the joint partnership between the Minderoo Foundation and University of Western Australia.
Videos were also presented on the Earthshot Prize, which is designed to incentivise change and help to repair our planet over the next ten years. WMO is an official Nominating Agency and welcomes proposals sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2020 WMO Calendar Competition received many amazing ocean photographs, a selection of which were shown. For further details of activities see the WMO’s World Meteorological page, ‘Activities: Members/Partners’.