The World Meteorological Organization’s ruling congress has backed a strategic shift to a more integrated “Earth system” approach that aims to break down barriers between different research fields, as well as approving plans to better connect science with services and policymaking.
The “Earth system” approach looks at the planet as a whole, linking the atmosphere, the ocean and hydrosphere, the terrestrial realm, the cryosphere and even the biosphere.
Such integration is essential given the challenges posed by climate change, as well as the ever-increasing depth and breadth of scientific data made available thanks to rapid technological change.
The World Meteorological Congress, which runs from 3-14 June, passed a series of resolutions that aim to make WMO-coordinated research seamless and ensure that scientific inputs from academia, fundamental and applied research institutions, and the UN agency can be better harnessed worldwide.
“Earth systems integrated thinking, or a seamless approach, means collaborating across and combining different scientific disciplines, including meteorology, climatology, hydrology, environmental and social sciences. In the WMO context, such an approach could substantially improve the quality of and comprehensiveness of different kinds of products and services, including, weather forecasting, climate projections, flood and drought warning, as well as air quality and health services, and more,” said Pavel Kabat, WMO’s chief scientist.
“The distance between science and service in the WMO system is potentially short, and our efforts are now focused on connecting the top academic and the research communities, on one hand, to the national meteorological and hydrological forecasting centers on the other, to assume joint responsibility for advancing WMO services,” he said.
The resolutions are part of a wider reform package under discussion at the congress that includes the creation of a new WMO research structure.
“The new WMO Research Board would be organically collaborating with the technical commissions to achieve this objective, while a new Science Advisory Panel would help in advising about the major strategic directions,” said Mr Kabat.
The World Meteorological Congress, which meets every four years, brings together the 193 WMO Members. Cooperation across national frontiers has underpinned WMO’s work since its creation as the International Meteorological Organization, in the 19th Century.
The need to tackle climate change and predict and preempt its future impacts has added new imperatives to bringing down the barriers between scientific fields, policymakers, business and wider society. And the increasing complexity of the globalized economy has made it even more important to build links between weather, water, climate and environmental observers, other research fields, different branches of national and local administrations, and a wide range of business and industrial sectors.
“We’re trying to work without any cultural barriers, trying to break them down and be interdisciplinary,” said Celeste Saulo, WMO Vice President and Directorof the Argentinean National Meteorological Service, SMN.
“We need a much broader diversity of talent, not only in the physical sciences but also the behavioral sciences and the economic sciences,” said Stephen Belcher, chief scientist at the UK’s Met Office.
Scientific seamlessness goes hand in hand with a similar approach to services for a wide range of sectors, such as aviation, the shipping and port industry, farming, urban planning, energy and health. The aim is to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world where technology is expanding the possibilities to provide faster, more accurate forecasts, private sector players are emerging fast in the weather and climate sphere, and competition for attention makes it all the more important to provide information in ways that make real sense to those that need it.
Neil Jacobs, acting head of the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, underlined how technology has pushed new ways of working – for example, embedding software experts and scientific researchers together.
“What we have throughout the funnel are software engineers, at the top and bottom, as well as scientists,” Mr Jacobs said.
Working with a range of partners, WMO has long been at the forefront of seamless collaboration in research, through projects including the Global Atmosphere Watch, the World Climate Research Programme and the World Weather Research Programme. It has already initiated consultations within and outside of the traditional WMO hydro-meteorological community, to strengthen strategic partnerships and to promote the co-design of relevant research activities with WMO members, partner programmes, and other relevant stakeholders and organizations.
As part of this approach, Congress endorsed a five-year WHO (World Health Organization)-WMO Master Plan on Health, Environment, and Climate Science to Services to improve the tailored information and services on weather, climate, water, and related environmental risks to human health and thus improve health outcomes. It will usher in further joint initiatives to achieve the sustainable provision of integrated urban and health services to better manage risks to human health related to climate change, extreme weather and climate, water, air quality and solar radiation.