WMO Science Summit focuses on improved Earth system predictions

WMO Science Summit focuses on improved Earth system predictions



19 October 2017
Press Release Number:

Spate of tropical cyclones show need for multi-hazard approach

The World Meterological Organization is holding a Science Summit as part of its continuing drive to ensure that the best possible science serves society in the best possible way to meet the challenges posed by fundamental changes in the environment and an ever-growing global population.

The Science Summit, from 20-22 October, will seek to enhance cross-sector research collaborations needed for breakthroughs in our understanding of the Earth system.

“We live in a world that is interconnected and we can no longer place science into boxes - we need to work together across time and spatial scales, across domains and disciplines, break down barrier and place the needs of the user foremost,” says Elena Manaenkova, WMO Deputy Secretary-General. "The science summit will build a common vision on research topics that are central to dramatic advances in assessing and therefore managing environmental risks (weather, water and climate) that would increase the value of more focused investment in research," she says.

The meeting takes place as a spate of natural disasters, including a series of deadly tropical cyclones, floods, wildfires and an earthquake in Mexico have highlighted the need for improved multi-hazard early warning systems to reduce disaster risks.

 “Hurricane Ophelia is the latest in a rapid succession of tropical cyclones. In many respects it was the perfect storm – a combination of high-impact weather, climate, water and environmental hazards born of the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere,” says WMO Research Director Deon Terblanche.

hurricane opheliaCaption Winds from Ophelia swept Saharan dust and wildfire smoke to northern Europe.   Photo: Kelly Norris via Met Office

Ophelia originated in unusually warm tropical Atlantic ocean waters in an area where no hurricanes normally develop, and powered towards Ireland with high waves and wind gusts of more than 150 km/h. The winds swept up hot air from the Sahara, causing autumn temperatures in Europe to spike to summer-like levels. Heat, wind and dry soil from extended drought fuelled devastating wildfires in northern Portugal and Spain. Smoke from the fires and hot Saharan dust then spread in the atmosphere as far as Scandinavia, changing the skyline.

The storm disrupted transport and energy systems, damaged urban and coastal infrastructure. In addition to casualties directly from the storm and wildfires, there were widespread secondary health impacts such as respiratory problems. Accurate forecasts and close coordination between meteorological, marine and disaster management services limited casualties in Ireland, but dozens of people died from the wildfires in Portugal and Spain.

Other recent cyclones which hit the Caribbean and United States of America also showed the domino effect of weather and water-related hazards on all sectors of society.

“The multiple risks from extreme weather events and phenomena such as volcanic eruptions show the importance of a coordinated multi-pronged approach which harnesses the predictive power of super-computers and satellites and downscales it to neighbourhood or even street level on a timescale ranging from months to minutes,” says Mr Terblanche.

Research and Investment

The meeting in Geneva brings together representatives of the WMO Community, academia, the private and public sectors to promote both local and global exchange across multiple disciplines related to Earth system sciences. 

The conclusions will inform discussions at the 23-24 October session of the WMO Commission for Atmospheric Sciences, which meets every four years.

The five thematic sessions of the Science Summit are:

  • Seamless prediction in 2023
    Improving predictive capacity across weather, climate, water and environment.
  • Future infrastructures
    Planning and investing in future infrastructures (computing, data-handling, observations).
  • Science for services
    Developing and implementing a new interactive model for integrating research and operations.
  • Nurturing scientific talents
    Guaranteeing the sustainable development of science; breaking through geographical, gender and age barriers; ensuring institutional continuity and transfer of knowledge.
  • Innovation and resources
    Catalyzing innovation and mobilizing resources in weather, climate, water and environment research globally and locally.

New sources of atmospheric observations, faster supercomputers and advances in weather science together have revolutionized weather forecasting in the latter part of the 20th century. For example, World Weather Research Programme research over the last decade developed new tools to improve regional ensemble forecasts of high-impact weather and so strengthen early warning and disaster prevention.

On the global scale, we can today predict out to six days ahead as accurately as we could do for four days 20 years ago. This means society has much more advance warning of weather hazards than before, allowing people to prepare and, thereby, limit the loss of lives and property.

As weather science advances, there is growing momentum towards more “seamless” prediction – from days, to months, to seasons and even a decade ahead – across various spatial scales for weather, climate, water and related environmental issues. The goal is to develop new predictive tools able to detail weather conditions to neighbourhood level, to provide early warnings a month ahead, and to forecast weather-related impacts such as flooding and energy consumption and thereby serve society in a more effective manner.

Advances in science has also improved our understanding of complex chemical processes in the atmosphere  and how these impact on the climate system but also at shorter time scales. This same science and observations can now be used to better guide our choices to reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions. Today many high-impact weather events actually include a significant element related to poor air quality. Atmospheric pollution has far reaching impacts on human health and the environment. During the Summit all these matters will be discussed as well as new approaches to accelerate progress in our scientific understanding and our ability to transform such knowledge into concrete services to humanity.

A coordinated research effort and new investments are required to build science for services through seamless prediction systems, based on an Earth System approach, benefiting from future infrastructures while nurturing scientific talents.


See video of science summit here

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