The WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS) has been conceived as the future hub for global weather, climate and water observations. It will provide an all-encompassing framework for bringing all WMO global observing systems into the twenty-first century. The present systems – which include the Global Observing System, the Global Atmosphere Watch, the Hydrological Observing System and the observing component of the Global Cryosphere Watch – are evolving to form an integrated, comprehensive and coordinated WIGOS. WMO is now focused on establishing WIGOS Regional Centres, and reinforcing quality monitoring.
WMO is further supporting WIGOS through measures to improve specific types of observation instrument. It is facilitating the standardization of the quality and exchange of weather radar data, which are particularly useful for nowcasting (forecasts up to two hours), disaster risk reduction and other applications. Automatic weather stations are receiving attention due to their rapid enhancement through technological innovation and the need to develop standards and guidance materials. WMO has also prepared a guidance document to assist NMHSs in their efforts to move away from the use of mercury-based instruments; this aims to support the implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which entered into force in August.
The WMO Information System (WIS) provides a major upgrade to the way weather services and their partners manage, share and transmit weather, climate, water, marine and related environmental information. WIS exploits the most recent advances in information and communication technologies and reduces the costs of exchanging information. For the first time, and unlike the closed and private Global Telecommunication System that it builds upon, WIS gives users outside the meteorological community free access to an expanded range of information. As a result, WMO can now collaborate more fully with United Nations and other international partners on implementing common programmes and activities, such as the Global Framework for Climate Services.
The observing component of the Global Cryosphere Watch (GCW) provides authoritative, comprehensive and up-to-date data and information on the state of snow, glaciers, sea ice, permafrost, lake and river ice and ice shelves. WMO has established a core observing network called CryoNet which, as of 2017, includes 77 long-term stations maintained by operational and research organizations in 20 countries. Another 43 stations also contribute to the GCW. The network will continue to grow as GCW evolves into a WMO operational programme by 2020. WMO also contributes to the definition, integration and dissemination of standards and best practices.
The World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) and the World Hydrological Observing System (WHOS) also greatly strengthen WIGOS. Demand for fresh water is growing, leading to rising water stress around the world. High-quality data on water quantity and quality is crucial for hydrological services and evidence-based policy- and decision-making. The adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on water (SDG 6 - Ensure access to water and sanitation for all) will further increase demand for data and information on the hydrological cycle.
Recognizing the logistical and financial challenge of maintaining and upgrading observation instruments and information systems for hydrology, WMO champions innovative technologies and approaches that can expand the base of hydrological data. The newly established WMO HydroHub makes the full WMO portfolio of expertise – from science to technology to services – easily accessible to decision-makers from a wide variety of economic sectors.
Smartphones, for example, have revolutionized the way water data can be gathered and the role citizens can play in contributing to water monitoring at the local level. A simple click on a smartphone app allows users to measure water levels and discharge in small to medium-sized rivers and to share the data with different communities and, eventually, the world. These smartphone apps, together with other low-cost sensors and modern communications technologies, can gather a potentially huge volume of additional fit-for-purpose data. They have made it possible to engage new actors in water monitoring, with a shift from a reliance on technical experts to the inclusion of non-experts, including local communities. Traditional methods of water data collection, storage and access, of course, remain invaluable and also need to be further developed.
Another critical element of WIGOS is the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). GCOS defines Essential Climate Variables and seeks to guide and coordinate national investments in improved climate observations from space, on land, in the ocean and in the atmosphere. In 2017, GCOS made progress on identifying a core set of headline indicators to be used as a basis for demonstrating to the public the range and speed of climate change. Indicators under consideration include surface temperature, ocean heat, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), ocean acidification, sea level, glacier mass balance, and Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice extent. GCOS is also assessing the observation needs of the Paris Agreement on climate change and promoting improved climate data management and data rescue.
The full value of a comprehensive global observation system can only be realized if existing observation frequencies are protected and the ability to capture observations continues to expand. For this reason, and recognizing the growing demands on the world’s limited radio frequency spectrum, WMO and the International Telecommunications Union renewed their joint commitment to the protection and optimal use of the frequencies essential for remote sensing of the atmosphere and the exchange of information. They also updated the Handbook on Use of Radio Spectrum for Meteorology: Weather, Water and Climate Monitoring and Prediction, which provides comprehensive technical information on the use of radio frequencies by meteorological systems, including meteorological satellites, radiosondes, weather radars and wind-profiler radars.
Another way to protect observation data is the long-running campaign of Data Rescue (DARE) projects and initiatives. Older observations are often marked on paper that is deteriorating, so these files need to be safely stored as well as digitized. In 2017, for example, the NMHS of Uzbekistan, Uzhydromet, converted more than four million pages of hydrometeorological observational data into digital form under a data restoration project funded by the Korea Meteorological Administration. In Botswana, a data rescue team received a ministerial award for successfully imaging some 40 000 documents and keying in and quality-checking 500 documents; the work was undertaken with support from the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) and the German Weather Service (DWD).
WMO is also promoting long-term weather observations through its Centennial Observing Stations initiative, which encourages governments everywhere to protect and maintain these vital scientific observations. For example, WMO gave special recognition to the meteorological station at Grand-St-Bernard in the Swiss Alps as a Centennial Observing Station; Grand-St-Bernard celebrated 200 years of uninterrupted meteorological observation.
Just as important as protecting old records is the need to fully exploit new technologies for gathering current observations. A new era in satellite meteorology is dawning as the latest highly sophisticated satellites from China, Europe, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United States of America and other countries become operational. These state-of-the-art satellites offer unprecedented opportunities for improving Earth observations and forecasts.
The European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) has relocated Meteosat-8 to 41.5° East longitude. The satellite now disseminates three-hourly imagery and derived meteorological products via EUMETCast Europe and Africa and via CMACast (through the China Meteorological Administration). The move was part of a collaborative strategy among a group of countries to ensure the continuation of the important Indian Ocean Data Coverage service beyond May 2017, when Meteosat-7 was moved to a different location.
China has released the first high-resolution imagery from FY-4A, the first of its second-generation geostationary meteorological satellites. It included hyperspectral images of the atmosphere, colour cloud pictures and lightning images. The composite colour full-disk visible image below was taken at 1.15 pm (Beijing time) on 20 February. The image captures the weather system over China and surrounding areas, with the structure of cloud systems and topographical and bathymetric features clearly visible.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has put the Himawari-9 geostationary meteorological satellite, launched in November 2016, into in-orbit standby as a backup for Himawari-8. These two new-generation units support JMA’s commitment to sustaining the provision of continuous satellite observation data for the East Asia and Western Pacific regions until 2029. With the enhanced observation capability of 16 bands (channels), Himawari-8 is expected to improve the performance of NMHSs in the region for high-quality weather forecasting, climate monitoring, disaster risk reduction and transportation safety.
The China Meteorological Administration has launched the FY-3D polar-orbiting meteorological satellite to replace the eight-year-old FY-3B, and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched JPSS-1 (NOAA-20 in operations), the first of its highly advanced polar-orbiting meteorological satellites.
NOAA has moved GOES-16, launched in late 2016 as the first of NOAA’s next-generation geostationary weather satellites, into its operational orbit at 75.2° West longitude. GOES-16 scans the Earth and sky five times faster than NOAA’s current geostationary weather satellites, sending back sharper, more defined images at a resolution that is four times greater, and using three times more spectral channels than the previous model. The higher resolution will allow forecasters to see more details in storm systems, especially during periods of rapid strengthening or weakening. GOES-16 also carries the first lightning detector flown in geostationary orbit.