WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS)

By Sue Barrell 1

Meteorology has made significant progress in the quality and diversity of services in the last few decades as a result of impressive advances in research, numerical modelling, observing capabilities (in situ and satellite) and computer and communication technologies. Further progress, however, depends on adopting a new and integrated approach in order to upgrade the global space-and surface-based observing systems in a fashion that optimizes knowledge of current environmental conditions and exploits the data they produce for predictive weather, climate and water products and services. The value of such a comprehensive integrated approach led the World Meteorological Congress to adopt, in 2007, the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS), which will provide the enhanced observational component of the World Weather Watch (WWW) and the overall observing framework for WMO.

WIGOS will not replace existing observing systems, but rather provide an over-arching framework for the coordination and optimized evolution of these systems that will continue to be owned and operated by a diverse array of organizations and programmes. It will also support better use of existing and emerging observational capabilities. Although aimed primarily at improving the WMO observing systems, it will also interface among co-sponsored and non-WMO observing systems, thereby engaging the essential regional and national actors for the successful integration of these systems.

Having completed its Test of Concept Phase (2007-2011), implementation of the WIGOS Framework began in 2012 with the aim to be operational from 2016 onwards. Regional and national implementation will move forward after the respective WMO Regional Associations and national authorities approve their tailored WIGOS implementation plans. The immediate goal is facilitate the production of weather and climate services and products for the four initial priority areas of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) – agriculture and food security, disaster risk reduction, health and water.

Integrating governance and management

Interoperability of observing systems and compatibility of climate data and products are essential for meeting the needs of diverse users.

WIGOS will achieve interoperability and compatibility through the application of internationally accepted standards and best practices. Data compatibility will also be supported by the use of standardized data representation and formats. WIGOS aims to improve the quality and availability of data and metadata in order to develop capacity and to improve access to data.

The principal areas of standardization include:

  • Instruments and methods of observation across all components, including surface-based and spacebased elements (observations and their metadata);
  • WMO Information System (WIS) exchange as well as discovery, access and retrieval services (see article page 23); and
  • Data management (data processing, quality control, monitoring and archiving).

Thus, the implementation of WIGOS focuses on integrating governance and management mechanisms, functions and activities among the contributing systems.

Prospects for WIGOS

The international standards and best practices implemented by WIGOS will permit National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) to build on past achievements in order to meet the challenges of the future. They will be able to take advantage of progresses in technology that will provide a basis for further improvements in the reliability and quality of observations. Further development of integrated observing systems will make it possible to provide observations of key atmospheric variables and processes relevant to weather, water and climate with high time resolution. Observing system test-beds will be used to inter-compare and evaluate new instruments and systems, and develop guidelines for further integration into WIGOS.

As with WWW, WMO Members will need to plan locally while thinking regionally and globally to realize the full benefit from the global observing systems. The full needs of any individual Member cannot be met solely through its own observing system: observations from others are essential, and interdependence on global observations increases more and more as time horizons (from short to longer term weather predictions, and from local to large scale climate prediction) increase. For example, with improvement in seasonal-to-interannual forecasts, integration of observations from oceans and land will take on ever-increasing importance.

In the decades to come, WIGOS will enable WMO Members to better respond to natural hazards, improve weather, water, climate and related environmental monitoring, and adapt to climate change and human-induced environmental impacts while providing avenues for education, training and capacity development. These objectives are at the very core of the mandate of WMO, and are particularly evident in the GFCS. Through the development of standards and uniform observing practices, WIGOS will support the generation of quality-controlled products and information, thus underpinning the systematic development of needed infrastructure for effective climate services. The delivery of high-quality climate services will require better-coordinated and more comprehensive observing components, that can be supplied only by NMHSs working together with their national and international partners. WIGOS is to meet this need by providing compatible, quality-assured, quality-controlled and well-documented long-term observations.

The development of WIGOS will be requirements-driven with a clear orientation to public health, disaster risk reduction, water resource management and food security, renewable energy, tourism, travel, insurance, to mention just a few, as an enabler for sustainable development. A comprehensive review of new priorities and requirements will be crucial for WIGOS to respond to user needs for observations of specified spatial and temporal resolution, accuracy and timeliness. In doing so, WIGOS will build upon and add value to the existing surface and space-based subsystems, while providing a foundation for the integration of new and emerging observational technologies.

Erik de Castro / Reuters
An aerial view of a fishing village in Guiwan town, devastated by super
Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines, 11 November 2013.

Optimizing network design – future outlook

In the near future, NMHSs and other data providers will need to coordinate efforts in order to address the observing network design. WIGOS tools will assist in minimizing duplication and optimizing design and flexibility to incorporate new observing systems/networks after their successful testing and evaluation. These networks are likely to incorporate a mix of systems with optimized geospatial/temporal distribution of observing points and data to meet global/regional/subregional/national needs in accordance with requirements of significant users and application areas, including the economic and communication sectors. Space-based components of WIGOS will play a key role in the composite network design and in filling the gaps of data sparse areas, such as oceans and Polar Regions.

At a national level, WMO Members are likely to consider an integrated network of networks approach, where observing networks, technologies and processes will be optimised to ensure the most effective coverage of required observations, including planned redundancy for key measurements. The network would engage the wider community of institutions monitoring the environment to maximise the value of data from all sources.

An integrated network of networks will be a balance of traditional and innovative approaches to provide a comprehensive approach to monitoring that will evolve while still maintaining a connection to the historical record. It will also balance user needs with operational and technical constraints, and use redundancy to achieve quality, reliability and representativeness.

Incorporating tiered networks as an integral part of the network of networks approach will facilitate the matching of observing solutions to needs, as well as the integration of externally contributed networks and observations.

An issue that must be addressed in any consideration of future international cooperation is to reverse the on-going decline of observational capacity in many of the less developed countries. Satellites will, over coming decades, fill the data gaps and begin to provide more of the observations needed to support the required meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic services in such countries. However, while satellite data might meet fulfil the needs of some applications, national capacity to operate observing systems remains essential to meeting the full suite of requirements, including climate monitoring.

Partnerships and cooperation

WIGOS will contribute to an enhanced understanding of our Earth system. This will require partnerships across borders, disciplines and organizations. Collaboration and cooperation will be key. By providing more timely and accurate information, NMHSs help decision-makers protect populations and prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters. Investments in weather, climate and water information and services produce an economic return many times greater than the original amount invested, and represent an investment in well-being and prosperity for all.

WIGOS will be central to the future of WMO and will provide a mechanism to better plan and implement observing solutions in the priority areas of the GFCS as well as the other application areas.

In-house contributors:
The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the WMO Secretariat, specifically the contributions of Miroslav Ondras and Igor Zahumensky, to this article.

1 Vice-President of the WMO Commission for Basic Systems, Chair of the Inter-Commission Coordination Group on WIGOS, and Acting Deputy Director, Information Systems and Services, Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

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