Defining the Essential Climate Variables for Observations

The first conference dedicated to climate observation – Global Climate Observation: the Road to the Future – took place in Amsterdam, Netherlands, from 2 to 4 March 2016. The event provided an opportunity for representatives from 40 countries, over 150 producers and users of climate observations as well as other stakeholders, to discuss the current monitoring of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) and identify new variables that should be monitored in order to fill gaps in climate observation.

Discussions on the relevance of the current ECVs in improving our understanding of the global cycles of water, energy and carbon led conference participants to agree that more information on these was needed in order to fully understand the Earth’s climate. Further discussions highlighted that though many of the current ECVs address ecological and biological aspects of the climate, the so-called “slow variables” describing biological processes are currently parameterized rather than monitored. The conference also explored how the use of better indicators than global surface temperature average, such as sea level rise, ice extent and ocean acidification, could improve communication on the rate and extent of climate change.

Climate observations, allowing monitoring of ECVs, are critical to our understanding of the climate. Since 1992, Global Climate Observation System (GCOS) has been responsible to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for ensuring a sustained, long-term and reliable system for monitoring the global climate. The outputs of the conference will shape the new GCOS Implementation Plan, which will be submitted to the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the UNFCCC in November.

ECVs support not only the work of the UNFCCC, but also that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many other international organizations and programmes. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report notes that there are gaps in the current Global Climate Observing System on which the assessments it makes are based. More detailed climate observations are also needed for adaption planning to reduce risks from climate change and variability. It is, therefore, crucial to make further progress towards achieving a fully implemented, sustainable Global Climate Observing System.

Further information, including conference videos and slides, are available on the Conference website

Essential Ocean Variables

In an earlier meeting in February, a Panel of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), part of the GCOS network, identified nine new biological Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs). The GOOS Biology and Ecosystems Panel is currently working on specification sheets for these variables including links to observing networks, and will review these with the ocean observing community before they are finalized. Other GOOS panels will also be contributing this year to the GCOS Implementation Plan. 



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