On a cool and rainy autumn day in Geneva, Switzerland, some of the world’s leading weather forecasting, meteorological and radiocommunications engineers met Monday at the ITU headquarters for the beginning of a two-day seminar on the use of radio frequencies for meteorological services.
The use of satellite orbits and radio frequency for meteorological organizations is perhaps more important than ever, as climate change monitoring and prediction rely on timely and quality information provided by satellite equipment.
It is also a growing area of collaboration for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as the shared used of radio spectrum is crucial for the study of climate change — and for the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Panelists and speakers highlighted that both organizations must continue to work closely to protect the use of radio spectrum and to safeguard frequencies for the important work of meteorological services, including the work on climate monitoring and forecasting.
“Spectrum is a scarce resource… and coordinated use is quite challenging and we have to work together,” stated ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao in his opening remarks to the sessions.
“Radiofrequencies are really critical for meteorological services and climate monitoring applications,” said Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, which is why he was happy to continue the work with ITU to “protect some of these frequencies… for critical use.”
The seminar also marked the recent launch of a new edition of the WMO/ITU Handbook on the “Use of Radio Spectrum for Meteorology: Weather, Water and Climate Monitoring and Prediction.”
This handbook outlines key measures to consider with respect to the collaboration needed between climate scientists and radio spectrum allocation activities as well as technical achievement in development of spectrum based Earth and atmosphere observation terrestrial and satellite systems.
John Zuzek, National Spectrum Program Manager at NASA and Chairman of ITU-R’s Study Group 7 (SG7), discussed the important role of radio spectrum for science services that are critical to everyday life here on earth, and beyond.
As Zuzek explained, active sensors on satellites can carry out scientific and meteorological measurements of surface winds, ocean topography, cloud structures and more. In addition, radio frequencies enable passive observation of the universe for radio astronomy services (RAS) where “radio astronomers are looking way, way beyond our solar system,” he said.
He warned that we must actively protect the radio spectrum, especially where “radio astronomy is very susceptible to interferences from other radio services.”
Coming out of one of the strongest hurricane seasons in history, with Category-5 storms bringing unprecedented winds and flooding that damaged coastlines and causing billions of dollars in damage, satellites are proving key instruments for early warning systems and critical in saving lives.
Zuzek explained that satellites have played a crucial role for detection and monitoring, and as we saw in the recent tropical storms in the Caribbean, early warning systems “made a large difference to save lives.”
Mr Taalas noted that at the September meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, many countries cited climate change as one of the biggest risks we are facing globally. And he noted that climate change is an obstacle to sustainable development especially for the least developed countries (LDCs).
Effectively using satellites and spectrum can help to understand and mitigate threats from climate change.
Vadim Nozdrin from ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) provided case studies from ITU’s Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) to show where spectrum allocation has helped to save lives, money and time in response to natural disasters.
For example, lightning causes between $4-5 billion of damage per year. Through spectrum allocation for 24-hour thunderstorm detection systems, we have been able to better monitor and mitigate these threats. In addition, worldwide spectrum for oceanographic radars for tsunami prediction has been allocated by World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 after the devastating 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
In the context of the SDGs, it is critical that appropriate satellites orbits and spectrum resources are available to these important and often life-saving endeavors.
By Theadora Mills, @theadoramills