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March 23, 2021

Radio Regulations: Key to observing oceans, climate, and weather

By Mario Maniewicz, Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau

Earth observation and remote sensing systems are becoming increasingly vital as countries seek tools to address threats posed by extreme weather conditions and climate change. Such systems provide critical data to understand how the ocean shapes our weather and climate.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), serves as the custodian of the Radio Regulations – the continually evolving international treaty governing radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

As such, ITU allocates the radio frequencies needed to enable interference-free operation of all radio-based systems, including both terrestrial and space-based systems used for climate monitoring and prediction, weather forecasting, and early warning and detection of disasters.

Key solutions include monitoring of the Earth’s atmosphere over land and oceans to help mitigate, and adapt to, the negative effects of climate change.

Protecting ocean science and space services

The ocean, our climate and weather – the official theme of World Meteorological Day 2021 – resonates well with ITU’s work on remote sensing and Earth observation. This year’s celebration also marks the launch of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), which aims to strengthen ocean science – through innovative and transformative ideas – as a foundation to support sustainable development.

At successive World Radiocommunication Conferences, ITU Member States have considered the need to ensure the availability and protection of radio-frequency bands for atmospheric observation systems as radiosondes, weather, and wind profile radars, and spaceborne infrared and microwave sounders.

WRC-19 established conditions to protect existing services against interference from future International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) mobile and base stations. Priority was given to protecting sensitive science services in adjacent bands, particularly the passive band for Earth exploration satellite service (EESS) that provides measurements for weather prediction models.

Harmful interference in this band could make weather prediction less accurate.

Protections were also accorded to other passive services, such as the space research service (SRS), to ensure that space-based monitoring of the Earth and its atmosphere remain unhindered. Meteorology and climatology satellites meant to safeguard human life and natural resources will be protected from harmful radio-frequency interference, as will radio telescopes used by astronomers for deep space exploration.

ITU resources

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) Study Group 7 maintains two sets of recommendations: the RS Series (for remote sensing) and the SA Series (for space applications).

These form part of ITU–R Recommendations that describe the technical and operational characteristics, protection criteria, and sharing considerations for remote sensing satellite systems.

Several handbooks are also available on remote sensing and Earth observation, including the Handbook on Earth Exploration-Satellite Service, the joint WMO-ITU Handbook on Use of Radio Spectrum for Meteorology: Weather, Water and Climate Monitoring and Prediction, as well as the ITU-R Climate Change brochure. These resources are designed to complement efforts of the scientific community and to assist in protecting radio spectrum for remote sensing applications.

Supporting safety at sea

ITU also works to support and improve safety and security at sea through the allocation and protection of radio spectrum for maritime communications and by developing standards for maritime radio systems. The ITU-produced Maritime Manual which explores emerging innovative technologies in maritime communications, is required to be carried by all ships in either print or electronic format. The safety of shipping and protection of the maritime environment are critical to promoting a sustainable maritime transport sector, and vital to attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and especially Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water.

In partnership with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ITU developed the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), which alerts shore-based search and rescue services in cases of distress at sea and notifies vessels in the vicinity to provide the necessary assistance.

WRC-19 agreed to provide additional spectrum resources for new elements of GMDSS, thus expanding its coverage and enhancing its capabilities.

As we observe this year’s World Meteorological Day and mark the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, ITU remains committed to promoting the advancement of atmospheric science research and supporting the development of improved weather forecasting capabilities using Earth observation and remote sensing systems and space technology.

Image credit: NASA via Unsplash

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Radio Regulations: Key to observing oceans, climate, and weather

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