Emerging Trends
February 6, 2019

The space-based component of the WMO Integrated Global Observing System

By Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization

The benefits of using Earth-orbiting satellites for the observation of the Earth have been recognized since the early 20th century. They could finally be realized when the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, was launched on 4 October 1957, marking the beginning of the space age.

In 1961, in response to a request made by the newly established Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) prepared a ground-breaking report in which it proposed a global programme to advance atmospheric science research and to develop improved weather forecasting capabilities using space technology (see the Global Satellite Observing System: a Success Story).

‘World Weather Watch’ – protecting lives and property

The programme became known as “World Weather Watch.” It combined observing systems, telecommunication facilities and data-processing and forecasting centres, operated by WMO Members, to make available meteorological and related environmental information necessary to provide efficient services and protect lives and property in all countries.

The World Weather Watch observing systems component, the Global Observing System (GOS), has grown into a well-planned system of meteorological and environmental satellites, integrated with in-situ based observation networks and supporting a wide range of WMO application programmes. It is composed of numerous satellites in geostationary orbit, low Earth orbit as well as in various other locations in the Earth-Sun system.

The data generated by these satellites provide essential input for a wide range of application programmes. For example, it has improved the accuracy of weather forecasts through numerical weather prediction and provides increasingly reliable and timely warnings of extreme weather events. Products and services making use of space-based data contribute to the implementation of the global development agendas, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.

The World Weather Watch is one of the best examples of the sharing of space benefits among all countries. Its data and information are made available to all countries, independent of their social and economic development. This includes the provision of receiving and analysis, equipment and capacity building, in the form of training, fellowship programmes and other support.

A new framework for observing global climate variability

In response to the expanding mandates of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), to the technical and scientific advances and to economic realities, the Global Observing System has become a key element of a framework which is integrating the existing global observing system, with the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS). Under this new framework, GOS will be integrated with the observing system components of application areas that had previously been developed independently.

“Close cooperation between WMO and ITU therefore remains absolutely essential to guarantee the availability and integrity of WIGOS and to ensure that the global observations of our Planet will continue to contribute to its sustainable development.” — Petteri Taalas

As the Earth’s climate enters a new era, in which it is forced by human activities, as well as natural processes, it is critically important to sustain an observing system capable of detecting and documenting global climate variability and change over long periods of time. The research community, policy-makers and the general public require high-quality climate observations to assess the present state of the ocean, cryosphere, atmosphere and land and place them in context with the past.

WMO and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), together with the Coordination Group for Meteorological Satellites (CGMS) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) continue to actively interact to  ensure an efficient and optimized space-based component of the climate monitoring system.

WIGOS provides a framework for integration across national, organizational and technological boundaries, and across different levels of performance, utilizing reference and standard networks as well as crowd-sourced data. In a process called Rolling Review of Requirements, observing capabilities are assessed on a regular basis to ensure that the observing systems implemented by WMO members meet user requirements. CGMS and CEOS respond to WMO recommendations to fill gaps in the space-based observing system. WIGOS will be operational from 2020 onwards.

The majority of data is typically shared at no cost among WMO members and disseminated through a variety of communication channels, coordinated under the framework of the WMO Information System (WIS).

The WMO Space Programme, established in 2003, coordinates and supports the development of the space-based component of WIGOS and responds to the growing role that satellites play in WMO application programmes.

The Vision for WIGOS in 2040 outlines how the space-based observing system needs to evolve in the next two decades to keep up with growing user requirements.

New types of sensors, the growing number of satellites, including those deployed in constellations and formations, as well as new fields of applications and mounting bandwidth requirements for transmitting the data are among the factors that lead to a growing demand for frequency spectrum use for space sensing.

The importance of space systems for the direct benefits of citizens all around the world and for providing data and information in support of policy- and decision-making for sustainable development underlines the vital role of ITU for the global management of the radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

Close cooperation between WMO and ITU therefore remains absolutely essential to guarantee the availability and integrity of WIGOS and to ensure that the global observations of our Planet will continue to contribute to its sustainable development.

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The space-based component of the WMO Integrated Global Observing System

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