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GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR CLIMATE SERVICES

Climate services, by definition, are mission-oriented and driven by societal needs to enhance economic vitality, maintain and improve environmental quality, limit and decrease threats to life and property, and strengthen fundamental understanding of the earth. At an August 2000 workshop, the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) reviewed the various climate service activities described in the previous chapters. Representatives of the various activities (the state climatologists’ programs, the regional climate centers, the National Climatic Data Center, the Climate Prediction Center, private sector organizations, etc.) were asked to discuss not only their activities, but also those characteristics that make their activities successful or present difficulties. The discussion led to the identification of best practices that are suitable for an overall climate service for the nation. Those best practices were then distilled into five guiding principles and are set forth below. The principles were developed through an assessment of current climate service activities and substantial experience within the atmospheric sciences in the development of weather services.

THE FIVE MAJOR GUIDING PRINCIPLES

  1. The activities and elements of a climate service should be usercentric. The interface between the knowledge base and the user is critical if



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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future 3 GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR CLIMATE SERVICES Climate services, by definition, are mission-oriented and driven by societal needs to enhance economic vitality, maintain and improve environmental quality, limit and decrease threats to life and property, and strengthen fundamental understanding of the earth. At an August 2000 workshop, the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) reviewed the various climate service activities described in the previous chapters. Representatives of the various activities (the state climatologists’ programs, the regional climate centers, the National Climatic Data Center, the Climate Prediction Center, private sector organizations, etc.) were asked to discuss not only their activities, but also those characteristics that make their activities successful or present difficulties. The discussion led to the identification of best practices that are suitable for an overall climate service for the nation. Those best practices were then distilled into five guiding principles and are set forth below. The principles were developed through an assessment of current climate service activities and substantial experience within the atmospheric sciences in the development of weather services. THE FIVE MAJOR GUIDING PRINCIPLES The activities and elements of a climate service should be usercentric. The interface between the knowledge base and the user is critical if

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future the objective is the timely production and delivery of climate information relevant to the user’s decision needs. “Climate forecasts are useful only to the extent that they provide information that people can use to improve their outcomes beyond what they would otherwise have been.” That statement, from Making Climate Forecasts Matter (NRC 1999a), is part of a series of findings that describe the importance of the interface between users and data providers. The report and climate services examples cited earlier are the basis of a set of requirements for a user-centric climate service: A comprehensive service should strive to meet the needs of a user community at least as diverse and complex as the climate system itself, ranging from the international community to individual users and involving both the public and private sectors. Central to the scope of a climate service is the need to embrace wide ranges of time and space scales because decision making occurs on all scales from local to global and from weeks to centuries. Users will become increasingly diverse, knowledgeable, and specialized. Consequently, their needs will evolve. Greater education of users in the meaning and significance of climate information is likely to promote greater use and more robust application of the information. The key to an effective climate services program is a vigorous, cost-effective, and comprehensive intersection of knowledge and its use. Therefore, the following elements are essential for a successful program: Mutual information exchange and feedback. Communication and accessibility of information. Continuing evaluation and assessment, by users and providers, of the use and effectiveness of the services. If a climate service function is to improve and succeed, it should be supported by active research. The ability to serve national climate needs is a direct product of the U.S. investment in the pursuit of new and useful knowledge. A continuous and concerted effort to develop and incorporate new knowledge is a requirement of any sustainable service. Research should focus on improved understanding of the dynamics of the diffusion of knowledge and information, including how it is transferred, communicated, and used and the implications of its use. Climate services should be an objective of mission-oriented research. Active mechanisms should be employed to enable the transition from research discovery to useful products (NRC 2000a).

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future Advanced information (including predictions) on a variety of space and time scales, in the context of historical experience, is required to serve national needs. The case studies in Chapter 1 describing the current demand for climate services illustrate the scope of the knowledge base that should be included to serve national needs. The knowledge base should include the following: Continuous, accurate, and reliable historical climate observations at diverse locales. Many applications use time series of climate variables to estimate trends, departures from average conditions, and extremes (low-probability events). Access to climate observations that include the perspective of the paleoclimatic record where available and appropriate to guide understanding of natural variability. Forecasts and outlooks, from a month to a year in advance, including an analysis of probabilities, limitations, and uncertainties and mission-oriented specialized products, which are of major importance to a large segment of the user community. Understanding the skill of such products is critical for their effective and beneficial use. Access to the growing knowledge base on the causes and character of natural variability on time scales of seasons to decades. Long-term climate simulations, starting from the beginning of the last century when the robust historical record begins and extending to the next 100 years. Such simulations provide an important service to the nation when coupled with an analysis of limitations and uncertainties. Information on spatial scales ranging from local to regional to global. The climate services knowledge base requires active stewardship. The quality, consistency, accessibility, and documentation (including limitations and uncertainties) of climate information are a ubiquitous concern of current users and help to define requirements for stewardship of the nation’s climate information: Open and free exchange of data is essential to incorporate the interdependence and teleconnectivity of elements of the global earth system and to consider the full strategic interests of the United States as part of the global economy. Reliable long-term observations and data archives are of critical importance (see Box 3–1).

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future Emphasis on converting observations into useful records is essential. Multi-purpose observations, including in situ and space-based systems, and an array of technologies and variables have proved to be the most useful for the characterization of climate. The most successful climate observing systems have included synergism among observations, theory, and modeling. Development and maintenance of a robust and easily accessible delivery system are necessary for an effective climate service. Box 3–1 Climate Monitoring Principles The U.S. climate community has long articulated the basic principles for monitoring climatic variables. Using a one-year assessment of atmospheric observations and data management, the National Research Council’s Climate Research Committee provided recommendations for how the National Weather Service modernization might address the needs of the climate community (NRC 1992). Its nine “principles of observing and managing data for climate and climate change research” were subsequently expanded and articulated as “Ten Basic Climate Monitoring Principles” (Karl et al. 1995). The ten principles were subsequently endorsed by the National Research Council report Adequacy of Climate Observing Systems (1999b): Management of network change. Assess how and to what extent a proposed change in the observation network will influence the information from the system. Parallel testing. Operate the old system simultaneously with the replacement system over a sufficient time period to connect climatic data taken before and after the change. Metadata. Fully document each observing system and its operating procedure. Documentation should be carried with the data. Data quality and continuity. Assess data quality and homogeneity as part of routine operating procedures. This assessment should focus on the requirements for measuring climate variability and change. Integrated environmental assessment. Anticipate the use of data in the development of environmental assessments, particularly those per-

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future taining to climate variability and change, as a part of the observing system’s strategic plan. Historical significance. Maintain operation of observing systems that have provided homogeneous data sets over a period of many decades to a century or more. Develop a list of key protected sites, based on their prioritized contributions to the long-term record. Complementary data. Give the highest priority in the design and implementation of new sites or instrumentation within an observing system to data-poor regions, poorly observed variables, regions sensitive to change, and variables with inadequate temporal resolution. Climate requirements. Give network designers, operators, and instrument engineers climate monitoring requirements at the outset of network design. Instruments must have adequate accuracy to resolve climate variations and changes of primary interest. Use modeling and theoretical studies to identify spatial and temporal resolution requirements. Continuity of purpose. Maintain a stable, long-term commitment to these observations, and develop a clear transition plan from serving research needs to operational purposes. Data and metadata access. Develop data management systems that facilitate access, use, and interpretation of data and data products by users. Freedom of access, low-cost mechanisms that facilitate use (directories, catalogs, browse capabilities, availability of metadata on station histories, algorithm accessibility and documentation, etc.), and quality control should be integral parts of data management. Climate services require active and well-defined participation by government, business, and academe. BASC reviewed the development of the partnership between the public and private sectors in the provision of weather services. The partnership was codified by the National Weather Service (NWS) in 1991 with a formal policy statement that replaced the long-standing, unwritten policy (NWS 1991). Many scholars have addressed the public and private roles over the years, most recently Stiglitz et al. (2000). Stiglitz, who served as chief economist of the World Bank and as chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, reviewed the balance of activities between the public and private sectors in various areas, including an explicit look at the NWS. The criteria presented in this report are consistent

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future with the analysis therein. This long history helps to define the roles of the participants in the delivery of climate services: The role of all government agencies should be motivated by the concept of “public goods and services.” Those are goods and services that are non-rival and non-exclusive. The following premises should guide these activities: Tax dollars should not subsidize activities of individuals or individual commercial operations. The government has responsibility for managing issues that are clearly in the wider public interest, including protection of life and property, increasing understanding of climate and weather, and improving services through basic and applied research. The government has international responsibilities for implementing and coordinating programs on behalf of the public. The government should be responsible for maintaining the nation’s official climate records. The role of the private sector is motivated by and acts under market forces and owes principal responsibilities to its own and its clients’ interests. This defines substantially different premises: The private sector generates data and products to which it may retain a proprietary interest, even if the data are subsequently transferred to a public agency unless otherwise agreed upon. The private sector may maintain the confidentiality of its dealings with its clients and hence of the content and character of the information it provides to its clients (subject to any applicable legal actions or restrictions). The private sector has substantial freedom in determining the conditions (restricted or unrestricted) for providing its value-added data and services to the public, academe, or government agencies. The private sector engages in basic and applied climate research to meet the needs of its users, concentrating on user-centric products and services. Members of the private sector constitute a principal resource for the innovation, development, and manufacture of advanced technological devices and equipment for making climatological observations, for computing, and for telecommunications. Academic research organizations play a critical role in climate education and research. These activities are focused primarily on the following:

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A Climate Services Vision: First Steps Toward the Future Traditional university roles of research, education, and outreach, much of which may be funded by federal research and development agencies and state governments. Research, data compilation and analysis, and product development, sometimes administered as part of a hybrid academic /government culture (e.g., the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/University Cooperative Research Institutes, and offices of state climatologists). Research, data compilation and analysis, and product development in partnership with industry (including technology commercialization) that also fulfill the research, education, and outreach mission of academe. BASC provides these principles for consideration in future climate service organizations, whether they are entirely new organizations or a refocusing or realigning of existing organizations. BASC believes that these best practices, if applied universally, could improve the provision of climate services to the nation.