3
Concluding Remarks

The climate research community relies on a number of disparate observation systems to assemble a data base that it uses to analyze climate variability and change. A few of these systems function reasonably well, but for most, there are clear warning signals that must be heeded if climate variability and change is to be observed with sufficient fidelity over the next decade or two.

It is insufficient to evaluate in isolation the status of individual climate observing systems, rather they should be evaluated on how well they form a comprehensive, integrated climate observing system. Today, no one agency has claimed a primary mission of long-term, homogeneous climate observations. The evidence leads to the conclusion that this is an ancillary activity for all agencies involved in observations. Moreover, the USGCRP has neither the charter nor the ability to compel agencies to support programs they have failed to embrace. The consequence of these factors is that the institutional environment for developing and maintaining a credible, integrated climate observing system does not exist.

This panel was not given the mandate for advising the USGCRP on how it should address this fundamental problem. Scientists can assist in evaluating the merits of proposed alternative solutions, but there are many non-scientific aspects of an institutional nature that will determine the choice of an ultimate solution. However, the panel believes the USGCRP, or its parent, CENR, should consider developing and adopting a strategic plan containing alternative options that would be responsive to resolving this problem. It could incorporate the involvement of administrators at appropriately high levels, including OSTP and OMB, to adopt or, if required, to seek Congressional approval for changes in agency objectives and programs.



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--> 3 Concluding Remarks The climate research community relies on a number of disparate observation systems to assemble a data base that it uses to analyze climate variability and change. A few of these systems function reasonably well, but for most, there are clear warning signals that must be heeded if climate variability and change is to be observed with sufficient fidelity over the next decade or two. It is insufficient to evaluate in isolation the status of individual climate observing systems, rather they should be evaluated on how well they form a comprehensive, integrated climate observing system. Today, no one agency has claimed a primary mission of long-term, homogeneous climate observations. The evidence leads to the conclusion that this is an ancillary activity for all agencies involved in observations. Moreover, the USGCRP has neither the charter nor the ability to compel agencies to support programs they have failed to embrace. The consequence of these factors is that the institutional environment for developing and maintaining a credible, integrated climate observing system does not exist. This panel was not given the mandate for advising the USGCRP on how it should address this fundamental problem. Scientists can assist in evaluating the merits of proposed alternative solutions, but there are many non-scientific aspects of an institutional nature that will determine the choice of an ultimate solution. However, the panel believes the USGCRP, or its parent, CENR, should consider developing and adopting a strategic plan containing alternative options that would be responsive to resolving this problem. It could incorporate the involvement of administrators at appropriately high levels, including OSTP and OMB, to adopt or, if required, to seek Congressional approval for changes in agency objectives and programs.

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--> Until this issue has been addressed, the existing observation systems for climate variables should be maintained. Those agencies that manage operational systems for weather forecasting and other societal purposes, and those agencies that operate longer-term research networks need to exercise increased stewardship over those aspects of their operations that contribute to a homogeneous climate data base. These agencies should resist budgetary pressures and other factors that erode the climate value of observations. The funds required to maintain the value of observations for climate detection and attribution are a few percent of the total operating cost of the existing operational and research systems and are usually incurred in the initial design considerations. Additionally, the USGCRP should note that even though some observing systems have been maintained in a research mode for many years, continuity of these observations is not assured because they satisfy no ongoing operational requirement and are therefore subject to the vagaries of research funding. The following example came to the panel's attention as the report was being completed. NOAA recently reduced the operation of ozonesonde launches at the South Pole. The sonde operation was funded by satellite calibration and validation efforts and was operated by NOAA's research arm. Budget pressures on the satellite programs resulted in the natural process of reducing the lower priority activities. Although NOAA's research arm is attempting to piece together enough funding to continue a reduced sonde operation, several scheduled soundings have been missed, and the 18-year record of this important trace constituent at the South Pole is now in extreme jeopardy. To develop and maintain an integrated climate observing system, the USGCRP should develop a long-term strategy that identifies observing systems and schedules to transform research systems into an operational status. The technical and institutional steps necessary to transform a research observational system into operational status should be carefully considered to preserve the homogeneity of each data record. Because of the panel's task and time available, this report considered only existing observing systems. The panel would be remiss, however, if it did not identify concerns about the potential impact of agency plans and initiatives. If implemented incorrectly, these plans could greatly change the observing programs over the coming two decades with a concomitant, and largely unknown, impact on the climate record. As long as climate activities rely mostly on operational networks that do not recognize climate data requirements, those agency plans and initiatives will be of fundamental concern to the climate community. The growing emphasis on operational mesoscale observations and forecasts inevitably will lead to a growing reliance on remote sensing—both surface- and space-based. If, in the process, existing in situ networks, such as the radiosonde, are reduced in size or importance, there could be a large negative impact on the ability to assess climate and climate change. The panel recognizes that many of the atmospheric observations in ocean areas can be provided only by global

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--> systems such as satellites. At the moment, however, only sketchy information exists on the suitability of remotely sensed data as a source for climate change detection and attribution. Some studies have shown a positive impact of these data; others have clearly indicated substantial problems, two of which are calibration and poorly documented changes in the instrument performance from one satellite to the next. This report notes the need to build climate observing requirements into the operational programs as a high priority. That need is especially important as observing networks rely even more on remote sensing. Climate requirements should be considered in the planning process. There should be sufficient funding to test and evaluate new data sources before implementation, and support should be given to developing the new data assimilation and related techniques needed to make the transition from current to future observing systems.