Climate Science for Serving Society

pp 13-50


Challenges of a Sustained Climate Observing System

  • Kevin E. TrenberthAffiliated withClimate and Global Dynamics, National Center for Atmospheric Research Email author 
  • , Richard A. AnthesAffiliated withUniversity Corporation for Atmospheric Research
  • , Alan BelwardAffiliated withInstitute for Environment and Sustainability, Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Joint Research Centre
  • , Otis B. BrownAffiliated withCooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites – North Carolina (CICS-NC), North Carolina State UniversityNOAA’s National Climatic Data Center
  • , Ted HabermannAffiliated withNational Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), NOAA
  • , Thomas R. KarlAffiliated withNational Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), NOAA
  • , Steve RunningAffiliated withNumerical Terradynamic Simulation Group (NTSG), CHCB room 428, The University of Montana
  • , Barbara RyanAffiliated withGEO Secretariat
  • , Michael TannerAffiliated withNational Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), NOAA
    • , Bruce WielickiAffiliated withNASA Langley Research Center

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Observations of planet Earth and especially all climate system components and forcings are increasingly needed for planning and informed decision making related to climate services in the broadest sense. Although significant progress has been made, much more remains to be done before a fully functional and dependable climate observing system exists. Observations are needed on spatial scales from local to global, and all time scales, especially to understand and document changes in extreme events. Climate change caused by human activities adds a new dimension and a vital imperative: to acquire climate observations of sufficient quality and coverage, and analyze them into products for multiple purposes to inform decisions for mitigation, adaptation, assessing vulnerability and impacts, possible geo-engineering, and predicting climate variability and change and their consequences. A major challenge is to adequately deal with the continually changing observing system, especially from satellites and other remote sensing platforms such as in the ocean, in order to provide a continuous climate record. Even with new computational tools, challenges remain to provide adequate analysis, processing, meta-data, archival, access, and management of the resulting data and the data products. As volumes of data continue to grow, so do the challenges of distilling information to allow us to understand what is happening and why, and what the implications are for the future. The case is compelling that prompt coordinated international actions are essential to provide for information-based actions and decisions related to climate variability and change.


Climate observing system Satellite observations Climate change Data processing Earth observations Metadata Climate data records