What next for the Copernicus services implemented by ECMWF?

Jean-Noël Thépaut

Jean-Noël Thépaut says he would like to maximise synergies between the two Copernicus services implemented by ECMWF and to increase collaboration with other Copernicus services.

On 1 October 2019, Jean-Noël Thépaut took up his post as Director of Copernicus Services at ECMWF. The appointment comes five years after ECMWF signed an agreement with the European Commission to implement the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which are part of the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme. In this interview, Jean-Noël, who was previously Head of C3S, explains what has been achieved since 2014 and how he intends to develop the Copernicus services implemented by ECMWF.

What are C3S and CAMS?

C3S and CAMS are two of the six services of the EU’s Copernicus programme. CAMS focuses on providing atmospheric composition and solar energy information, including air quality and greenhouse gas analyses, reanalyses and forecasts. This portfolio is well established and operational and covers the whole globe.

C3S, on the other hand, became fully operational only about a year ago because it was created pretty much from scratch in 2015. It delivers a wide range of quality-assured climate information at global and European level, covering the past, the present and the future.

The main target audiences for CAMS and C3S are policymakers and decision-makers, especially at EU level; scientists; businesses; the media; and the general public. All data are freely available to all.

How well was ECMWF positioned to take on the task of creating these services?

ECMWF was awarded these two services because of its infrastructure, operational know-how, scientific expertise, and international scientific network. Based on our world-class numerical weather prediction work, we were able to build the required networks and expertise relating to environmental services, including climate and air quality services.

Regarding CAMS, ECMWF also benefited greatly from having pioneered atmospheric composition monitoring in a series of EU-funded research projects.

For C3S, ECMWF’s work in numerical weather prediction and its participation in several EU-funded research projects meant the Centre had become a world leader in climate reanalysis, an essential tool for climate monitoring, which is a flagship component of C3S.

Five years on, what have been the main achievements in implementing C3S and CAMS?

One of the main achievements is that C3S and CAMS have become well-known and well-respected services. We have hugely increased our visibility at European and global level and the number of users has grown extremely fast over the past few years, including in our Member States.

Five years ago, people were mainly looking to US-based organisations such as NASA and NOAA to obtain climate information. Today C3S is one of the resources to which people and organisations turn.

CAMS users include companies such as Windy and Apple, and both CAMS and C3S supply information to media outlets such as Euronews, which make that information available to millions of people. CAMS and C3S have also become important points of reference for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with C3S contributing regularly to the WMO’s annual State of the Global Climate statement.

The next agreement to implement C3S and CAMS will run from 2021 to 2027. What are ECMWF’s plans to develop these services further if the EU gives the green light?

We have already talked with the European Commission on the evolution of the services beyond 2021, and continuity in service provision is paramount.

Beyond this, we need to make sure that what C3S and CAMS provide is policy-relevant. This is already very much the case for CAMS. For C3S we still have a bit of work to do to maximise the usefulness of the information we provide for policy-making at European level, to ‘climate-proof’ Europe. We have established relevant connections with important actors, such as the European Environment Agency and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, but we can do much more.

In terms of portfolio, for CAMS, maximising the impact of the Sentinel-5P, Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 satellites to improve emission monitoring products will certainly be high on the agenda. For C3S, increasing the number of monitored essential climate variables (ECVs) and associated climate indicators, providing a climate attribution service component, and exploring decadal timescales will be important.

A key word for the evolution of the services at ECMWF is ‘synergies’. We have already developed synergies between C3S and CAMS, for example in terms of communications and user support, and we should build on that to improve both services even further. Along the same lines, consolidating and developing further synergies with ECMWF’s core activities is key to ensuring that the services receive the full benefit from progress in the underlying science.  

Synergies increase the value for money of our services. Going forward, combining the expertise from both services will put ECMWF in a strong position to make a major contribution to the development of a monitoring and verification system for anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Taking advantage of Copernicus assets to monitor CO2 is now a top priority for the incoming European Commission. ECMWF is coordinating the EU-funded CHE project, which is preparing the ground for the development of such a new service component.

I would also like to work towards increased collaboration with other Copernicus services. ECMWF is already involved in the flood and fire components of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS). We have made a start by making some CEMS datasets available through the C3S Climate Data Store. We need to continue to build and consolidate relationships with the marine and land monitoring services (CMEMS and CLMS).

One of the challenges for C3S and CAMS is to make big data and big data processing available and easily accessible. What plans are there to develop this aspect?

For C3S, we already have the Climate Data Store (CDS), and for CAMS we are developing an Atmosphere Data Store (ADS) using the same concept and infrastructure. These data stores give users access to the full range of C3S and CAMS data as well as to tailor-made data processing tools.

The new kid on the block for all Copernicus services is the WEkEO Data and Information Access Service (DIAS), one of five procured by the European Commission, which will provide a cloud computing environment to help users to combine their own data with Copernicus data and to develop their applications and services.

More generally, we need to be more proactive in understanding and developing methodologies around machine learning and artificial intelligence to exploit big data more efficiently. That is why we are organising a CAMS/C3S workshop on these issues in November.

Machine learning and AI are, of course, also relevant to ECMWF at large and to the European Weather Cloud that is being developed, so this field is another example of potential synergies.

Given that ECMWF is headquartered in Britain, would Brexit have an impact on the Centre’s ability to implement Copernicus services?

ECMWF being an intergovernmental organisation, the short answer to this is that it should have no impact. I was very pleased by the decision of ECMWF’s Council in June this year that ECMWF should aim to continue to provide Copernicus services, because of the benefits that brings to the Centre and its Member States. We therefore have a mandate to make sure this happens.

If after Brexit it turns out that it would be appropriate for part of ECMWF to move to the EU, we should regard this as an opportunity for growth and attracting new EU activities in the future.