Observing the planet

On 12 September, ECMWF used the opportunity provided by the Annual Meeting of the European Meteorological Society (EMS) in Trieste, Italy, to launch its next ten-year Strategy among colleagues from the weather community. The Centre’s strategic goals now include ensemble forecasts at a horizontal resolution of 5 km and a better representation of Earth system processes both in modelling and in data assimilation. High-quality observations of the atmosphere, the land, the ocean, sea ice and atmospheric composition will be critical to achieving these goals.

First and foremost, observations are the main ingredient of data assimilation, the process of combining observational data with dynamical and physical information contained in our numerical models. The resulting analysis is then used to initialise our weather forecasts, the wave and ocean forecasts associated with them, and, as part of the EU-funded Copernicus programme, our flood and atmospheric composition forecasts. But the role and impact of observations does not stop there. They are also used in our reanalysis of the atmosphere over the past few decades, and they form the basis of verification and diagnostic work. As such, they help to document the model’s quality and its deficiencies. They are therefore also at the heart of model improvement.

Over the life of our Strategy, we expect to see exciting developments, including the first hyperspectral instruments in geostationary orbit and EUMETSAT’s Second Generation Polar System in Low Earth Orbit. They will bring new and improved instruments and will strengthen the core microwave sounding capability. These programmes as well as the next-generation US system, JPSS, and the evolving Chinese programme, Feng Yun, together with exciting technology and science demonstration missions such as ADM-Aeolus and EarthCARE, will all support the implementation of our new Strategy.

A very large part of our observations comes from satellites, and ECMWF greatly benefits from its close relationship with EUMETSAT and other space agencies, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the China Meteorological Administration (CMA). However, conventional observations also play a key role at ECMWF. The Centre is heavily involved in monitoring the Global Observing System (GOS), in particular through WMO and EUMETNET activities. Monitoring the GOS enables us to understand the role of the various components of this system in the analysis and in forecast quality. It also helps us to detect possible deteriorations, which enables us to give feedback to observation providers for the benefit of the community.

As we look ahead to the future of observations and how they will help us improve our predictions, we cannot ignore the present: the ten years in orbit of EUMETSAT’s MetOp-A satellite, which has brought critical improvements to meteorology, well deserve to be celebrated!

A very exciting decade lies ahead of us, in which we expect to see a further deepening of the close partnership between ECMWF and the various actors involved in the Global Observing System.

Florence Rabier