ECMWF Newsletter #173

ECMWF real-time data benefit the wider research community

Emma Pidduck, Umberto Modigliani


In addition to providing weather forecast data and services to its Member and Co-operating States, ECMWF serves a much wider community of users with specialist licences and cost-free real-time data. These are provided in accordance with the ECMWF rules governing the distribution of real-time data, first established in 1994. Specialist licences have been created for different categories of users, including research projects, satellite data providers (e.g. EUMETSAT, the European Space Agency, NASA), national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Members, as well as UN and EU agencies (e.g. the EU’s Joint Research Centre).

For research projects, over 1,200 real-time research licences have been approved since 2012. These licences provide free forecast data and access for time-limited, non-commercial research projects (subject to management/Member State approval). The aim of a research licence is to facilitate scientific advancement where the project results are openly accessible to the weather and climate community, while prohibiting commercial exploitation and the use of data in service provision. In addition, research projects can support long-term collaborations with external organisations, and the exchange of data/results can provide verification and validation of ECMWF forecasts and can contribute to the general development of ECMWF’s Integrated Forecasting System (IFS). In addition to these research projects, there are over 7,000 registered users of the MARS archive, each of whom can make use of historical forecast data for their research purposes.

To date, supported research projects have ranged from one month to five years in length, with the average research licence lasting for 1.5 years. Licences have been granted to projects in about 40 countries. ECMWF has recently observed a significant growth in the number of projects relating to artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also in the use of ensemble forecasts for hazard forecasting and long-term forecasts for energy prediction improvement.

Research licences by country.
Research licences by country. Geographic distribution of real-time research licences since 2012.

Open data to support research

In addition to cost-free data for research projects, ECMWF has a range of open datasets that can be used for research projects, including the S2S dataset for seasonal-to-subseasonal research and the TIGGE dataset of global medium-range ensemble forecasts from 13 forecasting centres. Most of the datasets are governed by the Creative Commons CC-BY-4 licence, which permits both commercial and research use, provided data is attributed to the owner. More information can be found in our dataset catalogue:

Specialist licences

National meteorological and hydrological services of WMO countries can apply for a non-commercial licence at data delivery charges only. The purpose of the licence is to enable the fulfilment of national governmental obligations related to the protection of life and property. More details can be found here:

Real-time data usage by Special Projects

Over the last ten years, ECMWF has supported several hundred Special Projects. Special Projects are ‘experiments or investigations of a scientific or technical nature, undertaken by one or more Member States, likely to be of interest to the general scientific community’. Users within one of ECMWF’s Member States may apply for resources as a ‘Special Project’. These research activities are supported through the provision of supercomputing resources on ECMWF’s high-performance computing facility.

How to obtain a research or specialist licence

ECMWF and all Member and Co-operating States are permitted to provide real-time data for research purposes, where the research itself is not providing an operational service or used commercially. To access the data, please use the ECMWF Product Requirements Catalogue ( to configure your data requirements and submit it to your chosen Licensor (Member or Co-operating State). Note that all research licences are subject to Licensor approval and some delivery fees may apply.

To discuss options, please contact your Member or Co-operating State computing representative ( or visit the ECMWF support portal (