Wednesday, March 27, 2013

long-duration climate observations

PNAS recently published an important opinion piece by Carl Wunsch et al. that is well worth a read. It is freely available in HTML and PDF format from the Academy website, and less than a page and a half in length. They argue convincingly that "understanding of climate change is a problem for multiple generations" - stressing that an increased emphasis must be placed on long-duration observations of the climate system.

My favorite sentence takes nothing away from the value of modeling, yet emphasizes their key point:  "Today's climate models will likely prove of little interest in 100 years. But adequately sampled, carefully calibrated, quality controlled, and archived data for key elements of the climate system will be useful indefinitely."

Wunsch et al. point out numerous obstacles to obtaining adequate observations, lamenting that "governments have not done well in sustaining long-term observations." Some of us are all too familiar with this problem, yet this is not universally the case. One of NOAA's most far-sighted undertakings - the U.S. Climate Reference Network - has just achieved a decade of operation, thanks to staff and managers at NOAA whose vision has been laser-sharp. A paper reviewing this program is about to be published by the American Meteorological Society, and available here now.

The USCRN program can be a model for measurements of other climate system elements, domestically and internationally. Broadly implementing the USCRN approach would be an excellent way to address the intergenerational problem highlighted by Wunsch et al.

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