GCOS Climate Observation Conference: Calling for a “global goal for observations,” ocean included

Experts and policy makers gathered in Darmstadt, Germany to discuss urgent needs and gaps in climate observing, and to develop much needed strategies and solutions for a sustainable future. The ocean, recognized as a key part of the global climate system, played an important role in the conversation.

Photo credit: EUMETSTAT

Our climate has been going through intense changes, straying well outside the bounds established over many thousands of years. The ocean, while playing a key role in climate regulation, is changing as well. 

Climate observations have been fundamental in the development of scientific assessments and policies, including IPCC reports and the 2015 Paris Agreement. In this framework, the importance of the oceanic component has been recently emphasized with the publication of the 2022 Implementation Plan of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). 

Building on this plan, the 2nd GCOS Climate Observation Conference brought together climate scientists, policy makers, observations experts, operational services, United Nations agencies and intergovernmental organizations to foster international dialogue in order to progress towards a comprehensive and sustainable global climate observing system – one that also includes ocean observations. 


Photo credit: EUMETSTAT

“Observations underpin all weather, climate, water, and ecosystems services and products. Without the collection and sharing of these observations, the ability to understand, predict, mitigate, and adapt to changes in the climate system is limited,” stated Sabrina Speich, chair of the GCOS Climate Observation Conference and co-chair of the GOOS Ocean Observing Co-Design programme. 

A call for long-term planning and funding for the ocean observing system was expressed at the conference, from data collection to data management and distribution. At the moment, ocean monitoring mainly receives funding from short-term research projects, threatening the sustainability of these activities. The monitoring of many other components of the climate system faces the same challenge. 

Great attention was also given to FAIR data principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable). Many climate observations are underexploited because of the lack of consistency and clarity in their processing, interoperability and usability. Adherence to the FAIR principles was highlighted as one of the key elements of success for some of the regional ocean observing systems that were presented, as well as multi-platform approach and integration.  

The conference provided concrete pathways to improvements in this area, identifying that increased effort is required to ensure that the data can be readily used in reanalysis and are fit for purpose. Improving access to well curated multidisciplinary ocean climate data repositories would be instrumental.

An urgent need to fill in some major gaps in ocean observing was also recognized. These include observations in ice-covered regions, deep ocean and marginal seas. Alarmingly, instead of being reduced, in many cases new gaps are appearing: for example, the number of ships actively reporting under the Voluntary Observing Ships (VOS) programme experienced a drastic decline from around 7000 in the 1980’s, to only around 2000 today. 

On the other hand, presenters introduced the implementation of new technological advances that will allow to fill some gaps, notably in terms of new satellite missions and Deep Argo. However, being financed mostly by research projects, many of these observing initiatives still remain fragile and incomplete due to a lack of sustainable funding.

One of the most ambitious proposals of the 2nd GCOS Climate Observation Conference was a call to define a global goal for observations to sustain and improve the climate observing system. This would imply a commitment from all signing Parties to support the global climate observing system in a sustained way, by providing funding and capacity. 

”The global goal on observation translates the imperative for strengthened and sustained Earth observation to support the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement,” says Sabrina Speich.

This proposal was brought to the 57th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 57) which took place from 6 to 12 November during COP27 in Egypt. And while the ambition of a global goal for observations did not get included as such in the final decision, good advancements were made in terms of welcoming the GCOS Implementation Plan, recognizing the urgent need to fill in the gaps in ocean observations, and acknowledging the importance of an enhanced framework for coordination – a step towards a global goal.

“The observing, research, operational and stakeholders communities are working hard and have started to implement the actions proposed at the GCOS Climate Observation Conference. But this needs further support from governments,” says Sabrina Speich. 

The program, presentations and recordings of the 2nd GCOS Climate Observation Conference sessions can be found here.

To top