Climate Feedback

WWC-3: Should all climate data be freely available?

Following the recent discussion here on access to climate data, it’s been interesting to see the theme emerge in Geneva this week at the third World Climate Conference.

Almost 2,000 climatologists, weather forecasters and policy makers have come together to discuss the need to develop climate services that will enable adaptation to climate change. Better predictions of the changes to come will form the basis of such services. But in order to predict climate change more accurately and over smaller areas and time periods, investments in observations, research and computing will be necessary.

Delegates here are hoping that governments will commit to investing in these areas, but some say it’s also crucial that observational and modelled data become available to others. “It’s absolutely crucial. The societal importance far outweighs any commercial benefit”, says Ralph Rayner, chair of the scientific committee of the Global Ocean Observing System, an international effort to monitor marine variables. José Achache, director of the Group on Earth Observations, agrees. “We need more observations. Commerce and security are limiting the availability of some necessary and useful climate data”, says Achache.

That’s a bit of a thorny topic here, because some Met services package proprietary data and sell it to users. But it’s also a complex issue, says Vicky Pope of the UK Met Office, which operates as a trading fund. She says that a lot of data are made freely available by Met services, but that detailed climate data has commercial value. Pope also points out that nothing is ever free. “The tax payer is actually paying, and one of the reasons we charge users is so that the taxpayer doesn’t pay too much”.

Speaking at the conference on Monday, Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, promoted sharing of climate data. “We are sharing our data. We are providing our data to African nations and are cooperating with other nations”

There have been vast improvements in data sharing in recent years, says Achache, but he warns that there is the risk of moving backward in certain areas. For example, some nations are calling for restrictions on data collected from ARGO oceanographic data buoys when they drift inside a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, he says.

Kuniyoshi Takeuchi, director of the International Center for Water Hazards and Risk Management in Japan says that lack of access to climate data other than by climate professionals in rich nations is a problem. “Local ownership of climate information is needed for human empowerment” says Takeuchi.

Climatologist Jerry Meehl of the National Centre for Atmopsheric Researc in Boulder, Colorado says “it would make things a lot easier” if climate data were openly available to all, though he says that scientists probably should be allowed a grace period in which they have exclusive access to the results.

Olive Heffernan


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    Hans Olav Hygen said:

    As a response to this I would say look to Norway. For the last few years have all the data at Norwegian meteorological institute been availible for free. You might wisit websites as or to see how this works.

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