IGOS Partnership Forum during the UNISPACE III Conference

(Vienna, Austria, 21 July 1999)

Lessons Learned About IGOS Through The World Weather Watch

Robert C. Landis
Director, World Weather Watch Department

World Meteorological Organisation



The World Weather Watch (WWW) has been considered as one of the most outstanding examples of universal international co-operation. It is premised on the understanding that every nation contributes what it can to the total integrated global observing effort; and every nation is free to draw on the common pool of information according to its needs. Kennel et al (1997) noted that, "the World Weather Watch, sponsored by the WMO, is the most mature international co-operative effort of this kind, but is limited to Meteorology." While this limitation certainly has been true for the most of the WWW's nearly 40 years of implementation, new climate related requirements as well as the availability of enhanced technology have broadened its scope. Even with its limited focus, the first 3 to 4 decades of the WWW have provided many lessons about an Integrated Global Observing Strategy.

The WWW was explicitly designed as an integrated observing and services system, but its initial focus was on the atmosphere and more specifically on weather services. The birth of the WWW, how it evolved, and what lessons it has provided should be useful in planning and developing an IGOS for the whole environment.

The creation of the WMO in 1950 provided the intergovernmental framework for the establishment of observational networks for operational and research purposes. This is reflected in the Convention of the Organisation as its main purpose (WMO 1995). The origins for this mandate came from two directions. One direction resulted from the operations of National Meteorological Services providing support to Aviation, Shipping and Agriculture and the other from learned institutions trying to understand climate. Notwithstanding this two-rationale beginning, it is important to recognise that weather and climate represent a real "continuum", and not necessarily discrete areas of study.

In 1961 the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution urging nations "to take steps individually or collectively to establish meteorological observing stations where serious gaps in the global network exist." Later that year, President John F. Kennedy of the USA addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and proposed a four-point program for the peaceful uses of outer space. One of these points called on the improvement of meteorological services through the use of satellite data-gathering techniques.

The UNGA reacted 3 months later by adopting Resolution 1721 C (XVI) calling on WMO to study measures to advance the state of atmospheric sciences and technology in order to improve existing weather forecasting capabilities and to further the study of basic physical processes that affect climate. The resolution also called on WMO to consult with appropriate governmental and non-governmental organisations (such as ICSU) to submit a plan to the ECOSOC.

Soon after the 1961 UNGA Resolution, the Secretary General of the WMO requested the two satellite launching countries to second scientists to prepare a plan. Academician V.A. Bugaev (USSR) and Dr. H. Wexler (USA) were selected and produced an initial report that contained the outline for a World Weather Watch. The WMO published the plan in 1962 with title, "First Report on the Advancement of Atmospheric Sciences and Application in the Light of Developments in Outer Space."

The UNGA in 1962 adopted Resolution 1802 that requested WMO in consultation with appropriate governmental and non-governmental agencies to develop an expanded progam to strengthen meteorological services and a program of research placing particular emphasis on the use of meteorological satellites. WMO invited ICSU through IUGG and COSPAR to develop a complementary programme of atmospheric research.

The resulting actions from the 1962 UNGA Resolution brought forward the adoption of the World Weather Watch concept in 1963 and in 1967 the Global Atmospheric Research Programme (GARP) administered under the WMO/ICSU Joint Organising Committee (JOC). The GARP objectives were to study the physical processes in the atmosphere that are essential for an understanding of:

(a) The transient behaviour of the atmosphere as manifested in large-scale fluctuations which control changes in weather in order to increase the accuracy of forecasting over periods from one day to several weeks; and

(b) The factors that determine the statistical properties of general circulation in the atmosphere which would lead to better understanding of the physical basis of climate.

The request to develop a parallel research programme to the WWW engaged the major atmospheric scientists of the day including Charney, Pettersen and Van Mieghem. The result was that the research needs of the overall global effort was put on a par with the needs of the operational services.

The Fourth WMO Congress in 1963, which formally established the WWW, prompted a third UNGA resolution that endorsed the, "efforts towards the establishment of a WWW under the auspices of the WMO to include the use of satellite as well as conventional data." Today the World Weather Watch has become the Basic System for most all global meteorological studies and programmes. The basic systems of the WWW include the Global Observing System, Global Telecommunication System, and Global Data Processing Systems as the main components. The Global Observing System component is both surface and spaced based. This component has an operational satellite constellation that provides global geostationary coverage and high-resolution polar orbiting information at least twice per day.

The establishment and the growth of the WWW, particularly in parallel with GARP, most likely would not have occurred without the many elements of INTEGRATION. Zillman (1997) has specifically discussed the importance of Integration in the IGOS. Most of the WWW integrating factors are very explicit and have been a major contributing factor to the programmes success and longevity. These factors will provide guidance in the pursuit of an Integrated Global Observing Strategy for the global environment.


Perhaps the most important of the integration factors related to the WWW was the implementation of the parallel and complementary Global Atmospheric Research Programme. The success of the WWW operations, particularly in the early stages of implementation, depended on the ability to accomplish scientific objectives and to engage the full participation of the world scientific community in its formulation and direction. In this way, the research and services became mutually reinforcing. GARP required a strong global operational weather system to provide the needed data and the WWW depended on scientific and technological advances to make the improvements required for more accurate forecast services. As a result, GARP became a synergistic research element for the development and planning of the WWW.

The development of WWW and GARP was not just focussed on observations, but these two streams of activity jointly set out to improve the existing Meteorological Services of the world. This improvement activity was accomplished by strengthening the systems for communication, observation and weather forecasting and at the same time making a direct assault on the solution of several theoretical problems related to how far the time range of weather forecasts could be extended if adequate and timely global data could be obtained.

GARP was planned as a series of increasingly difficult field experiments culminating in one of global scope in which all the technology then emerging could be deployed by the nations of the world to achieve an unprecedented set of observations of the global atmosphere.


It was recognised at the very start that establishing the WWW and GARP as two streams of activity would not be sufficient to satisfy the needs of developing countries. This factor was important because there was little opportunity, without assistance, for most countries to participate in either the services or research parts of the programme. This suggests that an integrating factor of technical assistance must be included in any global effort that requires all member nations to participate. A mechanism must be provided to assist developing countries to participate in global programmes both for efficiency and credibility of the output.

In the case of the WWW it was recognised that programmes and institutions such as UNDP would have a difficult time putting atmospheric requirements at an appropriate priority level. To compete directly with assistance related to major infrastructure such as schools, power plants, and roads would require national and international institutions to make major unrealistic changes in priorities. To overcome these funding difficulties, the concept of a Voluntary Assistance Programme (VAP - later the name was changed to Voluntary Co-operation Programme - VCP) was advanced within the WMO as a fundamental principle of the WWW. The VCP is implemented and operated by WMO Members to the extent that their resources permit, and in accordance with an agreed set of priorities. This effort is largely responsible for establishing observing stations in remote locations, installation of modern communication technology including satellite receivers in nearly every nation, and education and training of developing country scientists and technicians.


The early results of the GARP clearly showed that the prediction of the atmosphere out to ranges beyond a day or two would require systematic ocean observations. As a result, WMO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission strengthen their already close ties by embracing many of the attributes of an Integrated Global Ocean Station System (later changed to the Integrated Global Ocean Services System) as a part of a joint framework with the WWW. Most recently these linkages were integrated further by joining the IGOSS with WMO's Commission on Marine Meteorology to form the WMO-IOC Joint Technical Commission on Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM). Similar efforts are now in development to include the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) also within the framework of the WWW.


The creation of JCOMM not only demonstrates the integration of the observing media (i.e. ocean and atmosphere), but also shows the usefulness of an integrated observing programme that is both dependent on, and provides service to, specific user groups. For meteorology, this integration is most apparent with respect to aircraft observations. Aircraft observations at flight level as well as on ascent and descent provide an increasingly significant part of the WWW database. In turn the WWW data processing component provides key guidance needed for warnings and forecasts of turbulence, icing, and other significant weather that affects the air safety of commercial and general aviation. This integration within the WWW is quite strong particularly in North America where the World Area Forecast System (WAFS), funded largely by ICAO and the airlines, provides the Regional Meteorological Telecommunication Network for the WWW in North and Central America.


The foundation of the WWW (discussed in the WWW Model) clearly specifies the need to integrate the conventional surface-based or in situ observing with space-based or satellite observing systems. While this integration in the WWW was identified at its beginning, in many respects this integration aspect of the WWW was slow to evolve. However, efforts within the last 5 years to establish a new composite upper air observing scheme have clearly accelerated the integration of satellite data in the over all WWW upper air data base. To accomplish this activity, it was necessary to strengthen the capability of major WWW processing centres with respect to data assimilation techniques. The ability to implement three and four dimensional variation analyses has changed the whole culture of operational weather forecasting and prediction. Further, it has allowed for major data quality control methods, such as reanalysis techniques, that are important for data sets needed in the study and understanding of climate variation. Within this rubric is an additional integration factor important to establishing an IGOS. The factor to INTEGRATE DIFFERENT OBSERVING ELEMENTS AND MEASURING TECHNIQUES needs to be considered, but is not discussed here.


The relevancy and major usage of the data and products provided through the WWW can be attributed in large part to the integration of an end to end system. The WWW has never been viewed as just an observing programme, but it is planned and implemented as an integrated basic service system with components that involve data collection and exchange, quality control, processing, interpretation, and application. The balanced growth among this end to end components was an important aspect in assuring that the WWW did not become obsolete following initial implementation. Equally important, it helped demonstrate the benefit or return on investment made in implementing observation systems.


The second Resolution of the UN General Assembly (#1802), calling for an expanded research programme, was rather unique. It called for collaboration between an intergovernmental body, the WMO, with a non-governmental body, ICSU. This key step of integrating the WMO with an NGO assured the partnership and integration of the world scientific community with the operational meteorological community in the formulation of a major scientific effort. This integration also led to a new innovated international institution for planning and managing a large scientific effort involving intergovernmental and non-governmental bodies - The Joint Organising Committee (JOC). The JOC concept allows great independence and freedom for bringing together scientists from all nations and is considered one of the major reasons for the success of the GARP and ultimately the WWW. This management device capitalised on the world's intellectual resources through ICSU and the world's financial and logistic resources through WMO.


The WWW is an integrated service system with national, regional, and global elements, established and operated by individual countries that are members of WMO. Its design is built on a cascading set of centres, telecommunication systems, and observing networks. While the emphasis of the WWW is global in nature, much of its robustness is focussed at the regional level. Regional Specialised Meteorological Centres perform the major data processing and provide forecast and warning guidance to all nations. An example of this feature is the Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida that provides the basic guidance for tropical cyclone advisories for all the nations in the area of the western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Similarly, the surface-based observing stations of this area are implemented as the Regional Basic Synoptic Network (RBSN) for North and Central America. The RBSN is a result of planning and priority agreement among all countries in a WMO Regional Association. In addition, there are several other regional supporting institutions that are not part of the UN framework, but contribute to the WWW. For example the European Countries have implemented the Composite Observing System for the North Atlantic (COSNA) which is planned in co-ordination with the WWW.


The time dimension represents an important factor for observations of the environment. The traditional operational mode for operational meteorology has been to focus on specific synoptic observing times and to perform analyses only with data collected at these hours. It was quickly realised that the polar orbiting satellite did not lend itself to this type of analyses and the trend within the WWW, made possible by the enhanced capability of computers, has been to move to a virtual continuing analysis through data assimilation techniques. This effort has had its main focus on the shorter time scales, and has as yet to focus on those time scales of most importance to climate. Within the WWW this issue is now being given priority attention with the expectation that most of the same weather observing systems using automation and data assimilation techniques can also provide data needed for climate monitoring, most likely without significant increases in resources.


Most scientists feel uncomfortable with the subject of politics, even when it is focused on the planning and implementation of a science project and programme. However, it is difficult to deny that a major force in marshalling national and international support for large-scale science does come from the integration of scientific and political dynamics. White (1982) in contrasting the WWW and GARP with the then expected development of the World Climate Programme suggested the following, " From time to time, there occurs a confluence of events -- scientific, technological, economic and political which create the conditions for major advances in understanding the natural world. The nature of the confluence determines much that follows in the evolution of programs." White saw that the integration of science and politics initiated by President Kennedy within the UN framework was a necessary condition to commence the WWW-GARP effort. At the conclusion of GARP he expressed the view that, "GARP is the legacy of meteorology's long search to transform weather forecasting from art to science. The World Climate Programme (WCP) on the other hand will be the legacy of social and economic disruption caused by climatic events." At this point in time the WWW is still trying to regain much of the synergy that was available with GARP. Because the WCP is not solely a research programme, it does not provide the same parallel as GARP did for the WWW. Perhaps the question should be asked, can the World Climate Programme serve as the needed focus for scientists and politicians to rally around in order to implement an IGOS for the environment, much in the way that GARP did for the WWW.

GARP clearly was a case of science taking advantage of a political situation while the WCP might be considered a scientific response to political, economic, and social forcing. The importance of economic and social impacts from climatic events is excellent fodder to fuel the political dynamic, but the difficult issue is, can the science community offer, with the appearance of single consensus voice, a clear course of action. There are other notable differences between WCP and GARP. For example, GARP was a specific oriented response to a bold political initiative while WCP has evolved more as a long and evolutionary emergence. All countries regarded GARP and weather forecasting (the WWW) as a benign goal, whereas WCP and the issue of climate have elements of potential shifts in wealth and assets by individual nations and specific economic sectors. One intergovernmental body, WMO, clearly led GARP, while WCP has a host of intergovernmental leaders. Thus, this specific lesson provides some insight, but not a direct solution.

This paper provides a focus on the integrated aspects of the WWW that may provide lessons for pursuing and implementing an IGOS. However; in this respect, it is recognised that integration is not an end, or objective, in itself and it should not be seen as a panacea for solving the many problems that will emerge in the development of an IGOS for the global environment. Some of the lessons to be learned regarding the integration of the WWW clearly will be useful in the IGOS, but many may not be directly transferable.


Certainly the application of integration factors appear to have been a major positive force in implementing the WWW. If we apply those factors to the IGOS Partnership efforts, there are likely to be signals on where new or changed initiatives might be useful.

Assuming the joint WWW/GARP model of research and services could be applied to the IGOS partnership, then it would appear that there still is a need for a clear science focus that is understandable to the "stake holders" and more specifically the investors in the partnership programmes. The characteristics of the WCP are surely different than GARP, in fact World Climate Research Programme is an element of WCP, but it too lacks a single visible focus around which the scientific community can rally. However, the investigations of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation and the availability of experimental seasonal forecasts that include potential impacts have provided one element of an end to end system.

The major donor countries excluding the Russian Federation (often referred to as the G7) occupy less than 7 percent of the earth. To implement an observing strategy that covers the oceans and the other countries occupying the remaining 17 percent of the earth's landmass will require a significant level of assistance support. If the priority of the IGOS is to reach the levels needed to respond to the requirements of the major environmental conventions, then a technical assistance component to the strategy must be implemented. The present IGOS partnership recognises this aspect, but implementation is largely not co-ordinated among the G3OS programmes or their sponsors. However, joint efforts by the Partners to engage GEF, UNFIP, and others might be considered a first step, but it still leaves the issue of raising priorities in an increasingly competitive world.

Perhaps one of the strongest integrating factors of the IGOS partnership is the enhanced co-operation and in some cases sharing of resources among the observing systems in the various media. The G3OS concept is based on this integration. One of the positive aspects of this collaboration appears to be that there is an ability to continue the specific focus of the individual observing systems, and at the same time provide a meaningful and useful co-ordination of resources. A good example of this co-operation and resource sharing is in the use of the buoy platforms that measure both atmospheric and oceanographic variables. The same is true for the polar orbiting meteorological satellites that provide high-resolution sea surface temperature. In this respect it provides a useful tool for jointly monitoring of the ocean and atmosphere including climate.

The IGOS partnership is still in an early stage of development and emphasis on users has been initially placed on the major research programme partners such as WCRP and IGBP. Emphasis regarding support to the "Rio" Conventions and other users still requires development and specificity.

The formation of the IGOS partnership was largely motivated by the desire to more formally integrate the surface and space-based observing systems to meet the needs of the G3OSs. The initiative came about by a desire of the satellite operators from within the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) coupled with the needs of the sponsoring agencies of the G3OSs. This must be considered a positive first step, but the remaining tasks needed to accomplish this initiative are still quite formidable.

One of the key factors in determining whether the needed resources will be provided to carry out the IGOS, will be the understanding of the return on investment. This aspect will require that an end to end concept be developed so that actual "deliverables" are apparent, not just raw data. The partnership has yet to give a high priority to this issue.

It is clear that the IGOS partnership is significantly more complex than the World Weather Watch so many tools can not be directly transferred. One such area is the management of these activities. Within the WWW the use of a technical commission and a JOC were the prime tools used to develop and implement the WWW; however this most likely will not work for all of the IGOS. The concept of the Partnership among NGOs, UN agencies, and specific research programmes is largely without precedent, but may serve as a first order example of how such an IGOS framework should be managed.

While the issues and requirements for the IGOS are surely global, the planning and implementation will be most focussed at the national and regional level. The Partnership has so far concerned itself with the global issues, but has not addressed how member states and regional bodies will ultimately participate.

The large data sets expected from the IGOS can only be efficiently used by the application of data assimilation techniques. These techniques are just reaching some maturing with respect to the physical atmosphere and substantive initiatives are just beginning with respect to the ocean. In particular, there has been encouraging progress made within the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE). The integration of these two media and additional variables is still embryonic and little or no development on data assimilation regarding terrestrial variable has taken place. The integration of these data sets is most necessary if IGOS is to succeed.

There is a recognition that the issue of Integrated Global Observing, must be understood and adopted within both the scientific and political communities if progress is to be made. This aspect still requires significant development integration, and cultivation within both intergovernmental and NGO frameworks. The response by the 4th session of the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC to the need for Member States to upgrade their systematic observing capability is an encouraging first step.

This review of the integration factors of the WWW is not intended to provide an explicit model for the emerging IGOS for the global environment. It is hoped that by addressing these integration issues enhancements can be made in the development of the G3OSs.


Kennel, C.F. et al, 1997: Keeping Watch on the Earth: an Integrated Global Observing Strategy; Consequences, 3, 2, pp.21 - 32.

Rasmussen, J.L., 1992: The World Weather Watch - A View of the Future; Bulletin American Meteorological Society, 73, 4, April, 1992; pp. 477 -481.

White, R.M., 1982: Science, Politics and International Atmospheric and Oceanic Programs. UCAR third Donald L. McKernan Lecture in Marine Affairs; University of Washington at Seattle; 3-4 May 1982.

World Meteorological Organization, 1995: The World Weather Watch: A Response to the Weather and Climate Challenge. WMO No. 821, Geneva, 24 pp.

Zillman, J.W., 1997: First Symposium on Integrated Observing Systems; American Meteorological Society 77th Annual Meeting at Long Beach, California; 2-7 February 1997.

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