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MMOP background and history

In November 1854, during the Crimean War, a severe storm in the Black Sea destroyed many British and French vessels.  The Paris Observatory later indicated that barometric readings showed the storm had passed across Europe in about four days and its Director, Urbain Le Verrier, who is best known for his calculations leading to the discovery of Neptune, concluded that the British and French fleets could have received appropriate warnings.

In 1854 Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle during Darwin's famous voyage, was appointed Director of the British Board of Trade's Meteorological Department.  The tragic wreck of the iron vessel Royal Charter in October of 1859 provided another opportunity to sustain that storms should be tracked and forecasted.  The first warnings were issued in February 1861 and by August weather forecasts were being issued regularly.  Unfortunately, given the predominant westward movement of the storms, neither France nor Britain had the capacity to track them as efficiently as might have been possible in Crimea.

Actually, the First International Meteorological Conference was held in Brussels, in August 1853, as a consequence of the growth in international trade and the increasing concern for safety in marine transportation.  A few years later, in September 1873, the first International Meteorological Congress met in Vienna to establish the International Meteorological Organization - which was also known as the IMO - a non-governmental organization that was responsible for international cooperation in meteorology from its creation until the end of the Second World War.

In September 1947, the Conference of Directors of National Meteorological Services (NMSs) held in Washington unanimously approved the WMO Convention, which became effective on 23 March 1950. In so doing, our founding fathers also relinquished the IMO acronym and made it available to your Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO).  Subsequently, in December 1951, WMO became a specialized agency of the United Nations.

The oceans cover about two-thirds of the Earth's surface and oceanic phenomena have major impacts on the marine coastal environment and socio-economic activities in these regions.  A large percentage of populations inhabit the coastal regions and often depend for their livelihoods on coastal resources and the marine environment.  They are especially vulnerable to marine meteorological extreme events. The oceans are also under stress due to the pressures of coastal development, industrial pollution and over-fishing.

For those working at sea or simply living near the coast, forecasts of maritime weather and ocean conditions are extremely important.  Rough seas, high waves and storm surges can be dangerous to mariners.  Ocean currents and winds can transport and disperse oils slicks and other forms of pollution.  Changes in ocean temperatures can also significantly affect the marine ecosystem, from plankton to fisheries.  Understanding, monitoring, mapping and predicting maritime weather and ocean conditions therefore offer the opportunity for adequate planning of the coastal zone and marine activities, and provide a structure for early detection and warning of marine-related hazards. 

For millenniums, the world’s oceans have provided a medium for transport, trade and commerce, and this is of even greater importance in the modern world.  The oceans provide the environment for a substantial proportion of the Earth’s bio-diversity and have long been recognized as major components of the global climate system.  Meteorological and oceanographic data and services are vital to the understanding, protection and sustainable management and exploitation of the global ocean and coastal environment, and the National Meteorological Services have an increasing role to play in delivering the relevant information.

From their origins in the middle of the 19th century, the National Meteorological Services (NMSs) and WMO's predecessor organization were vitally concerned with the provision of quality meteorological forecasts and warnings in support of the safety at sea.  In this context, WMO has been collaborating closely with the International Maritime Organization, in ensuring that the best and most complete meteorological services are indeed provided to meet the needs of mariners, wherever they may find themselves over the worlds' oceans.  These services are made freely available to all maritime users by NMSs within the context of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and they are in turn extremely dependent on the timely acquisition of extensive observations from the marine atmosphere, the sea surface and the oceans.

In the mid-1980s, the WMO Commission for Marine Meteorology (CMM) recognized that new communications requirements to be met under the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), being developed by the IMO, would demand a substantial revision of the existing marine broadcast systems for meteorological services, which were up to then mainly based on coastal radio networks.  WMO therefore embarked upon the development of a new, globally coordinated marine broadcast system for the GMDSS.  This system is now fully incorporated into the WMO Technical Regulations as part of the WMO Manual on Marine Meteorological Services.

The worldwide implementation of the new WMO system has been very effectively undertaken by the National Meteorological Services that accepted the relevant responsibilities and, as of 1999, a global coverage of meteorological forecasts and warnings became available through the SafetyNet service of INMARSAT.  Sixteen WMO Metareas, which are identical to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Navareas, were entrusted to the selected NMSs and, in addition to the SafetyNET broadcasts, meteorological forecasts and warnings for mariners are provided in a variety of other ways, in particular, through NAVTEX.

Operations carried out in response to marine pollution emergencies on the open oceans or within coastal waters will invariably be most effective if they can be supported by timely and accurate meteorological and oceanographic data and products.  In an attempt to ensure that appropriate services are available in international waters, WMO established in 1994 a Marine Pollution Emergency Response Support System (MPERSS), which is designed to provide coherent and internationally coordinated meteorological and oceanographic services in support of marine pollution emergency response operations worldwide. 

In addition, the efficient and sustainable exploitation and management of marine fisheries, offshore oil and gas infrastructures and many other installations is enhanced by the availability and application of meteorological and oceanographic data and products.  Substantial benefits can be accrued in terms of economy and safety, through the judicious use of this information in ship routing, marine tourism, recreational boating and in many other applications.  The WMO Marine Meteorology and Oceanography Programme, which since 1999 is coordinated through the Joint WMO/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM), plays today a vital role in supporting these activities and in contributing to the sustainable use of oceanic resources.  Observations collected by ships, coastal stations, drifting and moored buoys and satellites, as well as specialized products and services, are used in weather forecasting and the issuance of early warnings, in climate research and in support of marine operations.

Furthermore, our growing understanding of the links between the ocean, weather and climate conditions, as reflected in the El Niño/South Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, offers the perspective to forecast critical phenomena such as severe droughts several months in advance.  The increased importance of climate change has also brought into sharp focus the vital role of the oceans in the capture, storage and release of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as well as the potential impacts of sea-level rise on coastal regions and lowlands, including the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  Climate has thus become a main challenge of the 21st Century. Observations, in particular space observations, have shown a global-scale decline of snow and ice over many years.  Snow cover is retreating increasingly earlier in the spring and most mountain glaciers are shrinking.  Sea ice in the Arctic is also shrinking in all seasons and most dramatically in the summer. Reductions are also reported in the permafrost, seasonally frozen grounds and river and lake ice. Increasingly important coastal regions of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica, as well as the glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula, are thinning and contributing to the sea level rise.

The present decade has been a turning point in terms of the understanding of the role of the oceans in global change.  Improvements in information technology have enabled the development of ocean-atmosphere coupled models with unprecedented resolution and precision.  There is thus both an opportunity and a need to place more emphasis on marine science activities in the context of climate change, the effects of anthropogenic forcing and the natural variability of ocean ecosystems.  Ocean science is undergoing a conceptual revolution and there exists growing realization that sustainable development and management of the marine environment can only be achieved through a truly interdisciplinary scientific approach and enhanced observations.  This will be part of the common challenge of the climate and marine scientific communities for the next decade.





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