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Climate Observation Networks and Systems

Mildura airport observation station, Australia
Mildura airport observation
station, Australia

Climate observations are sourced from the numerous meteorological and related observational networks and systems through out the world. It is these observations that provide the basis for applications such as weather forecasting, air pollution modelling and environmental impact assessments. Many observation stations are located at airports, such as the Mildura airport station, shown in the image to the right.

However not all climate observations are the same and some are considered of higher quality than others. There are three factors involved in collecting climate observations.

  1. Climate observations need to account for the full range of elements that describe the climate system – not just those that describe the atmosphere. Extensive observations of the ocean and land-based systems are also required.
  2. An observation at any point in time won’t mean very much unless it can be compared to a reference climate. I.e. a reference climatological period must be selected (e.g. the current reference dates are from 1961-1990). For this reason, the observations from a station that only exists for a short period (i.e. from days to a few years) or which relocates very frequently, will generally be of less value than those observations from a station whose records have been maintained to established standards over many years. Thus, in order to derive a satisfactory climatological average (or normal) for a particular climate element, a sufficient period record of homogeneous, continuous and good quality observations for that element is required.
  3. Thirdly, a climate observation should be associated – either directly or indirectly - with a set of data (Metadata) describing the conditions in which the climate observations were collected and that will provide users with information, often implicitly, on how the observation should be interpreted and used.

There are over 11,000 weather stations around the world measuring land, air and sea temperatures, as well as satellites, ships and aircraft that also take measurements. The stations all follow strict standards and 1040 of these stations have been selected to provide high quality climate data to quantify and detect global aspects of climate change.

The more stringent requirements on observation networks and systems for monitoring climate, including the detection of climate change, has led to the development of special networks at national (e.g. Reference Climate Stations), regional (e.g. Regional Basic Climatological Network) and global scales. (e.g. the Global Climate Observing System - GCOS - Surface Network, GSN).

[Further information] The GCOS list of climate observation stations – All 1040.

[Further information] More information about observations can be found on the Global Observation System(GOS) website.

[More in depth information] The Regional Basic Climatological Network (RBCN) holds a list of all regional climate observation stations

[Technical information] The Global Climate Observing Systems (GCOS) sets the standards on how to collect climate information and observations for countries around the world.

[Technical information] More detailed information on observation procedures and systems can be found in the3rd Edition of the Guide to Climatological Practices

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