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Transport, trade and tourism

Global trade has risen at 10 per cent per year for several decades to reach US$ 15 trillion in 2010. Tourism is expected to reach one billion international arrivals in 2012. Weather services play a critical role in supporting the complex networks of shipping, aviation and land transport in several ways: to aid safety and reduce risks, and to optimize efficiency and reliability amid variable weather, climatic and oceanic conditions.


International trade and shipping

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development global merchandise trade in 1960 was US$ 130 billion, which grew to US$ 15 230 billion by 2010, an average increase of 10 per cent per year. During this time, the share of global trade held by developing countries grew to 42 per cent.

International Maritime Organization statistics indicate that shipping serves more than 90 per cent of global trade. In 2008, it is estimated that the world’s seaborne trade amounted to 33 trillion tonne-miles.


World-wide navigational warning system

Ships are at the mercy of the seas and the weather. Systematic weather forecasting began in the 19th century to avert the terrible loss of ships and lives at sea. The Titanic disaster of 1912 spawned the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea Convention), still the most important treaty covering maritime safety.

The SOLAS Convention sets out specific requirements for weather information and refers to the key role of the WMO in coordinating weather services globally. For example, NMHSs provide information through the WMO Marine Broadcast System to support the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System and the World-Wide Navigational Warning Service. All of these services must operate around the clock.

The World-Wide Navigational Warning Service was developed in the late 1970s by the International Maritime Organization in collaboration with the International Hydrographic Organization. It divided the oceans into 16 navigational areas and assigned a country in each area with responsibility for disseminating navigational information. Meteorological areas – mapping areas identical to the navigational ones – were also established..

Five new navigational and meteorological areas have been recently added to provide intelligence to ships facing extreme and less predictable weather in the Arctic region. Sea ice is predicted to increasingly shrink as a result of climate change: the late-summer Arctic sea ice may vanish almost entirely by the middle of the century, triggering unprecedented maritime challenges.

With the anticipated increase in shipping and oil and gas exploration in high-latitude waters previously covered in ice, WMO is working with partners to improve safety. Marine designers and ship operators are collaborating to increase data on wave and sea conditions and promote risk management.

About 6 000 ships and ocean platforms contribute important observations about weather, climate and water.


Ship routing services save fuel and money

With modern weather forecasting services, it is possible to compute an optimal route for any voyage to avoid damage from heavy weather; to arrive in port on time without incurring extra fees or commercial penalties; and to minimize costs and fuel burn associated with head winds. Some NMHSs provide elaborate voyage routing services on a commercial basis. Parameters can be updated during the voyage to account for changed weather conditions or delays in berthing, as well as to allow other route options to be tested. Some shipping companies report significant reductions in heavy weather damage costs as well as fuel savings of five per cent or more using these methods.

Although international shipping is by far the most carbon-efficient mode of commercial transport, the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions amount to about three per cent of global emissions, which is comparable to those of a major national economy. Systematic reductions in fuel use are therefore good for the climate as well as company profits.



The airline industry is the primary means for long distance travel for business and leisure travellers and it provides a rapid global distribution system for high-value or perishable goods. Commercial airlines generated global revenues of US$ 564 billion in 2008, or about one per cent of global GDP. The industry is highly dependent on specialized up-to-the-minute aviation meteorological data and forecasts from NMHSs.

In 2011, the World Meteorological Congress designated aeronautical meteorology as one of its top priorities in recognition of its importance to safe, regular and efficient air navigation.

Pilots, airline operations and air traffic managers need information on wind speed and direction, clouds, icing potential, locations of thunderstorms, and weather conditions at airports. Commercial airlines also routinely use this information to calculate optimum routes and altitudes throughout a flight. This brings many benefits, such as avoiding dangers, achieving a smoother flight, reducing fuel usage and costs, and ensuring better adherence to scheduled arrival times.  


Aviation hazards

In 1982, all four engines of a passenger jet failed after it encountered a volcanic ash cloud from Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. This incident led to the creation of the International Airways Volcano Watch system in 1987 by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in coordination with the WMO and other partners.

There are nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres worldwide. When an eruption occurs, the centre responsible for the area issues an advisory based on satellite and ground-based observations, pilot reports and weather prediction models that calculate where the winds will carry the ash and how much the ash clouds will be dispersed over time.

This system was used to protect aircraft from the ash plumes emitted from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano in April 2010 and Chile’s Cordon Caulle volcano in June 2011.

ICAO, supported by WMO, is seeking to expand this regional advisory system to support national aviation weather warnings known as SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information), which are issued to warn aircraft of hazards such as turbulence and icing. There is a pilot project providing SIGMET advisory messages involving three Members: China for eastern and south-eastern Asia, France for western and central Africa and South Africa for southern Africa.



The World Tourism Organization predicts that international tourist arrivals worldwide will continue to grow by about 3.3 per cent annually, an average 43 million additional international tourists every year. Arrivals are projected to pass 1 billion by 2012 and to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.

Climate change is already affecting the tourism sector. For instance, the ski industry is experiencing warmer temperatures with shorter ski seasons, necessitating investment in snowmaking equipment. A rise in sea levels is threatening beaches and coral reef systems. Enhanced competition for water can make former investments in tourist infrastructures unsustainable.

Managing climate risks and opportunities and promoting sustainable development in the tourism sector requires reliable climate information. Evolving climate variability in a changing climate will affect the tourist potential of many locations, necessitating well-informed adaptation strategies. Ski resorts can plan where to build new ski lifts based on climate models of temperature changes over 30 years, and coastal resorts can identify spots vulnerable to climate change and shore up their defences.

In addition, weather and climate predictions provide advance warning of natural hazards. When Hurricane Irene roared through the Bahamas in August 2011, no lives were lost because authorities had time to take precautions, such as the evacuation of tourists.



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