Turning data into information

martin__werscheckThe Satellite Application Facility on Climate Monitoring (CM SAF) has a vital role in making data collected by EUMETSAT satellites useful for a whole range of purposes. The CM SAF Project Manager Martin Werscheck works with an international team comprising seven European partners and is looking forward to answering questions as one of the exhibitors at the Climate Symposium.

“We are one of the teams providing satellite-derived geo-physical parameter data sets suitable for climate monitoring,” he says. “We offer climatologies for Essential Climate Variables, taking care of the full product life cycle starting from development through the generating and archiving as well as dissemination to users and training and support for those users.”

These processes are quick to describe, but take a lot of time and effort.

“We take the raw data and transform them into meaningful information – which sounds easy but really isn’t.

“You need a highly skilled and motivated team, eager to explore how to derive the essential information from this bunch of data. And of course you need a really powerful computer infrastructure to crunch the terabytes of data and distill the essence from them.”

The results of these labours of human and machine are Climate Data Records that include cloud products, radiation – both at the surface and top of the atmosphere, water vapour products, and many more, all accessible online to a wide range of users.

“The user community includes mainly universities and research institutes, as well as companies, and last but not least Met Services,” says Werscheck.

“For example, radiation data from CM SAF is used by the European Joint Research Centre for their maps on Photovaltaic Solar Electricity Potential in European Countries, and the Regional Climate Centre for Europe and Middle East of WMO uses, on an operational basis, products from the Climate SAF.”

Recently, CM SAF Climate Data Records are increasingly used to evaluate climate models and the facility is part of the global climate monitoring community.

“International co-operation is essential for the job the Climate SAF is doing. We need the exchange of knowledge and expertise, new ideas and stimuli.

“We have close contact with most of the relevant initiatives, sometimes just as an ‘observer’, that is keeping a close eye on what is going on and what might be relevant to us, or sometimes as an active partner, like for example, we participate in five out of 10 projects in the context of the WMO SCOPE-CM (Sustained, Coordinated Processing of Environmental Satellite Data for Climate Monitoring) programme.”

Although Werscheck says the impact of Earth observation satellites on our ability to follow climate change is “remarkable”, he sees potential for improvement in the data flow from orbit.

The current satellite observing system was not primarily designed to satisfy climate observational needs. This has been recognized and international research and space agencies defined an architecture that ensures delivery of sustained observations over the time frames required for analysis of the Earth’s climate system but that remains open for implementation,” he says.

There are three main challenges he sees for the future of climate monitoring from space.

“First we need to establish and operate a sustained space-based climate monitoring system, capable of observing all relevant parameters with the needed accuracy and spatio and temporal resolutions. That needs to be complemented by experts who develop the right methods to distill the essence from the tons of data to provide information that is relevant and suitable for decision-making.

“All of this needs an information technology infrastructure to digest terabytes and petabytes of data,” Werscheck says.

“If I may dream of the ultimate space based climate monitoring system, this system should provide reliable and sustained, stable and precise data of all geophysical parameters relevant for the Earth climate system - and all of this in the needed high temporal and spatial resolution.”