Observing Systems


Observations of the Earth’s ocean, atmosphere and land serve critical functions to Earth Scientists. They provide historical records that are used to detect changes in character of our natural environment on time scales that range from minutes to several centuries.  Also, measurements describing the state of the ocean, atmosphere and land are used to initialize, as well as to assess the quality of, computer-model weather forecasts and climate predictions. Furthermore, in situ environmental observations are often used to calibrate proxy observations, which include tree rings, coral samples, and even satellite-measured radiance. Given the importance of observations to Earth Scientists, several observing systems have been created.

Observing system is a term that encompasses the entire process of acquiring and disseminating ocean, atmosphere and land measurements. Thus, observing systems include not only the instruments used to make environmental measurements, but also the system administrators that maintain the computers used to archive these measurements. Most observing systems have been established as a result of the need for certain environmental data, such as temperature, winds, relative humidity, and precipitation. In addition, they often are designed to cover as much of the globe as possible, since the relationships between ocean, atmosphere and land are highly interactive. This is why many observing systems, such as the Earth Observing System launched by NASA, now depend heavily on satellite-mounted instruments.

The success of these global observing systems, though, relies on relatively efficient paths between measurements and Earth Scientists. This is where present-day computers, electronic mass storage, the Internet, satellite telecommunication technology, and dedicated technicians and scientist play crucial roles in observing systems. Currently, the capabilities of observing systems have evolved to the point where climate researchers over much of the world have fast and easy access to important environmental data.

At CRCES, part our research goals are to provide knowledge about climate variability and change that can be used to design climate observing systems.