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The President's Corner:
The International Exchange of Data

by Richard Anthes

An article on this subject appeared in the October 1994 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society and readers of the UCAR Quarterly are referred there for details. This summary column provides highlights of current activities with respect to the important topic of international data exchange.

In response to the recommendation made by a committee of the AMS, chaired by Robert M. White, on 13 May 1994, I sent an e-mail and facsimile message to UCAR member universities, academic affiliates, international affiliates, and others asking for input on the issue of free and open exchange of meteorological data. The Executive Council (EC) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) would discuss this issue in Geneva, Switzerland, beginning on 6 June; thus I asked for a quick response.

Within two weeks, 200 scientists, students, and educators from more than 100 different institutions had responded, including more than 70 individuals from 50 institutions outside the United States. The vast majority of respondents indicated strong support for maintaining the 100- year practice of openly sharing meteorological data at no (or minimal) cost to the international operational, research, and educational communities.

The level of support expressed by the community on this issue is impressive. (As an aside, it is also impressive how the rapidly evolving Internet has made it possible to interact with colleagues on a global basis in near real time.) A great disciplinary diversity was represented by those responding, including agriculture, biology, ecology, forestry, geography, geology, geophysics, and oceanography.

Although most respondents simply expressed support for the continuation of free and open exchange of data, upon which research and teaching depend, a number added personal remarks, and many of these are quoted in the Bulletin article. Space does not permit me to repeat them all here, so one example will have to suffice: Jane Bock, an ecologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote: "What a strange idea, not to share meteorological data. Not only does what is being measured belong to no one or everyone, depending on your philosophy, but if we don't generously work together to save the earth while we can, we will fade away together with a whimper." Other worries included diminished capacities to provide essential services in all countries; the increased importance, now more than ever, of monitoring the environment systematically; the exclusion of universities who have developed many of the techniques used by government and commercial firms from receiving the benefits of those contributions; and disproportionate impacts on poorer countries.

According to the U.S. permanent representative to the WMO, Elbert ("Joe") Friday (personal communication), the WMO council, at its meeting of 717 June 1994, added the following two key elements to the proposed future arrangements for the exchange of meteorological and related data and products.

a. There is a recognition that, as a fundamental principle of WMO, Members must commit themselves to "broadening and enhancing the free and unrestricted international exchange of meteorological and related data and products, including providing free and unrestricted access to the research and education communities to data and products for their non- commercial activities and strengthening commitments to the WMO and ICSU [International Council of Scientific Unions] Data Centres."

b. While the concept of a two-tier structure for future data exchange between Members has been retained (Tier 2 contains some restrictions on the re-export of data and products), there has been added a request that the EC Working Group on Commercialization (WGCOM), at its meeting October 31 to November 4, 1994, identify a mandatory component of Tier 1 (free and unrestricted data and products). The mandatory component has been suggested to contain (a) a basic synoptic network of surface and upper-air observations, (b) all available in situ observations of the marine environment, and (c) data needed to provide a good representation of climate on a global and regional scale.

According to Joe Friday (personal communication), the WGCOM, at its meeting 31 October to 4 November, recommended that the Tier 1 data include all upper-air observations, all in-situ observations of the marine environment, all aircraft reports, and all six-hourly synoptic surface reports. Unfortunately, the WGCOM did not include satellite data in Tier 1.

While the academic community can be encouraged with the statement about free and unrestricted access for the research and education communities, many of us remain concerned that the council and the WGCOM have retained the two-tiered system as part of their recommendations to the 12th World Meteorological Congress in May 1995. The establishment of such a system for international data exchange was the central concern expressed in my 13 May letter and in the report of the AMS Ad Hoc Committee on International Data Exchange.

At the meeting of the WMO Commission on Basic Systems, the United States took a strong position against any restrictions on the exchange of environmental data and products. I sincerely hope that this will remain the U.S. position at the 12th Congress of the WMO and that other countries will join in opposition to tiered systems for data exchange.


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Last revised: Mon Apr 3 17:39:58 MDT 2000