UCAR Communications

staff notes monthly

May 2003

An information divide:
Developing nations lack advanced forecasting tools

Forecasters in Uganda rely on grainy satellite photos from neighboring countries as their only weather prediction tools. When massive thunderstorms form upwind in the tropics and head toward the area, Ugandans get very little warning.

In Nepal, there’s no functioning hydroelectric forecasting system. Forecasters can’t project stream flow or get information for flood predictions.

And along the Mekong River, which starts in China and flows through southeast Asia, different countries that all rely on the river’s water don’t have an effective regional modeling system to share information.

These are just three examples of the information divide in the climate sciences between developing and developed nations.

“The information divide mirrors the increasing ‘digital divide’ between wealthy and poor countries,” says Andrew Gettelman of the Atmospheric Chemistry Division. “There are significant negative impacts on the abilities of developing countries to predict and respond to weather, climate, and extreme events.”

Andrew Gettelman

Andrew and his German colleague, Gerd Hartmann of the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy, monitored a town hall discussion at the annual European Geophysical Society meeting last month in Nice, France, to assess the information divide and brainstorm ways to bridge it.

While a postdoctoral researcher in NCAR’s Advanced Study Program, Andrew conducted a survey of scientists in developing nations to better understand barriers to information exchange in the fields of meteorology and climatology. He pinpointed different obstacles that prevent scientists in developing nations from using climate and meteorology forecasts and from analyzing climate variability. Scientists might not have adequate tools, ranging from electronic teaching aids to mere phone lines and photocopy machines. They might lack access to research articles, data, forecasts, and instructional materials. Communication between scientists may be limited.

As a result, climate observing systems suffer, and local knowledge and expertise are lost from the global knowledge base, Andrew says.

The key to preventing this is collaboration. “It’s is the most effective way that people in the developing world gain access to methodology and new ways of doing things,” Andrew explains. “In many cases it’s a lifeline for people.”

When collaboration does occur, however, it’s often sporadic and on a project-by-project basis. And sometimes there’s a sharp difference between the goals of researchers from different countries.

“We have different needs and desires than they do for some of the research,” says Andrew, referring to scientists in the developing world. “They are more concerned about weather, especially for agriculture, and we’re more concerned about climate and climate change.”

Even so, Andrew maintains that better weather and climate analysis is a reasonable goal for forecasters in developing nations.

“You don’t necessarily need special computers,” he says. “You just need the right software and need to know how to use it.”

•Nicole Gordon

Also in this issue:

In the midnight hour: BAMEX takes aim at dangerous night storms

The long riders: How some staffers cope with epic commutes

Study finds lower atmosphere warming

Building bridges for Latina students

Short takes

Delphi Question: Publications on the Web


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