Category: Earth Observation & Climate Data

New brochure: Inundation Monitoring Service in the Philippines

New brochure: Inundation Monitoring Service in the Philippines

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) has released a new brochure providing an overview of its work with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) where EO data was provided to improve the flood risk management related to its projects in the Philippines.

The Philippines is regularly inundated by disasters, including flooding events. However, flood risk management in the country has been largely ineffective. To help ADB secure more detailed data on floods in the Philippines, the Cluster developed an Inundation Monitoring Service (IMS) for Jalaur River Basin that detects seasonal fluctuations in water bodies and monitors long-term changes. The maps provided by the IMS show the extent of flooded areas over time, helping the ADB build a more detailed understanding of the flood response needed in a particular area. This allows for better infrastructure investment in flood protection, and disaster response and early warning.

Click here to download the brochure.

In addition to the delivery of the IMS product, the Cluster provided a capacity building programme to support ADB staff in better understanding EO-derived data and services so that they can apply it to their own work. Capacity building activities include targeted support through practical training, and awareness raising and knowledge transfer through online courses and webinars.

The EO4SD CR cluster provides insight about the potential of Earth Observation (EO) data to support climate-resilient decision making at the regional and national scale. In collaboration with several International Financial Institutions, the EO4SD CR cluster has developed EO-based screening and risk management products that can be integrated into different platforms and project cycles.

Other summaries of EO4SD CR projects can be found here, as well as a webinar series outlining how different EO data products have been used and hands-on guided sessions on how to use the different data platforms.

The Jalaur River Basin is located on the Eastern side of the Philippine island of Panay.

This article was originally posted to the EO4SD website.
New brochure: Earth Observation data for the Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP)

New brochure: Earth Observation data for the Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP)

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) has released a new brochure providing an overview of its work with the World Bank in providing Earth Observation (EO) services to the Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP).

The CCKP is one of the most high-profile, publicly accessible, climate data platforms in the world. Developed to service the needs of expert and non-expert users, the CCKP provides global data on past climate and future climate change projections, as well as socio-economic data to support users in their climate-resilient decision-making. The brochure describes how the CCKP has been successful in serving as a hub for climate-related information, data, and tools to inform policy and practice, providing online access to comprehensive global, regional, and country data related to climate change and development.

Click here to download the brochure.

The EO4SD CR cluster worked with the World Bank during its most recent upgrade of the CCKP, identifying EO data that could be seamlessly integrated into the existing CCKP architecture so that it could be accessed instantly by users. Alongside the EO service provision, the Cluster delivers capacity building support to foster the sustained uptake of EO-based data and services by IFIs and Client States to support climate change resilience. For the World Bank, the capacity building will provide government officials and the World Bank’s Task Team Leaders with information on how to access and test EO-derived data, helping users to make sense of EO data and understanding how it can be useful for them.

he Cluster provided Essential Climate Variable (ECV) data in both map and time-series formats which allowed for images and time-series data to be easily integrated and overlaid. This data included air surface temperature, sea surface temperature, and sea level anomalies, amongst others. The ECI data can be displayed in a map format and allows for the selection of several data points compared through time series data. This helps to show levels of variation across different geographies and times.

The EO4SD CR cluster provides insight about the potential of Earth Observation (EO) data to support climate-resilient decision making at the regional and national scale. In collaboration with several International Financial Institutions, the EO4SD CR cluster has developed EO-based screening and risk management products that can be integrated into different platforms and project cycles.

Other summaries of EO4SD CR projects can be found here, as well as a webinar series outlining how different EO data products have been used and hands-on guided sessions on how to use the different data platforms.

Graphic representation of data provided to CCKP (surface air temperature aggregated over Mozambique) as displayed in the EO4SD climate platform. The surface air temperature is obtained from the ERA5 meteorological reanalysis provided by the Copernicus program.

This article was originally posted on the EO4SD CR website.
New brochure: Applying EO data to inform climate-resilient investment decisions of IFC and MIGA

New brochure: Applying EO data to inform climate-resilient investment decisions of IFC and MIGA

For over 18 months, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) Cluster has been working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) to integrate Earth Observation (EO) data into its climate risk screening tool providing evidence of climate risks to its investments. The results of the collaboration to date have now been released in a new brochure presenting the types of EO services that were developed and how they were applied.

Click here to download the brochure

The EO4SD CR cluster worked with IFC to introduced new extreme rainfall indicators to improve its assessment of future flood impacts, seamlessly integrating EO-based extreme rainfall return levels into IFC’s existing climate risk tool. In addition, working with MIGA, the Cluster produced a rainfall explorer tool that provides reliable insights into potential climate risks to existing and future investments.

The brochure outlines the challenges faced by both IFC and MIGA when assessing climate risks to their investments. The IFC’s existing climate risk screening tool faced challenges when projecting the future risk of drought, flooding, and related impacts of extreme rainfall as they are not well-captured by climate modelling for many of the regions where the IFC operates and are often not presented at the required resolutions.

Precipitation from GPCP for 31st August 2019, presented on the EO4SD Climate Resilience Cluster’s EO platform.

MIGA, the political risk insurance arm of the World Bank, faces similar problems when assessing climate risk to its projects. “MIGA evaluates potential climate risks to its projects and looks to align our financial flows with long-term climate resilient development pathways. Simply put, our team looks to identify appropriate climate resilience responses to reduce the likelihood of financial or environmental underperformance of our projects” explains MIGA’s Manu Sharma. “In conducting our project assessments, we make use of climate change projections and have found it challenging to very quickly interpret the significance of shifts in various rainfall indicators, specifically as it relates to flood risk.”

For MIGA, the EO4SD CR cluster developed an EO-based data product called the ‘Rainfall Explorer”, an interactive cloud-based tool, the rainfall explorer enables users to:

  1. Quickly find the 5-day cumulative rainfall return level and return period preceding past major flood events;
  2. Find the 5-day rainfall return period and return level for any terrestrial location globally and any date between 1979 and near-real time; and
  3. Visualise data via interactive maps and box plots covering a given flood footprint or user-defined area.

The Rainfall Explorer is powerful as it allows the user to assess the statistical significance of near-real time rainfall events. This means that the IFC and MIGA can understand the likely flood risk associated with a particular level of rainfall, compared to historical events in the same area.

“[The Rainfall Explorer] really provides several benefits to climate adaptation practitioners across the Multilateral Development Banks” said Manu Sharma, “it allows us to look up any event that has occurred anywhere on the planet and we can work out the duration of that event, as well as the significance of that event. The significance is based on the historical record for that specific location.”

Outputs from the Rainfall Explorer tool allow users to visualise rainfall events, the return periods of those events, and their statistical significance.

The EO4SD CR cluster provides insight about the potential of Earth Observation (EO) data to support climate-resilient decision making at the regional and national scale. In collaboration with several International Financial Institutions, the EO4SD CR cluster has developed EO-based screening and risk management products that can be integrated into different platforms and project cycles.

Other summaries of EO4SD CR projects can be found here, as well as a webinar series outlining how different EO data products have been used and hands-on guided sessions on how to use the different data platforms.


This article was originally posted on the EO4SD website.

New brochure: Using Earth Observation to support African Risk Capacity’s work predicting drought stress and enhancing climate resilience

New brochure: Using Earth Observation to support African Risk Capacity’s work predicting drought stress and enhancing climate resilience

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) has released a new brochure providing an overview of its work supporting the African Risk Capacity’s (ARC). ARC has applied EO data to support its efforts to help African governments improve their capacities to plan for, prepare for, and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Click here to download the brochure.

The brochure describes how the EO4SD CR cluster supported ARC’s Africa RiskView (ARV) tool, combining EO data and population vulnerability data to create an early-warning model that measures food insecurity as well as estimating response costs, helping decision-makers to make early and effective interventions. This included making a on-demand flood mapping service called Flood Mapper that uses EO data to enhance the pan-African Flood Extent Depiction (AFED) service.

The EO4SD CR cluster provides insight about the potential of Earth Observation (EO) data to support climate-resilient decision making at the regional and national scale. In collaboration with several International Financial Institutions, the EO4SD CR cluster has developed EO-based screening and risk management products that can be integrated into different platforms and project cycles.

Other summaries of EO4SD CR projects can be found here, as well as a webinar series outlining how different EO data products have been used and hands-on guided sessions on how to use the different data platforms.


This article was originally posted on the EO4SD CR website.
Image: Example of a flood plain near Lake Turkwel (Kenya). Flooded area (left) and the flooded area extracted from the permanent water extent (right). The flood extent mapping provides information on the total water covered area (binary water/ non-water map). By taking away the permanent water bodies from that water map, the areas that are temporarily flooded can be identified (hatched). This flood product also provides a direct comparison of the EO4SD Flood Map with the AFED Flood Map as well as statistical information on flooded landcover. Source: Geoville
Full course materials now available from European Space Agency’s EO4SD climate cluster’s free online webinar series

Full course materials now available from European Space Agency’s EO4SD climate cluster’s free online webinar series

In July 2020 the European Space Agency’s Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) Climate Resilience Cluster hosted a free webinar series providing insight about the potential of Earth Observation (EO) to support climate-resilient decision making at the regional and national scale. All the webinar materials are now available to watch and download for free using the links below.

The popular series of seven webinars provided hundreds of participants with a foundational knowledge of EO and how it can be applied practically in the context of climate-resilience projects and programmes. The webinars featured real-world examples of how EO services have been applied during EO4SD Climate Resilience Cluster’s experience working with leading international finance institutions including the Asian Development Bank, The World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, Africa Risk Capacity and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

Watch the webinar recordings and download the materials for each session using the links below

Webinar 01 – Setting the Scene: The climate resilience challenge and how ESA is responding – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The first webinar of this series sets the scene by summarising the European Space Agency’s current and planned activities in the climate domain, introduce the nature and scope of the ESA E04SD Climate Resilience Cluster, and provide an overview of the scientific and policy context to climate action.

Webinar 02 – The how, when, and why of using EO data in Climate resilience decision-making Showcase 1: Agricultural livelihoods & water – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The second webinar of this series introduces the use and benefits of EO-derived data and services in climate resilience decision making in climate resilience decision-making in the agriculture and water sectors. As one of the most climate-dependent sectors, agriculture can be highly vulnerable to the impacts of slow-onset climate change and the increasing frequency of high-magnitude events. In economies highly dependent on agriculture, climate impacts can elevate risks of food insecurity, loss of livelihoods and export revenue, and heightened competition among water users (among others). All of these can elevate both social and macroeconomic instability that place constraints on prosperity and development.

Webinar 03 – The how, when, and why of using EO data in Climate resilience decision-making Showcase 2: Urban resilience & environmental & natural resources – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The third webinar of this series introduces the use and benefits of EO-derived data and services in climate resilience decision-making in the areas of urban resilience and environmental and natural resources. Climate change is putting considerable stress on urban areas, driven by hazards such as increasing extreme heat, fluvial flooding and sea level rise. These hazards can increase risks to human health, property, and the performance of critical urban infrastructure. At the same time, the environmental services on which such areas depend are also being impacted. EO data can be used to bring high-resolution insight anywhere in the world to inform a range of decisions, from informing ‘climate-adaptive’ building design to helping to identify opportunities for climate resilient development and economic activities in coastal areas.

Webinar 04 – Water world: How EO data is deepening our knowledge of flood risk and water resource management – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The fourth webinar of series presents in detail how EO data with different spatial and temporal resolution can contribute to flood risk, water and wetness management. EO data and services are vital tools for the water sector, supporting flood events, and conducting wetland inventory status in rural and urban areas. EO provides valuable information (Flood extent, historical flood events etc.) with the aim to assist authorities to prepare the most effective actions to manage flood risk and develop plans to tackle disasters.

Webinar 05 – Is this drought normal? How EO data can help you understand drought hazard and benchmark your risk – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The fifth webinar of this series presents how Earth Observation data with different spatial and temporal resolution can provide information on drought events. Drought is one of the main natural causes of agricultural, economic, and environmental damage. The effects of drought on the environment and agriculture are evident after a long period with a shortage of precipitation, making it very difficult to determine the onset of drought, its extent and end. The EO time-series datasets can build understanding about the scale of effects associated with different drought impacts, helping to develop early food security assessments in specific geographic areas or contingency planning and emergency preparedness for future shocks in a country. It can also improve understanding of the drivers and causes of food insecurity in areas and identify which investments or risk management strategies are best.

Webinar 06 – ‘How to’ Session: Using the EO4SD CR Platform to access EO data (hands-on) – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

The EO4SD Climate Resilience cluster project has deployed a web based (EO4SD CR) platform to provide climate action programmes with enhanced climate risk management capabilities allowing users to explore the data and apply on demand analytics. This sixth webinar of this series is a hands-on session and a guided tutorial in which structured exercises enable participants to familiarize, navigate and extract the information required in their assessments.

Webinar 07 – ‘How to” Session: Using Jupyter Notebook to access EO data (hands-on) – Click here for webinar recording and materials.

An extension of webinar 06, webinar 07 is a hands-on session and guided tutorial for advanced users to explore how to use the EO4SD CR platform Jupyter Notebook, including structured exercises of how to access EO data, conduct analyses and extract data time series.


This article was originally posted on the EO4SD CR website.
INNOVATE4CLIMATE (I4C): Key Takeaways from “Earth Observation and the Future of Climate Resilience”

INNOVATE4CLIMATE (I4C): Key Takeaways from “Earth Observation and the Future of Climate Resilience”

Key takeaways:

  • Earth observation data are helping to transform climate resilience planning and implementation, creating new opportunities to help direct and maximise the impact of climate resilience investments.
  • To be successful, the right technical infrastructure and human capacities need to be in place, and stakeholders should be intimately involved in co-developing solutions.
  • Key challenges range from developing tailored products and services that are highly optimised to particular types of decision and improving the accessibility of socio-economic and land use data, to assuring quality and boosting information equity.

In late July, the Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) Climate Resilience cluster coordinated a panel discussion, hosted by Innovate4Climate, addressed to the question of earth observation (EO) and the future of climate resilience.

The panel convened five distinguished representatives from the provider and user sides, including the European Space Agency (ESA), the World Bank, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), African Risk Capacity (ARC), and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Each organisation is at the cutting edge of either developing innovative EO-powered products and services or leveraging such services to boost climate resilience outcomes around the world.

The panel had three objectives. First, to take stock of the current ‘state-of-the-art’ regarding the use of EO-derived information in climate resilience applications. Second, to draw-out key gaps in provision of EO-driven services. Third, to unpack what progress in development of new EO services can feasibly be expected in the medium term and outline key demand-side requirements.

On a voyage from data to decisions 

Anna Burzykowska, Technical Officer at ESA, opened the panel with a summary of ESA’s ambitious climate programme, an element of one of the most ambitious earth observation programmes ever initiated, and which seeks to make consistent, high-quality climate data available global users as a public good. The Climate Change Initiative is the flagship of this programme, generating a broad portfolio of EO-driven Essential Climate Variables spanning the world.

Recognising that technical, human and other barriers can obstruct the actionable deployment of such data, today ESA’s ambition is evolving to address these barriers is ever more action-oriented, aiming to “bridge the gap between climate science and provide information that can be used by decision makers in their climate resilience strategies”. In the end, overlooking key entry points for EO data in particular decision scenarios and failing to develop climate information tailored to such decisions will lead to missed opportunities in being able to use EO data to improve climate resilience outcomes.

Creating decision-relevant information means collaboration

Identifying these applications and entry points is, however, challenging. Organisations such as the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) are invariably large and complex, with multiple teams, hundreds if not thousands of staff, and many more projects and beneficiaries. On the provider side, this requires becoming acquainted with the nature of evidence required to inform certain decisions, and on the user side it can mean learning about the potentialities of EO data and technologies, and being flexible and innovative in deploying these in real decision scenarios. In this vein, Anna Burzykowska articulated a recurring theme during the panel: the importance of collaborative working. As Anna noted, “We believe that climate action means different communities coming together, and that means building partnerships between actors that are not used to working together on a daily basis”.

The Panel heard how projects such as the EO4SD Climate Resilience programme seek to make climate resilience challenges more soluble by working directly with IFIs to mainstream EO climate information into projects and corporate tools. Achieving this requires a three-pronged approach: to raise demand-side awareness of what is possible using EO climate data; to co-develop bespoke technical solutions that leverage quality global data to meet climate resilience challenges at organisational and programmatic levels; to build demand-side capacity so that IFIs and their beneficiaries can derive maximum benefit from EO services throughout the project cycle.

An essential aspect of this is the quality of the data and services rendered. Samantha Burgess, of C3S, stressed the importance of rich, credible, and quality-assured data. In this regard, the C3S is able to leverage a rich array of earth observation, seasonal forecast, climate projection and other climate data to assist countries and companies “understand their risk envelopes and plan accordingly”.

Towards a global streamflow forecast: One aim, four challenges 

In a similar vein, Angelica Guttierez spoke to the example of a new global streamflow forecast service, developed by GEOGLOWS, that aims to transform climate data into actionable information, especially in areas where little or no such information exists. Realising this aim required overcoming four challenges. First, to leverage the considerable computing power and expertise needed to process big data and make it easily accessible online. Second, to improve access to web services to enable users to access data and easily create derived visualisations, such as flood maps. Third, to ensure adoption and stakeholder buy-in of the GEOGLOWS service by working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to understand needs and co-develop solutions. And fourth, to assure users of the quality and reliability of the product as a resource that can inform decisions, through validation, bias correction, and incremental improvement.

EO data is indispensable and contributing to radical change climate resilience action 

Panellists touched on many of the benefits of EO-driven applications that have emerged through such collaboration. Ana Bucher noted how the World Bank has been working with ESA in this spirit collaboration since 2008 and translating EO data from satellites and bringing it to bear on the Bank’s global project portfolio. With its potential to scale insight and interventions, support better planning, and inform the prioritisation of climate risks and resilience actions, Ana was clear in its benefits: “How the value of earth observation can be brought into these daily actions is immense, in terms of economic returns, saving lives, but also in how it helps us commit to climate goals”.

These benefits are particularly strong in areas of the world where the World Bank has a large project portfolio, notably regions where climate data records can be sparse and of low quality. This was echoed by Francois Kayitakire, Director of Research and Development at ARC, an organisation that has for many years used EO-derived rainfall estimates for the African continent in models parametric insurance models for drought, and in future, flood, cyclones, and epidemics. “Without earth observation”, Francois explained, “it is impossible to offer the services we offer today”. These data – that have the essential attributed of being both highly predictable and reliable – have had concrete impacts on drought-affected areas, having triggered dispersals amounting to $60 million since 2015.

Ana Bucher further added that EO data have particular potential to observe and monitor the ‘silent risks’ that can be harder to track (e.g. drought), socio-economic change (e.g. settlement shifts), and the impacts of both climate change and climate resilience investments themselves. For the Bank, the bottom line is that EO spanning these areas another others can markedly improve the way IFIs structure and deliver their portfolio and support climate resilient development.

Where next? Information equality, pertinence, and confidence 

An important aspect of the GEOGLOWS mission is to improve equality of access to information; an ambition supported by other panellists also. As Angelica Guttierez noted, “If we want global issues to be addressed by the global community, then we need to level the playing field so every nation has the opportunity to access information”. Part of this means strengthening foundational technical infrastructure (e.g. internet connectivity) and human capacities to increase the ‘bandwidth’ to be able to derive maximum benefit from emerging cloud-based EO services.

On the data side, ARC is developing new services that leverage EO, such as the Extreme Climate Facility (ECF). The ECF a resilience financing instrument geared toward financing adaptation interventions over a 5 to 10 year horizon, requiring strong seasonal-to-decadal climate prediction data. Decision-relevant climate information also means attending to the specific climate sensitivities of different sectors. As data and understanding improve, demand for sector-tailored, threshold-based climate information will continue to increase on the user side.

Analysing climate risks and planning climate resilience requires EO data far beyond climate data itself. Panellists identified other types of EO data that would also markedly improve understanding of climate risk, particularly regarding the characteristics of exposed assets (e.g. urban areas and croplands). Linking such data with timely inundation maps would help to improve analysis of flood impacts, enabling relief funds to be better targeted in the short term, and resilience measures be better planned in the long-term.

Critically, such decision-useful information must also have the confidence of users. Even as EO providers already invest significantly in validation, quality assurance, and traceability, ESA has recognised that the consistency and visibility of quality assurance is an area that still needs to be addressed. As such, ESA has recently begun investigating users can be better informed about how products were developed (and the quality of those products). This, coupled with continuous improvements in tailored EO services, will help ensure that users are able to exploit EO services confidently and effectively to build climate resilience into the future.


This article was originally posted on the EO4SD website.

Acclimatise CEO to moderate an EO4SD-led panel discussion as part of the World Bank’s Innovate4Climate virtual conference

Acclimatise CEO to moderate an EO4SD-led panel discussion as part of the World Bank’s Innovate4Climate virtual conference

On 29th July at 10:00 EDT, Acclimatise CEO John Firth will be moderating an EO4SD-led panel discussion as part of the World Bank’s Innovate4Climate virtual conference. This will take stock of the use of Earth Observation (EO) data in climate resilience, and look to the future in regards to what development practitioners will find useful next in terms of EO products and services.

Objectives include:

  • Introduce and encourage the use of earth observation (EO) products and services for the purposes of building climate resilience, particularly in a development setting
  • Catalyse the innovative deployment EO products and services across the project life cycle and across a range of decision-making contexts, from finance mobilisation to monitoring and evaluation
  • Enable our audience to learn about cost-effective EO climate data and platforms, and how these can be accessed and used.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Samantha Burgess (Copernicus Climate Change Service)
  • Francois Kayitakire (African Risk Capacity)
  • Ana Bucher (World Bank Group)

Register for the webinar here.

WMO expresses concern as impacts of COVID-19 reduce earth observation measurements by 80% in some areas

WMO expresses concern as impacts of COVID-19 reduce earth observation measurements by 80% in some areas

By Álvaro Linares

In an article released on 9 April 2020, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) expressed its concerns on the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Earth Observing System, which has major implications on weather observations and forecasts, as well as on the monitoring of atmospheric processes and climate change.

On the positive side, a significant portion of the WMO’s global observing system is either partly or fully automated. For instance, space-based observations and many ground-based observing networks are highly automated and are not expected to be impacted by the effects of the pandemic. Currently, there are 30 meteorological and 200 research satellites, continuously providing observations, and in most developed countries, surface-based weather observations are nearly fully automated. 

However, the WMO article explains that some parts of the global observing system have already been severely affected. The most significant reduction in weather measurements corresponds to in-flight measurements of temperature, wind speed and wind direction, and in some cases, humidity and turbulence – all important variables for both weather prediction and climate monitoring. Commercial airlines are part of the WMO Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay programme (AMDAR) gathering over 800,000 observations per day. Due to the flight restrictions set by countries on commercial flights, many parts of the world have seen a decrease in measurements between 50% and 80% over the past two weeks.

Beyond the immediate decrease of in-flight observations caused by the pandemic, there are also concerns that if the pandemic persists for several weeks, maintenance and supply work, as well as scheduled redeployments will be affected.

In many developing countries, ground-based observations have been affected by the pandemic due to their reliance on manual reporting by weather observers. The WMO article points out that the WMO’s global observation system has seen a significant decrease in the availability of this type of manual observations over the last two weeks. Some of this may be attributable to the current coronavirus situation, but it is not yet clear whether other factors may play a role as well. WMO is currently investigating this. Lars Peter Riishojgaard, Director, Earth System Branch in WMO’s Infrastructure Department said: “At the present time, the adverse impact of the loss of observations on the quality of weather forecast products is still expected to be relatively modest. However, as the decrease in availability of aircraft weather observations continues and expands, we may expect a gradual decrease in reliability of the forecasts”.

“The same is true if the decrease in surface-based weather observations continues, in particular if the COVID-19 outbreak starts to more widely impact the ability of observers to do their job in large parts of the developing world. WMO will continue to monitor the situation, and the organization is working with its Members to mitigate the impact as much as possible,” he said.

To partially mitigate the impact of the sudden decrease in observations, some WMO members ,such as Europe, have increased the launches of radiosondes. These radiosondes are attached to weather balloons, which can fly from the surface up to 20 to 30 km into the atmosphere, transmitting measurements of some critical meteorological variables.

These additional WMO efforts are critical for monitoring climate change. COVID-19 has caused positive short-term environmental impacts such as a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a worldwide increase in air quality. Capturing these impacts with high-quality observations, thanks to the mitigation efforts of the WMO, can help shed light on the advantages that a systemic shift to a more sustainable economy can have on climate change and the planet.


Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The benefits of the Spatial Data Analysis Explorer for project officers

The benefits of the Spatial Data Analysis Explorer for project officers

In 2018, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) launched the Spatial Data Analysis Explorer (SPADE), an interactive cloud-based platform that can host geospatial information.

​A collaboration with the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department and operations departments, SPADE could be an essential tool for ADB staff and consultants for project identification and preparation, due diligence, engineering design, and project monitoring.  

​The platform uses open-source technology, so the information is easily accessible to registered users and can also accept new or updated data. Currently, SPADE has spatial information for 21 project cities.  

​UCCRTF, who manages the platform, has been stepping up efforts to promote the use of SPADE and increase its content. In December 2019, they hosted a training workshop for ADB staff to provide an overview of geographic information systems (GIS), available tools and platforms, and its application for various stages in the ADB project cycle. The training highlighted the need for stronger user uptake and skill transfer of these spatial tools within ADB.  

​SPADE offers several advantages for project officers and those working at the city level. First, it can be used as a tool to inform strategic decisions on project design and investment prioritization. For example, SPADE has a mobile app version and this was used to collect data on rain- and flood-induced landslide hazards for a community-led project in La Trinidad, Philippines. Hazard maps were then produced from these data to improve the design of the project. 

​Second, SPADE can be used to conduct due diligence, project implementation, and monitoring. Consultants, for instance, can take photos and notes of the construction site during a field visit and upload these to SPADE using their mobile phone. Photos are geotagged to show the precise locations on the platform’s map. This allows project officers to view the progress on site from their desks at the resident mission or in ADB headquarters.

​For more on the other benefits of SPADE, view the infographic below or download it here


This article was originally published on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover image from wikimediacommons.
The under-appreciated influence of the tropics on the ‘jet stream’

The under-appreciated influence of the tropics on the ‘jet stream’

By Prof Tim Woollings

Over the past decade or so, a scientific debate has emerged around whether rapid Arctic warming could be affecting extreme weather in the mid-latitudes. Much of this work focuses on the jet stream – the narrow current of strong winds encircling the globe around 40-50 degrees North.

The science is far from settled. The jet stream can vary wildly from week to week, or from year to year, and questions remain over whether any signal from the Arctic can yet be seen over the background “noise” of natural variability. (The latest study on the topic, for example, suggests the link is “insignificant”.)

The current winter provides an interesting, if trivial, example. In the Arctic, the steady decline of sea ice continues, with the January 2020 average extent among the lowest 10 years in the satellite record. According to some of the most widely reported theories, we might expect the jet to have been weaker and more “wavy” this winter as a result. But the reality is quite the opposite. So far this season, the jet has mostly been strong and straight, bringing mild and stormy weather to much of northern Europe.

Of course, lots of this is just ‘weather’ – we expect a certain randomness in the jet stream – and this is a key reason why influences, such as Arctic warming, are so hard to pin down. But, intriguingly, the jet this winter seems to have been highly predictable, with early warnings of such a pattern first being made in the autumn. 

We cannot say for certain what has caused this yet, but most meteorological eyes are directed away from the Arctic, towards the south. And, in fact, there is possibly an even more important influence on our weather under a changing climate: the tropics.

Hadley

Ultimately, the jet stream derives its energy from the contrast in temperatures between the warm air over the equator and the cold conditions of the Arctic. And is it intimately tied to conditions in the tropics. 

Blessed with a surplus of energy pouring in from the sun, the tropics are in many ways the powerhouse of the Earth’s climate. Somewhere near the equator, depending on season, the surface will face directly towards the sun and so the air here will be heated more than anywhere else, becoming lighter and rising upwards as a result. This forms a giant convection cell in the atmosphere, known as the Hadley cell, with air rising above the equator before moving away, to both the north and south, and then sinking again.

Global circulation of Earth's atmosphere displaying Hadley cell, Ferrell cell and polar cell. Credit: Kaidor, published under CC BY-SA 3.0
Global circulation of Earth’s atmosphere displaying Hadley cell, Ferrell cell and polar cell. Credit: Kaidor, published under CC BY-SA 3.0

George Hadley was a London lawyer, pondering science questions in his spare time, when he hit upon the basic mechanism explaining the “trade winds”. These are the year-round east-to-west winds that blow across the tropics, on which traders sailing across the Atlantic relied for a swift passage to the Americas. Hadley described the theory in his seminal paper, published by the Royal Society in 1735.

Hadley, G. (1735) VI. Concerning the cause of the general trade-winds, Philosophical Transactions, doi:10.1098/rstl.1735.0014
Hadley, G. (1735) VI. Concerning the cause of the general trade-winds, Philosophical Transactions, doi:10.1098/rstl.1735.0014

Hadley first theorised the existence of the cell which now bears his name and also that the near-surface air moving towards the equator would be turned by the rotation of the Earth, forming the trade winds. He also predicted that, on the flip side of his cell, there should be strong winds blowing from west to east far above the surface, which he named the “anti-trades”. Today, of course, we call this the jet stream.

(Cartoons of the atmosphere typically feature two jets, one linked to the Hadley cell and one further north linked to a much weaker feature called the polar cell. Although this picture is useful, the two jets are, in reality, often merged into one dominant structure in the mid-latitudes, simply referred to as the jet stream.)

Tropical changes

While scientists are still pondering how variations in the Arctic may affect the jet, the influence of the tropics is abundantly clear. 

We need look no further than the dramatic weather disruption caused by El Niño events in the Pacific Ocean, when the balance between the tropical trade winds and the warm equatorial ocean currents is upset. By shifting the locations of the powerful convection driving the Hadley cell, these events send “waves” along the jet stream that can temporarily alter weather patterns around much of the world.

El Niño is a naturally-occuring phenomenon affecting weather and climate worldwide.

Normally, trade winds blow strongly from east to west in the tropical Pacific. During an El Niño, the trade winds relax, cutting off the supply of cool water to the sea surface.
Infographic: What is El Nino? Credit: Tom Prater and Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief.

El Niño is the poster-child of climate variability, responsible for much of the skill in our long-range “seasonal” forecasts, which aim to predict average conditions for the season ahead. But there is more to the tropics than just El Niño. The tropical atmosphere is much less stable than that over the Arctic, enabling powerful storm systems to reach up and shunt around air masses up at the heights where the jet is strongest.

For example, it seems likely that weather patterns in the tropics have helped to nudge the jet into its strong and straight configuration this winter, and it is this signal which enabled early warnings for Europe in the autumn of 2019. Specifically, this year’s events are quite consistent with some previous studies of the influence of Indian Ocean weather patterns on the jet stream. 

And what about climate change? Might we be seeing changes in the jet stream already because of how the tropics are responding to warming? 

The tropics are indeed changing, although there is more uncertainty over how exactly than there is in the Arctic. For example, George Hadley’s great circulation cell has been expanding over recent decades, its boundaries inching slightly, but detectably, polewards. 

While this is exactly the signal we expect to arise from climate change, our best assessment is currently that much of the recent changes reflect natural variations, at least in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, the climate change signal is clearer, especially as it is boosted by the effects of stratospheric ozone depletion.)

Ocean heat

The tropical oceans are, of course, warming, along with most oceans around the world. However, here again there is uncertainty over exactly how. 

Climate models generally predict the tropical Pacific will warm most strongly in the east, close to South America, while the observed trends show strongest warming instead in the west. Given the sensitivity to these regions evidenced by El Niño, this discrepancy has serious implications for our ability to predict the details of changing weather patterns. 

Surface temperature anomalies for 2019 from Berkeley Earth, using a 1951-80 baseline.
Surface temperature anomalies for 2019 from Berkeley Earth, using a 1951-80 baseline.

Some new evidence suggests that the observed pattern of stronger western warming might be a signature of climate change, regardless of what the models say. Given the extent to which the details really matter in the tropical Pacific, however, uncertainty is likely to remain here for some time.

Keeping this uncertainty in mind, though, has the warming of the tropical oceans had any effect on the jet stream yet? 

Some of our recent work suggests, potentially, yes. El Niño peaks in the northern hemisphere winter – it was originally named after the infant Jesus by Peruvian fishermen – but it also has important impacts in summer by sending giant, continent-sized waves along the jet stream. 

For example, a series of extreme weather events rocked Eurasia in 2010, from the searing Russian heatwave to the torrential Pakistan floods, and it seems the climate dice were loaded for these events by La Niña, the so-called “little sister” to El Niño.

Crucially, the pathway for these influences seems to have shifted and strengthened in recent decades, due to a subtle shift of the jet, so that El Niño and La Niña now affect parts of Eurasia in summer that they did not reach before. This is associated with a subtle southward shift of the jet over southeast Asia, which makes it more sensitive to weather disturbances from over the Pacific.

We have been able to reproduce this change in climate model experiments but – importantly – this occurs only when the observed warming of the tropical oceans and the subsequent influence on the jet is included.

It is early days for this type of research, and many uncertainties remain, but we might just be starting to see an example of how the tropics will affect jet stream variability under climate change. 

In any case, both Hadley’s circulation cell and El Niño’s shockwaves demonstrate the power of the tropics over the jet stream. As weather patterns alter in our warming world, those of us in the northern mid-latitudes should be looking nervously to the south at least as much as to the north.


This article was originally posted on The Carbon Brief under CC licensing.
Cover photo by NASA Johnson on Flickr.