This chapter assesses the extent to which the draft plan addresses these areas without commenting on whether this list comprises the full set of information needs that the final CCSP plan should address. Developing that fuller list should be part of the process by which the draft plan is revised.


The draft plan correctly identifies the need for a global observing system for climate and climate-related variables. Such a system would include observations of physical, chemical, and biological parameters of the ocean, atmosphere, and land systems, and it would incorporate relevant socio-economic data needed to understand the factors that influence the causes of climate change. Its goals would be to supply the scientific basis for detecting climate and associated global changes and for testing and calibrating the climate system models, and to develop data products of use to decision makers. To provide climate-quality data, the observation strategy would need to be long-term, subject to careful calibration and validation, and be flexible enough to accommodate new understanding and evolving needs (NRC, 1999a; 2000b). The draft strategic plan could be improved by providing a structured program for establishing such a global climate observing system and a strategy for coordinating observation needs that cross disciplinary and national boundaries. The existing climate observing system is a patchwork of observation networks, which are not well coordinated. Large investments are needed in maintaining and expanding an integrated observing system that will support monitoring, diagnosis, and modeling of climate and associated global changes.

Many research needs in observations, monitoring, and data management systems are identified in Chapter 3, Chapters 5-11, and Chapter 12 of the draft plan. The observation goals are generally appropriate and reasonably complete, although they would benefit from some coarse prioritization or implementation schedule. A major weakness in the plan, however, is that it does not describe how existing observation systems will be integrated, nor does it offer a pathway to expansion of observation systems to include key climate-related ecological, biogeochemical, geophysical, and socio-economic measurements. A great need exists for systematic integrated measurements, where interagency and international cooperation could bring major advances. For example, significant changes in natural and managed ecosystems are already occurring in response to climate variability and changes, yet a clear strategy for obtaining the necessary observations is lacking. A more integrated approach to ecosystem observations would include ground-based monitoring of biogeochemical and other ecosystem processes (e.g., carbon dioxide flux at distributed reference sites and nutrients in stream, river, estuarine, and coastal systems and large-scale patterns of disturbance and fire) and monitoring of the distribution and abundance of key species in a range of regional terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The global climate observing system would provide datasets to explore the coupling of major cycles (e.g., carbon, water, nitrogen, energy). Better integrating relevant socio-economic observations—including changes in land use, location and intensity of economic activities that alter atmospheric chemistry, and social conditions that alter vulnerability to climate change—into this observation system could be of great use in understanding the importance of various drivers of climate change.

Major issues associated with creating and implementing an integrated, global climate observing system need more attention in the draft plan to make it clear how the selection of observation systems and sites would be guided by an overarching observation strategy. It is important that the revised strategic plan address the following:

  • The role that the CCSP will play in implementing and maintaining national- to global-scale observing systems that require interagency and international cooperation.

  • How the program will develop an appropriate range of space-based and in situ observing systems with an adequate overlap to allow the calibration necessary to maintain data quality.

  • Efforts to observe important local and regional variability (such as due to local orography, local coastline structure, or land-sea temperature differences not otherwise resolved) that are necessary to meet the CCSP’s goals of providing information to decision makers. Design of local or regional observation arrays will need to be responsive a variety of users’ needs while being consistent in accuracy and practice so that they feed data into the global array.

  • How climate modeling and observation activities will be coordinated, including the use of models to aid in the design of improved climate observing systems and the deployment of observation networks appropriate for testing climate models.

  • The challenges associated with the transition of research observations to operational platforms and to measurements involving in situ and space-based instruments (NRC, 2000a). Although the plan refers to making climate observations accessible, it would be more effective if it conveyed an overall vision for climate services as discussed in various recent reports (e.g., NRC, 2001b).

  • The requirements to ensure that observations for weather have value for climate studies (NRC, 1999a; 2000b; 2000c).

Chapter 3 of the plan identifies a number of observation activities that CCSP considers of higher

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