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volunteer ship observing program coordinated by the WMO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Through this program involving thousands of ships from many countries, weather and sea surface temperature observations have been available to all countries in real time. It also has provided data on the climatology of the ocean area for many decades and still does in conjunction with meteorological satellites.
More recently, an extensive observational network for measuring the upper ocean was put in place in the western Pacific Ocean as part of the Tropical Ocean Global Atmosphere Program. The ocean data from this network and the data from the World Weather Watch Global Observing System provide the basis for the development of atmosphere-ocean coupled models, which have formed the foundation for experimental forecasts in seasonal to interannual predictions. Extensive plans also have been formulated for the components of the Global Ocean Observing System to support the study of climate more generally.
The Global Terrestrial Observing System has several major components for the land surface, surface and ground water, and seismology. Most nations have developed hydrologic observational networks for both the surface and the subsurface water. River stage observations are taken in most countries, both for flood forecasting and for water resource management. The further development of these observational systems is essential if the nations of the world are to cope with the wide range of environmental changes that are occurring and can be envisaged.
In the biological environmental sciences, monitoring systems are much less fully developed than in the Earth sciences. Carefully planned and coordinated global monitoring systems for new and emerging diseases and ecological monitoring and biodiversity surveys are needed. An epidemiological system now in place determines which strains of influenza virus are emerging each year. The composition of each year's vaccine depends on effective monitoring and early warning. Recent outbreaks of Ebola virus in Africa indicate the need for more monitoring information that combines epidemiological and ecological data.
An example of a lack of ecological monitoring comes from consideration of the world's island ecosystems. We know a great deal about animals and plants in special habitats such as the Galapagos Islands, but essentially nothing about their microbiota. We do not know the similarities and differences in microbial ecology between the Galapagos Islands and, for example, the Cape Verde Islands, despite their geological similarities.
Given the nature of the regional and global problems and the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental and health sciences, research on a specific problem often requires the use of data from several observing systems. Therefore, important requirements are observational consistency in space and time, with accurate georeferencing to the maximum degree possible; thorough documentation of data attributes; and substantial institutional commitments to the long-term continuity of key observational programs.