Numerical diagnostics and prognostic models of Earth's changing climate require data for model initialization and verification. Satellite data, while having good spatial coverage over the Pacific, are only indirect measures of different climate variables, and have a historical record of only about 35 years or so. Thus, it is imperative that surface-taken observations be available for comparison with satellite observations over the climate-critical Pacific region. Thus, PI-GCOS is considered a high priority program within the global GCOS program.
The 2001 Pacific Island Meteorological Services Needs Analysis brought attention to the fact that many of the National Meteorological Services (NMSs) in the region were having difficulties in providing basic meteorological services for the citizens and industries of their countries. One of the top priorities was a need for the NMSs to provide seasonal climate prediction services. In response to this need, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), with funding from AusAID, began development of a prediction scheme, based on the current operational scheme used by the BoM for Australia, which could be tailored to each specific island nation. The project includes not only training NMS personnel to run the model, but builds expertise in the prudent use of the forecasts, including developing a framework for incorporating climate prediction information into decision-making processes across a broad range of agencies and industries whose interests are affected by seasonal climate variability.
One of the critical components of the seasonal climate prediction model is a rainfall climate record for a given location of at least 50 years that can be used to “train” the model. While nearly all Pacific Island Meteorological Services have data going back at least this far, much of the data is not in electronic format. In addition, the real probability that climate change is currently taking place means that there is a critical need for continued data collection to keep the model current. This need for historical data, as well as a robust current observation network, has brought additional cooperative projects into PI-GCOS.
The New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd. (NIWA) has archived Pacific Island meteorological data going back to the 1800s. Through a bi-lateral agreement with the U.S. GCOS program, digitization of Pacific Island meteorological data has been given a high priority within NIWA, and these data records will prove invaluable as input to the BoM climate prediction model.
In addition to historical data, the upkeep and enhancement of the current climate observation networks in the Pacific Islands is critical. The Technical Support Project, based at the New Zealand Meteorological Service, provides technical equipment assistance to the island meteorological services, and helps with maintenance of the GCOS Surface Network and GCOS Upper Air Network sites in the Pacific. In addition, through a cooperative project with the Environmental Verification and Analysis Center at the University of Oklahoma, a network of high-quality tipping bucket rain gauges with data loggers is being deployed around the Pacific islands, with emphasis on data collection in remote areas. The upkeep and enhancement of the rain gauge network in the Pacific Islands will ensure that data collection continues in the region and is of the highest quality. These data will be invaluable not just to the island meteorological services in their efforts to provide quality seasonal climate forecasts, but to the global climate research community as well.