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On the Infrastructure Supporting Weather, Water, Environmental, and Climate Sciences, Services, and Assessments

A Policy Statement of the American Meteorological Society

(Adopted by the AMS Council on 11 July 2018)

This Policy Statement is intended to enlarge upon the May 2016 Weather, Water, and Climate Priorities policy statement.

Introduction: The infrastructure supporting weather, water, environmental, and climate sciences, services, and assessments is a critical national resource. It is essential for optimal decision-making with respect to the protection of life, mitigating losses, environmental stewardship, efficiency of weather- and climate-sensitive sectors of our economy, and national security. This infrastructure consists of structural components: observation systems, communications and service delivery systems, computing and software, and data management. It also includes social and cultural components: a vigorous research and development effort; communication and engagement with the public, decision-makers, and current and future scientists and practitioners; legal frameworks and standards; education; and partnerships spanning the public, private, and academic sectors. These components, however, are not atomized capabilities but parts of an interlocking, interacting system.

Observation systems: Observations of the Earth system—atmosphere, ecosystems, oceans, rivers, lakes and streams, and land and ice surfaces—require facilities that may be surface or space based or on mobile platforms such as land vehicles, ships, aircraft, and balloons. Some systems depend critically on using portions of the radio frequency spectrum without interference. Observations are used to initiate the prediction process that provides daily weather warnings and forecasts, to establish the record of climate evolution necessary for planning and policy formulation, for advancing research and development, and for myriad other applications. Traditionally, such systems have been centrally managed. While core systems will continue to be managed using traditional means, new technologies and platforms (e.g., smartphones and other sensors) will expand the breadth and complexity of observation systems. Observing systems must be resilient, robust, and agile. This requires a long-term view of observations (past, present, and future), their standardization and quality, and their transition from research into service.

Communications and service delivery: Communications are essential to the efficient collection of observations and analysis and their timely use in research, products, and services. Effective communications continue to require greater bandwidth and storage capacity, but the increased complexity of data, data sources, and data users requires attention also be paid to data standards and services (licensing, digital formats, information security, and user guides) and support for human capital related to curating, supporting, and transmitting environmental information. As with some observation systems, some delivery systems depend critically on using select portions of the radio frequency spectrum free from interference.

The nation’s delivery mechanism for weather, water, environmental, and climate products and services is an enterprise involving the public sector, private service providers, and traditional and nontraditional media. Each of the partnerships involved requires continual attention and mutual respect. Enhancing this enterprise is essential to maintain and improve standards of performance for customer service delivery for accurate, timely, and consistent service.

Computing and software: The science of numerical weather prediction is the foundation of modern weather and climate forecasting and scenario-based estimates of global climate change. The execution of mathematical models of the Earth system requires the acquisition of the most advanced computing capabilities. Of necessity, our community has been a leader in calling for more powerful high-performance computing capabilities and associated algorithms and software.

Advances in computing and software systems, however, have created new opportunities and challenges for the environmental information infrastructure. Today, development of computing involves not only the infrastructure related to high-performance computing centers but also those that support large-scale data analysis using local as well as cloud computing resources. A robust computing and software infrastructure for today also requires the human and institutional resources to build and support analysis and visualization tools, including legal and business frameworks that support the development and broad dissemination of computing algorithms and tools.

Data management: The volume of environmental information continues to increase exponentially. In order to ensure researchers, public agencies, private industry, and the public will have access to and be able to use these data and metadata for whatever needs they have, it is critical to continue investment in user-centered archiving systems, create legal frameworks that enable long-term access to environmental information, and support the human resources that enables the data to be archived, curated, available, and disseminated widely.

Research and development: As human society and ecosystems under stress become ever more sensitive to the environment, timely and useful information becomes ever more important. Such information can only result from continued investment in a vigorous research and development enterprise involving our universities, industry, and government. Weather, water, environmental, and climate products and services must be based on the best available physical and social science, taking advantage of multidisciplinary approaches. Advances in the sciences must be introduced into products and services effectively.

Education and human resources: The other elements of the environmental information infrastructure require a deep reservoir of human capital. Development of this capital through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education must begin in the early K–12 experience, progress through undergraduate and graduate college levels, and maintain currency through continuing education. Programs should enable participation from all underrepresented groups.

Summary Statement: The infrastructure described in this Policy Statement is absolutely essential to the provision of weather, water, environmental, and climate services to this nation and others around the world. The components form an interlocking web. Drawing from all sectors, agile and flexible approaches, as well as sustained and balanced investments, are required for all components of this web in order to respond effectively to evolving societal needs and technologies. The American Meteorological Society urges Congress and the Administration to provide continual attention to and enhanced support of this vital national infrastructure.

[This statement is considered in force until July 2023 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date.]