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Historical Climate Data for the Globe

NOAA collaborates to build an international climate database

Photo of horizon with sea and land at Prince William Sound
Courtesy of NOAA Ship Fairweather

NOAA is helping create a comprehensive collection of historical climate data for a wide range of applications across many physical and economic sectors. An international collaboration with The Copernicus Programme and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) has set out to make historical land and marine data about climate more easily accessible worldwide.

Building upon NCEI’s Global Historical Climatology Network-Daily (GHCNd) dataset, Integrated Surface Dataset (ISD), Global Summary of the Month (GSOM), and its International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS), the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) is developing the C3S Global Land and Marine Observations Database. This international archive of temperature, precipitation, sunshine hours, water vapor, snow, wind, and sea level pressure records will fill gaps in global historical records and provide data continuity for users.

The goal of the Global Land and Marine Observations Database is to increase understanding of climatic variability, extreme past weather, and climate events to help regions, countries, and stakeholders make better decisions. The service seeks new data to broaden the scope of observations available for studying weather and climate and to help create climate models.

“Ultimately, C3S’s goal in partnership with NOAA NCEI is to combine assets from archives all around the world to make one comprehensive dataset that anyone can use, containing every single observation that has ever been found anywhere,” C3S states online. C3S, sponsored by the European Commission, provides authoritative information about the past, present, and future climate in Europe and the rest of the world.

New Data Sought

Data providers from anywhere in the world can contribute to the database. C3S provides an upload service portal for the continued collection of data. Additional data are being sought to fill in time periods, cover specific regions, and provide more details about Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). NOAA and partners describe the current inventory and coverage gaps in a paper published in the Geoscience Data Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

“There are large quantities of both land and marine data that are already digitized but not yet collectively archived. Many marine data sources are well‐managed at the national, regional or observing network level, but for climate applications, the observations need to be integrated and harmonized internationally and across platform types,” the paper states.

The management of both marine and land historical datasets has been highly fragmented, leading to diverse data holdings held by multiple institutions. Also, many distinct data formats can result as well as duplication of records with differing identifiers, names, and in many cases, varying locations. 

“Within available land and marine data holdings, there are greatly differing levels of completeness, data quality checks and data processing applied. There are further issues with limited data discovery metadata and sometimes a distinct lack of traceability to the underlying original data source,” the principal contributors write.

The service has already received historical observations from a few data rescue projects that involved citizen scientists. Weather Rescue digitized British weather observations from the 1860s; another effort, Old Weather, helped scientists transcribe Arctic and worldwide weather observations recorded in ship's logs since the mid-19th century, including those from WWII.

Data submissions will also be archived for posterity at the World Data Center for Meteorology in Asheville, North Carolina, for land weather stations and the World Data Service for Oceanography for marine observations, both of which are associated with NCEI.

Uses of Global Climate Data

Scientists compare past climatic conditions with present day observations to build a bigger picture of what’s happening in the ocean and atmosphere. They create models, or simulations, and “reanalyses.” Reanalyses, such as the NOAA/CIRES 20th Century Reanalysis Project and the ECMWF's ERA5, are systematically produced at regular intervals over long time periods for climate monitoring and research. Datasets that extend back in time are key to validating climate simulations; by measuring the outputs of computer models against known past events, scientists can understand how accurate they are at predicting what might happen in the future.

The database also fulfills several actions identified by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and outlined in the GCOS Implementation Plan. GCOS was established in 1992 to ensure that the observations and information needed to address climate-related issues are obtained and made available to all potential users. It is co-sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and International Council for Science.

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