Vive le différence!

Day 3 of the AMS Washington Forum? It’s all about making a difference, through the mastery of “difference.”

Huh? What does that mean? To see, let’s look at each session.

The Nationwide Network of Networks Stakeholders. We’ve discussed this before. To take a running start…observing the Earth, both the atmosphere and the oceans, can be done in a variety of ways. The newest way, no more than half a century old? Remotely sensing conditions, from the vantage point of space. From Earth orbit, a satellite sensor sweeps over the scene below. This approach has pros and cons. Sensors are expensive to build and launch. Sensors detect only electromagnetic waves, and can draw inferences only from nuances of that radiation. Over the years, engineers and scientists have gotten amazingly creative about this…but there are limitations. And if any equipment breaks down, opportunities for repair out there are limited.

The old way? Here, on the ground. People put out networks of in situ sensors, measuring in place. The number and variety of measurements is possible to make are richer in many ways. We can measure the physical quantities like air temperature, surface pressure and wind speed. Chemical composition, including some of the nasty trace chemicals of concern for public health or environmental protection. And so on. But these networks, established by local-, state-, and federal government, by private business, by individual farmers, and others, have sprung up willy-nilly. No two are the same. Instruments differ in accuracy and sensitivity. They’re placed at different heights, at different spacings across the landscape or on the seas. Some take readings frequently; others only occasionally. The effect is like that of an English country garden, versus say a homogeneous field of vegetables or grain. And here’s what’s more problematic. The network owner-operators have different, in many cases competitive or proprietary interests. Very often two different networks will be making nominally the same measurements from within the same site (in order to share the same protected enclosure); they’re duplicative.

Interest is growing in merging these collective but different information sets. Lots to gain when and where we can pull it off! But there are barriers. Some are technical…but the sticky issues are not technical but economic – how do we pay those who contribute data to the common set, and how do we charge those who use the data? Our community has been wrestling with these problems for several years now. On this, Day 3 of the AMS Washington Forum, we’ll hear the latest.

Improving Climate Change Communication. Here’s another update – this time on a subject everyone’s talking about. That polarized conversation we’re having globally and nationally…is climate change real? …are humans the cause?…what if anything should we do? (to use a particularly uncreative framing of the questions…)

Turns out that our AMS community struggles in those conversations much like the larger public. And we’re supposed to be the experts! If we have a problem, why should we expect the public we serve to do any better? So we’re feeling a burden of responsibility for cleaning up our own act. It ain’t easy.

Responding to the needs of climate science and services users. Another snippet of background. We’ve been providing weather services worldwide for maybe 150 years. We started out just stating the weather parameters, predicting the likely changes. Surface temperature and pressure. Wind speed. Precipitation. Useful stuff! – especially as we managed to get it right.

 But, over time, we have noticed it often helps to go beyond the weather itself to the impacts. Say when falling temperatures lead to increased energy demand. Or frost damage on crops. Or ice on heavily traveled roads. Or those airplane wings. Or those power lines, snapping the wires. Today, public- and private sector weather service providers build much more such impact content into their forecasts.

Climate forecasts are more recent. It’s not yet so obvious just how accurate these forecasts are, just how different users are incorporating the information in their work, and so on. Stakeholders are diverse. The situation is far more fluid! And substantially more uncertain. Everyone – both on the service provider side and the information-user side – is scrambling to come up to speed.

The result – on the network of networks, on climate services and their use, and even on how we talk about these things – is a bit of a muddle. An exciting muddle, rich with potential – but still a muddle. As we sort this out, the world’s peoples can possibly prosper accordingly. They can enjoy a healthy environment. They might someday live unconcerned about nature’s extremes.

If we can just master our differences, we can make a difference.

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