This Northern Hemisphere summer gave a grim insight into the impact of extreme weather on communities. Floods, fires and record heat cost hundreds of lives and destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods. Providing fast, accurate information about severe weather events is an increasingly acute challenge for meteorological services around the globe in their critical role of protecting their communities. The increasing incidence of extreme weather events resulting from climate change adds to the challenge.
Europe’s meteorological satellite agency, EUMETSAT, a 30-member-state intergovernmental organisation, this month released a new, long-term strategy, “Destination 2030”, which aims to help meet this challenge. Through more advanced satellite systems and instruments coming on stream, by embracing innovation in fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning and by exploring opportunities from the “new space” sector, EUMETSAT expects to make significant progress in the decade ahead.
“The first, and most critical, objective in the strategy is to successfully deploy our next-generation geostationary and low-Earth-orbit satellite systems,” EUMETSAT Director-General Phil Evans says. “Our existing low-Earth system is already the biggest contributor to accuracy for weather forecasts 12 hours to 10 days ahead in Europe, while our Meteosat geostationary system is critical for ‘nowcasting’ fast developing weather events like severe storms.”
The next-generation systems will bring this to a whole new level, with new and more advanced instruments which will provide vastly more and higher-quality data more quickly. “To give just one example, the instruments on our Meteosat Third Generation satellites will, for the first time, allow us to track the full lifecycle of storms. They will detect initial instability in the atmosphere before clouds have even formed, provide more rapid, higher-resolution observations of the development and track of storms and observe lightning strikes.
“The system will literally save lives.”
The first of the Meteosat Third Generation satellites is scheduled for launch at the end of 2022 and the first satellite in the low-Earth-orbiting, EUMETSAT Polar System – Second Generation is expected to be launched at the end of 2023.
“By 2030, EUMETSAT will have renewed it fleets on both orbits.”
Destination 2030 also commits EUMETSAT to continue embracing innovation and cooperation to make additional data available for weather and climate forecasting more quickly and easily. “This includes seeking opportunities from new approaches to satellite development, including exploring the potential benefits of ‘new space’ innovations,” Evans says. “This will mean striking an appropriate balance between traditional and new approaches. We must innovate but our larger reference satellites will remain essential.
We have to recognise that what we need is more information of quality, rather than just more information. There are potentially very promising avenues currently considered by new space companies, but they must be carefully assessed and their impact demonstrated. What is crucial is that the data we send to our member states’ meteorological and hydrological services has a positive impact on weather forecasting models.”
Strengthening cooperation efforts with the European Union and other space agencies is also central to Destination 2030. “Though our involvement in the EU’s Copernicus Earth observation programme, and through data and science exchange agreements with other space agencies, EUMETSAT will be well-positioned to provide global, highly accurate data about the Earth system for use in weather and climate models,” Evans says.
“Our investment in the translation of data into products and services for weather and climate forecasts and in cloud technologies to make access faster and easier, will continue to pay dividends. To remain at the forefront in terms of data management and ease of access to data for users, EUMETSAT has adopted a cloud-based, ‘big data’ approach. Let me put this into perspective. At the end of 2020, there were 6pb of data in EUMETSAT’s archive, which stretches back more than 40 years.”
“By the end of 2025, we expect to have about 50pb of data in the archive.”
“We expect that our new services will not only benefit the meteorological services in our member states but also vastly increase the variety and number of people who will use our data, including those who wish to develop various weather or climate-related applications.” The objectives in Destination 2030 will equip meteorological services in EUMETSAT’s member states and others around the globe with the data they need to protect the communities they serve, Evans says. “Our ability to flexibly meet these needs is particularly important in a time when the changing climate is impacting on our weather systems,” he says.