Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

La lettre diplometque
Entretien exclusif
Diplomatie & Défense
La lettre diplometque
La lettre diplomatique Haut
  M. / Mr. Alain RATIER

European meteorological satellites:
a cooperation model with global stakes

By Mr. Alain Ratier,
Director-General of EUMETSAT

Weather and climate hazards considerably impact the vulnerable home world of seven billion people and the globalised economy. Securing the safety of people and infrastructure is a major challenge for nations that are already suffering the financial consequences of climate-related natural disasters. Between 1998 and 2009, such disasters claimed 80,000 lives and caused €120 billion in economic losses in the 32 Member States of the European Environment Agency. In the poor countries of Africa and in regions exposed to tropical cyclones the impact is even greater, threatening food security as well as sustainable development. As already observed by reinsurers1, the toll is expected to rise, due to the combined effects of the increased vulnerability of densely populated areas and of climate change increasing the frequency of extreme events.
Fluctuations of weather and climate also have an impact on the performances of the critical networks of our economy (transport, telecommunications, energy, water) and cause tensions in the markets for energy, raw materials and even certain manufactured goods – as was recently experienced after the flooding in Thailand.
Faced with those hazards, public authorities, operators and companies have to take critical decisions to protect lives and property, adjust their activities and optimise their economic performance through the use of weather forecasts. In doing so, they realise the substantial socio-economic benefits forecasting can provide – which are currently estimated at €60 billion per year in the European Union – just accounting for sheer numbers, not lives saved.
Transport, energy, agriculture and tourism all have increased requirements in terms of anticipation, accuracy and reliability of forecasts. Major investments to upgrade air traffic management in the Single European Sky (SESAR project) will only produce full results if forecasting develops significantly. The same applies to the delicate management of the balance of electricity supply and demand, since weather conditions now influence not only the demand but also renewable energy sources.
In the poorest and most vulnerable countries, the optimised use of weather forecasts is indeed an integral part of sustainable development strategies. Also, during humanitarian crises, forecasting becomes an important tool for the emergency services as was the case for the system deployed in the Antilles under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization, which helped to protect victims of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti from the risk of flooding.

Meteorological satellites –
essential to weather forecasting
Forecasting is based on observations concerning the initial status, computer modelling to extrapolate developments over time and human expertise to evaluate uncertainties. The most costly part of the infrastructure is the observation system, the more so as it must include a global component. Meteorological satellites provide a unique contribution to this global component and, in doing so, they have not only truly revolutionised forecasting but also, as a result of scientific and technological advances, they have become an unrivalled source of progress. Meteorological satellites are generally credited with 50% of the progress made in the last 25 years by numerical prediction centres like the ECMWF2 which now produces forecasts of comparable quality in both hemispheres and has gained one day of forecasting accuracy per decade. Modern weather forecasts are simply unthinkable without the global meteorological satellite system coordinated by WMO.

The European cooperation model
For their contribution to this global satellite system, European nations chose to pool their resources as well as their capacities by setting up EUMETSAT to « establish, maintain and exploit” European systems of operational meteorological satellites » in 1986. Funding for the deployment and exploitation of these systems – using a series of recurrent satellites to cover a period of at least 15 years – is provided by Member States in proportion to their GDP. Today EUMETSAT, based in Darmstadt, Germany, counts 27 Member States3 and operates both the Meteosat series of satellites in geostationary orbit, which produce images of the European continent, Africa and the Indian Ocean every 5 to 15 minutes, and a system of polar orbiting satellites (EPS/Metop) capable of observing a vast range of parameters on a global scale from lower (800 km) orbit.
EUMETSAT cooperates with the European Space Agency (ESA) which develops new satellites fulfilling requirements of EUMETSAT Member States and procures recurring satellites on its behalf. EUMETSAT directly negotiates launch service agreements and develops the ground infrastructure needed to control the satellites, acquire and process the data and disseminate the information extracted to users around the world. Thanks to the competitiveness of the European space industry this cooperation model has made EUMETSAT a world leader, paving the way for an integrated operational cooperation with NOAA in the U.S. that is based on a shared system of meteorological satellites in low orbit, as well as data exchanges with China, India, Japan and South Korea.
EUMETSAT’s capabilities also make an invaluable contribution to cooperation between the European Union and Africa, through the PUMA and AMESD4 projects supported by the European Development Fund (EDF) and the African Union. More than 200 reception stations have been deployed across the continent to acquire the flow of satellite and environmental data that EUMETSAT disseminates via communication satellites (EUMETCast service), in support of training of local users and development of applications. The MESA project, recently approved by the EDF and scheduled to take place in the 2012 – 2017 timeframe, ensures the ongoing continuation of this endeavour.
To prepare for the future, the EUMETSAT Member States approved the Meteosat Third Generation programme in 2011. The challenge for EUMETSAT and ESA in the period from 2012 to 2014 is to secure the second-generation polar orbiting satellites (EPS/Metop-SG) to ensure continuity in the 2020-2040 timeframe. This investment is of strategic importance to ensure the safety of life and property – both in Europe and beyond – as well as the competitiveness of weather sensitive sectors of the economy, as confirmed by recent studies showing that this type of satellite accounts for 40% of the 24-hour forecasting performance. Even in a context of economic crisis, solidarity should prevail to secure a programme that offers a benefit-cost ratio of around 20.   

Retour en haut de page

La lettre diplomatique Bas
  Présentation - Derniers Numéros - Archives - Nos Liens - Contacts - Mentions Légales