The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) was founded to globally coordinate climate observation and thereby to provide users with the data and information needed to address climate-related concerns. In Switzerland, GCOS is implemented by a variety of national partner institutions coordinated by the Swiss GCOS Office at MeteoSwiss.
High quality, systematic climate observation builds the foundation to estimate the extent and rate of climate change and to infer climate trends. Such knowledge is crucial for informed decision making concerning the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
The purpose of the Global Climate Observing System – or GCOS in short - is to ensure that the necessary climate relevant observations and information are systematically collected and provided to all potential users.
GCOS is an international programme (see box below), but to be put into practice, its principles need to be applied also on a national level. In Switzerland, this is fulfilled within the framework of GCOS Switzerland – the Swiss climate observing system.
GCOS Switzerland - Measure locally, understand globally
Climate observation has a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. The longest lasting climate observation series dates back to 1808, when scientists in Geneva first started collecting phenological data on the timing of the chestnut bud burst. Since then, the number of systematically monitored climate variables has increased steadily, adding observational data from the terrestrial and atmospheric domain.
These long and continuous time-series lay the groundwork for the implementation of GCOS in Switzerland. Today, within the framework of GCOS Switzerland, high quality data on 33 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) are continuously collected, processed and made publically available (see also: National Climate Observing System).
An important part of GCOS is the specification of a list of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) that should be observed systematically and adhering to the GCOS Climate Monitoring Principles. The ECV list contains variables of the atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial domain that critically contribute to the characterization of the Earth’s climate (WMO: Essential Climate Variables.
The inventory report of the National Climate Observing System GCOS Switzerland gives more details on ECVs observed in Switzerland (National Climate Observing System).
But next to climate observations, quality control, data storage and data distribution are equally important. Therefore, GCOS Switzerland also includes six international calibration and data centers operated by Swiss institutions.
The data gathered in the framework of GCOS Switzerland are widely used. As an example, they help to understand pressing climate-related concerns such as the continuous melting of glaciers, and they also contribute to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In addition, Swiss GCOS data are the basis for user-tailored climate services and thereby support the work of the National Center for Climate Services (NCCS).
With its local measurements, international data and calibration centres, GCOS Switzerland adds an important puzzle piece to the understanding of the global climate system.
GCOS Switzerland – a joint effort
The systematic observation of ECVs and the operation of international data and calibration centres in Switzerland is facilitated by the common effort of 28 National Partner Institutions.
The National Partner Institutions among other include federal offices, research institutions and universities.
Together, all of these institutions tackle the task to continuously collect, process, archive and distribute data on ECVs:
- École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL
- ETH Zurich
- Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA
- Federal Institute of Metrology METAS
- Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG
- Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
- Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss
- Federal Office of Topography swisstopo
- Federal Statistical Office FSO
- Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno IRSOL
- Meteodat GmbH
- Paul Scherrer Institute PSI
- Physical Meteorological Observatory in Davos/World Radiation Center (PMOD/WRC)
- Scuola Universitaria Professionale della Svizzera Italiana SUPSI
- State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI
- Swiss Academy of Sciences SCNAT
- Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC
- Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL
- Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology Eawag
- Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Empa
- University of Basel
- University of Bern
- University of Fribourg
- University of Geneva
- University of Zurich
- WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
The Swiss GCOS Office - seated at the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology MeteoSwiss - coordinates climate observation in Switzerland in support of these National Partner Institutions. The Swiss GCOS Office was formally established at MeteoSwiss in 2006, following the Federal Council’s dispatch concerning the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol (see also: Swiss GCOS Office).
In carrying out its coordination activities, the Swiss GCOS Office is guided by an independent GCOS Switzerland Steering Committee.
In its function as an independent steering body, the GCOS Switzerland Steering Committee is, i.a., responsible for:
- Monitoring and guiding the implementation of the GCOS Switzerland strategy (see also: GCOS Switzerland Strategy 2017-2026)
- Selecting studies that contribute to the GCOS Implementation Plan to be supported by MeteoSwiss in the framework of GCOS Switzerland (see also: Call for Proposal).
- Seeking and promoting synergies with other national and international activities.
The Steering Committee currently consists of six members covering a wide range of expertise related to climate sciences:
- Prof. Dr. Thomas Stocker (Chair; University of Berne)
- Prof. Dr. Martine Rebetez (Vice Chair, WSL)
- Dr. Karin Ammon (ProClim)
- Prof. em. Dr. Wilfried Haeberli (University of Zurich)
- Prof. Dr. Christoph Schär (ETH Zurich)
- Dr. Reto Stöckli (MeteoSwiss)
In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged the need for climate monitoring and explicitly requested all its parties to cooperate in systematic climate observation.
In the same year, the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) was established as a joint initiative of the:
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO
United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
International Council of Science (ICSU)
For the purpose of defining common global requirements and standards for a systematic climate observing system, the UNFCCC requests GCOS to regularly revise its Implementation Plan (IP). The IP, first published in 2004, was last updated in 2016 (IP-16).