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Proceedings of OceanObs'09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society

PLENARY PAPERdoi:10.5270/OceanObs09.pp.41

Observational Network Design for Climate

Carl Wunsch(1)

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"Prediction is difficult, particularly when it's about the future." Danish folk-saying. This paper differs from most of the other plenary dis-cussions in that no one is to blame for it, except me. Although I have read the relevant white papers dealing with this subject, and have tried to synthesize their con-clusions, so many difficult issues are involved in obser-vational network design, that producing a true consen-sus proved difficult. In practice, it is difficult to perceive the scientific/technical future of observing systems much beyond 10 or 20 years, particularly as technology and science deliver unexpected capabilities or unfore-seen events impose their own agenda. (Wars are the most obvious cause, but so are financial and Arctic ice meltdowns, etc.) Whatever the goals, it must be appre-ciated at the outset that climate observing systems must be designed to operate, and thus evolve, indefinitely-as the time scales embedded in the system extend far beyond any existing instrumental records. The fundamental and most difficult issues in discussion of observations of any kind are all related to the two questions: (1) What is one trying to observe? (2) How well does it have to be done? A consequent, but less fundamental, third question is: (3) What is the current capability and in what ways does it remain inadequate? Few of the speakers or papers prepared for the Confer-ence addressed these questions even tangentially. If the first two questions can be answered, everything else is technical detail---perhaps expensive to determine---but in principle always possible by known methods. Many good reasons exist for observing the ocean, and they have competing and conflicting requirements. An observational system designed to understand climate change necessarily differs radically from ones intended for mesoscale eddy forecasting or for understanding the basin-scale surface exchanges of carbon dioxide. Sys-tems attempting to be all things to all people are likely to be inadequate for any purpose. In trying to summarize what thinking has emerged, I have chosen to here (1) to focus on climate time scales beyond about 3-5 years, and (2) to infer that the prob-lem is fundamentally a global one. Although the goals are focused on climate, many of the issues arising in meeting them are, however, generic, applying to almost all observational network design, and I will make some comments about them at the end.

1Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rm. 54-1524, Cambridge MA 02139 USA

Correspondence should be addressed to E-mail: cwunsch@mit.edu

This paper shall be cited as:

Wunsch, C. (2010). "Observational Network Design for Climate" in Proceedings of OceanObs’09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society (Vol. 1), Venice, Italy, 21-25 September 2009, Hall, J., Harrison, D.E. & Stammer, D., Eds., ESA Publication WPP-306, doi:10.5270/OceanObs09.pp.41

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