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NSIDC - National Snow and Ice Data Center

06/12/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/12/2019 10:07

NSIDC data sets selected to guide global climate change assessment

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) -the parent organization of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-has just released a catalogue of benchmark data sets, including four from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), to promote as trusted sources, simplify user access and support global policy makers.

'It is a credit to NSIDC to be asked to be part of that-that NSIDC data are considered that caliber,' said David Gallaher, a data manager at NSIDC, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

NSIDC contributed four of the six data sets selected to monitor changes in Earth's frozen regions, known collectively as the cryosphere: the Sea Ice Index, the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS), the Antarctic 1-kilometer Digital Elevation Model, and Geoscience Laser Altimeter System/Ice, Cloud, and Elevation satellite (GLAS/ICESat) 500-meter Laser Altimetry Digital Elevation Model of Antarctica.

A long-term view

In 1988, the WMO, part of the United Nations, established the IPCC to write an objective and scientific report of climate change and its potential impacts. The IPCC has written five major reports, with a special report released in October 2018 that stressed the urgency behind limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The data used to write these reports have not been heavily scrutinized-until now.

A team of experts have extensively reviewed the select data sets, and given each a quality assurance grade. In October 2017, the WMO brought a diverse group of experts to Geneva, Switzerland, from national data centers, international organizations, and academia to agree upon a set of criteria for essential data sets in temperature, precipitation, sea level, sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers. 'We wanted to pick data that could best tell this tale of what's really going on,' said Gallaher, one of the invited experts.

Longevity, or long-term data, took priority, as did global coverage. For example, a new high- resolution sensor may better depict complex sea ice, but a sensor that has only been around for two years cannot tell the story of sea ice change over the course of decades. The Sea Ice Index data set at NSIDC, which spans 40 years, can.

Other attributes the WMO considered included well-documented metadata-the data about the data-transparency of the documentation, accessibility to the public, discoverability, portability, and usage.

Timeless data

Earth is currently on track for a three-degree Celsius warming by 2100, according to the WMO. That, however, is if the government commitments pledged during the Paris climate agreement in 2015 are actually fulfilled. Already, this past decade has seen lingering heat-waves, record-breaking storms, toxic algal blooms, forest fires, coral bleaching and fresh water shortages. And that is with just a one-degree warming since the middle of the nineteenth century. At the current rate, the planet could warm to 1.5 degrees Celsius before 2050.

These numbers are just averages. And masked within are extremes. For instance, the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, disproportionately affecting its environment and people.

But how do we know this to be true? 'This is one of the serious complaints about the IPCC reports,' Gallaher said. 'The public asks us: 'Where did you get the data?''

'That's why this was done: to show the data,' Gallaher said. This catalogue will serve as a supplemental document and reference guide behind past and future IPCC reports. 'For people who say the IPCC reports are all nonsense, how do we prove they aren't? We do this. We scrutinize the data. We can't evaluate every data set on the planet, but at least we evaluate the most important ones,' Gallaher said.

The WMO plans to make their catalogue readily and widely available to the public, serving broader use as guide to trusted climate data.

For more information
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns
Global temperatures on track for 3-5 degree rise by 2100: UN

Media contact
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder
[email protected], +1.303.492.1497