Climate change is a slow process, which means that its monitoring must not be swayed by the issues of the day, says Prof. Herman Russchenberg, director of the TU Delft Climate Institute.
Climate monitoring is not really very sexy. It is not like we are making fantastic new discoveries every week. In fact, you need to persevere for decades. The government needs to ensure the continuity of this monitoring, but in practise it is increasingly under threat. A good example is the observatory in Cabauw, which is used by Dutch meteorological insitute KNMI, the institute for public health & environment RIVM, TNO and energy research centre ECN, as well as the universities. The government wants to know which of the data obtained there make a direct contribution to verifying environmental policy, and which an indirect contribution. It is prepared to pay for direct data such as temperature, but indirect data, which can show which physical processes contribute to future climate change, are under threat.
Monitoring is currently carried out by KNMI, the Ministry of infrastructure & environment Rijkswaterstaat, RIVM, ECN and universities. It would be a good idea to coordinate this by removing overlap and filling in the blind spots. Monitoring should be carried out for the long term, by selecting a number of relevant variables to be measured over several decades.
A new institute, the Climate Monitoring Institute, could make that possible and could act as a central point for all climate monitoring. The institute does not even need to be an actual building – it is about the data, which is stored somewhere in the cloud. The point is that such an institute needs to be able to guarantee the quality and availability of the data for 40 years or more. All the research institutes should have access to the data, but the business community too. If they develop applications that make a profit, for example for the wind parks currently being developed, then some of these profits should flow back to the climate institute.
Such a Climate Monitoring Institute could be a key part of an infrastructure for future research, as recently advised by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Science KNAW. It is possible to produce a fine-resolution simulation of the land and atmosphere in the Netherlands, preferably combined with a network of sensors that provide the model input.
The objective of the Climate Monitoring Institute should be to ensure the quality and continuity of climate data. This data should be open access, so that everyone bases their work on the same data. As well as climate data such as temperature and greenhouse gas concentrations, the institute could also monitor air quality. The institute would generate big data on the climate to which everyone would have access. In this way, the not-so exciting climate data sets could be used in some interesting applications.’