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Pulling together

Two of Europe's largest national meteorological services - Germany's Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD) and the Met Office - represent very different organisational approaches. But, given the weather has no respect for national boundaries, their collaboration, together with other countries, is vital for coordinated policy and services. We talk to the DWD's Professor Gerhard Adrian.

The main task for both the Met Office and the DWD is to support the protection of lives and property of their respective citizens through weather and climate information. Both operate similar systems for global and regional forecasting - including climate monitoring - but reflect contrasting philosophies.

"As a government body of the German Federal Republic, the DWD is involved in practically zero commercial activity," explains Professor Gerhard Adrian, the organisation's president based in Offenbach. "Our main users are the 16 German 'Länder' or federal states, to which we provide free services including weather warnings and flood support. The Met Office, on the other hand, is a Trading Fund that gives it far more opportunity to provide services to a much wider range of paying customers, including to customers outside of the UK."

Another key difference relates to the media profile of the German and UK organisations. While the Met Office is highly visible through its own platforms and forecasting work for the BBC, ITV and other media, the DWD is no longer associated with public service TV weather. In fact, Germany's state TV channels employ their own, in-house meteorologists who acquire their data from the DWD.

Common purpose

But while the German and UK national met services may be different, both share a strong commitment to strengthening European and global weather capabilities. This involves working with and on behalf of other meteorological partners to make the most of shared ideas and resources.

"Along with Méteo France, we and the Met Office provide some significant contributions to the international organisations which provide essential underpinning capabilities for our community, for example EUMETSAT," says Professor Gerhard Adrian. "So this means we have a special responsibility to cooperate."

Approximately every six months, the DWD, Met Office and Méteo France meet to discuss key issues. The main focus is around interaction with the complex network of international met organisations. This includes the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), EUMETNET (the 31-member economic interest group for meteorology) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Standing items for discussion include the European Commission and the new European Earth monitoring programme 'Copernicus'. However, it's European aviation that's been one of the most productive areas for collective action in recent years.

Reach for the skies

A key catalyst to aviation collaboration - in which Germany, France and the UK play leading roles - is the Single European Sky (SES) programme. This is the well-established initiative to coordinate the design, management and regulation of airspace throughout the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA).

"The basis for SES is the idea of harmonising cross border arrangements," explains Ian Cameron, Met Office Head of Aviation, "so that when aircraft fly between two countries, air traffic management remains consistent. What's clear is that weather should be dealt with on the same basis."

A number of other significant aviation initiatives have emerged from SES and the Single European Skies ATM Research (SESAR) R&D programme. These include a joint branded air traffic weather product for Eurocontrol's Network Manager portal that seamlessly integrates weather data from DWD, Méteo France, the Met Office and Finnish Meteorological Institute FMI.

Defining the European Meteorological Infrastructure

But it's a particularly important collaboration around the European Meteorological Infrastructure (EMI) strategy that could have most impact on the way national meteorological services work together in the coming years. Led by a sub-group of EUMETNET members including the Met Office, DWD and Méteo France, the project team is re-appraising the role of European national met services within the context of EUMETSAT, ECMWF and the WMO.

As well as drawing up a mission and vision statement, other areas under consideration include deeper collaboration, monitoring systems, computing and data centres, numerical weather models and shared European meteorological infrastructures. The group will also be exploring the options for regional/thematic associations, new product development, data policy and the relationship with the private sector.

"The challenge," says DWD's Professor Adrian, "is to find a way to enable us all to provide first class met services for our national users though EMI cooperation. So we're working to identify areas where we can effectively pool and share competence."

As budgets get tighter and the benefits of greater cooperation between national weather services grow ever more apparent, the evidence strongly suggests that 'it's good to talk' - and that the collaboration model involving both large and smaller organisations has a very bright future.