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Unveiling Earth’s Secrets: The Crucial Role of In Situ Observations in Climate and Hydrological Research

In the complex web of earth’s dynamic systems, in situ observations of climate and hydrological variables stand as indispensable tools. From soil moisture to stream flow, these measurements provide a real-time snapshot, offering invaluable insights into the complex processes that govern our planet.

In situ observations offer a level of precision and context that satellite or remote sensing data alone cannot achieve. They enable researchers to monitor changes at a localized level, facilitating a more accurate understanding of environmental shifts and trends. To ease access to in situ observations data, several initiatives such as Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC) for stream flow and runoff, GEMS/Water Data Centre (GWDC) for water quality, or International Soil Moisture Network (ISMN) for soil moisture have been established, serving as centralized platforms for consolidating data from thousands of ground-based stations across the globe.

However, there are a number of challenges in accessing high-quality in situ measurements globally, which has been continually highlighted by ICWRGC. Most recently, Dr Tunde Olarinoye, scientific staff with ICWRGC, raised these concerns at the last American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting held between 11th and 15th of December 2023 in San Francisco, USA. Dr. Olarinoye participated in several sessions at AGU which highlighted the pressing issue regarding the scarcity of well-distributed observation networks, limiting the ability to develop accurate models and forecasts. In addition, in situ data providers are also faced with numerous operational challenges including difficulty setting up monitoring stations and collecting data in complex terrains, and to a greater extent the lack of resource to guarantee smooth and continuous operations. Several large monitoring networks are already faced with either the risk of shutting down or reducing monitoring coverage due lack of funding to run their services and operations. Recent reports have also highlighted the lack or declining number of monitoring networks in different regions across the world1,2.

While the research and earth science data providers communities should continue to advocate for substantial investments in infrastructure, technology, and international collaboration to overcome these challenges, governments and relevant institutions must prioritize the establishment and maintenance of robust in situ monitoring networks. However, the question arises: how can we demonstrate the value and importance of in situ observations to governments and institutions to garner the necessary attention and operational supports?

Finally, the role of in situ observations in advancing climate and hydrological research is undeniable. It serves as vital input for validating satellite data, and also plays a vital role in enhancing data-intensive models. The wealth of near-real-time, ground-based observations enriches model accuracy and reliability, making it indispensable for advancing predictive capabilities of climate and hydrological research. To enhance global understanding and mitigate environmental challenges, we must collectively invest in expanding, funding and refining in situ observation networks. Only through such concerted efforts can we unravel the Earth’s secrets and work towards a more sustainable future.

1 WMO State of Global Water Resources Report 2022 

2 WMO advances global Early Warnings for All Initiative 

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