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GCOS - Global Climate Observing System

Climate change looms in the forefront of the international political agenda. The release of large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere provides a potential for climate modification unprecedented in human history. Documenting the present state of the climate, monitoring its condition, and developing an understanding of its evolution is essential.

Scientists need systematic and comprehensive global observations in order to detect climate change, predict its variability and provide reliable short-term forecasts. In 1992, four international organizations created the Global Climate Observation System (GCOS) to coordinate the acquisition of this critical information.


The Global Climate Observing System insures and coordinates the acquisition of data for:

  • climate system monitoring, climate change detection and response monitoring especially in terrestrial ecosystems;
  • application of climate information to national economic development;
  • research toward improved understanding, modelling, and prediction of the climate system.

GCOS prioritizes the observations needed for:

  • prediction of seasonal and interannual climate variability;
  • detection of climate change;
  • reduction of uncertainties in climate prediction.


GCOS approaches climate as an integrated system that includes the atmosphere, the oceans, the land surface, the cryosphere, and the biosphere. It proceeds according to the following strategy:

  • Evaluate the current observing systems and define the initial operational observing system to be realized early in the next century.
  • Identify and specify key observations that are urgently required and which should be added to the operational system as soon as possible.
  • Identify future research and development that will likely lead to additional operational requirements to the programme.

The Joint Scientific and Technical Committee formulated the concept and scope of the climate observing system. It identified requirements, defined objectives and recommended coordinated actions. This committee now reviews the Climate Observing System. A Joint Planning Office, established in Geneva at the World Meteorological Organization, supports the committee and its efforts.

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© FAO   ::   Global Terrestrial Observing System - GTOS   ::   15 January 2007