The World Meteorological Organization- (WMO) sponsored World Climate Conference-3 (WCC3) and the resulting Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) have expressed in clear terms the increasing need for robust climate information covering future periods ranging from several months up to several years for economic, industrial and political planning. Prediction on this near-term climate time scale has received less attention than weather forecasting and long-term climate change projection.
The GFCS has created a conceptual structure to close the gap in the provision of climate information and services between the information producers and its users, the latter ranging from policy-makers to the industry. The WMO-designated Global Producing Centres (GPCs) for long-range predictions are a key piece in this structure, where the GPCs feed the Regional Climate Centres (RCCs) and the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) with the best climate information possible. Climate predictions produced by all designated GPCs are collected operationally by WMO’s Lead Centre for Long-Range Forecasts (LC-LRFMME). This structure brings together prediction generators and local to regional focal points like the Regional Climate Outlook Fora (RCOF), NMHSs and private partners via, for instance, the LC-LRFMME to facilitate the development of consensus-based seasonal predictions with socio-economic potential. This structure will be expanded to also deal with decadal predictions, although work is still needed in that direction.
Seasonal-to-decadal (s2d, with decadal covering up to 10 years into the future) predictions have currently limited forecast quality, especially over Europe (e.g. Smith et al., 2010; Weisheimer et al., 2011a). Progress in seasonal forecasting seems to be very slow, while new tools and model components have been made available by the climate change and weather forecasting research communities to address the role of sea ice, land surface, stratosphere and ocean that might allow taking advantage of untapped climate predictability. Operational regionalisation and sophisticated climate prediction calibration need to be developed for Europe. The lack of presence of the s2d time scale in many research projects and incipient climate services that tend to focus on the long-term anthropogenic climate change problem makes the situation of climate prediction even worse in a European context.
SPECS is initially motivated by the need to develop 1) a new generation of European climate forecast systems that makes use of the latest scientific progress in climate modelling and in operational forecasting, 2) efficient local and regional forecast methods that produce skilful and reliable predictions over land areas for both the local and large scales, 3) clear examples of how actionable this climate information is for a range of stakeholders and 4) a strategy to disseminate and illustrate the usefulness of improved, high-quality climate prediction information and to integrate it with other climate services initiatives focusing mainly on the long-term climate change problem. SPECS aims to identify the main challenges in s2d prediction and illustrate a range of solutions from a seamless perspective, both in terms of time scale (Palmer et al., 2008) and between information producers and users (Challinor et al., 2009). Activities to explore scientific questions covering specific knowledge gaps, with a particular focus on the low climate skill for the European region (Jia and DelSole, 2011), have been planned. We propose a number of specific, innovative global forecast system experiments to test hypotheses for the improvement of s2d predictions. These experiments will deliver not only a better understanding of the role of the natural modes of variability, the initial state and the description of the crucial processes for climate prediction (e.g. ocean, cryosphere, land surface and atmospheric modelling and their coupling) but will also test radical changes to forecast systems in terms of variable radiative forcing (natural and anthropogenic) and an increase in spatial resolution in global forecast systems. The improved systems will grow from existing state-of-the-art climate prediction models, data assimilation systems, objective combination and downscaling methods which have been developed in a disparate set of projects, informal cooperative initiatives and operational prediction activities that have emerged in the context of different time and spatial scales. SPECS will also integrate multidimensional observational data sets of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere-land surface system into the production of climate information, both for the preparation of better initial conditions and for the post-processing of the predictions.
The predictions will be regionalised and improved through statistical combination from different sources. The increased understanding and better predictions will offer better estimates of the future risk of occurrence of high-impact extreme climatic events to which society is vulnerable, a series of both recent and historical ones having been selected for detailed study. The project includes illustrating to what degree the proposed developments in current climate forecast systems will contribute to improving the reliability, accuracy and value of regional and local operational climate forecasts and to disseminate actionable climate information for the benefit of European policymakers, stakeholders and the public. New services to convey local and regional climate information based on predictions and its quality will be used in a framework that will bring together all the actors involved in operational climate prediction (GPCs, RCCs, NMHSs, RCOFs, GFCS) and the members of a long list of stakeholders that have already expressed their interest in interacting with SPECS. On decadal time scales, these forecasts will inform developing climate adaptation strategies.
Three main cross-cutting themes will form the backbone of all the project activities and are at the origin of a protocol that will be taken into account at all stages of the project: a) the assessment of the quality of the information, b) the range of uncertainties associated with the different processes that affect regional and local climate predictions taking into account the way they affect changes in the variables of interest for the stakeholders in what is known as the “cascade of uncertainties” and c) the analysis of high-impact case studies.
SPECS will be, among other things, the glue to coalesce the outcome of many different research efforts that hardly took the climate prediction problem into account, climate services operators (both public and private) with few resources to individually make real developments of the products currently available and a unique set of stakeholders and international institutions willing to exploit the ambitious outcome that SPECS will lead to. This project goes well beyond what has been achieved in previous s2d-oriented FP projects because of its public service spirit, its ambition to improve current forecast systems and its commitment to offer a unique platform for the development of European public and private climate services based on s2d predictions. SPECS will respond to the pressing need to provide a coordinated European response to the GFCS, government planning and European business demands for improved reliable s2d climate information production and dissemination making use of the elements of the WMO structure, while addressing the challenging scientific issues that prevent progress in climate prediction. In particular, it will provide invaluable input to the GFCS “User Interface Platform” and substantially contribute to both the “Research, Modelling and Prediction” component and the “Climate Services Information System”.