Persuading nations to release data for an international climate database will take years and millions of dollars, meteorologists admitted this week at a meeting aiming to explore how to move such an enterprise forwards.
For nations to understand the effects that climate change will have on their locality, it is essential to gather local data into an internationally coordinated database, the meeting, organised by the UK's Meteorological Office, agreed.
But many countries could sell the same data elsewhere, for example to a commercial company, or may want to retain it in order to do their own research, said delegates at the 'Primary Workshop on Land-surface temperature: Data sets for the 21st Century' held in Exeter, United Kingdom (7–9 September).
Others simply do not have the data — or have it but cannot afford to digitise it.
The workshop was convened to initiate discussions on creating a freely available database of land surface temperatures following a decision made at the World Meteorological Organisation's Commission for Climatology meeting held in Turkey last February.
"Policymakers haven't fully understood how important this data is, and how it's being done with just a few scientists around the world — and has produced great results, such as discerning the reality of global warming," said Peter Stott, chair of the international committee for the meeting, from the UK Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre.
"We would like to look in much more detail at the effects [of climate change] that we will see," he added.
In particular, there is a lack of data available at a high temporal and spatial resolution — data collected more than once a day at a resolution of few kilometres at most.
"I think we have an obligation to the world," said Joseph Mukuria of the Kenya Meteorological Department. "We need to put forward more data for the global models so they can be able to pick up the necessary issues on the more specific, local levels."
"In Argentina we are inclined to give the data to the global dataset, because we understand that it is important for us to support analysis of this data," said Matilde Rusticucci, atmospheric and oceanic scientist from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Stott told SciDev.Net it was understandable that countries do not want to part with data that they have spent years collecting before they have done their own research and published papers on it.
"There is also the issue of priority," said Mukuria. Developing countries are preoccupied with economic issues and food security, he said, so they do not focus on data.
"It is high time that we taught them that the data they gather will help the economy as well."
Jayashnee Revadekar, from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said his institute was happy to share original data it had collected, but that some of its research is based on datasets acquired from other sources, and so cannot be shared.
A group created at the meeting will draw up a plan for the next year, said Stott.