Select Committee on Trade and Industry Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Met Office


This memorandum responds to the Trade and Industry Committee's letter of 20 March 2000 to the Chief Executive of The Met Office. The requested issues are addressed, in summary as follows:

    —  The Met Office uses space as an essential source of data on which to base its weather forecast and other services to customers. It participates in the development of policy which affects the continuing and developing supply of data: in EUMETSAT, in BNSC and (through BNSC) in ESA and the EC;

    —  The Met Office funds the UK contributions to the programmes and infrastructure of EUMETSAT (£13.8 million in FY 2000-01), except for the EUMETSAT Polar System programme, which is at present funded by MOD. The Met Office does not contribute directly to the programmes of ESA, although there is some indirect funding through EUMETSAT. It remains to be determined how EUMETSAT's future activities in support of climate monitoring and the detection of global climatic changes will be funded. The UK contributions to EUMETSAT programmes are capitalised, and are charged according to depreciation to a group of public sector customers who fund the core activities of The Met Office. The public sector provides the larger proportion of revenue of The Met Office;

    —  customers for EUMETSAT digital data are charged according to EUMETSAT Data Policy. We perceive the largest wholesaling market in the UK to be with Broadcasters either directly or through meteorological service providers;

    —  we are pleased to see initiatives arising from the private sector to propose earth observing systems and are prepared to examine proposals and evaluate data with a view to establishing clear costs and related benefits;

    —  the market for EUMETSAT data, beyond the national meteorological services, has matured quickly but is now static. The availability of a certain amount of free data has limited this market. However, the main motivation to contribute to EUMETSAT programmes remains our own use of the data in support of public sector customers.


  1.1  The Met Office is an Executive Agency owned by the Ministry of Defence and has operated as a Trading Fund since April 1996. Its purpose is to be an effective, modern and efficient national meteorological service (NMS) for the UK. It aims to provide its customers, now and in the future, with the range of services they require, in a timely and effective manner, and at a price they can afford. Our vision is: through unrivalled know-how, to enable individuals, society and enterprises everywhere to make the most of the weather and the natural environment.

  1.2  The public sector customers of The Met Office are principally in the areas of Defence and Civil Aviation, and it provides specific services to a number of civil departments. The fundamental infrastructure, including research, observations, IT and forecasting, is funded by a Core Customer Group consisting of Departments and public sector organisations. Although these arrangements are under review, as a result of financial pressure and the proposed privatisation of NATS, it is expected that they will continue for the foreseeable future with only minor modifications. There is also a data wholesaling operation to distribute basic Core data and products (including space data) to other service providers in the UK and abroad.

  1.3  Commercial customers world-wide are handled through seven Business Units focusing on Infrastructure, Utilities, Consultancy, Media, Marine, Retail and Systems.

  1.4  All services (see Annex) depend on the infrastructure described above, which is fully integrated and inseparable. It is impossible to forecast the behaviour of the atmosphere sufficiently accurately without: (a) observing it globally and regularly, (b) collecting those observations quickly through IT systems and networks, (c) assimilating them in to numerical models of the atmosphere and oceans (based on the laws of physics and dynamics), (d) running those models on advanced supercomputers to predict future states of the atmosphere. Research is required to constantly improve the performance of those models and to develop the processing of new types of data that become available.

  1.5  The observations may be divided into two classes: those made by instruments in situ and remotely sensed observations. Observations made remotely from space cost just over one-third of the total spend on observations for which the budget in FY 2000-01 is £35 million.


  2.1  This memorandum is provided in answer to the Trade and Industry Committee's letter of 20 March to the Chief Executive of The Met Office. The questions therein are addressed in an order which allows the various background elements to be introduced in a helpful sequence.


  3.1  Meteorology has been the driver for space missions since 1960, when the first downward looking camera flew in space on the TIROS-1 mission of NASA. Early missions such as this and its successors provided mainly cloud imagery, but by the early 1970s instruments were taking vertical soundings of the atmosphere from space (vertical profiles of temperature and humidity).

  3.2  The Met Office began to address this new source of data in 1974. The use of space is not an objective per se: space is used where it is considered essential or beneficial in providing services to customers. Thus we are involved in the application of space to meteorology and climatology. We have now reached the point where cloud imagery, received regularly, is indispensable for very short-period forecasting (up to 12 hours ahead) and vertical soundings from space complement a network of surface based soundings as a principle source of data for weather forecasting up to 10 days ahead.

  3.3  Satellite data are used hour-by-hour, day in day out, 365 days per year, in support of forecasting. Some data, including vertical soundings and winds derived from the motion of cloud systems, are used to maintain knowledge of the atmospheric state in forecasting models used for numerical weather prediction (NWP). Imagery is provided directly to forecasters so that they can monitor the development of weather systems—this is particularly essential in the case of rapidly developing or fast moving systems which can cause severe weather at short notice. The Commercial and Business Divisions of The Met Office use the forecasting outputs and in some cases the satellite data themselves to produce a range of value-added services for customers in different market sectors. Without satellite data, it would be impossible to maintain and improve our services to customers.

  3.4  Satellite data are used in climate studies: to generate climatologies of past years, to validate climate models and to monitor climate and indicators of global change.

  3.5  Satellite data are, however, only one of the sources of data on which The Met Office bases its services. In general the various space-based and in situ observing systems are regarded as complementary. For example, vertical soundings made by balloon-borne instruments have greater vertical detail than those made by space instruments, but the latter have much better global coverage. An element of overlap is necessary in order to inter-calibrate the various data sources.

  3.6  The Met Office has interest, to various degrees, in may space missions. These include operational missions aimed at weather forecasting and climate monitoring, but also experimental and demonstration missions that provide data for scientific research aimed at improving weather forecasting services. This is now explained in greater detail.

  3.7  The World Meteorological Organisation (a UN Agency) co-ordinates activities in meteorology, climatology and hydrology world wide through its Members (now numbering over 180 nations including UK). One of the main functions is to maintain and develop a Global Observing System (GOS), to which all Members contribute in situ observations and some contribute space data, and whose data are available operationally to all Members. The space component of the GOS consists of five geostationary satellites, approximately equally spaced around the equator, together with two polar-orbiting satellites. At present they are provided by national or international agencies in Europe, USA, Russia and Japan. The European agency is EUMETSAT (the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) to which 17 Governments belong, including HM Government. The Met Office funds the infrastructure and programmes of EUMETSAT, in one case on behalf of MOD, and represents the UK at the Council and subsidiary bodies of EUMETSAT. The Met Office has also provided a number of instruments to the USA polar satellite programme in exchange for access to the full data stream from those satellites.

  3.8  At present the programmes of EUMETSAT consist of the following. The Meteosat Transition Programme provides for the operational data services until the end of 2003 from the geostationary Meteosat series: currently Meteosat-7 (operational over the Greenwich meridian, 0°, Meteosat-6 (backup) and Meteosat-5 (a special assignment at 63°(E). The Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) Programme, executed in parallel with the MSG-1 development programme in ESA, provides for the continuity, out to 2013, of data from the 0° (position, with enhancements that can be exploited to improve detailed weather forecasting services up to 12 hours ahead. The EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS) Programme, part of which is executed jointly with the ESA METOP-1 development programme, will provide observations from METOP satellites in polar orbit from 2003 to 2017. METOP will form the European component of the Initial Joint Polar System (the complementary satellites being provided by the USA) as part of the GOS. These observations will have particular application in NWP for weather forecasts out to 10 days ahead.

  3.9  The Convention of EUMETSAT is being amended to include an additional objective to contribute to the operational monitoring of the climate and the detection of global climatic changes (this is at present subject to final ratification by the last two Member States). The operational meteorological observations already form a potentially valuable set for use in climate monitoring. In addition the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget instrument (GERB) will fly on the MSG series as an opportunity instrument in support of climate studies. GERB is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and partners in Belgium and Italy and is being built and supported by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

  3.10  The Met Office has been instrumental in a collaborative venture to develop software to exploit in NWP the data from a new suite of instruments on the American polar-orbiting satellites. The resulting software package is to be made freely available to all national meteorological services (NMSs) and other organisations that undertake NWP. This theme is to be continued in respect of other instruments in the Satellite Application Facility (SAF) for NWP, which is jointly funded by EUMETSAT and a consortium of European NMSs and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), led by The Met Office. The Met Office is collaborating with the Danish Meteorological Institute in a SAF to develop software to exploit a new sounding instrument, GRAS, which will fly on METOP satellites.

  3.11  The Met Office undertakes some research into new space instrumentation for observing the atmosphere, the ocean surface and the cryosphere and to develop software to make best use of the data, for example, in NWP and in ocean models and in verifying climate models. In recent years the instruments of interest have been a scatterometer (measuring winds at the ocean surface—for which we provided a Principal Investigator), a Radar Altimeter (measuring wave heights), the ATSR (sea surface temperatures) and the SAR (wave spectra) on the ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites of ESA. The scatterometer series will continue on METOP and the others on the ENVISAT satellite of ESA. For the future, The Met Office is following with scientific interest the progress of missions proposed or selected for the Earth Observation Envelope Programme (or "Living Planet" Programme) of ESA, in particular the Atmospheric Dynamics Mission (ADM) and the Earth Radiation Mission (ERM). The deliverables of the Gravity and Ocean Circulation Experiment mission (GOCE) are of potential use to The Met Office in ocean applications.


  4.1  The Met Office is a partner in the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and this is formally executed through its Chief Executive's membership of the BNSC Resources Board. The Met Office's Head Space Programme also attends the Earth Observation Programme Board and the weekly Directors' meetings of BNSC. We work directly with staff of BNSC on relevant issues, which consist mainly of: the programmes of EUMETSAT, the Earth Observation programmes of ESA, UK space policy and matters of common interest with other partners (see paragraphs 4.2-4.8). The Met Office's Press Officer is a member of the BNSC Communications Strategy group and co-ordinates with the Information section of BNSC as appropriate.

  4.2  The Met Office sits on the MOD's Defence Program Group (Space), which advises the Secretary of State for Defence on the Ministry's space activities.

  4.3  Since The Met Office represents the UK in EUMETSAT, it consults BNSC and UK industry (through UKISC) as well as its own experts before each regular meeting of the EUMETSAT Council in June and November. Papers are distributed as appropriate, subject to necessary confidences, and comments invited on the various matters to be discussed or decided. Briefing meetings are held, and BNSC is invited to join the UK delegation.

  4.4  Historically, The Met Office represented UK on ESA's Programme Board for Meteorology. Since this Board was merged into the Programme Board for Earth Observation, The Met Office has retained a place in the UK delegation alongside BNSC and participates in the briefing process.

  4.5  The Met Office's objectives and activities in the space field are undertaken in support of the current Corporation Plan of The Met Office as agreed by the Secretary of State for Defence. They form part of the national effort and The Met Office has been fully involved in the development of both the previous Government's Space Policy and the present Government's Space Strategy 1999-2002, with the aims of completeness, consistency and complementarity.

  4.6  The Met Office has at present no direct engagement with the European Commission in respect of space matters. However, as a partner in BNSC we are currently involved in developing the UK approach to the proposed European Strategy for Space. Through EUMETSAT, we engage with the ESA/EUMETSAT/EC paper on Earth Observation strategy.

  4.7  As noted at paragraph 3.9, EUMETSAT is adopting a wider role in respect of climate issues. It remains to be determined how activities under the new objective will be funded. The Met Office intends to explore the possible involvement of the European Commission in defining requirements for and funding future EUMETSAT Programmes in this area.

  4.8  Common interests with other partners include: development of space strategies, data policy, space frequency co-ordination and scientific research.

  4.9  The Met Office's prime policy objective in space, as an operational user and a funder of space programmes, is to achieve affordable supplies of observations from space, and this means aiming to bring down the cost of space programmes in relation to their value. This is pursued in a number of areas. Firstly, the detailed execution of the EUMETSAT programmes is monitored, and some control of costs is exercised through key decisions taken by the Council. However, many of these decisions are taken on a majority vote and we work with other delegations to achieve as far as possible our preferred outcome. Secondly, we believe in procurements being undertaken through fully open competition covering as wide a domain as possible, without artificial political constraints, and pursue this in developing the procurement policy of EUMETSAT. This is consistent with the general approach by BNSC to industrial matters in ESA. We also believe there is a greater role for the private sector in sharing programme risk. Thirdly, the global nature of satellite systems offers the opportunity to encourage a larger number of users and agencies worldwide to share the burden of cost. We pursue this aim mainly through EUMETSAT, which belongs to suitable fora such as the Co-ordination Group for Meteorological Satellites (CGMS) and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). BNSC provides a second channel to interact with CEOS.


  5.1  The exploitation of satellite data has enabled The Met Office to position itself strongly in the market for weather-related services. The research alluded to above (paragraph 3.11) has contributed to steady improvements to the accuracy of numerical forecasts made by The Met Office, which is monitored through Corporate Plan targets, and on which The Met Office depends for its market share. The continued funding of operational satellite programmes has ensured the continuity of services at the required quality level. Thus The Met Office's business activities and resulting market are not so much driven by Government policy as by the demands of our customers, in both public and private sectors.

  5.2  According to the agreed EUMETSAT data policy, The Met Office is the Licensing authority for the reception and use of EUMETSAT digital data in UK, with responsibility for developing the market for the data in the UK. This is implemented as part of a data wholesaling operation which covers other data and forecasting outputs. These data and products are made available on an equitable basis (see paragraph 7.2 below) to the Commercial and Business Divisions of The Met Office and to other meteorological service providers in the private sector. The NMSs of the other EUMETSAT Member States have the same licensing responsibility in their countries, and any business with private and governmental customers in non-Member States is carried out directly by EUMETSAT.

  5.3  We perceive the largest market for EUMETSAT data, beyond the NMSs, to be with Broadcasters, either directly or through meteorological service providers, but we expect the market to remain more or less at current levels. We have seen the market mature fairly quickly but as a result there is limited prospect for significant growth in the number of users.

  5.4  The discussion so far has related to the digital data available from EUMETSAT, which can be received directly by users under licence and further processed to add value. These data are mostly encrypted and a decryption key is provided to licensees. In addition, a free analogue transmission analogous to facsimile (called "WEFAX") is available from Meteosat, which provides satellite images processed to include labels and geographical backgrounds. These are not suitable for further processing, but WEFAX does provide updates as frequently as half-hourly on the progress and development of weather systems. The availability of WEFAX has in some cases discouraged some private sector users from paying for the digital data stream. Also, according to the provisions of a WMO Resolution, images at six-hourly intervals are classified as essential data and must be available unencrypted and free of charge to the entire user community. There are a number of Internet sites world-wide that make essential images available and some providers pay for a Broadcaster licence which entitles them to put more commercially useful data on their sites. This relatively wide availability has contributed to limit the commercial market.

  5.5  It has been decided that the WEFAX service will not be continued on Meteosat Second Generation satellites, but will be replaced by an Internet service providing a similar quality of data, ie taking no advantage of the second generation enhancements. It is hoped that this will encourage private sector commercial users to take a digital data service.

  5.6  As regards data from ESA satellites, The Met Office has free access under the provisions of ERS data policy to the data mentioned above (paragraph 3.11), for operational use and mostly in near real time. This kind of data is a useful supplement to the essential data we receive from EUMETSAT Programmes. However, the main thrust of the EO market arising from ESA and other satellites is in the area of high-resolution land imagery with resolutions of less than 100 metres. For the purposes of meteorology, little is to be gained from resolutions higher than about 1 kilometre. We are therefore somewhat on the edge of the main EO market. Nevertheless we are pleased to see initiatives from the private sector, such as GANDER, which if implemented would provide operational data relating to the state of the sea. We are prepared to examine such proposals and if appropriate to evaluate the data in terms of costs and benefits for our purposes.


  6.1  The funding of the missions of interest is approached in a number of ways: most of them collaborative.

  6.2  The UK share of EUMETSAT's programmes and infrastructure costs is funded by The Met Office (before trading fund status by an MOD vote) on a mandatory GNP/GNI[70] basis alongside the contributions of all the other 16 Member States of EUMETSAT. The rate of contribution of the UK on this basis, for calendar year 2000, is 13.51 per cent, making UK the third largest contributor behind Germany (25.25 per cent) and France (16.58 per cent). In FY 2000-01, the spend is budgeted at £13.8 million.

  6.3  The Met Office has collaborated with operational programmes of NOAA (USA) since 1978 through funding of two series of instruments for flight on NOAA spacecraft. A recent estimate shows that the latter series (the AMSU-B programme) cost a total of £22 million over the period 1988-99.

  6.4  The costs of supporting activities and infrastructure within The Met Office in order to make best use of the data and to support the AMSU-B instrument are estimated at a further £2 million per annum.

  6.5  The R&D programmes and missions of ESA have not been funded directly by The Met Office, in accordance with the "lead agency" arrangements agreed by government in 1991; however scientists of The Met Office have in some cases been active as Principal Investigators to particular ESA missions including ERS-1 and ERS-2 and have helped to realise the benefit of some ESA missions as a result. In the case of the METOP-1 Programme of ESA, MOD agreed to fund part of the UK contribution, and for administrative reasons The Met Office acts as a channel for this funding, as a service to MOD. The R&D for the MSG and METOP satellites is being carried out by ESA, through parallel programmes (METOP-1 and MSG-1 respectively) to which EUMETSAT has contributed out of its own programme envelopes and which are therefore indirectly part-funded by The Met Office.


  7.1  The size of the UK contribution to EUMETSAT varies from year to year as the various programme activities grow and subside (see paragraph 6.2). The Met Office mostly accounts such contributions as capital items (the exceptions are minor) and charges its customers on the basis of depreciation over the various programme periods.

  7.2  According to EUMETSAT Data Charging Policy, Service Providers, End Users and Broadcasters are charged for access to the digital data stream from Meteosat. The Commercial and Business Divisions of The Met Office are Service Providers in this sense and, under internal charging arrangements devised to put them on a level playing field with private sector providers, they are budgeted to pay a total of about £122,000 in FY 2000-01. The private sector is expected to pay an additional £48,000. 75 per cent of these receipts are returned to EUMETSAT.


  8.1  The Met Office is content with the present arrangements for the availability and future development of relevant data streams from space and with the institutional arrangements for participating in space policy.

  8.2  However, we will continue to seek efficiency improvements and other means of reducing the cost to us of the space data we use. We intend to look more closely at the role of the European Commission with respect to climate issues.

  8.3  The Committee is invited to consider the information provided above.

70   Until 1999, the mandatory scale of national contributions has been based proportionally on three-year Gross National Product (GNP) figures supplied by OECD. OECD is discontinuing the supply of GNP figures in favour of Gross National Income (GNI) and future scales will be based on this. Back

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