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Interview with Mr. Lars Prahm, EUMETSAT Director General

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC has the opportunity to feature an interview with Mr. Lars Prahm, EUMETSAT Director General. First of all, thank you very much for taking some time from your busy agenda and giving us the occasion to talk about some aspects relevant for the European Earth Observation sector and meteorology.

The EUMETSAT Convention entered into force in 1986, with EUMETSAT inheriting the Meteosat programme from ESA. In 2006, the EUMETSAT Council approved a new long-term strategy which foresees EUMETSAT´s gradual mutation from a meteorological agency into Europe’s environmental satellite services operator. EUMETSAT is driven by user needs. Could you comment on the EUMETSAT strategy?
As you rightly indicated, EUMETSAT celebrated in 2006 its 20th anniversary. At this occasion, the EUMETSAT Council approved a new long-term strategy: “The EUMETSAT 2030 strategy”. The vision presented in the strategy is for EUMETSAT to be the leading operational satellite agency for European Earth observation programmes that are consistent with EUMETSAT Convention, which focused on operational meteorology, climate change detection, oceanography and atmosphere monitoring.
The priority in the strategy is for EUMETSAT to remain a first class organisation providing services to its Member States with regard to the core mandate of the organisation which is “to establish, maintain and exploit European systems of operational meteorological satellites”. The strength of the organisation relies on its very close relationship with its user community, which is well mature and well structured. , This should remain in the future.
For EUMETSAT, this practically means that in addition to the continuous operation of our current Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) and Metop satellites, we shall ensure the continuity of the delivery of our data, with the development of a Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) programme at the horizon 2015, and the development of a post-EPS programme in the 2018 timeframe.
However, in the 2030 strategy, Member States noted that EUMETSAT’s role expanded through the adoption of its amended Convention and therefore that the organisation should also “contribute to the operational monitoring of the climate and the environment as well as the detection of global climatic changes“. With this new dimension, EUMETSAT is now contributing to operational oceanography missions, with the launch in 2008 of the Jason-2 satellite. EUMETSAT is also positionned to play a key role as operational agency of the European GMES initiative.
In doing so, EUMETSAT will continue to privilege its cooperation in Europe with the European Space Agency but would also rely on its privilieged partnership with the United-States.
What role do EUMETSAT play as a part of the global community?
EUMETSAT is a global actor. The EUMETSAT programmes are developed in accordance with the recommendations of the World Meteorological Organisation, which is the only institution quoted by name in the EUMETSAT Convention. With its programmes, EUMETSAT contributes significantly to the space-based component of the WMO Global Observing System (GOS).
To do so, EUMETSAT has developed privileged partnerships with the United States. The launch of the Metop A satellite in October 2006 was a significant step in the implementation of the Initial Joint Polar System (IJPS) that is currently developed between EUMETSAT and NOAA. This IJPS Agreement foresees that EUMETSAT will fly instruments delivered by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). EUMETSAT has also delivered instruments that are flown in the NOAA POES satellites. This collaboration relies on a share of orbits between NOAA and EUMETSAT, in which Europe, through EUMETSAT, is having the responsibility to cover the mid-morning orbit, while NOAA is covering the early morning and early afternoon orbits. The IJPS is a real example of a truly successful European – U.S. cooperation. Both agencies are planning to jointly develop a Joint Polar System, for which preliminary Agreements are planned to be signed as early as 2011.
Another example of the EUMETSAT – U.S. cooperation is the Jason-2 programme, in which EUMETSAT is playing a significant role, together with NOAA, the French National Space Agency (CNES) and NASA.
In addition to the United States, EUMETSAT has cooperation Agreements with Russia, China, India and Korea. It is planned that similar Agreements will be concluded with Japan and Canada in 2007.
Finally, EUMETSAT, together with its international partners is playing a significant role in international initiatives such as GEO and CEOS. Two examples can be given, with the development of the GEONETCast concept in support to GEO (an joint NOAAEUMETSAT initiative, now supported by China) and with the leadership that EUMETSAT has taken in establishing the CEOS Constellation for operational oceanography missions.
Another important set of activities undertaken by EUMETSAT in the international arena is related to Africa. With the support of the European Commission, EUMETSAT as been heavily involved in the development and implementation of the PUMA and AMESD projects, aiming at facilitating the access and use to Earth Observation data in support to the development policies in Africa. A follow-on of these projects, in the form of an extension of GMES to Africa is also strongly supported by EUMETSAT.
The institutional users are the national meteorological offices, which fund the procurement of new fleets of satellites which are tuned to respond to their specific needs through the EUMETSAT operating agency. Can you briefly outline the planning and budgeting process in EUMETSAT?
As an operational agency, EUMETSAT is in charge of collecting user requirements for the future generation of European weather satellites. Following a very long and detailed user requirements definition process and associated studies, EUMETSAT is presenting a programme proposal to its Member States. Being operational, these programmes are always designed to cover 15 to 20 years of operations with 3 to 4 satellites. As the first satellite of a new generation involves the development of new technologies, in addition to the EUMETSAT funding, a programme is also presented to ESA Member States. Once approved in the ESA and EUMETSAT contexts, the funding of the programme is secured for at least 15 to 20 years. Programmes are then implemented on a yearly basis and contributions from Member States are called upon accordingly.
Negotiations with the European Union could lead to EUMETSAT’s selection as the operator for three of the satellite missions planned as part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program. A GMES role would propel EUMETSAT into areas that, up to now, have been beyond its primary focus area. GMES’ mandate covers climate change in general, and includes land-surface imaging, ocean imaging and air-quality alerts. How is EUMETSAT’s developing to seek partners to share the burden of the role that EUMETSAT will take? Industry as partner?
Here it is important to underline that the interaction that EUMETSAT has with industry is highly influenced by the excellent working relationship developed between EUMETSAT and ESA. As explained earlier, for the space component of its systems, EUMETSAT is not interacting directly with industry, but is doing it through ESA acting as development agency of EUMETSAT.
This is reflected in the funding of the space component of the EUMETSAT systems, where ESA is funding most of the costs of the development of the first satellite of a new series, while EUMETSAT is funding the procurement of the recurrent satellites. This activity is however performed through ESA. This model has proven to be very successful as Europe has developed highly reliable satellites, providing high quality information in budgets which have always been in line with what was originally planned. For our future generation of satellites, starting with MTG in 2008 – 2009 timeframe, we will use the same model of cooperation.
EUMETSAT is interacting directly with industry for all activities not related to the space segment, i.e. the procurement of the satellite ground segment systems, the operations of the satellites and the procurement of launchers. In this case, EUMETSAT is applying open competition rules, based on the principle of procurement on the best value for money.
In recent years, remote sensing has become an important element of European space policy. It rightly deserves its special position, because it generates significant benefit for ensuring that the earth remains liveable. Today, the weather, climate change and environmental issues are major factors determining the framework for international and national policy action. What’ the position of EUMETSAT in the newly developed European Space Policy ?
EUMETSAT has been associated to the development of the European Space Policy as it is sitting as an observer in the EC – ESA High Level Space Policy Group in charge of writing this policy.
The organisation considers that Europe has made a significant step forward in being able to agree on a text which will frame the European activities in space in the years to come. It is important to note that in Annex to the European Space Policy, a number of key actions are listed which already pave the way for the implementation of the policy.
EUMETSAT is quite please with the position that it has reached in the European Space Policy. Its role of operational agency is well recognised. The strategic part of the document emphasizes on the need to develop and exploit space application in support of Europe’s public policy needs, i.e. in the field environment and global climate changes. These are clear areas in which EUMETSAT should play a role according to the mandate given by its Convention.
In the Earth Observation section, access to information to monitor “adverse weather conditions and climate changes” is considered of strategic importance for Europe. The need for Europe to enhance its meteorological [space] infrastructures and services is clearly spelled out. Finally, the operational character of the services to be delivered is enhanced, as well as their direct link with well-identified user needs. In order to do so, the Space Policy recognizes the need “to establish appropriate funding arrangements, operational infrastructures and management arrangements”. It also references to the need to “make maximum use of existing and planned assets in Europe, including those of EUMETSAT”.
The references made to EUMETSAT activities in the core text of the Space Policy are reflected in the annexed key actions, where a specific reference is made to the need for ESA to propose activities on Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) in 2008.
EUMETSAT has a wealth of expertise in deploying and operating satellite systems and will be able to make a major contribution to GMES. It would be a strategic mistake not to use these skills in further earth observation applications in Europe. How could an effective dialogue be established between meteorology sector and the EO industry?
EUMETSAT is of the opinion that, for what regards meteorological applications and applications falling into the scope of the EUMETSAT activities, a good and fruitful dialogue already exists with EO industry. However, for activities which do not fall into the remit of the organisation, EUMETSAT has no intention to interfere with existing mechanisms. However, should it be required, the experience which has lead to the development of the EUMETSAT systems might be shared, i.e. in the framework of the excellent relationships that EUMETSAT has developed with the Bureau in charge of the implementation of GMES in the European Commission.
Which could be the role of the EO value added industry collaborating with meteorology services? How do you see the interaction with EO VA companies?
It is very difficult for EUMETSAT to respond to this question. The objective of the organisation is to provide information to its ser community which is mainly formed by the National Meteorological Services of its Member States and cooperative States as well as by its international partners. It is then these institutions in Member States which are using the data from EUMETSAT and delivering added value, including the interaction with the market and the potential EO value-added companies. As you can understand from the above, EUMETSAT has no direct contacts with these companies.
One year ago, the European Commission and EUMETSAT signed letters outlining future co-operation on GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). Is that a signal for a strong working relationship on Europe’s premier Earth Observation (EO) initiative? Which are the next steps?
It was in fact a very strong signal. Since the signature of these letters, the contacts with the European Commission have increased, enabling to better explain what was the specific role of EUMETSAT in the European space activities.
This resulted in a very fruitful exchange with EC, particular since the creation of the GMES Bureau in June 2006. Many joint activities supporting GMES have been developed and EUMETSAT Member States have recently agreed to second a EUMETSAT staff in the GMES Bureau.
It is anticipated that in the future, when the governance of GMES will be agreed upon, EUMETSAT and the European Commission will formalise further their relationships with the signature of dedicated programmatic agreements reflecting the role that EUMETSAT will play in GMES.
In addition to the technical cooperation, significant progress have been reached in the political recognition of the EUMETSAT role in the European Space activities and EUMETSAT might soon be invited to play a role, i.e. in the context of the coming meetings of the Space Councils.
In relation with the fast track services (i.e, advance fast-track marine services), will be EUMETSAT a “kind of test” as operational agency for future GMES initiatives offering technical support and guidance on how to establish new services?
The idea of seconding a EUMETSAT staff in the GMES Bureau was precisely a way to support GMES and to transfer a EUMETSAT “savoir-faire” in the European Commission framework.
The new European satellites will be operated in partnership with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) polar weather satellite system, providing data that will be used to monitor our planet’s climate and improve weather forecasting, how was established the cooperation agreement?
The cooperation with NOAA went back to the early 90’s when EUMETSAT positioned one of its geostationary satellite over the Atlantic upon request of our U.S. partner. The cooperation has developed over the years. NOAA and EUMETSAT have for example reached a backup Agreement, meaning that each agency is committed to support its partner in case of failure of one of its satellite, obviously on a best effort basis. The cooperation with NOAA on geostationary satellites also includes exchange of data, scientific expertise and training. Dedicated infrastructures have been developed between Europe and the U.S. to ensure the operational exchange of data.
Based on this successful cooperation, NOAA and EUMETSAT signed in 1998 the Initial Joint Polar System Agreement, which was later complemented by a Joint Transition Activity Agreement. The latest plans for the development of a NOAAEUMETSAT Joint Polar System by 2011 as a continuation of the current IJPS cooperation.
The role of EUMETSAT in this cooperation is important as EUMETSAT is covering the mid-morning orbit, which will not be covered by the U.S. in the future, as a result of the Nunn – Mc Murdy decision related to the future U.S. NPOESS programme.
EUMETSAT is therefore considered as a key partner by our U.S. counterpart. This was again stressed in the recent meeting of the EU – U.S. dialogue on civil use of space, which took place in Washington late April 2007. EUMETSATNOAA cooperation was seen as a successful illustration how what Europeans and Americans can best do together.
Can you debrief on the EUMETCast Improvements?
EUMETCast has become the operational EUMETSAT data dissemination system. Thanks to its high flexibility, reliability and simplicity, EUMETCast users are growing every months. Based on off the shelves DVB receiving equipments, EUMETCast receiving stations can be acquired for very limited budgets and several thousands of users are benefiting from easy access to EUMETSAT data and products through EUMETCAst.
EUMETCast has also be the basis for developing, in cooperation with the U.S. and China, the GEONETCast system, which will support the exchange of data and products in support to the GEOSS initiative.
The content of EUMETCast is also becoming more and more diverse, In addition to traditional meteorological products and services, EUMETCast is also used to disseminate environment EO data, such as the Spot Vegetation images. EUMETCast currently covers Europe, Africa, South America and the middle East.
The progress achieved in remote sensing has also opened our eyes to numerous other applications, the main one being the monitoring of the earth‘s condition. How crucial is the role of weather prediction in our economy, especially agricultural planning and disaster management?
The World Meteorological Organisation estimated that 80% of the natural disasters are weather related. In summer 2004 annual monsoons left 5 million homeless and more than 1,800 dead in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Four major hurricanes struck the US between 13 August and 26 September 2004 killing more than 150 people and causing more than $40bn of damage. This is also true in Europe. In 1999 storms in France cost €6.7 Billion and floods across Europe in 2002 generated degradation estimated worth of €20 billions. A last example is the heat wave in Europe in 2003during which 30,000 people died and losses were €13 billion.
So it is clear that it is absolutely essential to continue to improve the forecasting of extreme weather phenomena. At this regard, satellite observations are becoming more and more important to increase the accuracy of the prediction resulting from the Numerical Models. The future generation of instruments embarked of future EUMETSAT satellite systems will for sure accompany the improvement of the weather forecast and warning systems.
In terms of economic impact, not only weather forecasts are important. The detection and monitoring of climate changes are essential for the future of our planet. A simple reference to the Stern report published in the U.K. in November 2006 shows that the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever.
It is only by securing that we will dispose of long series of observations, including from space, that we will be in a position to detect any change and to assess the impact of the measures that will be taken to combat climate changes. EUMETSAT will be one of the partners in the world contributing to this endeavour with its satellite observations.