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CryoNet Implementation Meeting

First Session

20 – 22 NOVEMBER 2012

GCW-CN-1/INF. 23




Original: ENGLISH

Views of International Organizations/Data Centers

GCW-CryoNet: a Perspective from Ground and Remote Sensing Monitoring of Greenland

(Submitted by Michele Citterio, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS))

Summary and Purpose of Document
The document presents very valuable perspectives on ground and remote sensing monitoring of Greenland which are offered for consideration in the discussions on CryoNet. Topics include:

  • Current status of monitoring networks

  • Coordination among monitoring programmes

  • The indirect contribution by (and to) research projects

  • On the requirements and priorities for CryoNet sites in the context of GCW

  • Specific contributions by GCW and CryoNet

The latter topic includes many specific recommendations which participants are urged to consider in advance of discussions.


GCW-CryoNet: a perspective from ground and remote sensing monitoring of Greenland

Michele Citterio, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
member of PROMICE, the Danish Programme for the Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Programme manager of the GlacioBasis Monitoring Programme


Reliable information and forecasts of climate variability and trends are needed to inform the policy making process. A precondition for this is the availability of systematic and quality-controlled ground observations, combined with remote sensing products to bridge the gap between point field measurement and the continent scale, and with physically-based models to predict future scenarios. Within this framework, quality ground measurements provide ground truth in the process of developing, calibrating and validating both remote sensing products and physically-based models able to reproduce processes of the climate system.

Current status of monitoring networks

The size, remoteness, complexity and global relevance of Greenland ice masses in terms of potential sea level rise and planetary albedo set the perspective for what exists and what could be improved in terms of coordinated monitoring strategy. The current ground monitoring capability of the Greenland ice sheet, mountain glaciers and ice caps consists of sparse ground sites providing relatively short time series compared to some of the coastal weather stations not installed directly on the ice. Even so, the present situation in Greenland is significantly better than just five years ago. The margin of the ice sheet, where mass loss by surface ablation takes place, is now systematically monitored at about 20 sites, as well as a few mountain glaciers and ice caps. Most of these sites were established since 2007 by the Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy with the PROMICE Programme for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and are operated by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). They complement the US GC-Net, which was initiated in 1995 and includes ca. 17 sites still operational in the accumulation area, and the four Dutch stations along the K-transect in West Greenland operated by IMAU (Utrecht University). A site in NE Greenland is operated at Freya glacier by ZAMG in Vienna, and several other sites have been instrumented and then discontinued as parts of ended research projects. Even fewer sites include coordinated monitoring of glaciers, permafrost, seasonal snow cover, sea ice, weather and their relation with the terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the best example being the Zackenberg site operated by the Danish Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring (GEM).

All monitoring data from PROMICE (real-time and archived), GEM and the GC-Net are publicly available through the Internet (e.g.

Coordination among monitoring programmes

The Danish programmes are coordinated at the national level. The Danish Arctic Climate Assistance Programme supports PROMICE and the majority of GEM activities and is administered by the Danish Energy Agency (Ministry of Climate, Energy and Building). The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) has extensive field and technical expertise and operates PROMICE on the ice sheet and the other affiliated programmes like GlacioBasis maintaining automatic stations on glaciers. Several foreign and national entities are also using or evaluating components or entire stations provided by GEUS, and their real-time data can be automatically assimilated, validated and redistributed through the PROMICE database ( As PROMICE partners, GEUS coordinates airborne remote sensing with the Danish Space Center at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), and river discharge measurements from highly glacierized catchments with ASIAQ Greenland Survey. GEUS delivers real-time monitoring data to the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) for operational weather forecast and for further transmission to the WMO. The Zackenberg Ecological Research Operations (ZERO), and Nuuk Ecological Research Operations (NERO) are coordinated under GEM, with all subprogrammes monitoring individual components of the terrestrial and marine ecosystems being represented at the GEM Coordination Group meetings. Further coordination takes place through ongoing research projects and cooperation agreements with national and foreign partners, and at through the personal contact networks of the involved scientist and project managers. Beyond the national level, the individual monitoring programmes interface and coordinate directly with the relevant meteorological services, regional and global organizations, data repositories and other monitoring programmes, among which are the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), the Global Climate/Terrestrial Observing System GCOS/GTOS Global Terrestrial Network for Glaciers (GTN-G), the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), and the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space (GLIMS), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Network of Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic (INTERACT), International Tundra Experiment (ITEX), the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA), Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM), Arctic Coastal Dynamics (ACD), Hydrology Data and Information Services Center (HDISC), FluxNet, Circumpolar Biodiversity Mapping Program (CBMP).

The indirect contribution by (and to) research projects

Several large multi-year projects and initiatives supported by the European Commission, the European Space Agency, the Nordic Council of Ministers, national funding agencies and other sources have succeeded in bringing together the international community of scientists and institutions studying Greenland. By their own nature these initiatives have a specific research focus and a limited timeframe, without the long-term perspective required to directly support a monitoring effort with the ambition of providing time series of climatic significance. However, by depending on the existence of monitoring products to answer specific science questions, these research projects provide the best argument to facilitate continued funding and the sustainability of the ground monitoring programmes. Operational monitoring programmes often provide scientific, technical and logistic support to field experiments carried out by research projects, with mutual benefits and cost savings.

On the requirements and priorities for CryoNet sites in the context of GCW

CGW and CryoNet must be careful to define a structure flexible enough to reflect the diverse elements of the cryosphere being monitored, the operational conditions in each region and the length of existing time series. A tiered structure allows setting different requirements for supersites, reference sites and so on. Even so, there are unique cases such as Greenland and Antarctica which may require special consideration. For instance, currently available resources allow very remote sites on the ice sheet to be visited only once per year or less, meaning single sensor failures can occasionally introduce extended data gaps. In Greenland there is also a lack of longer uninterrupted time series of ground measurements of specific cryosphere relevance. However, there are several relatively recent sites with comprehensive monitoring programmes. On the other hand, the very size and relatively smooth topography of the ice sheet simplify downscaling and intercomparison with gridded products from models and remote sensing.

From a pure monitoring perspective, long, continuous time series of consistent observations may be all CryoNet could concern itself with. If climate normals and change trends were the only tasks of CryoNet, we would focus only on sites with long time series. But, CryoNet is the ground monitoring component of the ambitious and comprehensive GCW. Besides simply collecting cryosphere observations, CryoNet is also expected to enable process studies, calibration and validation of models and remote sensing products, and finally implementation of operational services and products. In this context, the selection of observed variables, their spatial gradients and the representativeness of point measurements for larger areas become very important. For instance, let’s consider what would be more useful for remote sensing product validation and future operational products between: 1) a century-long time series from a station on the summit of a mountain peak surrounded by glaciers, rock outcrops and steep complex topography; 2) a site established a few years ago as a transect of two automatic stations monitoring all components of the surface energy balance along an elevation gradient which is laterally representative of hundreds of kilometres of homogeneous ice sheet margin?

As a minimum, GCW CryoNet supersites and reference sites should monitor enough observables for the surface energy balance to be calculated, and the representativeness of measurements over wider surroundings should be given similar weight than having a long time series. Sites with significant lateral gradients in surface elevation and land cover type may consider adding measuring points to capture such gradients, ideally over an area comparable to relevant remote sensing products (1 km?)

Specific contributions by GCW and CryoNet

Given the situation outlined above, here is a list practical ways for GCW and CryoNet to contribute and improve on the current situation. I believe most of these suggestions are generally relevant also beyond the Greenland case.

  • GCW and CryoNet can further contribute to the sustainability of monitoring programmes by increasing the visibility, usability and relevance of ground and remote sensing observations and modelling results both for policy makers and for the general public:

    • Define a limited set of reliable, clear, representative, easily communicated and understood products capturing the state of the cryosphere, its variability and trends, both over time and space.

    • Define authoritative sources for these products.

  • GCW and CryoNet can help preserve and support the current ground monitoring capabilities:

    • Establish a tiered operational network of ground sites satisfying standard requirements in terms of minimum monitored parameters, measurement rates, recalibration protocols.

    • Support the availability of real-time and archived monitoring data in a uniform data format. To avoid duplication of efforts, no new data repository is really needed, just a good data format specification, a recommendation to use established facilities as for instance the NSIDC, and an up to date directory of data repositories.

  • GCW and CryoNet can assist in identifying and filling gaps in the current monitoring capabilities:
    • Define criteria for adequate in-situ coverage of a region. For high gradient environments like high relief mountain areas or the margin of the ice sheet, require transect made of at least two stations at different elevations rather than a single station.

    • Define criteria for adequate in-situ coverage of a site. Take into account the difficulties and scale issues involved in comparing ground point measurements with gridded datasets from RCM models and remote sensing observations. Again, transects or arrays of ground measurement points may be necessary for certain sites to be usable for remote sensing and modelling product validation.

  • CryoNet can define standard quality requirements and instructions for monitoring sites and automatic stations:

    • Specify requirements, best practices and guidelines for the measurement and quality assurance of field observations specific for cryosphere, including traceability and strict requirements for complete metadata.

    • Carefully assess the negative impact of any change or additional requirement on existing programmes, in terms of costs, data continuity, and homogeneity

  • GCW and CryoNet can increase the operational and research use of data from existing monitoring sites

    • Encourage adoption of low latency satellite telemetry for remote ground sites. When carefully planned, it can be done with modest costs and power requirements.

    • Affirm that no operational products should be released unless it includes relevant and publicly available ground observations, or as a minimum the deviations from measurements should be displayed with the product.

  • GCW and CryoNet can significantly increase the use of already available high quality ground observations for the assessment of modelling and remote sensing products:
    • sponsor or facilitate round robin exercises involving competing climate models or remote sensing products and assessing their performance against actual ground measurements

  • GCW and CryoNet can promote the development of operational analysis products from real-time as well as archived monitoring data

    • In a first stage, aim at products separated but mutually consistent from ground sites and remote sensing (e.g. albedo from satellite but calibrated with the ground observations)

    • In a second stage, aim at products integrating ground observations, remote sensing and climate models (e.g., surface mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet)

  • GCCW and CryoNet can assist the operators of future monitoring networks and research projects by removing the costs, delays and uncertainties connected with designing, producing and setting up ad hoc technical solutions for applications where good previous experience exist:

    • provide a set of recommended and well documented reference designs for modular and flexible automatic stations suitable for various environments, based as much as possible on components readily available commercially.

    • The reference designs should be modelled after proven success stories from existing monitoring programmes, and provide the option of obtaining ready to use systems if so desired

  • GCW and CryoNet can increase the public availability of otherwise closed (and after some time often lost) field observations

    • Encourage research funding bodies, especially public ones, to mandate the public availability of field data produced within research projects, with a time-limited embargo to allow for research and publication time. This could be acceptable if applying PI’s could expect the funding body to cover reasonable costs for data documentation, validation, formatting to the CryoNet-defined standard, and delivery to an open repository.

    • Create a specific ‘label’ (‘CryoNet Snapshot’ perhaps?) for deliberately short-term, but systematic, documented and quality controlled ground time series: compared to more ‘mundane’ environments, in many Arctic regions we can’t be too choosy. With all due cautions, a single full year of near surface weather observations from a glacier in a region otherwise devoid of data is significant. Quality requirements should not be relaxed though.

    • Promote the retrieval, documentation and digitization of unique legacy datasets: for Greenland alone, we have already discovered and digitized within PROMICE more than 1350 ablation stake measurements from Greenland, some of them more than a century old.

  • GCW and CryoNet may increase the availability of key proprietary datasets locked behind licensing walls, such as the SPOT imagery and SPIRIT DEM products which were temporarily made available for free during the IPY, or Radarsat-2 SAR data.

    • Lobby for access to be granted at affordable cost or on co-funding basis between the provider and the user, where the user is allowed to pay in-kind, e.g. by processing SAR data to ice surface velocity. Underused processing and analysis capacity may exist which is not fully exploited due to prohibitive data costs, especially for vast Arctic regions. It would be a win-win solution, as no income is lost for the provider and their data gain a wider visibility.

  • GCW and CryoNet can facilitate augmentation of existing permanent monitoring sites, and conversion of selected temporary research sites into permanent monitoring sites:

    • Define a set of recommended measurements of relevant cryosphere parameters, with clear rationales and priorities for their addition to existing sites
    • Encourage and facilitate early collaboration between research projects and monitoring projects which may be operating in the same country or region

  • GCW and CryoNet can promote wider participation of the affiliated sites to relevant international research projects, especially those concerned with to remote sensing and climate modelling. Open issues future research may be: downscaling and upscaling to and from the in situ measurements scale, improving the monitoring of solid precipitation and the snowpack, standardize the reporting of measurement error sources, improving and validating remote sensing albedo and surface temperature products.

    • By defining standards for CryoNet sites, ideally all sites in a given region of interest should be relevant and easy to include in research projects regardless of the data providers operating the stations.

    • Lobby for appropriate funding bodies to devote resources fo this

    • Provide early information on available funding calls

  • GCW and CryoNet may promote a framework for periodic assessments of state of the cryosphere, at the regional (e.g. Greenland) and hemisphere or global scale.

  • GCW and CryoNet may assist raise seminal funding for ‘exotic’ under-researched components of the cryosphere, such as e.g. perennial cave ice, which may hold unexplored potential.

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