Joint Research Centre launches a revolutionary tool for monitoring ongoing floods worldwide as part of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) unveiled the beta version of the Global Flood Monitoring (GFM) tool, unique for its capacity to process all data received by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites.

Making use of the synthetic aperture radar of Sentinel-1 that enables image acquisitions regardless of weather or daylight conditions, this tool will improve both the emergency response and the prevention for future floods worldwide.

It produces flood monitoring maps within less than 8 hours after the satellite has acquired the image at a spatial resolution of 20m at global level.

For Europe, the tool can provide updated flood monitoring maps every 1-3 days whereas for areas outside Europe updating of the flood maps may take between 6-12 days depending on the Sentinel-1 schedule.

The tool is currently accessible through the map viewer of the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS) of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS) and will be, at a later stage, also available through the map viewer of the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS).

The monitoring of the ongoing floods using satellite data from GFM, complements the flood forecasts of EFAS and GloFAS that are calculated using weather predictions and a hydrological model.

The combination of both tools within one interface enables its users to better support the preparedness of an upcoming flood (forecasts) as well as the response to an ongoing flood event (monitoring). This constant, global, high-resolution monitoring represents a significant progress in the EU’s disaster awareness and prevention.

The results produced by GFM can be used for planning and coordinating emergency response to an ongoing flood or for supporting the international help in affected areas. In addition, the archive of the GFM, which contains flood monitoring maps derived from the processing of all Sentinel-1 data starting 1.

January 2015, enables decision makers to improve prevention plans to avoid or to reduce the impact of future floods and scientists to use the dataset of GFM to validate or calibrate models for improving predictions of impacts of floods under climate change.

The GFM is the result of years of scientific development of the JRC and partners (Earth Observation Data Center, Technical University of Vienna, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft und Raumfahrt, Geoville, CIMA Research Foundation). This latest addition to the CEMS portfolio of products is launched during the CEMS Days, an event bringing together users of the CEMS tools to discuss the service and its evolution.

During the CEMS days, the JRC also presented the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL), which produces global spatial information about the human presence on the planet over time. GHSL has now been added to the CEMS suite of tools, as a new ‘exposure mapping’ component. Detailed information on exposure is fundamental to adequately managing crisis and disaster risk.

The GHSL provides highly accurate information derived from satellite and census data. It can help in answering questions like: how many people are living in the flooded areas? Or: how many settlements and people will be affected by a cyclone?

This information will be used in the on-demand mapping and early warning and monitoring components of CEMS. The information is also useful for a wide range of domains, from monitoring urbanisation to the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Weather and climate extremes in Asia killed thousands, displaced millions and cost billions in 2020

Extreme weather and climate change impacts across Asia in 2020 caused the loss of life of thousands of people, displaced millions of others and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, while wreaking a heavy toll on infrastructure and ecosystems. Sustainable development is threatened, with food and water insecurity, health risks and environmental degradation on the rise, according to a new multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The State of the Climate in Asia 2020 provides an overview of land and ocean temperatures, precipitation, glacier retreat, shrinking sea ice, sea level rise and severe weather. It examines socio-economic impacts in a year when the region was also struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn complicated disaster management.

The report shows how every part of Asia was affected, from Himalayan peaks to low-lying coastal areas, from densely populated cities to deserts and from the Arctic to the Arabian seas.

“Weather and climate hazards, especially floods, storms, and droughts, had significant impacts in many countries of the region, affecting agriculture and food security, contributing to increased displacement and vulnerability of migrants, refugees, and displaced people, worsening health risks, and exacerbating environmental issues and losses of natural ecosystems,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

“Combined, these impacts take a significant toll on long term sustainable development, and progress toward the UN 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in particular,” he said.

The report combines input from a wide range of partners including the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and other UN agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services as well as leading scientists and climate centres.

WMO State of Climate in 2021: Extreme events and major impacts

The past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report, based on data for the first nine months of 2021. A temporary cooling “La Niña” event early in the year means that 2021 is expected to be “only” the fifth to seventh warmest year on record. But this does not negate or reverse the long-term trend of rising temperatures.The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. It was released at a press conference on the opening day of COP26.

Global sea level rise accelerated since 2013 to a new high n 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification.

The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

The provisional State of the Climate 2021 report was released at the start of the UN Climate Change negotiations, COP26, in Glasgow. It provides a snapshot of climate indicators such as greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, extreme weather, sea level, ocean warming and ocean acidification, glacier retreat and ice melt, as well as socio-economic impacts.

It is one of the flagship scientific reports which will inform negotiations and which will be showcased at the Science pavilion hosted by WMO, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UK Met Office. During COP26, WMO will launch the Water and Climate Coalition to coordinate water and climate action, and the Systematic Observations Financing Facility to improve weather and climate observations and forecasts which are vital to climate change adaptation.

Floods in Europe underline need for increased investment in Disaster Risk Management

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, today extended her condolences to all those affected by the current severe floods across Europe and urged greater investment in disaster risk reduction against a natural hazard which, until the arrival of COVID-19, has typically affected more people annually than any other disaster type.
“I send my heartfelt condolences to the people and governments of Germany and Belgium where lives have been lost and my sympathy is also with the people of the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland on the disruption caused by these record rains. Lives, homes, and livelihoods have been lost in a flood event of such magnitude that people had difficulty in comprehending what action they could take to protect themselves from it.
“Europe has seen major flooding before but rarely on this scale and with such harrowing loss of life. This underlines the importance of getting to grips with measures to adapt cities, towns and rural areas to the shocks that arise to our weather systems in a warming world. We need to make our urban areas more resilient to floods and storms to mitigate the impacts of large volumes of water and the landslides that usually accompany such phenomena.
“I am particularly concerned about media reports that in at least one incident nine persons living with disabilities lost their lives. National and local strategies for disaster risk reduction must take full account of the needs of such persons as well as others who may have mobility issues including older persons, children, and pregnant women. It is essential that disability organizations are involved in the disaster management planning process.
“While linking one disaster event with climate change is complicated, it is undoubtedly the case that over the last twenty years of record-breaking temperatures there has been a concomitant rise in the number of extreme weather events across the globe. The challenge before us is not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to invest in adaptation to save lives, reduce economic losses and protect critical infrastructure.
“Europe will meet later this year in Portugal to discuss progress on implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global plan to reduce disaster losses. That discussion will be an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the tragic events now unfolding across Europe due to record heavy rains and to see how we can better adapt to climate change, improve multi-hazard early warning systems and strengthen public understanding of disaster risk.”

Water-related hazards dominate disasters in the past 50 years

Water-related hazards dominate the list of disasters in terms of both the human and economic toll over the past 50 years, according to a comprehensive analysis by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Of the top 10 disasters, the hazards that led to the largest human losses during the period have been droughts (650 000 deaths), storms (577 232 deaths), floods (58 700 deaths) and extreme temperature (55 736 deaths), according to the forthcoming WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019).
With regard to economic losses, the top 10 events include storms (US$ 521 billion) and floods (US$ 115 billion), according to an excerpt from the Atlas, which will be published in September.
Floods and storms inflicted the largest economic losses in the past 50 years in Europe, at a cost of US$ 377.5 billion. The 2002 flood in Germany caused US$ 16.48 billion in losses and was the costliest event in Europe between 1970 and 2019. However, heatwaves had the highest human toll.
The data show that over the 50-year period, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of all disasters (including technological hazards), 45% of all reported deaths and 74% of all reported economic losses at global level.
Climate Change
“Weather, climate and water-related hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The human and economic toll was highlighted with tragic effect by the torrential rainfall and devastating flooding and loss of life in central Europe and China in the past week, said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“Recent record-breaking heatwaves in North America are clearly linked to global warming,” said Prof. Taalas, citing a rapid attribution analysis that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
“But, increasingly, heavy rainfall episodes also bear the footprint of climate change. As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture which means it will rain more during storms, increasing the risk of floods,” said Prof. Taalas.
“No country – developed or developing – is immune. Climate change is here and now. It is imperative to invest more in climate change adaptation, and one way of doing this is to strengthen multi-hazard early warning systems.”
Water is the primary vehicle through which we feel the impacts of climate change. To effectively address both water and climate challenges, we must bring climate change and water to the same table – into the same conversation: Tackling them as one. This is why WMO is spearheading a new Water and Climate Coalition, a community of multi-sectoral actors, guided by high-level leadership and focused on integrated water and climate action, said Prof. Taalas.
Extreme rainfall events
The German national meteorological service, DWD, said up to two months worth of rainfall fell in 2 days (14 and 15 July) on soils that were already near saturation in the most affected regions of Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Switzerland and Austria were also hit by severe flooding.
According to DWD, about 100 to 150 mm of precipitation occurred in 24 hours between 14 and 15 July. The DWD weather station of Wipperfuerth-Gardeweg (North Rhine-Westphalia) recorded 162 mm followed by Cologne-Stammheim (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 160 mm, Kall-Sistig (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 152 mm and Wuppertal-Buchenhofen (North Rhine-Westphalia) with 151 mm. DWD issued timely and accurate early warnings.
Some parts of the central Chinese province of Henan received more accumulated rainfall between 17-21 July than the annual average. The national meteorological observation station in Zhengzhou reached 720 mm – compared to its annual average of 641 mm.
Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, received the equivalent of half its annual rainfall in the space of six hours. The 6-hour rainfall was 382mm and from 16:00-17:00 on 20 July, the 1-hour rainfall in Zhengzhou exceeded 200mm.
More than 600 stations recorded precipitation over 250mm. The maximum precipitation was 728mm. The Henan Meteorological Service initiated the highest level emergency response to deal with the flooding.
An increasing number of studies are finding human influence on extreme rainfall events. One example is the extreme rainfall in eastern China in June and July 2016, where found that human influence significantly increased the probability of the event, with the signal less clear in a third peer review study published in the annual supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
European trends
Despite the ongoing tragedy, the death toll from extreme weather is generally falling because of improved early warnings and better disaster management. A high death toll from heatwaves in Europe in 2003 and 2010 ushered in new heat-health action plans and early warnings which have been credited with saving many lives in the most recent decade.
In Europe in total, 1 672 recorded disasters cumulated 159 438 deaths and US$ 476.5 billion in economic damages from 1970–2019. Although floods (38%) and storms (32%) were the most prevalent cause in the recorded disasters, extreme temperatures accounted for the highest number of deaths (93%), with 148 109 lives lost over the 50 years.
The two extreme heatwaves of 2003 and 2010 accounted for the highest number of deaths (80%), with 127 946 lives lost in the two events. These two events skew the statistics on the number of deaths in Europe. The 2003 heatwave was responsible for half of the deaths in Europe (45%) with a total of 72 210 deaths within the 15 affected countries, according to one of the chapters in the forthcoming Atlas.
Within Europe, the distribution of disasters by related hazard shows that riverine floods (22%), general storms (14%) and general floods (10%) were most prevalent hazards in Europe.
The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019) (hereafter called Atlas), which will be published ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September. The Atlas is based on the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters’ (CRED) Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT).
It is one of a series of WMO initiatives to provide decision-makers with scientifically-based information about the weather and climate extreme and the state of the global climate.

EU mobilises planes to tackle forest fires

Turkey, ravaged by unprecedented forest fires, activated the EU Civil Protection Mechansim. In an immediate response, the European Commission has already helped mobilise 1 Canadair plane from Croatia and 2 Canadairs from Spain. These firefighting aeroplanes are part of rescEU, the European reserve of civil protection assets.
Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič said: "The EU stands in full solidarity with Turkey at this very difficult time. I thank all the countries which have offered help. Our thoughts are with the Turkish people who have lost their loved ones and with the brave first responders who are doing their best to battle the deadly fires. We stand ready to provide further assistance."
In response to Italy's request for assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help in the fight against the ongoing wildfires in Sardinia, the EU is mobilising immediate support from France and Greece.
France and Greece are deploying two aerial forest firefighting planes (Canadair) each. The planes offered by France come from the European Civil Protection Pool, whereas the ones offered by Greece are part of the rescEU assets.
The wildfires have hit the area of Montiferru, in the centre-west of the island following high temperatures. Initial reports indicate that over 4,000 hectares have been burnt and 355 people evacuated.
The European Union's 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre is in regular contact with the Turkish authorities to closely monitor the situation and channe the EU assistance.

Summer of extremes: floods, heat and fire

Heavy rainfall has triggered devastating flooding causing dozens of casualties in Western Europe. Parts of Scandinavia are enduring a lasting heatwave, and smoke plumes from Siberia have affected air quality across the international dateline in Alaska. The unprecedented heat in Western North America has also triggered devastating wildfires.
"Whilst rapid attribution studies have shown the clear link between human-induced climate change for the unprecedented heatwave episodes recorded in the Western United States and Canada, weather patterns over the whole northern Hemisphere have shown an unusual planetary wavy patterns in this summer. This has brought unprecedented heat, droughts, cold and wet conditions in various places. The connection of this large-scale disturbance of summer season with the warming of Arctic and the heat accumulation in the ocean needs to be investigated," said Dr Omar Baddour, head of WMO Climate Monitoring and Policy Division.
European Floods
Some parts of Western Europe received up to 2 months worth of rainfall in 2 days on soils that were already near saturation. The top 1 meter of soil was completely saturated or well above field capacity after the intense rain in the most affected regions of Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany.
In terms of the human toll, Germany and Belgium were the worst hit countries by the floods in Europe. Authorities reported at least one hundred people were killed, with many more missing as people were trapped or swept away by waters. Images of collapsed houses and landlides showed the force of the waters.
Heatwaves
While Central Europe suffered deadly floods, Northern Europe has been gripped by an extended heatwave
Finland had its warmest June on record, according to FMI. And the heat has extended into July. Kouvola Anjala, which is in southern Finland, has seen 27 consecutive days with temperatures above 25°C. This is the longest heatwave in Finland since at least 1961.
Western USA and Canada has also been gripped by heat, with many records broken in the most recent heatwave last weekend in SW USA. eg Las Vegas tied its all-time record of 117°F (47.2°C), as did Utah.
Death Valley, California had reported temperature of 130°F (54.4°C) 9 July, according to the US National Weather Service in Las Vegas. WMO is ready to verify new extreme temperatures We are currently evaluating 130°F reading in Aug 2020 at Death Valley, which holds world highest temperature record.
The megadrought conditions, very dry fuels and heatwaves are fuelling the occurrence of extreme wildfires this year in west USA, as well as western and central Canada.
Climate Change attribution
Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and many single events have been shown to have been made worse by global warming.
The record-breaking heatwave in parts of the US and Canada at the end of June would have been virtually impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to a rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, made the heatwave at least 150 times more likely to happen.
As the atmosphere gets warmer it holds more moisture which means it will rain more during storms, increasing the risk of floods.
The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, found that the higher the level of global warming, the projected increase in frequency or severity or both will be stronger for hot weather, droughts and flooding in the UK. These high-impact weather events can cause significant disruption across the UK affecting sectors such as health, transport, agriculture and energy.
IPCC Special Report Global Warming of 1.5°C mentions that human-induced global warming has already caused multiple observed changes in the climate system. Trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5°C of global warming occurred. Changes include increases in both land and ocean temperatures, as well as more frequent heatwaves in most land regions. Further, there is substantial evidence that human-induced global warming has led to an increase in the frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation events at the global scale.
Several regional changes in climate are assessed to occur even with global warming up to 1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial levels, including warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity and/or amount of heavy precipitation in several regions.

Storms and Record Rainfall in Western Europe Disrupts CI

Record rainfall has caused swollen rivers to burst their banks and wash away homes and other buildings in western Europe – leading to more than 190 fatalities and over 1000 people missing. The floods have affected several river basins, first in the United Kingdom and later across northern and central Europe including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.
The German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were among the worst hit by the torrential rainfall, with water levels rising in the Rhine River, as well as the Walloon Region in Belgium. The storms and high waters have also battered neighbouring Switzerland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission are being used to map flooded areas to help relief efforts. The mission has been supplying imagery through the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service to aid relief efforts. The devastating floods has triggered four activations in the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service, in Western Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The service uses observations from multiple satellites to provide on-demand mapping to help civil protection authorities and the international humanitarian community in the face of major emergencies.
Westnetz, Germany's biggest power distribution grid, stated that 200,000 properties in the North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate regions were without power and that it would be impossible to repair substations until roads were cleared.

WMO Executive Council endorses unified data policy

In a milestone decision, the World Meteorological Organization’s Executive Council has endorsed a unified policy on the international exchange of Earth system data to help its Members meet the explosive growth in demand for weather, climate and water services as the world grapples with the dual challenges of climate change and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.
The draft data policy resolution, which must be adopted by the full 193-Member World Meteorological Congress extraordinary session scheduled for October 2021, paves the way for a sweeping update of policies on the free and unrestricted exchange of data that have been the bedrock of WMO since it was established more than 70 years ago.
The WMO Unified Policy for the International Exchange of Earth System Data is based on WMO’s strategic integrated Earth system approach to all monitoring and prediction of weather, climate, water and related environmental phenomena, and it will serve as the foundation of a wider push to strengthen the global observing networks and help overcome regional disparities.
“In order to meet the demand for services and forecasts, it is paramount to improve the exchange of weather, climate, water and ocean data. Severe gaps in data and weather observations, especially in Africa and island states, have a major negative impact on the accuracy of early warnings both locally and globally,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“A revision of WMO’s data policy will leverage benefits for the whole of society and will allow our global community to work better together to deliver services that protect life, livelihoods and property,” said Prof. Taalas.
“It is a very, very important step to have such a unified data policy for WMO,” said WMO President Gerhard Adrian. “We have many decisions on data policy, and now we have a united approach where all these parts are collected.”
“This is a great milestone, and a historical moment,” said Michel Jean, President of WMO’s Infrastructure Commission, which had developed the data policy resolution approved.
Numerical Weather Prediction
Delivery of weather and climate services depends on routine international exchange of weather and climate data, 24/7, 365 days per year, often within minutes of real time.
Observations are ingested into numerical prediction models, and the output from these models is used as a basis for weather and climate services. A primary aim with the establishment of WMO in 1951 was to create a coordination mechanism for the acquisition and international exchange of such data.
WMO’s current data policies are laid out in three separate Congress resolutions - Resolution 40 (Congress-XII, 1995, covering weather) and two subsequent resolutions (Resolution 25 (Cg-XIII) and Resolution 60 (Cg-17)) covering water and climate.
The new WMO Unified Data Policy resolution, in comparison, covers seven domains and disciplines - covering all WMO-relevant Earth system data - in a single policy statement, and it thus extends beyond the traditional areas of weather, climate and water data to incorporate also the areas of atmospheric composition, oceans, cryosphere and space weather.
Increasing the volume of observations that are shared internationally for use in global and regional Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models will help significantly improve the quality of these data products. The policy will also provide developing countries with better access to these key data products. The resulting improvement in forecasts and other services will be felt everywhere on the globe, but it will be especially pronounced in areas where the current observational data coverage is poor, including in many developing countries.
In addition, the data policy resolution expands from addressing just national meteorological and hydrological services to endorsing relevant data exchange among all partners, including agencies beyond meteorological and hydrological services, the rapidly growing private sector and academia.

Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems mobilizes more funding

The Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative is mobilizing an additional US$ 28 million to deliver early warning systems in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDs) to protect lives and livelihoods from the impacts of severe weather.
Countries and regions that have early warning systems as a priority in their climate change nationally determined contribution and adaptation plans are identified as priorities for future funding decisions based on their high level of eligibility, ownership and readiness.
The decision to provide financing of US$ 28 million was made possible thanks to new contributions this year to the CREWS Trust Fund by member countries and a recent announcement by the European Commission, Directorate-General for International Partnerships of a Euro 10 million commitment to the CREWS Initiative.
A further encouraging decision for least developed countries, is the proposed establishment of a new financing window to address critical, time-bound climate-relevant early warning services. The proposed CREWS Strategic Support Window will address emerging needs and deliver a flexible array of fully funded technical and knowledge services by experts and advanced national meteorological and hydrological agencies. This proposed new service will be available to countries by the end of the year.
The above decisions support the roll-out of the CREWS Operational Plan 2021-2025 which provides the template for scaling up support to LDC and SIDS for early warnings that are impact-based and people-centered. The Operational Plan set a blueprint for a stronger participation of the private sector in country operations. The CREWS Operational Plan was formally approved during the meeting.
Countries that contribute to the CREWS Initiative are Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
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