Monday 21 August 2017

Germany weather service opens up its data

Some good news from Germany. The government has decided to make the data of the German weather service (DWD) freely available for all. This comes after a parliamentary hearing in April on a bill to make the data freely available. All but one expert at the hearing were positive about this change.

Data was mostly already free for research, but really free data still helps science a lot. If data is only free for research that means that you have to sign a contract. For a global study that means 200 contracts, in the best case where all countries do this, in the local language with hard to find contact persons, with different conditions each time and often only a part of the data. If the data is really free, you can automatically download it, create regional and global collections, enrich them with additional information, add value with data processing (homogenisation, quality control, extremes, etc.) and publish them for everyone to use. It would also make the data streams more transparent.

This move was aided by the resolution of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) calling on its members, the weather services, to free their data:
Strengthen their commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of [Global Framework for Climate Services] GFCS relevant data and products;

Increase the volume of GFCS relevant data and products accessible to meet the needs for implementation of the GFCS and the requirements of the GFCS partners;
Unfortunately, there still is no legally binding require to share the data. The weather services cannot force their governments to do so, but the resolution makes it clear that governments refusing to open the data are hurting their people.

There is also a downside, the German weather service, [[Deutscher Wetterdienst]] (DWD), currently earns about 3.5 million Euro selling data. In perspective that is about 1 percent of their 305 million Euro budget. (The DWD earns about 20% of their budget themselves and thus costs only 3 Euro per citizen per year.)

Because of these earnings many weather services are reluctant to open up their data. Especially in poorer countries these earnings can be a considerable part of the budget. On the other hand, the benefits to society of open data are sure to be much higher. Because of more people and companies will actually use the data and because better data products can be produced. When it comes to climate data I hope that the international climate negotiations can free the data in return for funding for the observational networks of poorer countries.

The main problem in Germany are, optimistically were, the commercial weather services. They fear competition, both from the DWD themselves and because free data lowers the barrier to entry for other companies to start offering better services. These companies have been so successful that a long time it was even forbidden for the DWD to publish their weather predictions on their homepage. Weather prediction the DWD still had to make because it is their job to warn for dangerous weather. That was an enormous destruction of value created with taxpayer money to create an artificial market for (often worse quality) weather predictions.

There is a similar problem where commercial media companies have succeeded in limiting the time that public broadcasting organisations can make their information available for watching/listening/download. This destruction of public capital is still ongoing.

Good that for weather and climate data common sense has won in Germany. Only a small number of countries have made their data fully open, but I have the impression that there is a trend. It would be great if someone would track this, if only to create more pressure to open the data holdings.

Related reading

Link to the DWD open data portal.

German parliament press office: Experts endorse free provision of weather service data. In German: Experten befürworten entgeltfreies Angebot der Wetterdienst-Wetterdaten.

DWD press release: Amendment to the Deutscher Wetterdienst Act in force since 25 July 2017. Tasks and responsibilities of Deutscher Wetterdienst updated to take account of today's environment.

Free our climate data - from Geneva to Paris.

Congress of the World Meteorological Organization, free our climate data.

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