Weather Forecasts Centre Convention:Motion.

Thursday, 20 June 1974

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 273 No. 9

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Minister for Finance (Mr. R. Ryan): Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves:

The Convention establishing the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts,

a copy of which Convention was laid on the table of Dáil Éireann on the 7th day of June, 1974.

[1239]Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  If I may interrupt the Minister, it might save a little time. Could the Minister indicate in what way is he responsible for this? Is it for the provision of money only?

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  As the Minister responsible for science and technology.

The establishment of the centre is part of the European Programme of Co-operation in Science and Technology. This programme was initiated by the European Communities and, in addition to the nine member States, ten other European countries are taking part.

The programme which is administered by the EEC is based on the realisation that the scale of research and development required to deal with many current problems is increasingly beyond the resources of single European countries and that these problems can best be dealt with by pooling the efforts of individual countries in joint research and development projects which transcend national boundaries.

After an initial period of investigation and discussion by working groups, projects have been undertaken in several areas and Ireland is participating in seven of these projects.

At a ministerial meeting on science and technology held in Brussels in November, 1971, which formally launched the programme, a resolution was supported indicating our willingness to participate in the particular project concerning the establishment of a European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts.

This project has now reached the agreement stage and at a meeting held in Brussels on 11th October, 1973, the convention for which the approval of the House is now sought was signed, so signifying formally Ireland's participation in the project.

The aim of the project is to equip a European centre, which will be located in Bracknell near Reading in the United Kingdom, with a very large capacity computer which can be developed for the purpose of providing medium range weather forecasts, that is, forecasts covering five to ten days. Studies have shown that substantial [1240] economic benefit would be derived from such forecasts. This would apply particularly in the areas of agriculture, the construction industry, energy, transport and water supply.

The main tasks of the centre can be summarised as follows:

— in the field of research and development it will be responsible for producing and constantly perfecting mathematical models for medium range weather forecasting.

— operationally, it will regularly prepare medium range weather forecasts, using these mathematical models and will transmit these forecasts to the national meteorological offices, whose task will be to use them in the framework of their own forecasting services.

— in the field of services, it will assist in the further training of research staff working on numerical weather forecasting in Europe and will make available to the national meterological offices which so desire, in addition to a data bank, certain computing capacities which they are at present lacking.

An interim organisation has been set up pending the entry into force of the convention, which will follow its ratification by not less than two-thirds of the signatory States. An initial setting-up phase estimated to last about three years will be followed by a transitional phase estimated to last two years during which the centre will be gradually geared up to full operational capacity.

A copy of the convention establishing the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts has been laid before the House. I recommend this convention to the House for approval.

As I anticipate that Members will be anxious to know the cost immediately of this to Ireland, I may add that participation by Ireland in the meterological project will involve a charge on public funds of approximately £2,000 during the twoyear [1241] interim period; £5,000 per annum during the initial setting-up phase which is estimated to last three years; and £15,000 per annum during the transitional phase which is estimated to last two years; and thereafter about £20,000 per annum.

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  I believe Dáil Éireann should approve of this convention for a number of reasons. While I would naturally hope that one of the consequences of the establishment of this centre and its operations would be more accurate weather forecasting, I cannot say that I am entirely optimistic that that is what will eventuate.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  Has the Deputy no faith in computers?

Mr. Colley: Information on George Colley  Zoom on George Colley  A great deal of data may be accumulated which will be of great interest to scientists and technologists but, whether we will get more accurate weather forecasts, remains to be seen. However, it is quite clear that if we are ever to reach the stage of being able to have reasonably accurate weather forecasting more and more scientific research and international co-ordination is necessary. Even if this venture does not produce more accurate weather forecasting it will be a step along the road to that goal, if that goal is attainable, a fact which I sometimes doubt.

I am generally aware of considerable scientific progress in this field particularly in the United States of America but I am not aware that it has resulted in what would generally be accepted as reasonably accurate weather forecasting over any period longer than 24 hours except in areas where one can get an accurate weather forecast for a three-month period. However, in those areas one does not need science and technology to know that. Even if this centre does not achieve the goal of accurate weather forecasting it will be a step along that road.

The question of cost is important and the Minister anticipated that question when he added into his script the information which he gave, something which I appreciate. Apart [1242] from the figures he gave is there any other contingent liability on foot of this convention either during the periods of time he indicated or thereafter beyond the normal growth in expenditure because of increased activity of this centre? Does the Minister know whether it is proposed that this centre when fully established will be using either its own or other satellites for the purpose of improving the data available in regard to weather forecasting? Has the Minister any information which would suggest the participation of Irish personnel in the headquarters of the centre to be established in Bracknell in Britain?

I should like to know if there will be any Irish participation in the staff employed at the centre or whether there will be, as seems to be indicated in the convention, what in effect will be training courses for existing members of our meteorological service in the centre? There is a reference in paragraph 3 of article 3 of the convention to the centre's computing capacity being made available only to public agencies of member states. Has the Minister any information as to the extent of the computing capacity envisaged in the centre and the extent to which this country may avail itself of that computing capacity? Can the Minister indicate if such facilities will be available to our meteorological service and if they will be of any immediate value or relief to this service?

I do not know whether our service has computing capacity available to it and I would be surprised if it did not have some. Is it expected that our service will have available to it computer capacity in the centre and thereby be in a position to improve substantially the information available to it and, consequently, the forecasts which it makes available to the public?

I take it from what the Minister said that we signed this convention before 11th April, 1974. Article 22 provides that the convention should be open for signature by the European States mentioned in the annex until 11th April, 1974 and I assume we signed the convention before that date. Perhaps the Minister would indicate the progress [1243] that has been made, or is expected to be made shortly, in regard to ratification of the convention and the actual operation in full of the convention on foot of that ratification.

Mr. R. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan  Zoom on Richie Ryan  I can understand the Deputy's reservations about total confidence in the absolute ability of this project accurately to forecast weather in our very changeable climate. No matter how much man comes to use computers and world-wide telecommunications there will be many of us who will still rely first hand upon our corns or the condition of our rheumatism to adjudicate what is likely to happen. Often, by studying wild life, we can anticipate long before we hear anything on radio or television what the weather is likely to be in a matter of 24 or 48 hours or even for a longer period.

It will be a long time before man with the aid of technology will be able to anticipate weather with that degree of miraculous forecasting that nature is able to display in some forms. The ideal in the long run would be for man to be able to control weather and in my view that day may yet come. When one considers the advances that have been made in the last 100 years where man has reached miracles of science and technology which at one time were considered only to be the conceptions of a mad man it is not improbable that in future years man will be able to effect control over weather and be able to discipline it in the same way as he has disciplined other forms of nature.

Man's capacity to do that, however, will depend to a great degree upon the use of computers and world-wide telecommunications. It is because weather does not recognise political and national boundaries that it is wise to join the most effective pool of scientific information in Europe. The reason why the 19 countries involved in this project chose Bracknell, near Reading, was because they were satisfied that the most powerful computer in this field is there. There is also a very widely connected system of world telecommunications as well as the largest staff of highly trained scientific people.

[1244] So far as Ireland is concerned it is fortunate for us that we are so near the centre. This will leave it cheaper for us to have our own connections with the computer in Reading and we shall be able, more conveniently, to post staff temporarily to the installation there. Also, we shall not have any language problem and the hire of lines for special access to the computer will cost a lot less than if the computer were located further away from us. We have always had the very closest and happiest collaboration between the Irish and the British meteorological services so that on all grounds we were very pleased that Reading was chosen as the centre.

Irish participation in the project will be the same as that of any other country and will most likely take the form of a secondment of staff from our meteorological office to the centre at Reading. The cash contributions to which I referred in my opening statement are the contributions which Ireland will make towards the project. Of course, if we have people located there, they will not be merely contributing their services while there but will also have the advantage of working alongside some of the most highly skilled and experienced people in this sphere in Europe, all of which is bound to reflect great benefit to our own meteorological service.

The convention was signed on 11th October, 1973. I am not certain as to what progress has been made by other countries in the ratification of it but what happens here now is that we notify the authorities concerned that we have ratified the convention and whenever the necessary two-thirds of the countries will have ratified it, the project will come into operation but we are not awaiting the formal ratification in order to play our part. We realise that other countries have the same legislative and administrative delays as we have, some more, some less, but this project is one which, obviously, will receive general approval and we are going ahead on that basis.

There is no contingent liability that we know of other than the figures I have spelled out already. In so far as [1245] staff from our meteorological office are concerned, any cost that might be involved for us in this way would be more than compensated for by the benefits that we shall receive from the project. Overall, we should have a greater pool of information available to us on which to base our forecasts. Forecasts are made not merely on the basis of anticipation but on the basis of knowledge and past experience and the more experience we have of the behaviour of weather now over a wider area, or in the past over a similar or a wider area, the greater probability there is that our assessment of future movements of weather may be accurate. All of this is bound to lead to greater efficiency. If, for instance, the housewife can anticipate rain she will take the washing from the line before the rain starts. Likewise, agriculturists, fishermen and others can make their arrangements in anticipation of the weather if they have information that is accurate. We hope that that will be one of the consequences of this very significant and useful co-operation between the nations concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

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