I would like to know how good the weather data coverage is on the surface of the world’s oceans, and how much it would improve climate research/models if weather observations from ocean-going vessels were made publicly available. As I understand the current situation, publicly available ocean weather data is mostly measured via stationary floats and satellites, where the satellites only measure temperature.

Many ocean-going vessels measure sea temperature, air pressure + temperature and wind speed + direction. These vessels cover a fair bit of the ocean surface during their trips, and some vessels log these observations every hour or even more frequently.

I have two questions relating to this:

  • Are there more publicly available sources of oceanic weather data than the ones I list in the beginning?
  • Would weather data from ocean-going vessels be beneficial to climate research, by e.g. giving many additional calibration points for climate models relating to ocean weather? Can you give examples of which specific areas of research it would apply to? I’m thinking things like ocean heat absorption and emission, hurricane formation and maybe El Niño.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Weather data from 19th Century ship log has already been used: Centuries-old ships’ logs give insight into climate change & Weather Detectives wanted!, are just two examples. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 8:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Satellites can also determine windspeed by surface roughness. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Earthworm, I've tried to refine question 2. My immediate thought would be to use the additional data to calibrate models that make assumptions about ocean surface conditions by having many hard measurements spread out across the world. I didn't want to make my question too specific either, in case there would be benefits to this data completely outside what I myself could imagine. $\endgroup$
    – Nick W
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @NickW: Not sure what you're after, sorry. Weather is not climate. There's a lot ot information about heat transfer and circulation, hurricanes, and ENSO out there. If you could focus on an aspect or process and a data source I think we might be better able to help you. $\endgroup$
    – user22279
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


"Ship of opportunity" weather observations have contributed to global data collection exercises since the dawn of meteorology as a science. There are many national and international initiatives that collect data and the data already inform weather forecasts and climate models. The practice is summarised in https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2019.00434/full

In recent years the number of ships contributing has declined, but over 2000 ships that do participate are collecting higher quality data.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! Exactly what I was looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Nick W
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 7:23

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