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In the framework of the First GARP Global Experiment (FGGE) activity, the WMO had been entrusted to collect river discharge data sets to be used as inputs to or validation of Global Atmospheric Circulation Model studies.

Initially, at the suggestion of Prof Jaromir Nemec, then Director of the Hydrology and Water Resources Department of the WMO Secretariat, this task was taken over by the Institute for Bioclimatology and Applied Meteorology (Prof. Albert Baumgartner) at the University of Munich, starting with a data request letter dated 11 August 1982 by the former WMO Secretary General A.C. Wiin-Nielsen.

After retirement of Prof. Baumgartner in 1984, the installation of a global runoff database centre was initiated to preserve the initial data collection. Subsequent discussions involving

  • the WMO Secretary General, at that time G.P.O. Obasi
  • the Director of the Hydrology and Water Resources Department of the WMO Secretariat, at that time Prof J. Nemec
  • the President of the German Weather Service DWD (as the Permanent Representative of Germany with WMO) at that time Prof. Dr. E. Lingelbach
  • the President of the Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) at that time Dr. H. Knöpp, and Prof. H.-J. Liebscher of BfG
  • the German Foreign Office
  • the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and
  • the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs (BMVBS)

resulted in a budget line for the collection of global runoff data in the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMV) effective from 1988. In May 1987, the President of the German Weather Service in role as the Permanent Representative of Germany with WMO announced the foundation of a permanent Global Runoff Data Centre - GRDC at the Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG), Federal Republic of Germany, under the auspices of the WMO. The data processed by the University of Munich had been transferred to the GRDC. Background, responsibilieties and functions of the Centre are documented in the "Report on the Workshop on Global Runoff Data Sets and Grid Estimation" (WCRP-22, WMO/TD - 302) published by WMO in June 1989.

GRDC officially became operative on 14 November 1988.

The Global Runoff Database started off with a UNESCO compilation covering monthly discharge data from 1965 to 1984 of approx. 3500 stations. This initial dataset was 1996 recompiled at the University of New Hampshire (US) to form the RivDis database.

Since 1988 the GRDC database has grown continuously to become the most comprehensive quality checked global discharge dataset. Since 2019 this dataset is part of the WMO Catalogue for Climate Data. To extend and maintain this global dataset the main functions of the GRDC is the acquisition and management of historical river discharge data and associated metadata. Key partners for the provision of river discharge data are the National Hydrological Services of all WMO member states. The user community served by the GRDC are the specialised projects and programmes of the United Nations dealing with climate and global change studies. Additionally a wide scientific and research community is utilising the global datasets for their studies on climate change, water resources management and related fields of research.

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