To support climate research, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) initiated a new radiometric network, the Baseline Surface Radiation Network (BSRN). The network aims at providing validation material for satellite radiometry and climate models. It further aims at detecting long-term variations in irradiances at the earth's surface, which are believed to play an important role in climate change. The network and its instrumentation are designed 1) to cover major climate zones, 2) to provide the accuracy required to meet the objectives, and 3) to ensure homogenized standards for a long period in the future. The limits of the accuracy are defined to reach these goals. The suitable instruments and instrumentations have been determined and the methods for observations and data management have been agreed on at all stations. Measurements of irradiances are at 1 Hz, and the 1-min statistics (mean, standard deviation, and extreme values) with quality flags are stored at a centralized data archive at the WCRP's World Radiation Monitoring Center (WRMC) in Zurich, Switzerland. The data are quality controlled both at stations and at the WRMC. The original 1-min irradiance statistics will be stored at the WRMC for 10 years, while hourly mean values will be transferred to the World Radiation Data Center in St. Petersburg, Russia. The BSRN, consisting of 15 stations, covers the earth's surface from 80°N to 90°S, and will soon be joined by seven more stations. The data are available to scientific communities in various ways depending on the communication environment of the users. The present article discusses the scientific base, organizational and technical aspects of the network, and data retrieval methods; shows various application possibilities; and presents the future tasks to be accomplished.

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aGeographisches Institut, ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.

bNOAA/Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado.

cBureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Australia.

dPhysikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium, World Radiation Centre, Davos-Dorf, Switzerland.

ePayerne Aerological Station, Swiss Meteorological Institute, Payerne, Switzerland.

fAlfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung, Bremerhaven, Germany.

gAtmospheric Environment Service, Downsview, Ontario, Canada.

hDepartment of Meteorology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.

iNASA/Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia.

jDeutscher Wetterdienst, Observatorium Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.