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Experts study feasibility of continuous time scale

“To abolish or not abolish the ‘leap second’?” Scientists debate

Geneva, 20 September 2013 – The Future of the International Time Scale has been the subject of intense discussion this week at a workshop held jointly by ITU and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (Bureau International des Poids et Mesures – BIPM). At the heart of the matter is the proposal to abolish the so-called ‘leap second’ to adjust to the earth’s rotation in relation to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the current standard for measuring time. The suppression of the leap second would make continuous time scale available for all the modern electronic navigation and computerized systems to operate with and eliminate the need for specialized ad hoc time systems.

ITU membership along with other organizations has been studying the consequences of eliminating the leap second for several years.

In January 2012, the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly deferred the decision to develop a continuous time standard that would entail the elimination of the ‘leap second’ in order to ensure that all technical options have been fully addressed before the matter is referred to the next World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015.

During the workshop held this week in Geneva, information sessions on the definition of the time scale along with the maintenance of UTC (or ‘clock time’) in relation to the Earth Rotation Angle (UT1) were followed by discussions on the elimination of the leap second and opting for a continuous time scale. Representatives of the world’s major global navigations satellite systems (GNSS), such as the U.S. GPS, the Russian GLONASS, the European Galileo and the Chinese Beidou, participated in the discussions.

“Timekeeping is critical to the functioning of modern society,” said ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré. “International coordination is crucial and we need to address all options and opinions ahead of the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 when Member States will consider the feasibility of achieving a continuous reference time scale.”

“Defining, maintaining and realizing the reference time scale is the result of continuous coordination between groups of international organizations,” said Elisa Felicitas Arias, Director of Time Department, BIPM. “In the event that ITU Member States approve a continuous reference time scale, IERS will continue to guarantee the predicted values of UT1-UTC, ITU would make specific recommendations for the dissemination of those values, and BIPM would remain responsible for the maintenance of the reference time scale as part of coordinated international efforts.”

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) maintains UTC in cooperation with the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) along with some 70 national institutes worldwide.

The Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau François Rancy said, “A variety of systems using UTC have been developed over the past 40 years since the introduction of the leap second and proponents argue that UTC should be maintained. Strong arguments are also made to abolish the leap second in favour of a continuous reference time scale as a measure to increase the reliability of systems that depend on time to reduce costs and avoid unnecessary disruptions. This workshop, organized by ITU and BIPM, provides a very important platform for exchanging information and views on the different perspectives in an effort to prepare for the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 which will consider the possible suppression of the leap second.”

For more information, please contact:

Sanjay Acharya
Chief, Media Relations and Public Information
tel +41 22 730 5046
tel +41 79 249 4861
tel sanjay.acharya@itu.int
Grace Petrin
Communication Officer, Radiocommunication Bureau
tel +41 22 730 5810
tel +41 79 559 1428
tel  brpromo@itu.int 

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