Cloud formation

How we monitor the atmosphere


Observations from EUMETSAT satellites are critical for monitoring and forecasting air quality

Cloud formation
Cloud formation

The observations provided by EUMETSAT’s satellites are critical inputs to monitoring and forecasting air quality, which are increasingly important for the health of European citizens.

Last Updated

10 January 2024

Published on

26 May 2023

Over the last few decades, research by the World Health Organization has established that air pollution is responsible for a broad range of adverse health effects.

This evidence, together with environmental protection policies, has stimulated the development of air quality monitoring and forecast services in Europe.

Air quality forecasts

Like weather forecasts, air quality forecasts are based on specialised Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models ingesting observations of trace gases and particles, whilst also taking into account natural and anthropogenic emissions.

Such models are exploited in combination with NWP models by some national meteorological services or other national entities and, at European Union level, by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service which delivers air quality forecasts for the next few days.

EUMETSAT supports the operational monitoring and forecasting of atmospheric composition through specific observational products from its geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites.

Imagery from EUMETSAT’s Meteosat satellites is used to characterise aerosols in the atmosphere, including volcanic ash, wildfires and dust storms.

The instruments flown on EUMETSAT’s Metop satellites observe trace gases such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane in the ultraviolet and thermal infrared parts of the spectrum. 

Monitoring atmospheric composition with Meteosat and Metop

The geostationary Meteosat-9, -10 and 11 satellites observe some aerosols in the atmosphere, in particular dust storms, which can have a severe impact on the health of populations in Africa. They can also detect ash in the atmosphere, and play an important role in following its movement and dispersion in European airspace in near real-time.

Because of this capability, Meteosat spacecraft are the primary satellites used for monitoring volcanic ash plumes by the London and Toulouse Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres, operated by the UK Met Office and Météo-France.

With new, innovative algorithms, data from the SEVIRI instrument allows the retrieval of information on the height of the ash plume, the total column loading of ash, and the effective radius of the ash particles in cloud-free areas or above cloud.

The Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment-2 (GOME-2) instrument carried on the Metop polar-orbiting satellites measures vertical profiles of ozone and other atmospheric constituents such as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, while the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) instrument observes ozone, carbon monoxide and methane.

Atmospheric Composition Monitoring SAF

To extract the best possible information from these observations, EUMETSAT has established the Satellite Application Facility for Atmospheric Composition Monitoring (AC SAF), one of the eight thematic centres of excellence distributed across EUMETSAT member states.

The AC SAF produces, archives, validates and delivers ozone, other trace gases and UV radiation products to support weather and air quality forecasting, monitoring of atmospheric composition and harmful UV radiation, in addition to relevant research. 

Total column ozone from GOME-2 onboard Metop-C
Total column ozone from GOME-2 onboard Metop-C

A Growing role with Copernicus and next-generation satellites

The role of EUMETSAT will expand further in the coming years and decades when we become the operator of the Copernicus Sentinel-4, Sentinel-5, and CO2M missions.

These missions will be complemented by additional atmospheric composition sounding instruments integrated onto the Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) and EPS Second Generation (EPS-SG) satellites and systems.

The Copernicus Sentinel-4 instrument will sound the atmosphere in the ultraviolet spectrum and will be exploited in synergy with the EUMETSAT infrared sounder flown on the Meteosat Third Generation Sounding (MTG-S) satellites, which observe trace gases.

Likewise, the Sentinel-5 instrument will be exploited in combination with the next-generation IASI infrared sounder on board the Metop-SG satellites, to observe the signature of trace gases across the spectrum, from the UV to the thermal infrared.

CO2M will be a small constellation of two satellites that will provide valuable information about the concentration and geographical origin of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.