Atmosphere A Spot

Monitoring the atmosphere


Observations of EUMETSAT satellites are critical inputs to monitoring and forecasts of air quality

Atmosphere A Spot
Atmosphere A Spot

Observations of EUMETSAT satellites are critical inputs to monitoring and forecasts of air quality, which are increasingly important for the health of European citizens.

Last Updated

17 May 2022

Published on

31 August 2020

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.

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 a few days ahead.

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

Meteosat imagery is used to characterise aerosols in the atmosphere, including volcanic ash and dust storms, while the IASI and GOME-2 instruments flown on the Metop data observe trace gases like Ozone, NO2, CO, CH4 in the ultraviolet and thermal infrared parts of the spectrum.  

Monitoring atmospheric composition with Meteosat and Metop

Meteosat-8, -9, -10 and 11 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, MSG are the primary satellites used for monitoring volcanic ash plumes by the London and Toulouse Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres, operated by the Met Office and Météo-France. With new, innovative algorithms, data from SEVIRI 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.

Aboard the Metop satellites, the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment-2 (GOME-2) measures vertical profiles of ozone, and other atmospheric constituents like nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and SO2, while IASI observes ozone, but also carbon monoxide (CO) and methane (CH4).

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, and relevant research.  

A Growing role with Copernicus and NEXT generation satellites

The role of EUMETSAT will expand further in the 2022-2040 timeframe when we become the operator of the Copernicus Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 missions, implemented by additional atmospheric composition sounding instruments integrated into our future 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 IRS infrared sounder flown on the Meteosat Third Generation Sounding (MTG-S) satellites, which observes trace gases. Likewise, the Sentinel-5 instrument will be exploited in combination with the IASI-NG 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.