How space agencies are rising to the climate challenge

Climate scientists and representatives from space agencies and industry are gathering in Toulouse, France, this week to discuss the importance, and challenges, of monitoring the Earth’s climate from space.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

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EUMETSAT Climate Services and Products Manager Dr Jörg Schulz, who will take part in a panel discussion at the symposium, “The Climate Needs Space”, said part of the challenge involves how space agencies and technological advances are meeting the scientific community’s demands for the information it requires to understand the climate and how it is changing.

EUMETSAT is able to provide long-term, consistent climate data records – now stretching back 35 years – which, together with the very high accuracy of the measurements, is critically important for study of the climate.

“There are new challenges coming in from the scientific community that cannot be fulfilled with current instruments,” Dr Schulz said.

“We need measurements of water vapour in the atmospheric boundary layer and no instrument can deliver that at the moment. We need new instrument concepts to make progress on this.

“There is also a strong need for carbon dioxide and methane observations and there are missions under consideration now that improve the ability for better monitoring.”

Advancing from the instrument and mission concept stage to having a fully operational mission takes time. For example, it has already been determined what instruments will be flown on the EUMETSAT Polar System-Second Generation and Meteosat Third Generation satellites, which will be operational from the early 2020s to the mid-2040s.

“Climate monitoring is not only about new instruments but also what we do with old measurements,” Dr Schulz said.

“Some of the instruments on our satellites were never built for climate monitoring, while others are already very much designed for that purpose. Old measurements, e.g. from Meteosat have been recalibrated and the quality of the data has strongly been improved. 

International collaboration is crucial to meet the challenge for space-based climate observations. EUMETSAT supports an international effort, initiated under the umbrella of the joint CEOS – CGMS Working Group on Climate, that established a web-based inventory of existing and planned climate data records of Essential Climate Variables observable from space.

EUMETSAT contributed more than one-quarter of the entries of this inventory, which is being used to identify gaps not only in climate data records but also gaps in suitable observations from space.

The Climate Needs Space symposium will be held on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 October. The conference, which is organised by the Air and Space Academy (Academie Air Espace), will concentrate on key components of climate study, such as observation of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere from space, and emphasise the importance of space observatories for monitoring climate while encouraging exchange between scientists, agencies and industry.

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