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Responding to Climate Change 2011

Home | Tools & Technology | European Space Agency

Reducing uncertainty – it is all in the data

European Space Agency

Building community, WGMS experts assessing Findelenglacier status during the GlobGlacier final presentation in Zermatt, 31 August 2010
Building community, WGMS experts assessing Findelenglacier status during the GlobGlacier final presentation in Zermatt, 31 August 2010

Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) is an undertaking of the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Council for Science. It works to ensure that comprehensive information on the total climate system is available to UNFCCC parties.

Established in 1984, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) coordinates civil space-borne Earth observations. Participating agencies strive to enhance international coordination and data exchange and to optimise societal benefit. Currently 28 space agencies along with 20 other national and international organisations participate in CEOS planning and activities.

The well-being and security of future generations are more than ever dependent on decisions made on environmental policies, but we need more information. International space agency, ESA discusses the progress of two observation programmes to gather this data and one initiative to realise the full potential for climate.

By 2012, after the launch of its first dedicated satellite, the GMES programme will assure the launch of a constellation of an initial eight satellites (the Sentinel series) carrying enhanced sensors to monitor and measure 24 of the 44 Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) over the next three decades.

The two Sentinel-3 satellites, set for launch in 2013, will have significantly enhanced capacity to provide sea level and fire monitoring records for the next 25 years. The two Sentinel-2s, will build on the heritage of Landsat and SPOT to provide continuous long-term observations of global land surfaces, including extended mapping of glacier outlines to update existing global glacier inventories. The two Sentinel-1s will ensure observations of a wide range of ocean and land parameters, notably glacier topography and glacier velocities for improved mass balance estimates. Finally Sentinels 4 and 5 will measure global distributions of ozone and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Added to this, three Earth Explorer satellites launched last year, have initiated new high-precision measurements of sea-ice thickness (CRYOSAT), the precise Earth gravity field, (GOCE) – for better understanding of ocean circulation – and finally, SMOS, a satellite designed to measure soil moisture and, for the very first time, ocean salinity, from space.

Regional Sea Level trends for the last 18 years, ESA, © 2010 U of Delft, Altimetrics LCC
Regional Sea Level trends for the last 18 years, ESA, © 2010 U of Delft, Altimetrics LCC

Archive access and post-processing

ESA has started a dedicated Climate Change Initiative (CCI) to enable scientists to access and re-analyse its global satellite data archives for the last three decades. Combined with data from new missions, this can paint a much more accurate picture for a wide range of ECVs such as greenhouse-gas concentrations, sea-ice extent and thickness, sea-surface temperature and sea-level rise. The initiative aims to generate the most complete, consistent and well-characterised global records possible, and make them freely available to climate research and modelling communities worldwide.

Users will come principally from the scientific and research communities, and (in a few instances) from operational organisations responsible for climate research and modelling within nationally and internationally funded research programmes. Many, but not all, are already users of ESA data products.

With these major new programmes ESA, in collaboration with other CEOS space agencies, is preparing substantial contributions towards meeting the GCOS requirements, strengthening the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, and thereby supporting the overall goals of UNFCC.

A mission to shape Europe’s space capability
ESA is an international organisation with 18 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it undertakes activities beyond the scope of any single European country. Global Monitoring of the Environment and Security (GMES) is a partnership between ESA and the European Union to provide data to support Europe’s policy goals on environment and security for the next 25 years.

The European Space Agency logo
The European Space Agency

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