Space4Climate: Part 1

A collaborative showcase with the UK’s Earth observation community, the UK Space Agency, and the European Space Agency

1. Now And In The Future

Satellite data from space is integral for systematic monitoring of Earth’s climate. For scientists investigating physical processes in the current climate, including how the climate has been changing in the recent past, we need long and consistent data records for our land, oceans, atmosphere and cryosphere.

For many crucial climate datasets, known as Essential Climate Variables, these can be generated by combining data from different satellite missions.

Space4Climate (2021) by Sally StevensUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26


An introduction to the Space4Climate group from the Chair of Space4Climate, Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observation and Climate at the UK Space Agency.

To gather satellite data, government, science and industry work together across the world, using cutting edge technology, supercomputing and brainpower to produce trusted data. This data helps us better understand our climate system and informs climate action.

Climate Science to protect our environment and societyUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Climate Science To Protect Our Environment & Society

The European Space Agency’s Climate Office is home to the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) on the Harwell Space Cluster, Oxfordshire, UK (pictured). The CCI provides high-quality, long-term datasets (going back 40 years) that climate scientists and world leaders rely on for monitoring and predicting how our climate is changing and is likely to change in the future.

Projections include the frequency and impact of extreme weather events that cause devastating flooding, crippling drought and deadly heatwaves. This information is used to make crucial decisions to protect the environment and society.

Monitoring Methane In Our Atmosphere From Space

Predictions of future climate change need to understand and model global distributions of greenhouse gases and the different processes that control their behaviour.

Methane (CH4), a gas second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in its contribution to the greenhouse effect, is emitted from a variety of sources, both natural and anthropogenic. The main sources of atmospheric methane are natural wetlands, rice cultivation, fossil fuel production, livestock and biomass burning.

Monitoring methane in our atmosphere from spaceUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

This visualisation shows methane amount derived by National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) scientists at the University of Leicester from GOSAT satellite data.

Counting Carbon From Space

To stay within the 1.5°C global warming target set out in the Paris Agreement we need to limit the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere - known as the carbon budget. Only around 17% of the carbon budget is now left. That is about 10 years at current emission rates.

The European Space Agency (ESA) uses satellites to track carbon in the atmosphere, oceans and land to gauge whether we can stay within the carbon budget or will need to deal with the more severe consequences of further warming.

Counting Carbon from spaceUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

ESA’s RECCAP-2 project, which involves the University of Exeter, is combining Earth Observation data with atmospheric and biophysical computer models, to calculate carbon fluxes. This helps to improve the precision of each greenhouse gas budget.

2. Monitoring Our Planet

The consequences of a warming climate are far-reaching, affecting fresh water resources, global food production and accelerating sea level rise. With the threats accumulating for generations to come, climate change is high on political and economic agendas worldwide.

In order to make decisions on climate change mitigation and adaptation, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requires systematic monitoring of the global climate system. ESA’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI) supports systematic, global and long-term observations of climate specified by the Global Climate Observing System.

Space4Climate – monitoring our planetUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The CCI comprises 21 satellite-derived time series for Essential Climate Variables (ECVs), displayed here.

The UK leads on 8 ECV datasets: Antarctic ice sheet, biomass, land surface temperature, ocean colour, sea surface salinity, sea surface temperature, water vapour, and the Climate Modelling Group.

UK scientists are involved in the production of a further 12: Land Cover, Aerosol, Greenhouse Gases, Cloud, Ozone, Ice Sheets – Greenland, Glaciers, Snow, Sea State, Sea Level and Fire (phases 1&2).

Why Is Sea Surface Temperature So Important?

Sea surface temperature drives global weather and climate patterns as the heat and moisture that are released at the water surface drive atmospheric circulations. The ECV satellite-derived dataset is used by climate modelers to predict future climate change.

This ESA CCI global climate data record of sea surface temperature spans 35 years and has been produced from 16 different satellite sensors by an international team of scientists, led by UK expert Chris Merchant of University of Reading.

Why is Sea Surface Temperature important?United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

In this visualisation you can see Sea Surface Temperature data retrieved from satellites and adjusted so that the colour scale varies dependent on latitude.

Data visualisation from Space4Climate, contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

This latitude-dependent scale in the visualisation above removes the strong pattern of cold water in the polar regions and warm tropical waters highlighting data variations that otherwise wouldn’t be visible, in space and over time. This allows scientists to see the detailed current flow. The brighter and lighter the blue, the higher the temperature; the darker the blue, the cooler the temperature (all in Kelvin scale and relative to latitude).

Measuring Heat From Space - The Mediterranean Heatwave 2021

Whereas weather forecasts use predicted air temperatures, the satellite that captured the data below measures the real amount of energy radiating from Earth – therefore this map better represents the real temperature of the land surface.

The data below from Summer 2021 shows that surface temperatures reached over 50°C in many locations including the northwest of Athens and many regions in Turkey. The blue spots visible near Albania are clouds.

Measuring heat from space - the Mediterranean heatwave 2021United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

This map shows the land surface temperature of Greece and surrounding countries on June 30th, 2021. It was produced using an algorithm and cloud masking underpinned by UK research from the University of Leicester-NCEO. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

This story is continued in Space4Climate - Part 2.

Credits: Story

Space4Climate, ESA, ESA/Planetary Visions, ESA-CCI, Harwell Campus, NPL, Airbus, CNES, Satellite Vu, UK Space Agency,  Institute for Environmental Analytics, ESA, Telespazio UK, UK Hydrographic Office

The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views and opinions of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The mere appearance of the story on this website does not constitute an endorsement by the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness of third party material included in the story featured.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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