Space in climate change

Climate change is the paramount environmental issue of our time, and the greatest challenge is obtaining a detailed understanding of the complex variables involved. It includes health and safety, food production, security, economic and other aspects of our lives.

Its importance is recognised by entities like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Our climate is changing because of different factors influencing Earth at large. The lack of measuring stations in many remote areas and especially over the vast ocean areas means that satellites are the only way to gather data on ‘Essential Climate Variables’ – ECVs. 

By using Earth observation techniques from space, we can monitor global environmental change not possible with other techniques.

The observations provide unique information that greatly assist in the understanding and management of climate change. Space delivers data with regular, uniform and global coverage, and reliable assessments of trends over time for specific variables. It also observes remote regions possible that are under-sampled by conventional networks.

Earth observation has not only revolutionised the way we perceive our planet, but it has also changed the way we comprehend our profound impact on the environment. Current satellite missions are building a long-term archive of essential data for local and international policy and planning.

How can different types of missions, instruments and data be used to study changes of our atmosphere, land, oceans and ice?

To respond to the need for climate-quality satellite data, ESA set up the Climate Change Initiative.

The aim is to realise the full potential of the long-term global Earth observation archives that ESA, together with its member states, has established over the last 30 years, as a significant and timely contribution to the ECV databases required by the UNFCCC.

The goal is to provide stable, long-term, satellite-based ECV data products for climate researchers. The ECVs will be derived from multiple satellite datasets, through international collaboration, and will include specific information on the errors and uncertainties of the dataset.

ESA’s Climate Change Initiative is making full use of Europe’s Earth observation satellites to exploit robust long-term global records of ECVs, such as greenhouse-gas concentrations, sea-ice extent and thickness, and sea-surface temperature and salinity.

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