A new European mission, the Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring mission, or FORUM, will add a crucial measurement to help our understanding of Earth’s changing climate.
Measurements from the new spacecraft will improve confidence in the accuracy of climate change assessments that form the basis for future policy decisions.
Following a rigorous selection process, ESA has selected a new satellite mission to fill in a critical missing piece of the climate jigsaw. By measuring radiation emitted by Earth into space, FORUM will provide new insight into the planet’s radiation budget and how it is controlled.
The Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring (FORUM) mission was one of two concepts competing to be ESA’s ninth Earth Explorer mission.
Earth Explorers use innovative measurement techniques to yield new insight into different aspects of the Earth system and the interactions that bind the system as a whole. Fundamentally, they are designed and built to fill knowledge gaps identified by the scientific community, so, importantly, the community retains a key role in the selection and development process.
After a two-year feasibility study phase, both FORUM and its competitor, the Sea-surface Kinematics Multiscale monitoring (SKIM) concept, were presented and discussed in detail with the scientific community at a User Consultation Meeting in Cambridge, UK, in July.
Wolfram Mauser, who chaired ESA’s Advisory Committee for Earth Observation on behalf of Martin Visbeck, said:
“Both mission concepts are outstanding in the value they would bring to science, and are technologically ready to be built, so it was difficult to recommend which one should be implemented. Nevertheless, FORUM promises to improve climate models and, therefore, climate prediction. So with the issue of climate change a major global concern, we finally decided to recommend this concept – and we are very happy that ESA has taken our recommendation.”
ESA Earth Explorer 9 FORUM mission (image copyright ESA)
NCEO Imperial College’s Helen Brindley, a member of the mission advisory group, explained the FORUM mission:
“FORUM will measure the spectrum of the outgoing longwave energy emitted by the Earth to space across the far-infrared (wavelengths longer than 15 microns) for the first time. Globally averaged, model simulations predict that around 50 % of the total energy emitted by the Earth is found in this wavelength range so it plays a highly significant role in determining the planet’s energy budget. Far-infrared wavelengths are strongly affected by water vapour – the most important greenhouse gas – and by thin ice cloud – which is widespread – so we expect the FORUM measurements to provide new insight into water vapour concentrations, particularly in the climatically important upper troposphere/lower stratosphere, and the radiative impact of ice cloud. In drier, colder regions such as the Arctic, the measurements should also allow us to probe the role of far infrared surface emission in determining the rate of change of surface warming – something that has been neglected up to now in most climate models.
Because all of these factors have a strong influence on important climate feedback processes we anticipate that the highly accurate measurements that FORUM will deliver will enable us to reduce uncertainty in future climate change predictions by providing strong observational constraints against which we can test existing models. Moreover, by flying in loose formation with IASI-NG (which measures the spectrum at shorter wavelengths) the full outgoing spectrum of the Earth’s emitted energy will be measured for the very first time. “
Measurements from this exciting new mission will improve confidence in the accuracy of climate change assessments that form the basis for future policy decisions. Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said, “We believe FORUM will bring great benefits to climate science. Better understanding the complexity of our climate system and filling gaps in our knowledge is of critical importance as the consequences of climate change are far-reaching, affecting all facets of society and the natural world.”
The design of the mission will now be fine-tuned, and then built with a view to be launched in 2026.
Beth Greenaway Head of Earth Observation and Climate at the UK Space Agency said:
“It’s hugely exciting to hear that the Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring (FORUM) mission will be taken forward for construction and launch. The FORUM mission will fill a critical missing piece of the climate jigsaw; by measuring, for the first time, the spectrum of far-infrared radiation emitted by Earth into space, furthering our understanding of our climate and climate change.
Thanks to investment from the UK Space Agency, Britain could be a big player in this mission and I’m very proud that the ‘go ahead’ from ESA was based on fantastic science from colleagues at Imperial College London and the cross-European Mission Advisory Group supported by detailed technical mission feasibility from studies led by UK industry teams.
So the selection of FORUM – over some other very credible and worthy missions- is a real indication of the strength of the UK’s Earth Observation capability which spans academic and commercial entities. We are the cutting edge of developing new EO technologies and this selection also shows how our long term investments in EO skills and technology in both national and international programmes can be harnessed to tackle key societal challenges – in this case climate change.
FORUM will be just one of the exciting missions built in the next phase of the ESA Future EO-1 programme which the UK is currently a lead funder. This programme and six others are open for subscription again in November of this year at the ESA Council of Ministers, where the UK will be reaffirming our membership.
Earth Explorers use innovative measurement techniques to yield new insight into different aspects of the Earth system and the interactions that bind the system as a whole. Fundamentally, they are designed and built to fill knowledge gaps identified by the scientific community, so, importantly, the community retains a key role in the selection and development process.”
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FORUM team website
FORUM report for selection: