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NCEO Scientists join new mission to observe carbon dioxide levels post-Paris agreement

The National Centre of Earth Observation (NCEO) welcomes the signing by the UK Space Agency of a co-operation agreement with CNES in France to launch, in 2020, a new satellite mission called MicroCarb to observe carbon dioxide (CO2) during a critical period following the Paris agreement. Scientists from NCEO will join the science team for MicroCarb supporting the definition of the mission and the development of the data processing to obtain the concentrations of CO2 from the satellite and to determine corresponding geographical distributions of CO2 fluxes.

The MicroCarb satellite is a joint UK-French satellite mission and a ground-breaking new agreement to work together to tackle climate change. The UK Space Agency’s Director of Growth, Catherine Mealing-Jones, and CNES President, Jean-Yves Le Gall, signed the MicroCarb cooperation agreement this morning (19th April) at the French Ambassador’s Residence in London, witnessed by Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, and France’s Ambassador to the UK, Sylvie Bermann.

Professor John Remedios, Director of NCEO and Professor of Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester, said: “The MicroCarb mission will offer new objective insights into levels of CO2 in the 2020s, determining progressions in this fuel of climate change in a way that will give increased certainty to future scenarios of atmospheric greenhouse gas increases.”

Artist Impression of MicroCarb satellite (courtesy CNES)

The new satellite mission will help scientists (see figure 2 below) to track the exchange of carbon between the surface and the atmosphere, which is necessary to understand the response of the natural carbon pools to climate change and to help quantify human emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Long-term, detailed observations of CO2 from space are providing a new insight into variations across the globe and trends over time. MicroCarb will continue ground-breaking data sets derived from GOSAT by NCEO scientists and from SCIAMACHY by European collaborators at Bremen in the framework of ESA’s Climate Change Initiative. Already the satellite record for CO2 extends to nearly 15 years.

MicroCarb will measure atmospheric CO2 within 0.3%, representing one of the most accurate measurements of atmospheric concentrations from space to date. MicroCarb also includes an innovative city measurement mode that will resolve variations of atmospheric CO2 over urban areas that can be related to their greenhouse gas emissions.

Professors Hartmut Bösch and Paul Palmer from NCEO at the Universities of Leicester and Edinburgh will represent the UK on the MicroCarb science team.

Professor Hartmut Bösch said: “Our involvement in the MicroCarb mission is an exciting opportunity for UK science to help shape the first European CO2 mission.”

Professor Paul Palmer added: “MicroCarb will not only help advance our fundamental understanding of the global carbon cycle, but also support international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

By combining CO2 data with state-of-the-art models, scientists such as Professor Palmer are able to derive regional patterns of uptake by the surface and emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere (fluxes). An improved knowledge of fluxes is key to providing much better predictions of the likely concentrations of CO2 over the next decades and also the relative changes in natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks of CO2.

MicroCarb is the first European mission intended to characterise greenhouse gas fluxes on Earth’s surface and gauge how much carbon is being absorbed by oceans and forests, the main sinks on the planet.

Figure 2: Atmospheric carbon dioxide as observed by GOSAT between 2009-2015

Figure 2: Atmospheric carbon dioxide as observed by GOSAT between 2009-2015

MicroCarb will enable the UK Space Agency and CNES to pave the way for a longer term operational system in response to the Paris Agreement.

UK roles in Microcarb include the CO2 algorithms, the instrument on-ground and in-flight calibration, the Assembly, lntegration and Test (AlT) activities applied to the platform and to the satellite, and the exploitation and validation of the data.

Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson, said: “UK collaboration with France on MicroCarb provides an excellent platform to demonstrate cutting-edge British science, our commitment to climate policy, and a productive relationship with a key European partner.

“The UK space sector is alive with talent and opportunity and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are ensuring the UK remains a vital contributor to international space research.”

CNES President, Jean-Yves Le Gall, added: “CNES is working with the UK Space Agency to curb climate change, and MicroCarb is a fine example of spacefaring Europe’s commitment to this global effort and a further illustration of our ability to ‘invent the future of space’.”

UKSA and CNES sign UK-French agreement on MicroCarb joint satellite mission

UKSA and CNES sign UK-French agreement on MicroCarb joint satellite mission

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