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New FORUM mission to improve the accuracy of climate change forecasts

On 28 June 2022, Science Minister George Freeman announced that Airbus has been awarded a new European Space Agency (ESA) contract for the FORUM mission. FORUM will be the first mission to measure the Earth’s outgoing energy with high spectral resolution and accuracy across the far-infrared.

A cross-European team, led by NCEO scientists at Imperial College London, provided key support to ESA in developing and defining FORUM’s science objectives.

FORUM, short for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring, will be the first satellite to observe Earth across the far-infrared part of the spectrum with high spectral resolution and accuracy, providing unique measurements of the Earth’s outgoing energy to help improve understanding of the climate system.

Measurements from FORUM’s spectrometer will enable scientists to compile a detailed high-resolution view of the Earth’s greenhouse effect and retrieve the properties of ice clouds and water vapour in the atmosphere.

Professor Helen Brindley and her team from Imperial College London and the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) played a key role in shaping the mission, developing the scientific rationale. Using novel airborne observations they have demonstrated the benefit that FORUM can bring in characterising atmospheric water vapour, ice clouds and surface properties, all key players in determining climate sensitivity.


Professor Helen Brindley, NCEO Co-Director of EO Data and Model Evaluation, said:

‘If our simulations are right, on the global average the far-infrared is responsible for over half of the Earth’s emission to space. Put another way, atmospheric absorption within the far-infrared makes a major contribution to the Earth’s Greenhouse effect.

FORUM’s observations will enable us to probe the detail of this effect. We expect to gain important new insights into the role of water vapour and high-level ice cloud in driving and responding to changes in surface temperature, and hence in determining how our climate will evolve into the future.

The observations can also be used to improve regional climate predictions by providing new knowledge about surface conditions. In clear, dry conditions such as those that might be seen in the Arctic, the atmosphere can become transparent within certain far-infrared ‘micro-windows’, allowing FORUM to sense the surface at these wavelengths.’


Members of Imperial College’s FORUM Team in the Earth Observation instrumentation lab at Imperial College London. From left to right: Laura Warwick (NCEO PhD Student), Jacqui Russell, Helen Brindley (NCEO Co-Director of EO Data and Model Evaluation), Jon Murray (NCEO Scientist) and Sanjeevani Panditharatne (NCEO PhD Student). A further team member, Richard Bantges (NCEO Scientist) was not present for the photograph. Image © Imperial College London

Professor Brindley and Dr Jeremy Harrison (University of Leicester and NCEO) sit on the Mission Advisory Group working on the scientific requirements for the mission and leading the science studies.

About the author

Contact Professor Helen Brindley for further information
Imperial College London and NCEO