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UK associates with Copernicus €5.8bn Earth observation programme

In a new deal announced by UK Government today, the UK will associate with Copernicus, the European Earth Observation programme in which the UK has been prominent since its inception.

The National Centre for Earth Observation very much welcomes this announcement. It is a hugely valuable step for the UK community enabling our very capable scientific experts to contribute fully with the Copernicus system of satellites and the datasets which increasingly provide public benefit. Overall, re-joining the Copernicus Programme offers numerous advantages for NCEO scientists, from improved access to data and collaboration opportunities to enhanced capabilities for addressing pressing climate change actions. It will also help support the UK’s position as a world leader in Earth observation research and technology development.

Copernicus is a system of satellites, which with the support of in-situ measurements and models, delivers datasets that inform us about our changing planet at both global and local levels. It is an excellent example of how scientific innovation can lead to information that benefits people in their everyday working lives through more effective policies and planning, responses to hazards and health, and climate information. The UK funds will enhance this €5.8 billion system enabling it to be more effective than it would otherwise have been.

More than 20 UK universities and research laboratories contribute to and benefit from Copernicus, bringing discovery and insight to underpin safer and secure environments for the public.

The deal allows grants access to the world’s largest research collaboration programme, Horizon Europe, allowing UK researchers to apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the Horizon programme.

Professor John Remedios, Executive Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation, said:
“The importance of this step cannot be over-emphasized. The UK has been involved in Copernicus since the start, bringing expertise, technology and innovation to the programme. The Copernicus satellites are, and will continue to be, transformational in our understanding of how we live and make the most of our Earth. For UK scientists, we are ready to be involved as soon as possible and look forward to working with our colleagues across the Earth observation and satellite community working on this critical programme. We particularly look forward to the launch of the next high-priority missions which will be transformational in their capabilities.”

Professor Chris Merchant, NCEO climate data expert (U. Reading) and Lead for the UK EO Climate Information Service said:
“Re-associating to Copernicus is very positive news for Earth observation in the UK, and for scientific cooperation in using measurements from space to help manage and protect Earth’s environments stressed by climate change and other challenges.”

Dr Darren Ghent, NCEO Leader and Research Fellow for Land Surface Temperature (U. Leicester) said:
“Copernicus association is great news for UK Earth Observation. It means UK expertise and leadership can once again contribute to ensuring the highest quality of data from European operational missions.”

Dr Shubha Sathyendranath, MBE, NCEO Ocean Colour Modeller (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), said:
“We had links to Copernicus in so many ways. It was more than a funding source. It was an opportunity to collaborate with our European colleagues on exciting projects; many of our intellectual investments found a home in Copernicus.  I will now look forward to another era of stimulating and fruitful collaboration within the umbrella of Copernicus.”

Copernicus Sentinel-3 capturing a cloud-free image of the UK, 5 September 2023.

Copernicus Sentinel-3 data

NCEO currently uses data captured from two Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites that provide real-time observations of the Earth’s surface, such as sea and land surface temperature, ocean and land surface colour, aerosols and support for ocean forecasting systems, environmental monitoring and climate monitoring. Data have recently been used for marine and land heatwaves, and for wildfire monitoring.