Climate data for the Earth system

We are using Earth Observation (EO) data to improve our understanding of and ability to predict climate change.

Access to continuous, well-calibrated long-term data is increasingly important to understand environmental variations in the Earth system, especially in relation to climate science. These data enable scientists to identify, quantify and attribute climate changes to particular causes, for example to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

Our research priorities are:

  • To support policymaking with accurate, quantifiable global evidence, via ESA’s Climate Change Initiative (CCI) programme;
  • To develop new EO data products for climate science;
  • To use these data to evaluate the climate models used to make future predictions and drive improvements.

Our current work includes: 

  • Merging datasets to produce data products for CCI that describe key climate variables. These include aerosols, clouds, greenhouse gases, ocean-colour, ozone, sea-level height and sea-surface temperature. All of these provide information about the state of our climate but are even more powerful when combined to investigate key interactions within the Earth system. For example, understanding the variability of heat uptake by the oceans is crucial for understanding major events such as El Niño, which is associated with extreme weather.
  • Using the emerging CCI records to evaluate the strength of these key climate interactions – e.g. aerosol-cloud, the largest source of uncertainty in anthropogenic climate forcing.
  • Building on the success of the UK’s climate record EO instruments, the Along Track Scanning Radiometers (ATSRs). These instruments measure emitted thermal infrared radiation, from which, among other variables, we can calculate extremely accurate surface temperature datasets.
  • Linking long-term records of variables such as sea-surface temperature, ocean heat content and sea-level, to investigate what ocean-colour can tell us about the biological state and health of the ocean.
  • Modelling phytoplankton cell size. Whether phytoplankton cell size is sensitive to changing climate is an important question because it influences many processes in marine biogeochemistry and ecology.
  • Joining international efforts to obtain accurate greenhouse gas concentrations from space. We are also bringing new instrumentation into service on aircraft.
  • Obtaining an accurate picture of greenhouse gases emissions – particularly carbon dioxide and methane – is important to monitor efforts to cut emissions under the UNFCCC and subsequent protocols.