Satellites Give Detailed Insights into Climate Sciences

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The European Space Agency has recently released a report entitled ‘10 New Insights in Climate Science’ that was presented to Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The report assessed the ways in which satellites are helping to advance discoveries and data science regarding climate change around the globe. The report detailed covered a 12 month period of time and provided up to date information on the drivers of climate change, as well as political and social impacts these changes have brought. 

The report was compiled using the data from the ESA’s Earth Observation Programs, in conjunction with Future Earth and The Earth League. Many different satellite programs were used in order to compile the data used in the report.

CO2 Levels in the Atmosphere are Higher Than Predicted

The report showed that there have been accelerated changes caused by climate change worldwide. Overall, there have been accelerated levels of CO2 and other atmospheric greenhouse gasses observed in the atmosphere; additionally, sea levels are rising faster than ever, as is the average global temperature.


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Satellites are used to detect the gasses that make up Earth’s atmosphere. Satellites can be used to show the changes in levels of certain atmospheric gasses, such as CO2 and methane, as well as differentiate natural and manmade sources of these emissions. 

The report showed that greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing faster than at any other time in climate history. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted through fossil fuel use has gone up, as has the amount of methane present in Earth’s atmosphere.

Global Temperature Change

The report also stated that an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be seen by 2030, not by 2040 as previously thought. Satellites are able to detect increases in temperature around the world and use that data to compare current statistics with previously recorded climate information.

As part of the climate change feedback loop, rising global temperatures are also impacting the melting of glaciers and ice caps. Sea levels are rising quicker than at any other time in recorded history.

9,625 gigatons of ice was lost from 1961 to 2016, raising sea level by 27 mm. Source: ESA
9,625 gigatons of ice was lost from 1961 to 2016, raising sea level by 27 mm. Source: ESA

Satellites are able to compare images and ice pack data over Greenland, North America, and the polar ice caps, where a high concentration of glaciers and ice remains. Satellites can show groundwater melting, as well as glaciers receding. This information can be combined with other climate change data to paint a picture of how climate change is impacting different areas of the world at the same time.

The report was presented at the COP25 climate conference in Chile, where climate scientists gathered to discuss climate science and predictions for the coming months and years.

Watch: 10 Insights in Climate Science

The Report

European Space Agency. Satellites key to ‘10 Insights in Climate Science’ report. 6 December, 2019. Retrieved from http://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Space_for_our_climate/Satellites_key_to_10_Insights_in_Climate_Science_report

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