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Earth observation satellites are key to tracking climate change

Earth observation satellites are essential tools for tracking climate change progress in real time, scientists said.

In a new policy briefing from the University of Bristol, the government has been urged to support more education and training to turn Earth observation data (EO) into actionable information.

Ahead of the Cop26 conference in Glasgow in November, academics also called for improved capacity in EO technology and international cooperation between space agencies.

The data collected by EO satellites is seen as ‘critical’ for holding countries accountable for monitoring their progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

reduce the earth. The technology is also important for informing emergency services about environmental disasters, ranging from floods to landslides, volcanic eruptions and wildfires, many of which are expected to become much more common as the planet warms.

Jonathan Bamber, lead author of the University of Bristol briefing, said: “EO satellites are our eyes on the planet. Without them, we would be virtually blind to the magnitude and timing of climate change and to human interference in the fragile ecosystems of which we all depend.

”EO refers to global or near-global observations of Earth’s surface and atmosphere by satellites. The data generated almost instantly is used to track and assess the rate of climate change and its impact on the land and seas of the entire planet.

This includes, for example, measuring wind and waves above the oceans; change at sea level; surface temperature and biological activity.

On land areas it includes crop health and yields; carbon stocks in forests; soil moisture; urbanization; snow and ice cover; water quality and quantity, and mass movements such as landslides and floods.

Translating the vast and increasing amounts of EO data into actionable information presents a challenge that requires significant infrastructure and expertise to analyze, the briefing said.

It advised the UK to contribute to capacity building in EO technology, methodologies and skills to support countries not yet positioned to exploit the technology effectively within the Paris Agreement process.

Co-lead author Paul Bates, who leads Bristol University’s COP26 activities, said: “ Free-to-use satellite data could change the ability of countries around the world to face the threat of climate change, but only if countries such as the UK their expertise and technology. “