National Physical Laboratory

Insights magazine: A new era of climate measurement

In the latest issue of Insights magazine, Jane Burston, Head of Climate and Environment at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), discusses the emergence and potential of big data in satellite Earth observation.

Proposed satellite mission TRUTHS highlighted in Royal Society report

The latest generation of Earth observation satellites are producing vast amounts of climate data. One of Europe's newest satellites, Sentinel-2a, will deliver over 600 terabytes of publically-available data in its first year alone. Multiply this by hundreds of satellites, and you get an idea of the prodigious volume of data that will be available.

The huge amounts of data will allow more rigorous long-term climate change predictions to be made, but only if the satellite data is sufficiently accurate. Space is a harsh environment; extremely low-temperatures, radiation and the high-energy trip required to get into orbit are all ideal for disrupting sensitive satellite instruments and leading to drifts in accuracy.

To help address this challenge, NPL's Centre for Carbon Measurement is working with the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites to develop ground-based reference sites. Measurements made on the ground at these sites can be compared to those of satellites passing overhead and used to correct the data post-launch.

Such post-launch correction will be a step forwards in Earth observation accuracy, but will be limited by assumptions made about the influence of atmospheric and local effects on measurements. To make further improvements in accuracy, the Centre is also working with a consortium of partners on a proposed satellite mission called TRUTHS (Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and- Helio Studies). TRUTHS is designed to mimic laboratory calibration methods in orbit, acting as a 'standards laboratory in space'. Most importantly, TRUTHS will be able to transfer its calibration to other satellites observing the same targets, providing an upgrade in accuracy for the entire optical Earth observation system.

NPL's involvement in such projects will be vital to ensuring the accuracy of Earth observation data, and will support a new era of big data climate monitoring and modelling.

Read Jane Burston's article in the latest issue of Insights magazine

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Last Updated: 10 Apr 2018
Created: 1 Jun 2016

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