National Physical Laboratory

Earth Monitoring the state of the planet

Our need to monitor the state of the planet will continue to drive requirements for widely-dispersed and long-term stable measurements of climate variables and the environment.

A validated earth monitoring system, stable over centennial timescales, will be formed to enable: the linking of cause and effect; management of climate change through actions taken on all scales from local to global; and the prediction and avoidance of tipping points.

Explore NPL's progress towards meeting the challenge below:

Intelligent sensor-based networks for air quality

Air quality station

The next generation of air quality measurement faces conflicting demands.

Pressure from funding agencies for ever cheaper monitoring drives reductions in fixed monitoring stations, whille the highly spatially and time resolved measurements required to better understand population exposure and the pollution climate need much larger numbers of spatially distributed measurements.

Using lower cost sensor devices instead of large, expensive fixed monitoring stations can provide a solution. However, with low cost comes poorer accuracy and reliability.

NPL is developing the metrology required to overcome these drawbacks, using a mix of novel calibration and data replacement mathematics, algorithms to optimise the position of monitoring locations and determine pollution sources, and the underpinning high accuracy laboratory measurement allowing robust calibration transfer to the field.


  • Developing new, high accuracy techniques for sensor pre-calibration in state-of-the-art environmental test chambers prior to deployment in the field
  • Developing advanced mathematical techniques to interpolate, spatially and temporally, the values of missing measurements to ensure that confidence in data from sensor networks remains high
  • The combination of multivariate statistical approaches and the laboratory-based low uncertainty measurement of new ambient air components will help pinpoint the sources of pollution and optimise the location of monitoring stations
  • The knowledge developed from sensor networks will reduce the cost of legislative compliance for governments and facilitate more effective regulator input to protect public health and improve quality of life,a s well as improving the scientific understanding of urban pollution

2020 themes:

Smart and interconnected measurement Advanced mathematical techniques to transfer traceable calibration to sensors in the field, improving accuracy and reliability.

Embedded and ubiquitous measurement Proliferation of 'always on' sensors that make measurements with high temporal and spatial resolution.

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Carbon measurement

CCM logo

The Centre for Carbon Measurement at NPL was established in 2012 to bring measurement science to the climate change issue by providing critical support to the climate science, policy and low carbon business communities. This will help meet the challenge of 'Monitoring the state of the planet', as identified in Metrology for the 2020s.

The Centre works to reduce uncertainties in climate data and provides the robust measurement that is required to account for, price and trade carbon emissions. It also helps accelerate the development and adoption of low carbon technologies.

Climate data

Bringing measurement expertise to climate data, particularly where it is used as an input to climate models - reducing the uncertainty in climate projections and enabling policy for climate change mitigation and adaptation to be placed on an ever firmer footing.


  • Measuring key climate variables such as ocean colour, which is vital for modelling climate and monitoring the health of the oceans. Colour differences in the oceans can provide a measure of phytoplankton and algae blooms - important as their chlorophyll serves as a natural sink of CO2 and also sometimes pollution. The Centre leads a consortium of European Partners to increase the accuracy of these measurements.
  • NPL's Trustable Data for Carbon, Science and Finance (TruDAT) project has been set up to address the uncertainty in forest carbon data and understand the processes needed to produce carbon estimates. It has developed two tools, which will be available for use in a wide range of climate-related activities.

Carbon markets and accounting

Establishing the measurement and standards infrastructure to support exisiting and emerging national, regional and global trading, tax and regulatory schems for carbon pricing and reporting.


  • The Centre is leading a European consortium to develop and test new methane measurement instruments for shale gas extraction, municipal waste water treatment plants and gas distribution. The project will develop methane measurement services including modelling tools, a laser based open-path methane detection spectrometer and sensor networks.
  • The Centre is partnering with Astrium Services to deliver a new emissions measurement service to enable countries and cities to better quantify their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This unique new service will provide actual measurements of carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide at the city and region level. NPL will produce high-quality calibration gas standards to underpin the quality of the data used in the service. 

Low carbon technologies

Providing measurement support to accelerate the development of technologies, along with independent performance assessment, calibration and validation of low carbon technologies. 


  • The Centre for Carbon Measurement at NPL became the first UK Verification Body for Energy Technologies under the new EU Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) pilot programme - a voluntary scheme that provides verification from third party organisations for companies developing and commercialising innovative, environmental technologies.
  • The Centre has partnered with Nesta to provide a competition aimed at producing innovative technologies that can help shift elenrgy demand away from peak times. Selected finalists will develop their ideas with ongoing support from NPL scientists, and business advice from a select group of experts. The shortlisted entrants will also be given the opportunity to test their ideas at the world-leading facilities of the Centre.
  • PhotoClass is a €3.6 million European-funded project that will bring together National Measurement Institutes, universities, testing labs, PV manufacturers and their customers. Over the next three years the project will tackle issues facing the solar industry by developing and promoting standards for rating photovoltaic products according to energy yield under realistic climatic conditions, and to reduce financial risks by improving the accuracy of corresponding laboratory tests. This will lead to a more efficient industry in both a financial and technological sense, and create a more level playing field for new photovoltaic innovations.

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