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The next phase in the UK/France partnership in monitoring climate change signed at COP26

The mission is underpinned by NPL’s STAR-cc-OGSE facility

The UK Space Agency has provided new funding for a joint British and French MicroCarb mission dedicated to monitoring atmospheric carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.  

This mission’s scientific objective is to monitor and characterise carbon dioxide (CO2) surface fluxes, that is the exchanges between the sources (natural or anthropogenic) and the sinks (the ocean, the land and the vegetation).  

Human carbon dioxide emissions are the greatest driver of climate change. As its concentration in the atmosphere has increased, the mean temperature at Earth surface has increased by nearly 1 ºC in the last 100 years. Although this may seem small, it is important to note this is the mean temperature, with greater temperature increases in sensitive areas such as the arctic. Its continued increase is unbalancing the climate system, with rising sea levels resulting in coastal and low-level land loss and is likely to lead to ever more unusual weather events.

MicroCarb will provide the data needed to understand the natural environment response to human emissions and a changing climate, measuring small variations in the atmospheric CO2 amount, to derive surface fluxes. These CO2 variations are of the order of 1 ppm on a global average concentration of 414 ppm – requiring highly accurate measurements for the duration of the mission.

This accuracy - derived from the satellite sensor performance – is derived though our understanding of its function, tested before the satellite is launched and maintained while in-orbit and finally confirmed through interrogation of the downloaded data against external ground references. NPL is contributing to the mission is two ways, both building the facility used to characterise and calibrate the instrument performance before flight and apply metrological principles to the downloaded data to understand the best interpretation for its use.

STAR-cc-OGSE, which stands for Spectroscopically Tuneable Absolute Radiometric, calibration and characterisation, Optical Ground Support Equipment, is the pre-flight calibration facility used with MicroCarb, providing innovative solutions to the pre-flight calibration of satellite instruments. STAR-cc-OGSE is a single transportable facility, built in Teddington, UK and used Toulouse, France. The STAR-cc-OGSE is fully traceable to NPL’s primary radiometric standard, the cryogenic radiometer, and can provide unprecedented uncertainties well below 0.5% across a wide spectral region.

The new funding announced today supports NPL’s secondary contribution - allowing NPL to apply the metrological principles to the measured CO2 concentrations, fluxes and sources and sinks attribution through understanding how instrument and observation aspects contribute to the data use.

02 Nov 2021