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ESA Climate observations on show at New Scientist Live

How satellites help to track and understand Earth’s climate was a central topic at this year’s New Scientist Live, London, a four-day, award-winning science festival, visited by over 40,000 schoolchildren and members of the public.

Astronaut, Tim Peake opened the event with a panel discussion on space exploration while the Climate Change Initiative (CCI), a flagship ESA research programme, was a main feature of the ESA exhibition area.

ESA's Climate Change Initiative supports the UNFCCC and IPCC, key bodies behind the global climate decision process, and involves a community of over 350 climate scientists. It brings together multiple satellite missions to produce long-term global climate datasets, known as Essential Climate Variables – the fundamental evidence used to understand and ultimately inform the international response to changes in the Earth’s climate.

Caption: A family receiving an expert run down of how snow, glaciers and ice sheets are behaving in a changing climate from Dr Anna-Maria Trofaier of the ESA Climate Office

Caption: A family receiving an expert run down of how snow, glaciers and ice sheets are behaving in a changing climate from Dr Anna Maria Trofaier of the ESA Climate Office

Climate: a view from satellites 

Visitors were taken on a tour of the planet’s changing climate, as seen by satellites over the last 40 years, using interactive globes, maps and videos available in ESA’s Climate from Space app.

Based on CCI data, the app visualises the evolution of the climate system. The carbon cycle, for example, is demonstrated via vegetation maps and wildfires on land, chlorophyll concentration across the oceans and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The event also gave an opportunity to highlight newly published research generated by CCI research teams, including two major findings relating to sea level rise - a primary indicator of global climate change. Using satellite observations global mean sea level has been shown to have risen by 3.1 mm per year since 1993, while Antarctica has lost approximately three trillion tonnes of ice over the past 25 years, a rate which appears to have accelerated between 2012 and 2017.

Climate Education

Education was also on the agenda at the ESA exhibition area, where visiting primary and secondary school groups were introduced to the idea of observing the Earth using satellites. Pupils were asked to match photos of lakes, mountains and deserts taken at ground level with a corresponding satellite image, using materials taken from free ESA lesson plans. The take away message was that satellites are not just cameras in the sky, they are useful for measuring a range of physical and biological variables, many of which are important to monitoring climate.

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ESA Climate from Space app 

Publications

WCRP Global Sea Level Budget Group: Global sea-level budget 1993–present, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 10, 1551-1590, https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-10-1551-2018, 2018.

Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017. Nature volume 558, 219–222, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0179-y