carbonJuly 3, 2024by admin0

7 Ways Earth Observation Satellites Aid in the Fight Against Climate Change

As climate change accelerates, the role of earth observation satellites has become indispensable in understanding and addressing this global crisis. Satellites can pinpoint methane leaks and other greenhouse gas emissions at their source. They provide critical data and insights that help scientists, policymakers, and industries combat climate change effectively.

Here are seven ways satellites are aiding in the fight against climate change.

  1. Monitoring Polar Ice Caps

Polar ice caps are crucial indicators of global climate health. The rapid changes observed in these regions provide essential data for understanding the broader impacts of climate change. Satellites play a pivotal role in monitoring these remote areas, offering detailed and continuous observations that are indispensable for climate research and policy-making.

The early missions of Earth Remote Sensing (ERS) satellites launched by the European Space Agency in the 1990s were groundbreaking. These satellites provided the first comprehensive, high-resolution data on the polar ice caps, revealing accelerated melting and ice loss that was previously undetected. The data showed that the ice sheets were not as stable as scientists had believed, prompting a reevaluation of climate models and predictions for sea-level rise.

Today, advanced satellites like the CryoSat-2 and ICESat-2 continue the work of their predecessors by offering even more precise measurements of ice thickness and movement. CryoSat-2, for instance, uses radar altimetry to measure the elevation of ice surfaces, providing detailed maps of ice sheet thickness. ICESat-2, with its laser altimeter, offers highly accurate measurements of ice elevation and volume, helping scientists track changes in ice mass over time.

The data collected by these satellites are crucial for climate research, as they help scientists understand the dynamics of ice sheets and their contribution to sea-level rise. This information is essential for predicting future changes and assessing the potential impacts on coastal communities and ecosystems. Additionally, satellite data inform international climate policies and agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, by providing evidence of the urgent need for climate action.

For example, satellite observations have shown significant ice loss in Greenland and Antarctica. In Greenland, NASA has reported that the Jakobshavn Glacier (known in Greenlandic as Sermeq Kujalleq) has been to be observed retreating and thinning, contributing to rising sea levels. In Antarctica, the Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers have shown alarming signs of destabilisation. These findings have prompted targeted research and monitoring efforts, as well as increased investment in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for vulnerable regions.

  1. Tracking Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions are a primary driver of climate change, with carbon dioxide and methane being the most significant contributors. Satellites have revolutionised our ability to monitor these emissions on a global scale, providing precise data that is essential for implementing effective climate strategies and policies.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), are major drivers of global warming. Accurate tracking of these emissions is critical for understanding their sources and implementing effective mitigation strategies. Satellites provide a unique vantage point for monitoring greenhouse gases globally, offering insights that ground-based sensors cannot achieve alone.

These satellite systems can identify specific sources of emissions, such as leaks from oil and gas operations, which are significant contributors to atmospheric methane levels. By providing detailed, real-time data, satellites enable industries to detect and repair leaks more efficiently, reducing their environmental impact. This capability is particularly valuable in the context of new regulations in the EU and US aimed at curbing methane emissions from the energy sector.

Satellites like MethaneSat and the instruments used by GHGSat have transformed our ability to detect and quantify greenhouse gas emissions. MethaneSat, for instance, is equipped with advanced spectrometers that can measure methane concentrations in the atmosphere with high precision. GHGSat uses a constellation of small satellites to monitor methane leaks from industrial sources, landfills, and agricultural operations. Agricultural activities, particularly livestock farming, are significant sources of methane emissions. The GHGSat’s satellites for instance on March 2nd, 2022, detected methane emissions from an agricultural area in California’s Joaquin Valley in California. By providing concrete evidence of emissions, satellites facilitate the development of targeted strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector.

Satellites also play a crucial role in promoting environmental accountability. By making data on greenhouse gas emissions publicly available, satellites encourage transparency and allow for independent verification of emissions reductions claims. For instance, the Environmental Defense Fund’s MethaneSat project aims to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their emissions by providing clear and accessible data.

Landfills are another major source of methane emissions. Satellites have identified methane leaks from landfills in various parts of the world, including Europe and Asia. This information has been instrumental in implementing better waste management practices and methane capture technologies. For example, satellite data has led to the installation of methane capture systems in several large landfills, which not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also provide a source of renewable energy.

  1. Observing Ocean Health and Ecosystems

Oceans are the lifeblood of our planet, playing a critical role in regulating climate, supporting marine biodiversity, and sustaining human livelihoods. Satellites provide a comprehensive view of ocean health, helping scientists monitor changes in marine ecosystems and their impacts on global climate systems.

Oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, mitigating the impact of climate change. However, this absorption also leads to ocean acidification, affecting marine life and ecosystems. Monitoring ocean health is essential for understanding these complex processes and implementing measures to protect marine biodiversity.

Technological Capabilities and Innovations

Satellites like NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) mission are at the forefront of ocean monitoring. PACE is equipped with advanced sensors that can detect phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that form the base of the marine food web and play a crucial role in the global carbon cycle by absorbing CO2. Additionally, satellites monitor sea surface temperatures, ocean colour, and chlorophyll levels, providing data on ocean productivity and health.

Satellite data is invaluable for managing marine resources and protecting endangered species. By tracking phytoplankton blooms, satellites help predict and manage harmful algal blooms (HABs) that can devastate marine life and human health. They also aid in the sustainable management of fisheries by monitoring fish stocks and habitat conditions, ensuring that fishing practices do not deplete resources.

  1. Measuring Land and Sea Surface Temperatures

Accurate measurements of land and sea surface temperatures are essential for understanding climate change’s effects on weather patterns, ecosystems, and human activities. Satellites provide comprehensive and precise temperature data that helps scientists monitor and predict climate-related changes on a global scale.

Temperature variations influence a wide range of climatic and environmental processes, including heatwaves, droughts, ocean currents, and the distribution of plant and animal species. Continuous monitoring of land and sea surface temperatures is crucial for climate modelling and predicting future climate scenarios.

Satellites equipped with radiometers, such as the Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) on ESA’s Sentinel-3 satellites, provide high-resolution temperature data. These instruments measure thermal infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, allowing scientists to calculate precise surface temperatures. The data collected helps in creating long-term temperature records, which are vital for tracking climate trends.

Temperature data from satellites is used to study the earth’s energy balance and heat distribution. This information is crucial for understanding the interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, and land surfaces. It also aids in improving climate models and weather forecasting, providing valuable insights for agriculture, water management, and disaster preparedness.

Satellite temperature measurements help identify and understand the impacts of climate change, such as the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, melting glaciers, and changing precipitation patterns. By providing detailed and continuous temperature records, satellites enable scientists to monitor these changes and assess their effects on ecosystems and human societies.

  1. Detecting Atmospheric Changes and Air Quality

The quality of the air we breathe is directly linked to human health and environmental well-being. Satellites play a critical role in monitoring atmospheric changes and air quality, providing data that is essential for understanding pollution sources, tracking greenhouse gas concentrations, and assessing the impacts of human activities on the atmosphere.

Air pollution is a major environmental health risk, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Monitoring atmospheric changes and air quality is crucial for identifying pollution hotspots, understanding the sources and dispersion of pollutants, and implementing effective air quality management strategies.

Satellites like the Copernicus Sentinel-5P are equipped with advanced sensors that measure various atmospheric pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter (PM). These instruments provide high-resolution data on air quality, enabling scientists to track pollution levels and their changes over time.

Satellite data on air quality is vital for public health initiatives and environmental policy-making. By identifying areas with poor air quality, authorities can implement measures to reduce emissions and protect public health. Additionally, satellite data supports international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement, by providing accurate information on greenhouse gas concentrations and their sources.

Satellites complement ground-based air quality monitoring networks by providing global coverage and filling in gaps in regions with limited monitoring infrastructure. This comprehensive view helps scientists understand the transport and transformation of pollutants across borders, facilitating coordinated efforts to address transboundary air pollution.

  1. Addressing Environmental Accountability

Environmental accountability is critical for ensuring that industries and governments adhere to regulations aimed at protecting the planet. Satellites offer a powerful tool for monitoring compliance and holding polluters accountable by providing unbiased, accurate data on environmental conditions and human activities.

Environmental accountability helps prevent illegal activities such as deforestation, overfishing, and pollution, ensuring that natural resources are managed sustainably. It also supports the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, protecting ecosystems and human health from harmful practices.

Satellites equipped with multispectral and hyperspectral sensors, synthetic aperture radar, and other advanced technologies can detect a wide range of environmental changes and activities. These capabilities enable satellites to monitor deforestation, illegal mining, water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions with high precision.

Satellite data provides regulators with the information needed to enforce environmental laws. For example, satellites can identify illegal logging operations in real-time, allowing authorities to intervene quickly. They can also monitor industrial emissions to ensure compliance with air quality standards and detect unauthorised discharges into water bodies. Making satellite data freely available promotes transparency and empowers citizens and organisations to hold polluters accountable. Open access to environmental data enables researchers, activists, and the public to monitor environmental conditions and advocate for stronger environmental protections.

  1. Enhancing Climate Resilience with Real-time Data

Climate resilience involves the capacity of communities, ecosystems, and economies to withstand and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Real-time data from satellites enhances climate resilience by providing timely information that supports decision-making and proactive measures.

Real-time data is crucial for early warning systems, disaster preparedness, and adaptive management strategies. It allows for immediate response to climate-related events such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts, minimising their impact on vulnerable populations and infrastructure.

Satellites equipped with advanced sensors and communication technologies provide continuous, real-time data on various environmental parameters. This includes weather conditions, sea surface temperatures, soil moisture levels, and more. Innovations in data processing and transmission ensure that this information is quickly available to decision-makers and the public.

Real-time satellite data supports disaster management by providing early warnings and monitoring the progression of natural disasters. For example, satellites can track hurricanes and typhoons, providing data on their intensity and trajectory, which helps authorities issue timely evacuation orders and prepare emergency responses.

Satellite data aids in adaptive management by providing insights into long-term climate trends and variability. This information is critical for developing strategies to manage water resources, agriculture, and urban infrastructure in a changing climate. By understanding climate patterns, policymakers can implement measures to mitigate risks and enhance resilience.


Earth observation satellites are invaluable tools in the fight against climate change. By providing comprehensive data on various aspects of the Earth’s environment, they help us understand and address the complex challenges posed by a changing climate. From tracking greenhouse gas emissions to monitoring ocean health and enforcing environmental accountability, these satellites offer crucial insights that drive global climate action. As technology advances, the role of satellites in climate science and policy will only become more significant, guiding us toward a more sustainable future.

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