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Stepping Up Climate Research: What Scientists Need from Satellites


CLIMATE WATCH - The integration of advanced satellite technologies is definitely influencing our comprehension and response to climate change. A 2021 Space Capital report highlights a $50 billion investment boost, fueling a surge in remote sensing startups dedicated to emissions tracking and climate mitigation. Governments and agencies continue harnessing space data in novel ways. For example, USAID analyzes potential sea level changes in Senegal, while the State Department studies soil conditions in the Horn of Africa to shape effective climate policies. In general, collaboration between commercial and governmental data streams is pivotal in enhancing climate strategies. 

However, the challenge persists: transforming vast datasets into actionable insights quickly is crucial for developing timely, effective policies. Luckily, through advanced analytics of high quality satellite images of your AOI, this process is becoming more efficient, aiding policymakers and scientists in crafting targeted climate responses.

How Satellites Help Combat Climate Change

Preservation of Earth's ecosystems and monitoring climate change is impossible to imagine without satellites in the modern day. Since 1995, RADARSAT satellites have been tracking the health of diverse landscapes — from forests to coastlines — capturing crucial changes over time with high resolution multispectral satellite imagery. Similarly, the SMOS satellite, equipped with groundbreaking technology, now maps soil moisture and sea surface salinity, offering insights into how climate change disrupts the water cycle. 

In the frigid Arctic, satellites like Canadian RADARSAT and European SMOS continuously monitor shifts in ice and permafrost, critical for understanding the broader impacts of climate change on these vulnerable ecosystems. These satellites not only track the diminishing ice but also help scientists gauge the resilience of biodiversity in these regions using very high resolution satellite imagery. 

Beyond the icy realms, the SMOS satellite also leads the charge in mapping global soil moisture, crucial for comprehending climate dynamics together with ocean salinity. It stands as the first satellite to simultaneously monitor these two key indicators, joined by the SMAP satellite which extends its observations to the freezing and thawing cycles of soils in colder climates. 

Monitoring extends to air quality as well, with satellites like MOPITT on NASA’s Terra providing long-term data on pollutants like carbon monoxide. Additionally, CloudSat offers a three-dimensional view of clouds, enhancing our understanding of their structure and impact on climate, while SCISAT measures diverse atmospheric gasses, crucial for insights into ozone layer dynamics and overall climate health. 

Innovations continue with methane tracking, an area once elusive but now accessible thanks to new technologies. Hyperspectral imaging, spearheaded by collaborations between companies like Planet and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, allows for precise methane mapping, crucial for pinpointing emissions sources with unprecedented accuracy. This technology, alongside in situ data collection from satellites and aircraft, underscores a significant advance in our capability to monitor and mitigate climate change effectively.

Keys To Scientific Success

Scientists rely heavily on satellite data to enhance their understanding of climate change. Through detailed, high resolution Earth images, researchers can scrutinize small-scale environmental transformations that elude conventional observation methods. Such imagery is indispensable for monitoring phenomena like polar ice melts, deforestation, and urban sprawl. It not only offers a more comprehensive view of global ecological shifts but also sharpens the accuracy of future climatic projections. 

The tempo of data collection is equally vital. High-resolution data collected at frequent intervals enable scientists to track swift environmental shifts and analyze short-lived events like storms and wildfires. Immediate, up-to-date insights are crucial for evaluating the direct impacts of these occurrences and predicting their prolonged environmental repercussions. 

For long-range climate forecasting, continuity in satellite data is paramount. Long-term datasets permit the identification of enduring trends and patterns, essential for longitudinal climate studies. Reliable, consistent data collection over extended periods is critical for these analyses, aiding scientists in tracing the trajectory of climate change. 

The ease of data accessibility and its utility also play significant roles in climate research. Scientists advocate for more intuitive data interfaces and streamlined access protocols to seamlessly incorporate satellite data into climate models and analytical frameworks. Standardization of data formats is encouraged to facilitate collaboration and data sharing across various scientific communities. 

Furthermore, enhanced interaction between satellite data providers and climate researchers could refine satellite mission designs, making them more tailored to scientific needs. Transparency in the methodologies used for data collection, processing, and validation is essential to ensure the dependability and precision of research findings. 

Lastly, the growing dependence on predictive modeling in climate science necessitates satellite data that seamlessly integrates into these models. Support for real-time data feeds and advanced APIs that allow for direct data import into simulation tools is crucial, minimizing the need for extensive preprocessing and accelerating the predictive capabilities of climate models. This integration is key to informing robust, data-driven policy decisions aimed at mitigating climate impacts. 

As our planet’s guardians from space, satellite data providers deliver critical insights about the Earth’s evolving climate. By tailoring their services to meet the demands of climate scientists — including improved high-res satellite images, increased data collection frequency, better accessibility, and deeper collaboration — these providers significantly enhance the experts’ capacity to address global climate challenges. As technological capabilities expand and the field of climate science progresses, the bridge between data providers and researchers is most likely to become even shorter. 

This partnership not only fuels the scientific community’s comprehension of climate dynamics but also plays a pivotal role in shaping effective strategies to mitigate climate change impacts. By satisfying these specific scientific requirements, satellite data providers empower policymakers and researchers with the tools necessary for informed decision-making. Their contributions are instrumental in developing adaptive measures that protect ecosystems and human communities alike. As we look ahead, the continuous innovation and integration of satellite data into climate science will undoubtedly be central to our global resilience and sustainability efforts.


(Petro Kogut has a PhD in Physics and Mathematics and is the author of multiple scientific publications. Among other topics, he has a specific focus on a satellite imagery processing and application in his academic research. Currently, Prof. Dr. Petro Kogut also works a science advisor.)

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