Topic 1f - Essential Climate Variables and Megatrends

The Earth is a complex system, just like a human body. If there are unexpected or potentially harmful changes in the Earth system, we need a way of monitoring its health and status, and a method of detecting the level of change in order to deliver appropriate responses. Continuous, consistent sets of accurate observations are needed, made over sufficiently long periods of time to differentiate between natural variability and new trends. This helps us to form a coherent, trustable picture of how the Earth system operates and enables better forecasts and projections of how it will develop in the future.

The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) has developed a set of 50 measureable Earth system parameters that are considered vital for the detection and quantification of climate-related changes, known as the Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). Of these 50 ECVs, around half are measurable largely from Space. In response to the need for these ECV datasets, ESA developed its Climate Change Initiative (CCI) programme, which aims to provide long-term satellite data products targeted directly at ECVs. Through this initiative, 15 CCI projects are currently producing 14 key ECV datasets, including information on greenhouse gases, aerosols, sea surface temperature, burned area and soil moisture to name just a few.

It is also essential to have continuous sets of data to inform other long term global trends, often referred to as ‘megatrends’, such as in urbanisation and resource depletion.

In this video Dr Stephen Briggs introduces the concept of Essential Climate Variables and ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, and explores how Earth observation techniques are at the centre of these initiatives.

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  • Dr Stephen Briggs

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