Topic 2d - Atmosphere: In-depth case study - Monitoring GHGs and aerosols

This video will explore how satellite data relating to the composition of Earth’s atmosphere is enabling us to run increasingly detailed atmospheric models, and what this can mean for policy. It also introduces NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-II), a satellite that is specifically tailored to provide accurate, global measurements of atmospheric CO2.

Increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the most prominent and well-known driver behind our changing climate. Through heavy industrialisation, humans have released huge amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and have also removed some of the areas of forest that help absorb atmospheric CO2 and store it as carbon in vegetation. Over time, these human activities have caused changes in our climate, and whilst these changes may perhaps be almost imperceptible to us personally, measurements with EO sensors and other types of measurement device show significant impacts at both the regional and global scales. By combining these types of data within numerical modelling, we can also make forecasts of what climate changes we might see in future years.

It is highly important that we measure CO2 and other atmospheric constituents having an impact on the climate, so that we can keep track of the evolution of climate change drivers, assess and improve the models we use for forecasting the future, and use the results to build well-informed climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. Such detailed monitoring of our atmosphere also allows for early warning of events that might impact the quality of the air we breathe, for example forest fires or dust storms, whose impacts can be felt far away from the source region.

Satellites provide us with the detailed information necessary to assess the changing concentrations of CO2, other trace gases, and aerosols in our atmosphere. These data allow us to build global maps of the atmospheric concentrations and the sources and sinks of these atmospheric constituents, providing us with the essential information needed to develop and implement climate and environmental policy, assess their effectiveness, and create projections of future conditions. This might be forecasts a few days ahead for early warning of periods of reduced air quality, or decades ahead in relation to what the changing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases might mean for Earth’s climate.

Featured Experts:

  • Dr Angela Benedetti
  • Dr Kirsten Barrett

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Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.