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UK scientists win leading roles in new Climate Change programme

UK scientists have won the lead in over €5M worth of contracts, in a new initiative to unlock the complexities of climate change.  This new programme, the ESA Climate Change Initiative, will use Earth Observation (EO) to help generate Essential Climate Variables (ECV’s) for our planet. The UK Space Agency has contributed £15 million over 6 years to the ECV programme, or approximately 20% of the overall project budget.

Essential Climate Variables (ECV’s) is the term used to describe those key environmental parameters which, taken together, are able to describe our past, present and future climate on Earth. These include atmospheric variables, such as ozone content, as well as snow cover, fire disturbance and ocean salinity.  Without a solid description of these key indicators of our environment we will not be able to understand and mitigate against consequences of climate change such as hurricanes, El Niño effects, flooding, and other extreme weather events.

David Williams from the UK Space Agency said, “This outcome reflects the impressive UK record in Earth Observation data handling, data assimilation and climate modelling. Excellent programmes like these mean the UK can help lead European efforts to understand the changing face of our planet.”

Following a competitive bidding process to address 10 ECV’s, UK scientists have won involvement in every successful bid and will  lead on 3.

The 3 winning UK-led bids are for:

    1. Sea Surface Temperature

      This is led by Dr. Chris Merchant at the University of Edinburgh.  He said: "Over the next three years, the aim of the project is to build a more complete and accurate picture of how the surface temperatures of the world's oceans have evolved over the last two decades.  Sea surface temperature is now recognised as a key indicator of the world’s most severe weather events.  We will do this by combining observations from several environmental satellites. Central to the whole enterprise is a series of ultra-accurate sensors (the "Along Track Scanning Radiometers") that were largely developed in the UK, and have been flying since 1991. As well as re-evaluating past temperature changes in the ocean, the project looks forward. We are going to design a system for monitoring marine climate change from space for many years to come. It is a big challenge, but I'm glad to say I have a truly excellent team to work with, from five countries round Europe."  The project funding is €1.8M, more than half of which will be spent on research in the UK.

    2.      Ocean Colour

      This led by Dr Shubha Sathyendranath at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  Over the next 3 years the project will use data from ESA and NASA satellites to help build up a long-time series, calibrated and consistent record of ocean colour across the globe.  Ocean colour can reveal information about chlorophyll and phytoplankton concentration – both key indicators of the health of our oceans.  By unravelling the complex behaviour of our oceans we can contribute to understanding global climate issues.  This will be achieved by drawing on interdisciplinary expertise between Earth Observation, climate research and modelling communities.   The total project funding is €1.8M.

    3.      The Climate Modelling User Group (CMUG)

      Led by Dr. Roger Saunders at the Met Office, is a cross cutting activity looking at the data requirements of the climate modelling and reanalysis communities.   CMUG will identify what is required to integrate EO data with climate models. The CMUG will also assess some of the climate data records generated by the CCI projects by comparing them with climate models and reanalyses. The CMUG contract is worth almost €1.5M with the Met Office as the co-ordinator and science lead.

Notes for editors

    • These ECV’s were published by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and describe the most important features of our environment which affect climate change. Satellite data play a major part in measuring 21 of these 45 ECV’s required to fully describe the Earth’s climate
    • The SST project has the following partners: Met Office, University of Leicester, Space Connexions, Danish Meteorological Institute, met.no(Norwegian meteorological service), Meteo-France, and Brockmann Consult (Germany).  The SST CCI project builds on previous UK-funded research, in which many of the techniques to be used were developed. This enabled Dr Merchant to put forward the successful bid to lead the project at a European level, in response to the call for proposals from the European Space Agency (ESA).
    • ECMWF, Max Planck Institute and MeteoFrance are the other partners of the CMUG. The CMUG started its work in April 2010 and organised a workshop at the EGU meeting in Vienna to gather requirements.
    • The link to the ESA TV CCI film can be found at: http://esatv-movies.e-vision.nl/videos/mplo/Climate_Change_Initiative_TV_09-24-10_wmplow.wmv

    • Julia Short
      Press Officer
      UK Space Agency
      Tel: +44 (0)1793 442 012
    • Matthew Goodman
      Head of Communications
      UK Space Agency
      Tel: +44 (0)1793 418085

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