Science and Technology Facilities Council
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Climate change monitoring success celebrated at STFC’s Oxfordshire laboratory

The success of three sea temperature measuring devices which have enabled the Met Office and other scientists to produce accurate climate change data and contributed to climate change modelling is being celebrated at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) this week (22 October 2009).

Scientists from as far afield as Australia who have worked on the satellite instruments known as Along Track Scanning Radiometers (ATSRs) will gather to mark the coming of age of the devices which provide accurate measurements of sea surface temperature, vital to the process of monitoring climate change.

The first of three ATSRs whose development was led by a team at RAL was launched eighteen years ago in 1991 and followed closely by ATSR-2 in 1995, both of which were supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The latest upgrade of the initial model, the Advanced Along Tracking Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) was launched in 2002. The sea surface temperature from the programme is currently being used by the Met Office for the Hadley Centre climate change programme, through funding from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and for weather forecasting.

The instruments are capable of taking extremely accurate readings due to their high quality stable on-board calibration system and their pioneering use of dual view observations, taking a slanting view of the ocean ahead of the satellite and then viewing the same patch of ocean from directly overhead. By combining the information from these two views, project scientists can obtain measurements of sea surface temperature which are considerably more accurate than readings made by other satellite instruments. They have now set the world-wide standard for measuring sea surface temperature.

The data provided by all three instruments has provided a continual stream of extremely accurate data taken over an 18 year period; this offers an invaluable source of information for scientists’ climate models and also for improving the quality of our weather forecasts.

Dr Chris Mutlow from the Space Science and Technology Department (SSTD) at RAL said; “the data from the ATSR sensors is valuable both on its own and as a calibration source for other satellite and in-situ observations. ATSR data is now regarded as one of the most relevant sources there is when studying climate change; it is starting to have a huge impact on climate science at a time when climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face”.

It is the combination of high accuracy, ultra-stable, near continuous measurements since July 1991 and global coverage which surface measurements cannot supply that makes the ATSR data a key source of information about the changing temperatures of the world’s oceans.

The AATSR instrument which is being flown on the European Space Agency’s Envisat spacecraft was largely funded by DECC and its predecessor departments.

David MacKay, DECC Chief Scientific Adviser said; “The success of the ATSR satellite instrument programme for measuring sea surface temperatures reflects the hard work and dedication of all the people who have contributed to it over the many years, as part of an international collaborative effort. The very accurate temperature record it has produced for the last 18 years is an important source of data for climate monitoring and modelling research”.
The ATSR processing software and data archive has been jointly funded by DECC, the European Space Agency and NERC. DECC also funds the science and validation work on AATSR. The celebrations will take place in SSTD and will include a series of talks detailing the project’s achievements and future plans. Guests will include Professor Sir John Houghton and DEFRA Chief Scientist Professor Bob Watson.

Notes to editors

RAL’s involvement in the project saw a team lead the initial developments of the first ATSR and then as part of the programme, help move each of the instruments from experiment to operations, each time having more significant industry lead than the previous. The data for access by UK users is held at RAL within the NEODC (NERC Earth Observation Data Centre); the (A) ATSR archive is supported with co-funding from DECC as a part of this NERC funded Earth Observation data facility operated by RAL.

Images available:

Image 1: Artist’s impression of the ENVISAT satellite in orbit, carrying the AATSR instrument. 

Image 2: AATSR engineering model.

Please contact the press office for more details
Lucy Stone
Press Officer
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Tel: 01235 445627/07920 870125

Further Information
Met Office
The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service, providing 24x7 world-renowned scientific excellence in weather, climate and environmental forecasts and severe weather warnings for the protection of life and property.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is responsible for all aspects of UK energy policy, and for tackling climate change on behalf of the UK. More information is available at

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on earth, and much more. NERC science is delivered under seven themes, namely Climate system; Biodiversity; Sustainable use of natural resources; Earth system science; Natural hazards; Environment, pollution and human health; and Technologies.

Science and Technology Facilities Council
The Science and Technology Facilities Council ensures the UK retains its leading place on the world stage by delivering world-class science; accessing and hosting international facilities; developing innovative technologies; and increasing the socio-economic impact of its research through effective knowledge exchange partnerships.
The Council has a broad science portfolio including Astronomy, Particle Physics, Particle Astrophysics, Nuclear Physics, Space Science, Synchrotron Radiation, Neutron Sources and High Power Lasers. In addition the Council manages and operates three internationally renowned laboratories:

- The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire
- The Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire
- The UK Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh

The Council gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institute Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the European organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and the European Space Agency (ESA). It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The Council is a partner in the UK space programme, coordinated by the British National Space Centre. 

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