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Space Technology vital for Climate Change monitoring to mitigation

Climate change is one of the most burning issues of our time.  This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. The global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over a least the last 2,000 years. As the world’s population continues to grow, the effects of climate change on humans and the environment are becoming more apparent: rising temperatures in some parts of the world will cause ice melt, drought and floods, but also migration.

 

For example, temperatures during the most recent decade (2011–2020) exceed those of the most recent multi-century warm period, around 6,500 years ago, the report indicates.  According to NASA, the current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

 

Meanwhile, global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900, than over any preceding century in at least the last 3,000 years.  Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.

 

Space technologies have important role to play in Climate change monitoring to climate mitigation. There are two main ways to monitor climate change: through weather stations and through satellites. Weather stations provide real-time data about the weather over a very small, localized area. We can use this data to make predictions about future events that may occur in that area, such as hurricanes, cold or heat waves. And while weather stations are great at monitoring local conditions, they don’t tell us about global patterns.

 

Space technology could provide a global view of the planet, This can help us see where changes are in temperature or other environmental variables and allow us to do predictive modeling to prepare for climate change. The power of satellites comes from their ability to monitor vast areas of Earth and provide us with valuable information about what is happening in different parts of the world.

 

Today, hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface, a vast network of satellites is collecting data on our planet’s climate system. These satellites provide accurate measurements of the temperature of our oceans, land and atmosphere.

 

Satellites collect data using optical sensors, Such as contained in a digital still camera. These sensors record light in its various colors, and at the same time, variables such as Earth’s surface temperature, humidity, and the chemical composition of the atmosphere can be measured. In addition to optical sensors, satellites can also use radar signals.

 

Since 1995, RADARSAT satellites keep an eye on the health of ecosystems by mapping and tracking changes. Beyond their main mission, RADARSAT collects data about changes in forests, tundra, wetlands, coastlines and other protected areas.

 

Equipped with technology never before used in space, the SMOS satellite maps changes in soil moisture and the salinitysalinity of the sea surface. This information helps us understand how climate change affects the water cycle. Scientists believe that soil moisture is half the equation to understanding how climate change affects the water cycle.

 

Canada’s SCISAT satellite measures ozone and ozone-destroying substances in the Earth’s atmosphere. Out of all the satellites, it actually measures the largest number of trace gases in the world! The Canadian instrument OSIRIS on Sweden’s Odin satellite also measures the ozone layer. They both help us understand how the ozone layer is recovering.

 

In 2022, the international satellite, SWOT, will launch. The Canadian instruments on SWOT will help collect precise data about changes in lake and reservoir levels, the discharge of rivers, and the currents in oceans.

 

Climate Mitigation

Climate mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long–term risk and hazard of climate change to human life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  defines mitigation as: “An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases” The most important GHG is carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Other important GHGs are methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.

 

For instance RAL Space scientists are developing instruments that will ensure our understanding of the carbon cycle (RAL Space), one of the most important factors in climate change, is accurate and reliable.

 

 

Satellite technologies are already reducing carbon emissions by 1.5 billion tonnes (or 1.5 gigatons) every year, according to independent research commissioned by Inmarsat from leading consultants at Globant’s Sustainable Business Studio. This is equivalent to almost a third of the entire United States’ carbon emissions in 2021, or the lifetime emissions of 50 million cars.

 

It can help to reduce the carbon intensity of many industries through satellite communications, satellite navigation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and other applications. Satellite communications-enabled innovations like active engine management, route optimisation, fuel flow measurement or trajectory-based operations allow industries to reduce or avoid CO2 emissions in the here and now. This means we can accelerate decarbonisation today, while alternative long-term solutions, such as new energy sources and ways of storing energy, are being developed and rolled out to decarbonise the wider world

 

Demonstrating the possibilities of space technologies in the race to Net Zero, the report focuses on three industry sectors: 1) transport and logistics, 2) agriculture, forestry and other land use and 3) energy systems. Together these account for approximately 60% of global emissions[4].

 

If satellite technologies were adopted universally by these industries, the CO2 savings currently being delivered through satellite technologies could almost quadruple to up to 5.5 billion tonnes a year based on current technologies alone, the Globant analysis suggests.

 

Precision agriculture and forest management enables decarbonisation through a number of different technologies, from tractor routing and yield mapping to forest fire early warning. These technologies enable fuel consumption savings and improved routing in transport, reduced energy use and optimisation in energy and even fire prevention in forestry, among many others.

 

This is equivalent to one-sixth of the total carbon emissions currently estimated as necessary to keep the global temperatures rise below 1.5°C by 2030 – or one-third of that necessary to keep temperature rises below 2°C – underlining the positive impact space technologies could have on the largest single challenge facing the world.

 

Our research has found that progress is already being made in sectors like aviation and merchant
shipping, where satellite communications are aiding decarbonisation through a mix of technologies like vessel voyage optimisation, weather routing and air traffic control management.

 

If we go one step further, an analysis into nascent technologies – such as Iris-enabled air traffic
management or autonomous shipping – shows even more astonishing results. These technologies
could see decarbonisation reach 8,800,000,000 (8.8 gigatonnes) per annum for the three sectors
included in the study.

 

MethaneSAT

The latest science warns that the window for preventing the most catastrophic global warming is closing fast. A seemingly small difference — just half a degree Celsius — can intensify the effects. Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways we have right now to slow the rate of climate change. But tracking these invisible emissions can be hard. That’s the idea behind MethaneSAT, a compact new satellite designed specifically to pinpoint the location and magnitude of methane emissions virtually anywhere on Earth.

 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Human-made methane emissions account for a quarter of today’s global warming. The oil and gas industry is a leading source. From remote wellheads to gas utility lines, companies release at least 75 million metric tons a year — enough gas to produce electricity for all of Africa twice over. Extensive research led by EDF suggests that oil and gas methane emissions in the U.S. are 60% higher than official EPA estimates.

To fully understand the problem — and drive the solutions — we need more and better data about: How large methane emissions are, Where they’re coming from, The biggest potential reductions, and Progress of those reductions over time.

 

MethaneSAT, being developed by EDF affiliate MethaneSAT LLC, will provide global high-resolution coverage, exceeding anything in orbit or on the drawing board today. Data from MethaneSAT, which will be available free for anyone to use, will help both companies and policymakers spot problems, identify solutions and track progress reducing emissions. The purpose of MethaneSAT is to serve as a critical resource for realizing our goal of reducing methane emissions from a diversity of sources, especially global oil and gas. A 45 percent reduction in oil and gas methane emissions by 2025 would deliver the same 20-year climate benefit as closing one-third of the world’s coal-fired power plants. Cutting these emissions is the fastest, cheapest thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we continue to attack carbon dioxide emissions.

 

Improving the health of forests

Earth observation satellites don’t just help us keep a tab on global warming. They also help us fight climate change in other ways too. One way is through monitoring forest fires. Climate change is making wildfires more prevalent

As well as combating fires, satellite data can also be used to measure the health of forests.

That’s because the specific wavelength of light that a tree emits reveals a great deal about:

  • how healthy it is
  • whether it is infected with a disease
  • how likely that disease is to spread to other trees.

This is important as our forests are vital weapons in the fight against climate change. Healthy trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but diseased trees can release CO2.

Knowing which types of trees are healthiest and most robust will help environmental agencies make informed decisions about which trees to plant and where.

 

ESA and UNOOSA collaboration

According to the European Space Agency “Space technologies have led to several inventions that benefit the environment and save energy. Satellite-based systems are reducing vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions, remote-sensing technology is making wind turbines more efficient, and information from weather satellites is helping solar cells to produce more energy.”

 

UK Space Agency will collaborate with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on a new review of existing activity on climate action through the use of space technologies. According to the UK Space Agency, the aim of the partnership is to map existing work, such as using satellites to measure carbon emissions, monitor deforestation and improve climate models, and investigate what more can be done to strengthen the space sector’s contribution to tackling climate change.

 

The U.K. Space Agency is looking for project ideas, to be delivered through U.K. aid, that use the data collected by satellites to improve decision-making for disaster risk reduction, ocean monitoring, mangrove mapping, and maritime management. This will also see Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, work with the U.K. Space Agency and invite U.K. organizations and other international partners to work with them to scope projects designed to deliver sustainable benefits to Small Island Developing States in the Pacific.

 

The work will build on those systems already under way to help prevent and plan for disasters that are a consequence of rising sea levels and climate change. This follows a recent statement of intent between the UK Space Agency and Australian Space Agency to establish a “Space Bridge” to increase strategic collaboration and lay the foundations for swift negotiations for space-related opportunities under any potential future trading arrangements.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://worldnationnews.com/space-technology-to-tackle-climate-change/

https://www.ukri.org/news-and-events/responding-to-climate-change/topical-stories/how-space-science-can-help-us-combat-climate-change/#:~:text=Satellites%20collecting%20data,our%20oceans%2C%20land%20and%20atmosphere.

https://letstalkscience.ca/educational-resources/backgrounders/7-ways-satellites-help-fight-climate-change

About Rajesh Uppal

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