Jun 14, 2015

Next generation climate instrument successfully calibrated in the UK

(12 June 2015) A next generation satellite based sensor that is designed to advance our understanding of climate change has left the UK today after successfully completing a series of very challenging tests, and is en-route to the south of France for installation on the Sentinel 3 spacecraft.

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This major milestone in the life of The Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR) was reached today as the sensor departed the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) RAL Space Centre for Calibration, heading for integration with the Sentinel 3 satellite in Cannes, having undergone a series of thermal vacuum and calibration tests. The calibration is to assure the instrument’s highly accurate measurements of global Earth surface temperatures for climate monitoring.

The sensor, which National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) experts will use for a range of climate research, is particularly designed to derive Sea-Surface Temperatures (SSTs). To get maximum understanding of climate, these new data will be carefully combined with SST from previous satellite instruments to measure changes across decades. Data from SLSTR will provide continuity of the climate quality sea surface temperature (SST) data collected by the Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR), which over the last 20 years has much improved spatial and temporal coverage. Simulation of the interplay of ocean and atmosphere is crucial to being able to predict future tendencies of the weather and climate, and SST that will be used by climate modellers to test their models.

Professor Chris Merchant of NCEO and University of Reading said, “We are very much looking forward to obtaining data from the first Sentinel 3 mission. Because of SLSTR’s design and calibration, the sea surface temperature measurements we will derive from its images should be very trustworthy. This helps us track the behaviour of climate.”

SLSTR has been developed through a collaboration between Selex ES (Florence), Jena Optronik, and STFC-RAL Space for the ESA/EU Copernicus Sentinel 3 Satellite led by Thales Alenia Space in Cannes.

Professor John Remedios, Director of NCEO said “The Along Track Scanning Radiometers (ATSRs) and the new Sea- and Land- Surface Temperature Radiometers (SLSTRs) show how the UK is delivering significant evidence regarding the magnitude of change in ocean temperatures. The high quality data from these instruments also serves many operational applications which add value to this core mission which involves many leading UK scientists.”

Dr Chris Mutlow, Director of RAL Space said “SLSTR is a second generation SST sensor which will carry on the climate observations started by the ATSR programme. The successful completion of the SLSTR instrument calibration has required a great deal of hard work from our team at RAL over the last few months, and represents a major milestone for ESA/EU and all the contractors around Europe who have spent years building the instrument. Like the rest of the science and operational communities we are now keen to have SLSTR in space, operational and delivering high-quality SST data to users”.

The calibration was performed in a purpose built rig designed to allow the SLSTR instrument to view the different calibration sources under carefully controlled conditions that replicates the in-flight environment. The measurements ensure that the calibration of the data generated by SLSTR can be traced to reference standards as required for accurate climate monitoring.

These activities require major computing power, and the UK has created a facility for collecting and processing large volumes of SLSTR and other data, at Harwell.

NCEO experts will be using the SLSTR instrument to provide essential new information on the land including fires and land surface temperature. It has two specifically designed detector systems which are sensitive enough to detect fires burning across as little as 100 m², which is only 1/10000th of the area covered by a single SLSTR pixel. Professor Martin Wooster of NCEO and King’s College London hopes to use this important data to map the radiative heat emitted by fires burning worldwide, and relate this to emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases and aerosols. In an El Nino year, the impact of fires on Earth’s land and atmosphere can be especially severe, as was the case in 1997-1998.

The National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)

NCEO is a distributed Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) centre with over 80 scientists from UK Universities and research organisations. It is led by Professor John Remedios. NCEO provides NERC with National Capability in Earth Observation (EO) science and incorporates world-class capabilities in interpretive EO. The NERC strategy, “The Business of the Environment”, identifies a unique capability of EO to study environmental change on scales from global to local. In response to this, NCEO provides innovative approaches to scientific investigations of the global and regional Earth System, meeting the related needs of society through long-term core science and translation of EO knowledge and environmental data for support of government and business.


RAL Space, based at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, carries out an exciting range of world-class space research and technology development. It has had significant involvement in over 200 space missions and is at the forefront of UK Space Research.


The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including in the UK the ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR, and is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.

It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

(source: STFC)