South Pole satellites to bolster climate change accuracy


Project to calibrate sensor equipment expected to deliver significant improvements in accuracy of climate change predictions

A South Pole snowfield is to become the most analysed spot on earth this month as a global network of scientists train more than 30 satellites on the area to calibrate their sensor equipment.

The exercise, which could have major implications for risk management professionals and insurance firms the world over, will increase the reliability of orbiting monitoring equipment to deliver more accurate data on climate change.

Researchers from space agencies around the globe, coordinated by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), will cross-reference their test results to determine for the first time, as a single exercise, differences between their measurements.
The collection of analysed data will ensure future measurements are quality-assured and will lead to vast improvements in measuring climate change, weather systems and monitoring disaster areas amongst others.
Some of these measurements require the detection of changes of a few tenths of a per cent per decade, yet current measurements from different satellite systems can wildly fluctuate, sometimes to levels more than 20 times greater than the changes the scientists are analysing.
The string of satellites, ranging in spatial resolution from a metre to several hundred metres, will measure the reflectance of the sun by the Antarctic snow. All of the data will be cross-compared with the results from different satellites and supported by ground measurements of the site.

The polar experiment will focus on an area known as “DOME C” and can only be conducted in December and January when the Sun is relatively high in the sky during the southern hemisphere summer.

Nigel Fox, head of Earth Observation in NPL’s Optical Technologies software and computing team said: “This is the most comprehensive comparison of its kind ever organised and is a direct result of efforts led by NPL to establish improved quality assurance of Earth observation data.

“As the data from many of the sensors involved in this comparison is used in studies of climate change, it is essential that we can reliably combine it together and start to use it as a truly global resource and reference for the future. This comparison will provide the information and evidence to allow this to happen.”

This quality-control experiment is the first of a series led by NPL, supported by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the European Space Agency and the British National Space Centre, to address key issues in Earth observation.

The drive to deliver more accurate data is being implemented throughout the world’s space agencies ensuring that its next generation of satellites for example in Europe, the Sentinels, are fully compliant and able to deliver continuous operational data to enable more precise climate change studies.

Future experiments include measurements of the temperature of the ocean and reflectance of a salt lake in Turkey.

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