We are facing a climate crisis. Greenhouse gas concentrations are at record levels, and show no sign of peaking. Already we see the impacts. Glaciers are disappearing, sea level rise is accelerating and weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense1,2,3.
Without evidence-based action, the natural environment and virtually every human on Earth will be affected in increasingly severe ways. To address this challenge, ESA is supporting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by providing systematic, global and long-term observations of climate.
The ESA Climate Change Initiative (CCI) exploits over 40 years of archived and emerging satellite observations to develop long-term, global data records that describe the evolution of key components of the Earth system. To monitor changes across the oceans, atmosphere and land environment, Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) provide the empirical evidence needed to advance scientific understanding of the climate and address the impacts of a changing world. Our science teams undertake research to generate 21 ECVs defined by the Global Climate Observing System. All ECV datasets are fully validated and have high levels of traceability and consistency, including quantitative estimates of uncertainty required by both climate science and modelling communities.
Earth observation satellites provide the global view needed to monitor and understand the climate system. Spanning decades, these precise measurements enable the scientific community to detect signs of change, identify significant trends and improve the models that predict the climate's evolution.
This vital information enables governments and decision-makers to address the consequences of a changing climate, manage risks and enhance resilience.
Carbon dioxide and methane are at record levels
Atmospheric CO2 levels rose to 407 ppm in 2018, the highest for 800,000 years; methane concentrations are now around 150% above pre-industrial levels4,5,6.
To reliably predict future changes to the climate, we need to monitor concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere and understand their natural and human-made sources and sinks - satellites give us this information.
ESA's Climate Change Initiative Greenhouse Gas project is mapping the global distribution of near-surface carbon dioxide and methane, and its change from year to year, using data from ESA’s Envisat mission and JAXA’s GOSAT satellite7. The smallest changes in concentration can be detected, to within one part per million of carbon dioxide, enabling scientists' to improve the models that predict their impact on future global warming.
Global mean sea level rise is accelerating
Sea level has risen globally by around 15 cm during the 20th century and is currently rising more than twice as fast – 3.6 mm per year (between 2006-2015)3.
It could reach 60-110 cm by 2100 in model projections that assume countries take little action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This would make flooding an annual occurrence, increasing the risks faced by 1.9 billion people living in low-lying coastal regions3.
Sea level does not rise uniformly everywhere - measurements only possible by satellite show how sea levels across the globe vary due to winds, atmospheric pressure, the ocean floor, Earth's rotation as well as the water's temperature and salinity.
By merging observations from 11 different satellite missions, the ESA Climate Change Initiative Sea Level project has generated a highly precise and continuous 25-year record of sea-surface height9,10,11. An accurate understanding of the changes in global sea level accurate understanding of rising sea levels, including important regional differences, is vital for the international community to develop an effective response.
Shrinking of the cryosphere is widespread
There is ample evidence of large and rapid changes happening at the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets. Since 1992 satellites have charted accelerating losses through measurements of surface height, ice velocity and change in mass12,13. The Greenland Ice sheet lost mass at a rate of 255 gigatonnes per year between 2003 and 2016, a marked acceleration on the preceding decade14. A recent major assessment of Antarctica, combining data from 24 satellite surveys, indicated a trebling of ice loss from West Antarctica in recent years, and velocities five times faster than the early 1990s15. Comparing 800 million measurements of Antarctica’s ice sheet height, recorded by radar altimeter instruments on ESA’s ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat and CryoSat satellite missions between 1992 and 2017, with the simulated changes in snowfall, show almost 25% of the glacier ice in West Antarctica is already thinning – up to 122 metres in places16.Change in Antarctic Ice Sheet mass and contribution to sea level rise (1992-2017) Data from the ESA-NASA funded Ice Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise (IMBIE)
The carbon cycle: ESA’s Climate Change Initiative is helping to improve our understanding of the carbon cycle and its role in climate change.
The atmosphere: ESA’s Climate Change Initiative is investigating key consituents of the atmosphere such as aerosols, the greenhouse gases and ozone to determine how they are affecting our climate.
Land cover: ESA's Climate Change is mapping land cover around the globe to monitor changes in land use. This supports a range of applications, from conservation to natural resources management.
El Niño and La Niña: ESA’s Climate Change Initiative uses Earth observation satellites to measure sea surface temperature and monitor the effects of climate events like El Niño and La Niña in the context of a changing global climate.
By harnessing climate knowledge and technical capabilities from across ESA Member States, the Clime Change Initiative has supported R&D to deliver high quality pre-operational data records of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) to support the UNFCCC.
In its contribution to climate and Earth system science, this programme has published over 600 peer-reviewed articles. This body of work has supported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) headline statements on climate in both its 5th Assessment Report2 and Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate3.
More than 100 open access climate datasets are available to Users.
Sustained operational production - 13 ECV processing systems developed under ESA's Climate Change Initiative have already been transferred to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Supporting young scientists - the Climate Change Initiative has also funded 13 research fellowships to further improve and exploit ECV products.
The ESA Climate Change Initiative Open Data Portal provides free and Open Access to +100 high-quality satellite-derived climate datasets. Access data via WMS, WCS and OpeNDAP. If you prefer FTP however, we have that too.
All CCI products and projects follow the
CCI Data Policy (v1.1) and CCI Data Standards (v2.1)
Browse high-level datasets within the CCI Open Data Portal using a graphical interface that shows temporal coverage key for each product type, key documentation and a link to download the dataset via FTP.
Use free text and a variety of search options to access data products from the CCI Open Data Portal. You can choose from a variety of methods to download data.
This open-source software enables users to access, visualise and analyse CCI datasets. The CCI Toolbox combines ECV data into a Common Data Model and is available via a command line interface; graphical user interface; and Python API via Windows, Linux and Mac.
The Climate Change Initiative comprises 23 research projects dedicated to producing datasets of Essential Climate Variables. A climate modeling user group lies at its core to bring together Earth observation, climate modelling and reanalysis communities to ensure consistency between datasets and usefulness for a variety of applications. Drawing on multiple ECVs, the CCI includes budget closure projects that address complex science questions.
The ESA Climate office is your first port of call for enquiries relating to climate-related activities. For more information on ESA's climate activities, please contact us on the email below.
1. IPCC, 2018:
Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.
2. IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.
3. IPCC, 2019: Summary for Policymakers. In: IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [H.O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, N. Weyer (eds.)]. In press.
4. BAMS State of the Climate 2018
5. Lüthi, D. et al., 2008: High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present. Nature, 453(7193), 379-382. doi:doi:10.1038/nature06949
6. Buchwitz, M., et al. (2018) Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) Global Satellite Observations of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Methane. Adv. Astronaut. Sci. Technol.1: 57. doi:10.1007/s42423-018-0004-6
7. Buchwitz M, Reuter M, Schneising O, et al. (2017) Global satellite observations of column-averaged carbon dioxide and methane: the GHG-CCI XCO2 and XCH4 CRDP3 data set. Remote Sens Environ 203:276–295. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2016.12.027
8. ESA Climate Change Initiative GHG project website - www.esa-ghg-cci.org
9. ESA Climate Change Initiative Sea level project - www.esa-sealevel-cci.org
10. Legeais, J.-F. et al., 2018: An improved and homogeneous altimeter sea level record from the ESA Climate Change Initiative. Earth System Science Data, 10, 281-301. doi:10.5194/essd-10-281-2018 11. Ablain, M., Legeais, J. F., Prandi, P., Fenoglio-Marc, L., Marcos, M., Benveniste, J., and Cazenave, A.: Satellite altimetry based sea level at global and regional scales, 2017. Surv. Geophys., 38, 9–33. doi:10.1007/s10712-016-9389-8
12. Strozzi, T. et al., 2017: Circum-Arctic Changes in the Flow of Glaciers and Ice Caps from Satellite SAR Data between the 1990s and 2017. Remote Sensing, 9 (9). doi:10.3390/rs9090947
13. Sandberg Sørensen, L. et al., 2018: 25 years of elevation changes of the Greenland Ice Sheet from ERS, Envisat, and CryoSat-2 radar altimetry. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 495, 234-241, 56 doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2018.0515
14. Mottram. R., et al (2019) An Integrated View of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Changes Based on Models and Satellite Observations. Remote Sens. 11(12), 1407 doi:10.3390/rs11121407
15. The IMBIE team (2018) Mass balance of the Antarctic Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2017. Nature volume 558, 219–222. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0179-y
16. Shepherd, A. et al (2019) Trends in Antarctic Ice Sheet Elevation and Mass. Geophys. Res. Lett., vol. 46, no. 14, 2019, 8174–8183 doi:10.1029/2019GL082182.