Little Picture - climate connections

this interactive reveals the interconnectedness of essential climate variables used to characterise the Earth system

Essential Climate Variables are used to characterise Earth's climate. The ESA's Climate Change Initiative uses satellite observations to create reliable, long-term datasets for 27 these important variables.

This interactive Little Picture allows exploration of individual variables and their interconnectedness.


Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) are a set of key indicators that provide essential information on the Earth's climate system. These variables are defined by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and implemented by the European Space Agency (ESA) to monitor and understand the changes in the Earth's climate. There are 55 ECVs that cover a range of atmospheric, oceanic, and land-based parameters, including temperature, precipitation, sea level, carbon dioxide concentration, and ice cover.

By tracking these variables, scientists can assess the impacts of climate change and develop effective strategies for mitigating its effects. The ECVs are crucial for policymakers, researchers, and the public to make informed decisions about climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. The visualisation shows how, according to the science team leaders involved, how these ECVs could usefully be compared.


The data used for this project was sourced from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, including discussions with the science team leaders and the connections noted in Table 1 of this paper:

T Popp et al, Consistency of Satellite Climate Data Records for Earth System Monitoring, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society vol101 issue 11, ppE1948–E1971, Nov 2020


The code and documentation used to build this Little Picture can be found on the following github repository – and can also be found at


This little picture is published under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.

The big picture

The European Space Agency (ESA), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) work closely together to measure, process & make space-derived information about the climate available.


The mission of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) is to realise the full potential of the long-term global Earth Observation archives that the European Space Agency (ESA), together with its Member states, has established over the past 40 years, as a significant and timely contribution to the climate databases required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The ESA Climate Office provides a free & open CCI data facility bringing together ECV data from across its twenty-seven climate science projects, including a CCI Data Standards and a CCI Toolbox.


The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) supports society by providing freely available authoritative information about the past, present and future climate in Europe and the rest of the World. C3S is one of the six thematic information services provided by the Copernicus Earth Observation Programme of the European Union, and has been entrusted by the European Commission to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). One of the core components of C3S includes the Climate Data Store (CDS). This is a one-stop shop for climate information. It provides free and easy access to a wide range of climate datasets via a searchable catalogue. A freely available online toolbox allows users to build workflows and applications suited to their needs.


EUMETSAT operates missions both to provide weather and climate data for its member states, and as an entrusted entity under the Copernicus programme. Several missions are operated collaboratively with ESA, providing complimentary expertise and data processing, to process and distribute land, marine, and atmosphere relevant products for users. Data from EUMETSAT operated missions is frequently available in near-real-time, facilitating rapid monitoring and forecasting. Via EUMETCast, the EUMETSAT Data Services, or WEkEO, users can access data in ways that suit their needs. The data is used by the EUMETSAT satellite applications facilities, as well as across the various Copernicus Services.


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