Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Jenni Davidson
19 May 2021
Satellite data ‘vital’ to tackling climate change

Satellite image of the UK - Image credit: European Space Agency/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Satellite data ‘vital’ to tackling climate change

Satellite data is “vital” to tackling climate change, according to a new report published ahead of the COP26 climate summit.

A briefing from by COP26 Universities Network identifies earth observation (EO) satellites as critical to monitoring the causes and effects of climate change.

They also ensure “rigour” in stocktakes of Paris Agreement commitments and support emergency responses to climate disasters such as floods, wildfires and volcanic eruptions.

However, that data must also be presented in a way that is freely available and accessible without expert knowledge, the report says.

In order to realise the benefits, more people are needed with skills and knowledge in this area, as are advances in technology and international collaboration.

Professor Marian Scott of the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Glasgow was one of the co-authors of the paper, ‘Space-based Earth observations in achieving climate security’.

She said: “Earth observation, when combined with in-situ and sensor data, is extremely powerful, allowing us to observe environmental changes over space and time in unprecedented detail even in remote parts of the globe.

“Archives of historical satellite data are powerful resources when combined with advanced analytics to help us understand what is changing in our natural environment, and how quickly. 

“The NERC-funded Globolakes project, for example, set out to understand changes in water quality in a thousand lakes around the world.

“Historical satellite images of the lakes helped us to build a time-lapse series of images of the lakes taken at monthly intervals without sending teams of scientists to often hard-to-reach locations.

“Identifying lakes which behave similarly over time will help us identify the rates and drivers of change, including climate and global warming.

“Another project, part of the UKRI-NERC Digital Environment initiative, is using satellite data from European and Japanese space agency satellites to better understand soil moisture and water resources.

“Those data can help farmers make more informed decisions on when to withdraw water from rivers to irrigate their crops.

“In both these projects, we have developed data fusion methodology to combine the different data streams and improve our intelligence about spatial and temporal variability in the environment.  

“Both projects also indicate the importance of access to satellite data and that such data are truly international. 

“Another very important aspect of these projects is their collaborative and multi-disciplinary nature – working together with local communities and other scientists brings huge benefits to the science and the impacts achieved.”

Lead author of the briefing, Professor Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences and the Cabot Institute for the Environment, said: “Earth observation satellites are our eyes on the planet.

“Without them we would be virtually blind to the magnitude and timing of climate change and to human interference with the fragile ecosystems that we all depend on.”

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - The Holyrood baby: More likely to live in poverty now than the day she was born.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top