From space we get an overview of climate changes on Earth

DTU Space contributes to the green transition and response to climate change with the development of technology as well as research that gives decision-makers, business and citizens an overview of changes in the Earth's climate and tools and information to deal with them.

From space, we create an overview of climate change and related processes on Earth. We observe and investigate the consequences of climate change on Earth to draw as accurately a picture as possible of what is happening. It is technology and knowledge used in climate models and to find solutions to mitigate climate change.

We conduct fundamental research and develop and build space-based technology. We contribute with technology and science to satellites and spacecraft that monitor changes in the world's oceans, the melting of ice at the poles, and moisture in the Earth's forests and land areas.

We also use this technology, or technology developed by partners, typically part of ESA and NASA missions, to research climate change and related issues. We collect data via space, aircraft, drones, and measurements on land and sea, such as Greenland ice melt levels.


The overall balance

Roughly speaking, climate research examines the balance between energy coming from the Sun and how much is going back to space through the atmosphere. This relationship determines how much heat 'accumulates' on Earth and in its atmosphere. And thus how much the globe is warming. It is well established that the Earth is getting warmer these years because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, which keeps the heat.

The math is complicated. It is an interplay between a large number of different factors that together determine how climate change develops and how much, for example, temperatures and water levels in the world's oceans increase as a consequence.


New satellites complete the picture
A series of Earth observation satellites, which have either been sent into space or are on their way, will provide the most accurate picture of the climate changes to date. These are missions run by NASA and ESA with contributions from DTU Space and other Danish institutions.

We are involved in several missions, where advanced equipment on satellites provide data for climate models so that they can draw a picture of climate change that is more accurate than ever before.

Several new satellites have been launched in the last ten years. This series of satellites will be completed with PACE and CLARREO scheduled to be launched over the next few years. With them in space, more accurate data for significant parameters that affect the climate will be available for scientists to use in the climate models.

The satellites will observe many essential parameters. For example, the amount of energy coming towards the Earth from the Sun, how the oceans rise when ice in the Arctic and Antarctic melts, and freshwater, oxygen, vegetation levels in the global eco-cycle and conversion rates of CO2 in the oceans.

DTU Space contributes to several missions.
Here are some examples. Some are in space already while others are on their way:

  • PACE (NASA), a satellite mission that will examine, among other things, the distribution and changes in the quantities of plankton in the world's oceans, which absorb CO2 and tie it at the seabed.
  • The CLARREO mission (NASA) is mounted on the International Space Station ISS. It measures the amount of energy and radiation from the Sun, which is reflected from Earth.
  • The PROBA3 mission (ESA) is a test mission that will investigate new methods for studying conditions on the Sun.
  • The GEDI mission (NASA) sits on the ISS, from where its lidar system measures the contribution of deforestation to atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
  • The IRIS mission (NASA) is a satellite that investigates eruptions and space weather on the Sun that may affect the Earth.
  • The GRACE-FO mission (NASA) is a satellite that measures changes in ocean water levels and the amount of ice at the poles.
  • The Sentinel 6 mission (ESA and NASA) was launched recently to measure, among other things, sea-level rise. Researchers at DTU Space will use data from this satellite.
  • The ICON mission (NASA) is a satellite that studies where Earth and space weather systems meet. 


Examples of our Earth observation research
Scientists from DTU Space use data from these new satellites, from older satellites, measurements from aircraft, drones and measuring stations on the ice in Greenland. And report their findings to the UN International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

For example, DTU Space researchers in international collaborations map how quickly the inland glacier ice has melted in Greenland over time.

Both over thousands of years. Over the last 150 years. And in the previous 30-40 years, where satellites have made much more exact measurements possible.

We also use satellite data to investigate how much the ocean water level changes when the ice at the poles melts.

We are also researching land uplifts occurring when the ice melts and many tons of load are lifted off the landmasses below. An effect that also affects Denmark and sea levels here.

All these data can be used in models to predict the consequences we will experience from climate change in this century and onwards.

In addition, our technology and research are also being used to mitigate climate change, for example, through satellite-based positioning systems that optimize shipping routes, so cargo ships use less fuel.