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GLOC 2023: Democratising data access key to climate action

01 Jun 2023

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The need for easy access to remote sensing data and making them more digestible to the local user community, were take home messages from the first Global Space Conference on Climate Change (GLOC), held in Oslo, Norway, last week.  

Taking place between 23 – 25 May in Oslo, GLOC 2023 was the first-of-its-kind forum to put the spotlight on space as a toolbox to help monitor and address the climate crisis.

GLOC banner
Global Space Conference on Climate Change

Under the theme “Fire and Ice – Space for Climate Action”, over six hundred multi-disciplinary experts from 45 countries gathered at GLOC, in Norway’s capital city.

In the final summary session of the conference, leading experts concluded that while the global Earth observation (EO) industry provides vast amounts of data, to make the data useful, the information needs to reach the local user community. 

We need to measure globally and implement locally, as well as simply making data more digestible to the local user, said the panel. To this end, easy to use tools and platforms to access data and process them, must be continually improved.  

Remote sensing datasets monitor climate variables

global ice loss simulated over Oslo
Global ice loss simulated over Oslo

The role of long-term measurements in contributing to climate related research, was also emphasised. As remote sensing datasets from many EO missions are now multi-decadal and their measurements move from current to long-term, as well as from regional to global, their ability to monitor important climate variables strengthens. 

One such essential climate variable is fire disturbance, whose impact on atmospheric emissions can be measured using EO data. At GLOC, ESA’s FireCCI project – part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) - presented their current suite of global products, which rely on a wealth of long-term ESA Heritage data as well as current global datasets from ESA and the Copernicus space programme. 

Thanks to higher spatial resolution input data, the resulting burned area product can detect more burned area than previously, revealing that small fires and their carbon emissions have a surprisingly large contribution to the global problem. 

The project aims to merge data from Landsat with Copernicus Sentinel-2 data to create an even more powerful global scale dataset. 

Both private and public sectors have a role 

At GLOC it was apparent that both private and public space sectors play a part in helping tackle the climate crisis. In particular, private enterprises are performing critical measurements in monitoring methane, which is responsible for about a third of global warming since pre-industrial times.

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, being emitted mainly from the agricultural and waste management sectors. Since methane has such a short lifetime, an immediate impact can be achieved if its presence in the atmosphere can be reduced. 

Detecting methane emissions using satellite data
Detecting methane emissions using satellite data

In one of the GLOC technical sessions, a specialist in the high-resolution remote sensing of planet-warming gases from space, Canadian GHGSat Inc, presented an array of examples of how their datasets help track methane hot-spots and emissions around the world, with unprecedented accuracy.

Recent examples included identification of methane emissions from landfills in Argentina, coal mining in Poland and feedlots and dairy farms in California. GHGSat offers their data free of charge for research purposes via ESA’s Earthnet Third Party Mission (TPM) programme

Undoubtedly, the climate crisis is impacting the frequency and severity of natural disasters. Finnish ICEYE - providing a constellation of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites and also part of ESA's TPM programme -presented their contribution to the effective response to natural catastrophes

By combining SAR technology with auxiliary data sources and machine learning, ICEYE can provide accurate and immediate insights into the situation on the ground. 

AI helps extract value from data

Space as a toolbox for climate action
Space as a toolbox for climate action

Further discussions at plenary sessions addressed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed how data are used and disseminated. 

Advanced machine learning not only provides decision making tools to help us decide what to measure, but also boosts the data processing capacity required to deal with vast amounts of data in smart ways. In short, AI makes it easier to extract value from data.

The GLOC conference was the first of its kind, run by the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). It proved to be a vital forum about the role of space in climate action.

It raised awareness about the importance of democratising data by bringing them in useful formats to end users, while providing user-friendly platforms for accessing the data.

Learn about ESA's remote sensing data and access the collections.