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Monitoring Earth’s skin heat for crops and climate

22 July 2019

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A bright red twin-engined aircraft, equipped with ultra-high-resolution thermal imaging technology has been scouring the agricultural heartlands of Europe this summer. It was no search and rescue exercise, but an initial step towards building a proposed new satellite system capable of recording the temperature of Earth's skin in intricate detail.

The objective is to work towards increasing the resilience of agriculture to future water scarcity and variability, but it will also deepen our understanding of Earth's climate system.

The instrument on board, called HyTES, is an advanced thermal imager built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It has been surveying agricultural and urban areas in the UK and Italy as part of a joint airborne campaign between ESA and NASA.

The results will help provide test data to support the development of the proposed Land Surface Temperature Monitoring (LSTM) mission, which is one of six new missions being considered for Europe's Copernicus programme. As with the Copernicus Sentinel missions, these new missions are being developed by ESA.

The campaign also supports the development of ESA's Earth Explorer FLEX mission, which will improve our understanding of the way carbon moves between plants and the atmosphere and how photosynthesis affects the carbon and water cycles.

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