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N° 15–2019: New European Space Agency mission will add to climate knowledge

24 September 2019

A new European mission, the Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring mission, or FORUM, will add a crucial measurement to help our understanding of Earth’s changing climate.

Measurements from the new spacecraft will improve confidence in the accuracy of climate change assessments that form the basis for future policy decisions.

FORUM will record far-infrared radiation emitted from Earth to space – extending beyond the parts of the infrared spectrum currently being measured. The measurements will help the study of Earth’s radiation budget – the balance between the incoming radiation mostly from the Sun at short wavelengths, and outgoing radiation, which is a combination of reflected radiation from the Sun and radiation emitted by the Earth system, much of it a longer wavelengths. When the budget is not balanced, the temperature of the planet can change, with consequences for the climate. Human activities have altered the atmosphere, changing the behaviour of the heat-conserving elements.

More than half of the outgoing longwave energy is in the far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which will be measured for the first time by FORUM. This will give a clearer, more detailed picture of what is happening in different altitudes of the atmosphere, and allow more accurate tracking of atmospheric components, especially water vapour and ice clouds..

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said, “FORUM will measure, for the first time, the far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum from space, thus allowing us to better understand the energy balance of our planet. FORUM will bring great benefits to climate science.

“Better understanding the complexity of our climate system and filling gaps in our knowledge is of critical importance as the consequences of climate change are far-reaching, affecting all facets of society and the natural world.”

The design of the mission will now be fine-tuned, and then built with a view to being launched in 2026.

FORUM is ESA’s ninth Earth Explorer mission. The series of satellites uses innovative measurement techniques to yield new insight into different aspects of the Earth system and the interactions that bind the system as a whole. They are designed and built to fill knowledge gaps identified by the scientific community, keeping scientists at the heart of the selection and development process.

FORUM and its competitor, the Sea-surface Kinematics Multiscale monitoring (SKIM) concept, were presented and discussed in detail with the scientific community at a User Consultation Meeting in Cambridge, UK, in July. While both missions would deliver outstanding value to science, ESA’s Advisory Committee for Earth Observation recommended FORUM for its planned impact on climate models, identifying climate prediction as a major global concern.

FORUM and the Earth Explorers

Further Information about ESA’s Earth Explorers:

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FORUM report for selection:

Videos and Social Media

An introduction to FORUM

Earth Explorer 9 Consultation meeting

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About ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member.

ESA has established formal cooperation with seven Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications.

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