ESA’s cloud, aerosol and radiation mission


EarthCARE will advance our understanding of the role that clouds and aerosols play in reflecting incident solar radiation back into space and trapping infrared radiation emitted from Earth’s surface.

These observations are much-need to improve climate predictions and weather forecasts.

Our climate is regulated by the balance of energy from incoming solar radiation, solar radiation that is reflected back into space and thermal radiation that is emitted from Earth’s surface.

Greenhouse gases, clouds and aerosols have a big impact on these radiative processes. While greenhouse gases trap energy and heat the atmosphere, the effects of clouds and aerosols are far more complex as they reflect both incoming and outgoing radiation. In addition, aerosols affect the life cycle of clouds, further increasing their radiative effect.

Clouds and aerosols impact the radiation budget

Currently, clouds and aerosols are the biggest uncertainty in our understanding of the atmospheric conditions that drive the climate system. An improved understanding and better modelling of the relationship of clouds, aerosols and radiation is therefore amongst the highest priorities in climate research and weather prediction.

For this purpose, global data on cloud and aerosol occurrence, structure and physical properties together with collocated measurements of solar and thermal radiation are required.

By acquiring vertical profiles of clouds and aerosols, as well as the radiances at the top of the atmosphere, EarthCARE aims to address these issues.

The mission will employ high-performance lidar and radar technology that has never been flown in space before.

Artist's view of EarthCARE

This advanced technology will be used to make global observations of the vertical structure of clouds and aerosols at the same time as taking measurements of radiation.

EarthCARE will deliver unprecedented datasets to allow scientists to study the relationship of clouds, aerosols and radiation at accuracy levels that will significantly improve our understanding of these highly variable parameters.

EarthCARE – the largest and most complex Earth Explorer mission to date – is being developed as a joint venture between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.

Last update: 23 March 2017

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