Satellites are critical to fighting the climate crisis, scientists say

The GOES-17 satellite. Earth-monitoring satellites continue to prove critical to studying climate change.
The GOES-17 satellite.The GOES-17 satellite. Earth-monitoring satellites continue to prove critical to studying climate change. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

Space remains a vital resource in studying climate change on our own planet.

On Monday (Feb. 28), the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the second piece of its latest climate report. (The first piece was published in August 2021August and the third will be released in April). The report details how climate change, caused by human action, is progressing. 

Among other findings, the report shows how the effects and human impacts of climate change are happening even faster than expected. This new report piece used data from over 34,000 different scientific studies. And, with more Earth-observing probes in orbit than ever before, satellites around our planet are serving a critical role in our evolving understanding of climate change.

Related: The top 10 views of Earth from space

For decades, humans have been lofting satellites into low Earth orbit with cameras and scientific equipment on board to study our planet and its atmosphere. In fact, this past Tuesday (March 1), the newest of these probes launched to orbit: GOES-T, which is part ofthe U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s four-satellite, $11.7 billion Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series of spacecraft.

"We have this GOES series of satellites [that] dates back to the 1970s," Jordan Gerth, a physical scientist for NOAA, told "And so, by continuing to watch geostationary satellites, we're now getting to the point where we can have a very robust, nearly 50-year look at how the atmosphere is changing." 

With GOES-T's high-resolution imaging capabilities, scientists are able to look at Earth's changing atmosphere "not only on a hemispheric scale, but with the capacities of GOES-T, starting to look at the community level," Gerth added. 

"That'll help us look at things like urban heat islands, how land use is changing," Gerth said. "There's a lot of additional information that we can extract, particularly from the mid latitudes in the equatorial region."

AndNOAA's GOES satellites are part of a larger collection of probes that orbit and study planet Earth. 

In a statement following the release of the new IPCC report installation, the European Space Agency shared how observations from European satellites are contributing to discoveries about Earth's changing climate. 

Earth-observing satellites like those from ESA can enable "technology-based adaptation solutions, including early-warning systems for extreme events, environmental monitoring, improved forecast and hindcast models," Marie-Fanny Racault, a research fellow at the University of East Anglia in England and co-author of the new IPCC report segment, said in an ESA statement.

"Enhanced development and extended implementation of these tools, especially in the most vulnerable and highly affected regions, will be paramount to support timely adaption actions to reduce climate risks under global warming," Racault added.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.