Science Minister launches UK Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation
New projects to use space lasers to measure global vegetation and carbon cycle
9 October 2007: Science and Innovation Minister Ian Pearson today officially launched a new centre to develop satellite instruments to observe the Earth from space.
The Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation is developing new ideas and technologies for future space missions, to improve understanding of the environment and climate change. Speaking at the launch event in Westminster, the Science and Innovation Minister said: “The UK is at the forefront of space technology and instrumentation both of which are increasingly essential to our understanding of the way the climate is changing. Combining the expertise and experience of the UK’s research councils, academia and industry will ensure the UK continues to play a major role in the fight against climate change.” In one of the new projects announced today, which will be funded by the Centre, the University of Edinburgh will lead a study into the use of space-based lasers to measure the global vegetation cover and how it changes over time. These measurements will enable climate scientists to improve their understanding of an important component of the ‘carbon cycle’ – how carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, is taken up by plants and trees. The huge amount of ‘bio-mass’ in forests, which cover more than 40% of the Earth’s land surface helps the Earth to absorb and store some of the carbon-dioxide that mankind is generating as we burn fossil fuels. These satellite-based lasers will monitor the changing nature of the world’s forests resulting from human activities, forest fires and desertification. The UK has considerable expertise in the use of airborne lasers to monitor land cover and bio-diversity. As well as the academic skills in the two universities, the projects will take advantage of expertise and technologies developed in UK industries for airborne and ground based measurements for military and pollution monitoring applications. Astrium, which is leading the Centre, in partnership with QinetiQ, University of Leicester and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory/Science and Technology Facilities Council, has more than 30 years experience developing space based Earth observation instrumentation. The Centre is jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills together with investment from UK industry.