Space is Crucial to Understanding Climate Change

  • Sep 17, 2021
  • NEI

Space developments in the last two decades have greatly contributed to our understanding of our planet’s climate. Satellite imaging, space exploration, and new technologies give us an idea of the big picture and how we can adapt to address climate change.

For example, satellites in space have played a critical role in our understanding of the causes of global warming by providing us with a large body of data to examine the variations in the Earth’s orbit.

Data from these capabilities were essential inputs into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report that focused on how the physical science of climate change informs likely impacts under five different emissions scenarios.

The report also found that climate change is happening quicker than we thought, making the need to reduce emissions imminent. To address this, space infrastructure such as positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) can help identify efficient transportation routes and sources of emissions, ultimately aiding mitigation efforts.

NASA’s Earth System Observatory, the next generation of Earth science satellites that will launch in the next decade, reflect the importance of Earth imaging. This constellation of satellites is designed to provide information about our planet ranging from the location of forest fires to the sea level rise to our agricultural processes. It will be able to collect data at the regional and local levels and connect critical interactions between the atmosphere, land, ocean and ice, significantly bolstering our understanding of the Earth’s climate.

Another large focus of the initiative is predicting severe weather and answering questions surrounding aerosols, which are particles in the atmosphere that are a key source of uncertainty in predicting climate change.

Alongside adding funding to FEMA, the Biden Administration announced the development of the Earth System Observatory, indicating its support for the program in understanding how climate change is impacting communities.

Space exploration is foundational to climate science because it provides us with more information about the Earth, our solar system and the role of gases in our atmosphere, and nuclear energy has played an important role powering our missions into space.

In 1969, NASA launched Nimbus III, a nuclear-powered spacecraft, that is the first U.S. satellite to gather vital oceanographic data, such as measurements of sea ice and the ozone layer.

The spacecraft also measured atmospheric temperature, water vapor and ozone, as well as the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching our atmosphere from the sun.

Cassini, a nuclear-powered probe into Saturn and its moons, released the Huygens probe which collected important data about what earth may have looked like in its state before humans evolved. The mission revealed Titan to be one of the most Earth-like worlds we’ve encountered and has shed light on the history of our home planet.

Nuclear energy has powered dozens of interplanetary missions, which have gathered critical information about our universe. These make up some of the most successful and inspiring missions in U.S. space exploration history.

Climate and space technologies build off of each other, as evidenced by solar photovoltaic panels first gaining a foothold in the space industry. Nuclear energy can be positioned to experience such a catalyst with new investments in nuclear space technologies.

As climate change intensifies, space exploration and Earth observation will become increasingly important to gathering critical data. We must meet the moment by investing in these missions and recognizing nuclear power’s important role in space technologies.