Climate Action

A new space-based invention will radically improve climate change forecasts - here’s how

Ocean clouds seen from a satellite in space.

The new technology will help meteorologists measure weather and climate data in “unprecedented detail”. Image: Unsplash/ NASA

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • A new invention will help save lives and millions of euros a year in damages from extreme weather, the European Patent Office says.
  • Created by French Airbus engineer Frédérick Pasternak, the space-based invention will upgrade one of the most advanced weather forecasting instruments ever built.
  • It will add “unprecedented detail” to weather and climate data from Europe’s MetOp series of orbiting satellites.

Forecasting changes in the weather and climate is about to get easier – thanks to a new invention by a French scientist.

Frédérick Pasternak, an aeronautical engineer at French aerospace company Airbus, has created a new instrument expected to unlock “next-generation” capabilities in weather forecasting and climate models.

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Why are weather forecasting improvements needed?

Since 2006, three satellites orbiting Earth via the North and South Poles have been collecting weather and climate data as part of the Meteorological Operational Satellite Program of Europe – MetOp for short.

These satellites, called MetOp-A, MetOp-B and MetOp-C, carry a number of instruments, including the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI). This is “one of the most advanced weather instruments ever built,” according to the European Patent Office. But after 16 years, it has reached the limits of what it can do.

A key problem has been the optical components on IASI distorting radiation readings gathered from the Earth over wide angles.

A satellite in space above the Earth.
The new technology will produce “next-generation” capabilities in weather forecasting and climate models. Image: EUMETSAT

How will this new invention help?

Pasternak has solved this issue by developing a special prism that the IASI can constantly reposition. This allows it to capture radiation readings correctly and fixes the distortion problem.

The upgraded instrument is expected to double the resolution meteorologists can use to identify atmospheric gases, the European Patent Office says.

The improved IASI will also show in “unprecedented detail” the temperature, humidity and concentration of air above the ground.

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What does better weather and climate data mean for the world?

The invention will help save lives and millions of euros a year in damages by improving the accuracy of weather forecasts and Europe’s early warning systems, the European Patent Office says. Better data will also help shape future decisions on climate policy.

As well as helping meteorologists improve weather prediction, IASI will measure in detail how much ozone, carbon monoxide, methane and other compounds are in the atmosphere – and potentially contributing to global warming, the European Space Agency says.

Earth observation data shows the world’s climate is “significantly changing”, according to NASA.

Since the middle of the 20th century, human activity has “unequivocally” accelerated global warming at a rate not seen for thousands of years, the agency adds.

Research in 2020 by a climate scientist at Stanford University suggests the impact of global warming on extreme weather events has often been underestimated.

The upgraded weather forecasting instrument will be installed on MetOp-SG satellites that will be launched into orbit in 2024, the European Patent Office said.

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