The ESA-Future Earth Joint Program

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Future Earth have partnered to facilitate the development and uptake of Earth observation data by Future Earth’s research networks.

The ESA-Future Earth joint programme funding supports links by bringing Future Earth scientists to meetings organised and supported by ESA, to promote the potential of Earth observation data to new communities and develop links with the GRPs and KANs. It also increases ESA’s involvement in Future Earth conferences and events, supporting with sponsorship, keynote speakers, expert scientist participation and joint sessions.

The partnership includes seed funding to stimulate new collaborations around the climate datasets provided under ESA’s Climate Change Initiative. Under this initiative, ESA has developed a suite of 23 Essential Climate Variable (ECV) data products in response to the UNFCCC’s need for systematic observations of the climate system.

The products merge data from multiple satellites and sensors to create long time-series of climate data, which are as stable and consistent as possible and suitable for a range of climate research applications.

Learn More

Sophie Hebden

Liaison, Future Earth and European Space Agency

Photo: Copernicus Sentinel Data

ECV projects include land cover, high resolution land cover, land surface temperature, soilmoisture, fire, biomass, lakes, permafrost, snow, glaciers, ice sheets (Antarctica and Greenland), sea ice, sea level, sea state, sea surface salinity, ocean colour, sea surface temperature, greenhouse gases, water vapour, ozone, aerosol, and cloud.

All data products have fully characterised uncertainties and are validated using independent, traceable, in-situ measurement and are freely available from the CCI Open Data Portal.

ESA’s climate data can be explored on a new interactive website ‘Climate from Space’ from a mobile, tablet device or desktop computer. With 3D globes as well as map views, users can watch decades of global climate change unfold in seconds, pinch and zoom into a region, and compare individual climate variables, side-by-side. The site features a series of self-guided ‘climate stories’ that explain how and why the climate is changing, and its impact on daily life now.

For data analysis, consider the CCI Toolbox software environment. Cate Desktop is a graphical user interface providing access to remote and local CCI data and a suite of operations to act on the data. All ESA CCI datasets published through the Open Data Portal can typically be accessed by the Toolbox Python API and Command Line Interface. Details on installation and configuration can be found here, but the CCI Toolbox will be launched as online dashboard in September 2020.


Four projects have been selected to develop online demonstration tools that tackle the threats posed by increasingly frequent cholera outbreaks, storm damage and flooding, and extremes of urban heat.

The projects are consulting with users and scientists across the Future Earth networks to develop the tools by September 2021, and the tools will be showcased at the UNFCCC COP-26 meeting in November 2021 in Glasgow, UK.

Coming soon – events funded under the Joint ESA-Future Earth Partnership:

Earth Observation to Enable the Characterization and Synthesis of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Linked Land Use Change for the Land Matrix Initiative
GLP (Global Land Programme)
This activity was proposed by the Global Land Programme, a Global Research Project of Future Earth, and the Land Matrix Initiative – an independent global land monitoring initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in decisions over large-scale land acquisitions in low- and middle-income countries across the world. The proposed workshop will convene researchers, NGOs and government sectors in the application of remote sensing to better map and understand the mechanisms behind past, present and future dynamics of land cover and land use change associated with Large-Scale Land Acquisitions. It will include tools and technical challenges of working with EO data, and planning of topics, regions and countries for collaborative work. Workshop date TBD.

Past events funded under the Joint ESA-Future Earth Partnership:

Workshop: Linking Earth Observation Data and Sustainable Development Across the Atlantic
FEC (Future Earth Coasts – formerly LOICZ)
FEC aims to set up a new community across different scientific disciplines and economic activities relating to the Atlantic basin, particularly from the South and Central Atlantic, for routine use EO data in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. Towards this aim, ESA supported a workshop in Estoril, Portugal, 3-5 December 2019 to coincide with the 3rd Marine Technologies Workshop 2019 organized by Instituto Hidrográfico. It aims to attract new users of EO data, likely technicians and scientists from marine-related activities in Fisheries and Aquaculture, Spatial Planning, Coastal and Risk Management, Security and Pollution. It will include discussion and discovery sessions for capacity development on the use of EO data across diverse thematic areas: Environment, Ocean, Coast and Sustainable Development Goals.

Workshop: Essential Climate Variables for Observations in Mountains
GMBA (Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment)
This workshop was co-organised by the Mountain Research Initiative and the Group on Earth Observation’s Global Network for Observation and Information in Mountain Environments (GEO-GNOME), with participating organizations including GMBA. It was held in Berne, Switzerland, 24-26 June 2019, with the aim of identifying and selecting essential climate variables (ECVs) to guide ‘Elevation Transect Data’ for monitoring climate change and its impacts in high elevation contexts. Participants condensed the most relevant indicators from the GCOS list of 54 ECVs, defined key criteria for data collection protocols and standards, and listed in-situ and remote-sensing methods feasible for application in high elevation regions.

Workshop: Fifth Interdisciplinary Biomass Burning Initiative (IBBI)
Fifty-three participants from 15 countries gathered in July 2018 in Boulder, Colorado, for the Fifth IBBI Workshop. As well as changing the land surface, biomass burning releases large amounts of trace gases and aerosols to the atmosphere that play important roles in atmospheric chemistry and climate. However, there is large uncertainty on how climate change and global change will impact the frequency, intensity, duration, and location of biomass burning in the short- and long-term, making their emissions a large source of uncertainty in future atmospheric composition. The workshop discussed how to leverage the efforts in the U.S. and Europe to improve scientific research and understanding of open biomass burning around the world and maximize the benefits from the new satellite instrumentation. The workshop discussed linking smoke plume properties to fire characteristics – like flaming versus smouldering – in US field campaigns. It also developed plans for visiting scientist involvement in making campaign results accessible to groups worldwide, with likely long-lasting effect for years to come.

Workshop: Ecosystem Studies of Subarctic and Arctic Seas Meeting
IMBER (Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry Research)
Support was given to the ESSAS meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, held from 12 to 14 June 2018, which focused on remote sensing applications in the study of climate change impacts on high-latitude ecosystems. Additional sessions and workshops focused on ocean acidification, where ESA work was highlighted, and other stressors; the biology, ecology and paleoecology of Arctic Gadids, and the use of Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEA) as a framework for understanding and managing subarctic and Arctic marine ecosystems.

Workshop: Remote Sensing for Studying the Ocean-Atmosphere Interface
The workshop was designed to advance knowledge of the Core Theme 2 (Air-sea interface and fluxes of mass and energy) of the SOLAS Science Plan, sponsored by ESA through Future Earth, NASA, the Scientific Committee for Ocean Research (SCOR), and SOLAS. Held at the Bolger Center, Potomac, Maryland, USA, 13-15 March 2018, it brought together 43 experts and students from nine countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, UK, and USA) to discuss novel and new remote sensing techniques to study the ocean atmosphere interface. The presentations were grouped into new and future sensors and missions, remote sensing of challenging properties and processes, remote sensing of air-sea fluxes, and remote sensing in challenging conditions. It was stressed that SOLAS wields influence in space agencies to set priorities for future missions and guide specification and selection of instruments, which SOLAS members should take advantage of. A workshop outcome is an accepted session at the ESA Living Planet Symposium held in Milan, Italy in May 2019 entitled “Remote Sensing of the Ocean Surface and Lower Atmosphere – a SOLAS Session”.

Workshop: Challenges and promises of using predictive, spatially continuous variables in species distribution models: methods and applications
Held in February 2018 at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, the workshop was organized in two parts: the first, under the responsibility of the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment, bioDISCOVERY and the Global Land Programme, focused on the use of Remote Sensing data for informing Species Distribution Models (SDMs). The second part, under the responsibility of the ESA GlobDiversity project, focused on data requirements for the development of ecologically useful RS-enabled Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs). It gathered 40 participants to review how the remote sensing and SDM communities benefit each other, explore methodological and conceptual challenges of using remote sensing data in SDMs – in particular those associated with measurement errors and error propagation – using mountain-specific case studies; and evaluate how high spatial resolution remotely sensed EBVs can contribute to large scale biodiversity monitoring and simultaneously inform local SDMs. Workshop outcomes included the publications: Randin et al., Monitoring biodiversity in the Anthropocene using remote sensing in species distribution models

Workshop: Understanding the effect of environmental and climate change on coastal lagoon management: Potential and challenges for Earth Observation
The 3-day workshop took place in the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI), Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Ireland 12-14th September 2017 and was structured around three themes: Lagoon monitoring and management issues; The potential of Earth Observation for coastal lagoon monitoring and management; and Challenges posed and potential identified solutions towards future research. Presentations are available here. Vulnerable coastal lagoon ecosystems around the world were chosen as case studies to carry out a hands-on assessment of the applicability of EO and other datasets (in-situ, auxiliary) in tackling these issues. ESA CCI ECVs that were discussed included SST, Ocean Colour, Sea Level and Land Cover, and information and data extracted in a study site (Curonian lagoon) was presented to showcase the potential of EO and ECVs, and inform the workshop discussions. The potential for new and emerging EO platforms (e.g. ESA Coastal-TEP and H2020 Co-ReSyF) and the ESA CCI Toolbox was also discussed. Finally, a new scientific hub, the Lagoons Forum, was established during the workshop.

Workshop: Harnessing Remote Sensing to Address Critical Science Questions in the Ocean-Atmosphere Interface
This meeting was dedicated to highlighting the key challenges in the Surface Ocean-Lower Atmosphere Study sciences, and how remote sensing measurements and approaches can help address them. Held at ESA-ESRIN, Frascati, Italy, 13-15 June 2016, it brought remote sensing, SOLAS, and related sciences experts together to brainstorm on the issue, and to produce few examples of key SOLAS problems that could be approached by new or improved remote sensing methodologies. The workshop ideas, including ideas for new missions, are presented in Neukermans et. al. Harnessing remote sensing to address critical science questions on ocean-atmosphere interactions.