The ESA-Future Earth Joint Program

AnnouncementEuropean Space Agency – Future Earth joint programme call for proposals 2021: Biodiversity, climate impacts on human health, climate tipping elements – Deadline: 30 September, 2021

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.

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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 were 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 have consulted with users and scientists across the Future Earth networks to develop information tools that will be showcased at the UNFCCC COP-26 meeting in November 2021 in Glasgow, UK. They feature on the Space Climate Observatory (SCO) pages as case studies.

City Explorer shows the expected benefits of urban green and blue space, and combines Earth observation data, city maps and a model of ecosystem services. For user-defined areas, it can predict the improvements to air pollution, urban heat and noise pollution. It is led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK and demonstrated in Paris. This tool is featured in Coventry’s City of Culture exhibit in the UK this summer, and is accredited by the Space Climate Observatory.

Post-storm beach recovery on the Australian Gold Coast investigated the erosion effects of large storms, detecting the new coastline using an automated methodology. The project is explained on an ArcGIS storymap and is accredited by the Space Climate Observatory. It was led by Telespazio UK in partnership with the Coastal and Marine Research Centre (CMRC) at Griffith University, Australia.

The EARWAC project for enhancing adaptation and resilience along West Africa’s coasts is developing a dashboard and assessment of coastal vulnerability, following extensive user consultations in the region. It is led by early career researchers from Future Earth’s Ocean KAN based at Sixth Avis Ltd, Nigeria.

PODCAST-Demo is developing a web-based visualization and analysis tool for climate-driven hotspots of cholera in the northern Indian ocean. The information is based on a pilot cholera-risk model that uses satellite observations from the European Space Agency Climate Change Initiative, in-situ and clinical data from publicly available archives. It is led by researchers at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, and is accredited by the Space Climate Observatory. This project was highlighted this year by the BBC World Service in 5 local languages, and is also now involved in a large pilot project for cholera early warning action supported by UN OCHA.

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

Workshop: Remote Sensing of Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System
AIMES – Analysis, Integration, and Modelling of the Earth System
This forum held 26-29 January 2021 brought modellers and the remote-sensing community together to discuss how Earth observations can contribute to our understanding of tipping elements in the climate system and help with early warning of change. Hosted by the International Space Science Institute and convened by ESA Climate Office and the Future Earth AIMES project, the interdisciplinary meeting highlighted research opportunities, challenges, and recommendations that will be published in commentary papers. The thematic areas explored during breakout sessions were tipping elements in the cryosphere – the planet’s snow and ice-covered regions; the terrestrial biosphere; and the atmosphere and ocean and its biota. Modellers reported that remote sensing was viewed as an emerging opportunity, and felt that holding the meeting online meant the group was more mixed and therefore more valuable for learning new information and making new contacts. Follow-up will be via the new AIMES working group on tipping points to continue this valuable exchange of ideas.

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
Mountain Research Initiative / GEO Mountains
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 Mountains). 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. An Open Access paper from the workshop has been published in OneEarth, supported by the Joint ESA-Future Earth programme.

For more information on GEO Mountains please take a look at the newly launched website:

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.