European Space Agency Partnership

Satellites have been keeping an eye on Earth for over 40 years, delivering captivating images of the planet we live on. They also provide valuable information to measure, monitor and understand environmental change.

The European Space Agency has partnered with Future Earth to encourage new and innovative ways of using satellite Earth observation data. Seed funding is available for Future Earth Global Research Projects and Networks to expand the use of ESA Earth Observation (EO) data, products, and tools in order help support transformations towards sustainability. Support is also available for the Future Earth community to participate in meetings organised or supported by ESA in order to better link users of EO data with the data providers.

The partnership strengthens Future Earth’s links with the observation community and ensures that ESA’s strategic direction is guided by Future Earth. The most recent call for activities was awarded in December 2018.

Current ESA – Future Earth Activities:

Towards society-relevant indicators derived from climate and surface event detection (2019)
Integrated Land Ecosystem-Atmosphere Processes Study (iLEAPS) with bioDISCOVERY.

Essential Climate Variables for Observations in Mountains (2019)
Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) with GEO Global Network for Observations and information in Mountain Environments (GNOME)

Linking Earth Observation Data and Sustainable Development across the Atlantic (2019)
Future Earth Coasts (FEC) with the Atlantic International Research Centre (AIR Centre)

Earth Observation to Enable the Characterization and Synthesis of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions and Linked Land Use Change for the Land Matrix Initiative (2019)
Global Land Project (GLP)


Previous ESA-Future Earth activities:

Workshop on Remote Sensing for Studying the Ocean-Atmosphere Interface (2018)
Surface-Ocean Lower-Atmosphere Study (SOLAS)

The international remote sensing workshop brought together 43 experts and students from nine countries to discuss novel and new remote sensing techniques to study the ocean atmosphere interface. The breakout sessions were focussed on the remote sensing of aerosols, remote sensing in the Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ), and “Low Hanging Fruit” concepts. The merging of high-resolution radar images of sea ice with optical measurements of reflected solar radiation and thermal emission, including making better use of measurements at 1.6 μm, was suggested to better characterise the reflection of solar radiation by bright surfaces in the retrieval of aerosol properties using spectral measurements of aerosol-scattered sunlight. The aerosol breakout group also recommended incorporating measurements from space-based lidars (e.g. the CALIOP lidar on CALIPSO) that provide information on the vertical distribution of aerosols. The new generation of geostationary visible and infrared imagers offer the potential of much improved retrievals of aerosol properties, including better assessment of photochemical process, better understanding of aerosol-cloud interactions and aerosol removal processes (wet and dry deposition over the oceans). In all cases, there is a pressing need to improve the accuracy and number of variables measured in situ to not only complement the remote sensing retrievals, but also to be used in validating the satellite data and support algorithm enhancement. In terms of “low-hanging fruit”, discussions focussed on deriving new information by the analysis of combination of sensors in different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. A session is being organised for ESA’s LPS conference on the results of the workshop.


Challenges and promises of using predictive, spatially continuous variables in species distribution models: methods and applications (2018)
Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA)

This workshop covered conceptual questions and data-related questions around developing benchmark cases on how to safely integrate spatial predictive variables in species distribution models. Specifically, using the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) in combination with emerging Remote Sensing Essential Biodiversity Variables (RS-EBV) and additional remotely sensed datasets. The importance of, and the methodological constraints imposed by, the context of use when incorporating spatially continuous data in SDMs were explored. Two publications are being written for an upcoming special issue on Earth Observations and the SDGs that is in the making in Remote Sensing of Environment.


Understanding the effect of environmental and climate change on coastal lagoon management: potential and challenges for Earth Observation (2017)
Future Earth Coasts (FEC – formerly LOICZ)

This workshop took place in September 2017 and provided the foundation to build a coastal waters research hub for the study of global lagoon ecosystems under the auspices of a number of Future Earth projects, led by FEC. It established an international transdisciplinary network of scientists and researchers for the study of effects of environmental and climate change on global lagoon systems. In addition, the workshop kicked-off the development of a dedicated lagoons database in order to identify sites that are well described, and others that aren’t, as well as to list available datasets and data sources and identify data gaps. A number of key study areas were identified as preliminary fieldwork areas for a pilot study and a white paper on the usefulness and applicability of EO data for lagoon monitoring and management has been initiated.


Support to the Ecosystem Studies of the Subarctic and Arctic Seas Meeting (2018)
Integrated Marine Biosphere Research (IMBeR)

The ESSAS held its Annual Science Meeting at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska. A major theme of the 2018 meeting was the use of satellites in studying high-latitude marine ecosystems. The Fairbanks location was chosen in part because it is home to the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) and a desire to raise awareness within the ESSAS community about tools and capabilities for processing, mapping and analyzing satellite data available through ASF.


International Biomass Burning Initiative (IBBI) workshop (2017)
International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC)

Fifty-three participants from 15 countries gathered in July 2018 in Boulder, Colorado, for the fifth IBBI Workshop. The workshop helped coordinate efforts to synthesize existing data related to open fires, including data from the ESA Fire_cci project, in order to address scientific questions associated with the five key IBBI science topics and to better understand the relevance of fires in the US and other regions of the world. 

Two themes emerged repeatedly amongst a wealth of ideas:

  1. The U.S. Field Campaigns should link the smoke plume properties to fire characteristics like flaming versus smoldering fire type, temperature and radiative fire power (FRP), in order to make their results applicable to large-scale satellite observation analysis for smoke forecasting. This is also highly relevant in view of the strong fire temperature-dependence of the smoke composition that has been observed during the BBOP campaign. It may, however require an additional aircraft dedicated to the observation of the evolution of the fire(s) that emit(s) an observed smoke plume.
  2. Developing programs for visiting scientist from outside the U.S. to observe aircraft experiment activities directly from the campaign bases was expected to be most effective in making results and know-how from the U.S. campaigns accessible to scientific groups worldwide. In particular, this would likely have a long-lasting effect by initiating research collaborations for years to come.


Inferring Tree Mortality Rates from BIOMASS Satellite Measurements (2016)
Analysis and Integrated Modelling of the Earth System (AIMES)

This project aimed to develop the ground-work for inferring tree mortality-rates from the forthcoming ESA BIOMASS mission. It made use of a forest demography model (RED – Robust Ecosystem Demography), and compared quasi-equilibrium solutions of this model against extensive ground-based US Department of Agriculture (USDA) forest inventory data. The key finding is that RED is able to reproduce the observed distribution of tree sizes for the 61 tree species in the USDA database, under the simplest assumptions. The fit to the USDA data for each species is sensitive to the ratio of the mortality rate to the growth-rate of trees of a standard size. Therefore, the USDA data, plus the RED solutions, imply well-defined mortality-to-growth ratios for each tree type. In addition, the quality of the RED fit to the USDA data, across many orders of magnitude of trunk diameter, suggests that the RED solutions may be used to infer total biomass even if only the largest tress are directly measured. This seems to have great promise for interpreting data from the BIOMASS mission, which will have a base spatial resolution of a few hectares. These findings have been shared with the BIOMASS mission advisory group, who have advised on different ways to develop the preliminary research.


Support for the 2nd Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes (RECCAP-2) (2016)
Global Carbon Project (GCP)

This activity supported the preparation of the terrestrial part of Phase 1 of RECCAP-2. It enabled the three lead components to develop an overall plan and proposal for this very large research project (RECCAP-1 took 5 years to complete). This early stage involved the preparation of global carbon flux products from land surface models, observation flux networks, and atmospheric inversion modellers, using various remote sensing products, including those from CCI, to constrain carbon fluxes. These data constitute key inputs to the regional groups to establish the regional carbon budgets. A follow on project with the CCI programme to support the use of satellite data in RECCAP-2 kicked off in March 2018.


‘Earth System Data Cube’ regional applications (2016)
Integrated Land Ecosystem and Processes Study (iLEAPS)

The Earth System Data Cube (ESDC) is a project developed with iLEAPS under ESA’s STSE programme. It is a multi-variate data set of essential Earth System variables on a common grid and sharing a common data model. It has a Data Analytics Toolkit for Julia, Python, and R to facilitate the exploitation data set and an e-Laboratory, which provides a computing environment to access, analyse and visualize the data sets. This project looked at regional applications of the ESDC, specifically applying it to the development of an Ecological Observatory System for Colombia. The data cube was used to help identify resources, i.e. existing data and computational resources for detecting, characterizing and monitoring hotspots of biodiversity change in Colombia through generic indices such as Essential Climate Variables ECVs and Essential Biodiversity Variables EBVs. A prototype system was developed for a small region in which temporal changes in EBVs and ECVs were calculated.


Elevation Dependent Warming – Land Surface Temperature (2016)
Mountain Research Institute (MRI) – a partner of Future Earth

This workshop facilitated a shared understanding of the potential for and constraints on EDW-LST collaborative work, especially LST validation and the promise of LST providing spatial context for NSAT measurements. The group developed a preliminary “scientific road map” of research priorities for developing EDW-LST synergies, including identifying products that address clear-sky/all-sky bias issues that also filter out the influence of land use changes. Ultimately these efforts will provide insights into high elevation climate change by working to understand not only “what” the results show, but also a mechanistic understanding of land-atmosphere processes: “why” temperature changes are occurring in key mountain regions.


Support to IGAC’s Early Career Scientists Programme (2016)
International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC)

Funding from ESA was used to support early career scientists from ESA Member States to participate in both the IGAC Early Career Short Course
and Science Conference Early Career Program, which ran concurrently from 26-30 September 2016, in Breckenridge, CO, USA.


Integrating the LOICZ nutrient budget with the ESA Coastal TEP (2016)
Future Earth Coasts (FEC – formerly LOICZ)

Over the duration of the FEC/LOICZ project, it has built up knowledge on metrics and process understanding, compiling local and regional data in order to make generalisations about how coastal ‘metabolisms’ work. Now there is a wealth of data at this scale, particularly looking at nutrient budgets. A scoping workshop was held at the FEC office in Ireland, with previous LOICZ committee members to assess the relevance and usefulness of these legacy datasets. The meeting was held back to back with a Coastal TEP meeting to enable them to assess the potential to integrate these older, in-situ datasets into the Coastal TEP and for the TEP to gather user feedback from the international science community on how it should tailor the platform.


Harnessing Remote Sensing to Address Critical Science Questions in the Ocean-Atmosphere Interface (2016)
Surface-Ocean Lower-Atmosphere Study (SOLAS)

SOLAS held a workshop at ESRIN from 13-16 June 2016 to discuss how existing and novel remote sensing tools can bring new perspective to SOLAS questions. As a result of the workshop, an ESA-SOLAS science priority document on Earth observation and sea-air interaction science priorities was written, encompassing five key themes:

  • Theme 1: Greenhouse gases and the oceans
  • Theme 2: Air sea interface and fluxes of mass and energy
  • Theme 3: Atmospheric deposition and ocean biogeochemistry
  • Theme 4: Interconnections between aerosols, clouds and marine
  • Theme 5: Ocean biogeochemical control on atmospheric chemistry


Joint ESA-GLP session on remote sensing at the GLP Open Science Meeting (2016)
Global Land Project (GLP)

The funding supported two dedicated sessions on state-of-the-art remote sensing with a focus on land system science at the GLP Open Science Meeting, moderated by Patrick Hostert (Humboldt. Univ. Berlin, Germany). The session on “Long-term Earth observation: catalyst for novel land systems analyses at regional to global scales” was designed as a podium discussion with global leaders of the remote sensing community, Pierre Defourny (Univ. Louvain, Belgium), Martin Herold (Univ. Wageningen, The Netherlands) and Matt Hansen (Univ. Maryland, USA). While the session was originally planned as a stand-alone activity, it attracted so many submissions that a second slot was dedicated to “Remote sensing for land systems analysis”.

The very positive feedback by presenters and discussants led to the idea of a special issue to be published in the Journal of Land Use Science (Taylor and Francis) on “The role of remote sensing in land system science - from land cover to land use” (working title). The chief editors of the journal agreed on a call for papers in mid-2017, with Patrick Hostert, Martin Herold and Sebastian van der Linden (HU Berlin) as guest editors.


Earth Observations and the Water Energy Food Nexus (2014)
Global Water Futures Programme (GWFP) and FAO

The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus has emerged as a key concept to describe the interrelated nature of our global resources systems. This workshop aimed to identify, assess and analyze the complex interlinkages between our water, energy and food systems in an integrated manner. It provided a first opportunity for scientists and policy makers to engage with each other and to discuss how Earth Observations can inform the analysis and management of the Nexus to promote the sustainable development of our water, energy and food systems. The workshop led to a follow-on Fast-Track Initiative funded by Future Earth on the WEF, and subsequently a full programme of work as a Knowledge Action Network.