Data for climate research

Study­ing the Earth sys­tem from space

The Tandem-L mission
The Tan­dem-L mis­sion
Image 1/6, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Tandem-L mission

Tan­dem-L is a DLR pro­pos­al for a high­ly in­no­va­tive satel­lite mis­sion for the glob­al ob­ser­va­tion of dy­nam­ic pro­cess­es on Earth’s sur­face with un­prece­dent­ed pre­ci­sion and res­o­lu­tion. Its nov­el imag­ing tech­niques and high da­ta record­ing ca­pac­i­ty would en­able Tan­dem-L to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that is ur­gent­ly need­ed to an­swer cut­ting-edge sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions re­gard­ing Earth's bio-, geo-, cryo- and hy­dro­spheres. Tan­dem-L would con­tribute de­ci­sive­ly to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the Earth sys­tem and its dy­nam­ics.
TanDEM-X elevation model – brittle ice shelf of the Thwaites Glacier
Tan­DEM-X el­e­va­tion mod­el – brit­tle ice shelf of the Thwait­es Glacier
Image 2/6, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

TanDEM-X elevation model – brittle ice shelf of the Thwaites Glacier

Tan­DEM-X el­e­va­tion mod­el from 15 Ju­ly 2014 over the ice shelf of Thwait­es Glacier in the West Antarc­tic. The de­tached ice­bergs in the sea ice are clear­ly vis­i­ble.
Satellite twins TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X
Satel­lite twins Ter­raSAR-X and Tan­DEM-X
Image 3/6, Credit: ©DLR

Satellite twins TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X

The satel­lite twins Ter­raSAR-X and Tan­DEM-X fly in close for­ma­tion – some­times sep­a­rat­ed by on­ly a few hun­dred me­tres – and thus ac­quire da­ta for dig­i­tal el­e­va­tion mod­els.
The German environmental satellite EnMAP is ready for its mission in space
The Ger­man en­vi­ron­men­tal satel­lite En­MAP is ready for its mis­sion in space
Image 4/6, Credit: OHB System AG/DLR

The German environmental satellite EnMAP is ready for its mission in space

The Ger­man en­vi­ron­men­tal satel­lite En­MAP (En­vi­ron­men­tal Map­ping and Anal­y­sis Pro­gram), which was de­vel­oped and built in Ger­many on be­half of the Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR with fund­ing from the Fed­er­al Min­istry of Eco­nom­ic Af­fairs and Cli­mate Ac­tion (BMWK), is ready for launch.
Permafrost region Herschel Island
Per­mafrost re­gion Her­schel Is­land
Image 5/6, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Permafrost region Herschel Island

Her­schel Is­land is lo­cat­ed on the north­west­ern tip of Cana­da and is char­ac­terised by con­tin­u­ous per­mafrost. The Per­mASAR radar im­age ac­quired in Au­gust 2018 re­veals veg­e­ta­tion in the L-band fre­quen­cy range (dark green colour) in the oth­er­wise tree­less tun­dra. The thaw­ing pro­cess is al­so ev­i­dent along the coasts: In the right part of the pic­ture, bro­ken ice floes float on the sea (vi­o­let). On the coast in the left part of the im­age are traces of mud­flows where the thawed soil breaks off and is washed away.
TerraSAR-X image
Ter­raSAR-X im­age – the Up­sala Glacier in Patag­o­nia
Image 6/6, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

TerraSAR-X image – the Upsala Glacier in Patagonia

Ar­ti­fi­cial­ly coloured Ter­raSAR-X im­age (strip mode) of the Up­sala Glacier in Patag­o­nia, Ar­genti­na, cre­at­ed us­ing da­ta ac­quired on 7 Jan­uary 2008. The colours pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about the rough­ness of the ter­rain. Ar­eas that ap­pear pre­dom­i­nant­ly smooth to the radar are tint­ed in dark­er shades of blue and grey. Ar­eas with a coars­er sur­face tex­ture are shown in yel­low.      

How is Earth changing? Which processes are driving these changes? Instruments on board satellites make it possible to acquire comprehensive information about these matters. They can obtain global inventories and make precise local measurements. With long time series, they also allow researchers to look back in time and to better predict future processes. They can be used to record and document the changes taking place on Earth and thus reveal the causes and consequences of climate change in a unique way. These data form an essential basis for the development of measures at both political and societal levels.

Earth observation satellites provide important information on topics such as the rise in sea levels, the state of global ice masses such as the Greenland Ice Sheet, the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and changes in vegetation. They also collect data on global deforestation and the damage to forest ecosystems. The use of satellite data in the ongoing investigation into the record amount of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais; INPE) is a current example of how important these data are. The uniform recording of the current state of the world's forests and the dynamics of their development – driven by both anthropogenic and climatic factors – is an urgent necessity.

"Satellite-based Earth observation is an indispensable tool that seamlessly documents changes on Earth, providing early warning of irreversible damage and indications of when political intervention is necessary. It was the hole in the ozone layer – made visible to humans by satellites – that first led to such an approach. The international community was able to agree on common regulations to stop CFC emissions. The greatest challenge facing humanity now is the containment of unchecked global change on Earth, with its ensuing environmental destruction, loss of species and climate change driven by the growing population and rising demand for resources for food, energy and prosperity. Our satellites and the data they acquire provide a factual and impartial account of the current situation. They show where action is needed and where political measures are already making an impact. With state-of-the-art technologies on its radar satellites including TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X, DLR facilitates Earth observation regardless of cloud cover and contributes decisively to improving the information on and the scientific understanding of many processes related to climate change. Future German radar technologies will significantly improve biomass measurement and thus also terrestrial carbon sequestration. This will support more robust political decision making and strengthen public acceptance of countermeasures."

Stefan Dech, Director of the DLR German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD)

Radar satellites, in particular those using a long-wave frequency range (L-band), can also see through vegetation to the surface. In the polar regions, a radar mission in the L-band could map glacier structures and dynamic processes such as melting even more precisely. Germany could continue to set new standards in Earth observation here, observe global change with new precision and enable important recommendations for action. DLR has proposed the Tandem-L satellite mission for this purpose.

"Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity this century, and its consequences are as yet unforeseeable. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, all states committed to ambitious measures. The German Climate Protection Act and the European Commission's Green Deal prioritise practical implementation and greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 at the latest. Climate monitoring – also as a means of gauging the effectiveness of political measures – is a global task that can only be accomplished with satellite observations. Radar satellites play a special role here because they enable global, high-resolution imaging of large sections of Earth's surface, regardless of weather conditions and the availability of daylight. No other sensor technology in space has this capability. Thus, radar satellites are perfectly equipped to provide geoinformation quickly, precisely, reliably and at a global scale. For several years, we have been working on the next generation of radar satellites for climate research and environmental monitoring, with the aim of providing information urgently needed to solve pressing issues. In times of intense scientific and public debate about the extent and impact of climate change, such a satellite mission could provide important, previously missing information that improves scientific forecasts of climate change and recommendations for socio-political action based on them. The TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X missions serve as a good benchmark for what can be expected from a future national climate and environment satellite mission."

Alberto Moreira, Director of the DLR Microwaves and Radar Institute

DLR is active in Earth observation – both satellite-based and airborne – on a large scale. The Remote Sensing Technology Institute, the Microwaves and Radar Institute, the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, the Institute of Optical Sensor Systems and the German Remote Sensing Data Center not only address many of the research topics associated with global change but also play leading roles in the related scientific fields. For many years, DLR has been researching global change with a wide variety of missions. It develops archiving and processing technologies, devises algorithms for extracting relevant parameters from Earth observation data and analyses the results.

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