What is the MicroCarb Mission?
MicroCarb is a joint mission between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) in France. It measures and characterizes CO 2 surface fluxes and measures atmospheric methane.
The aim is to identify and improve understanding of the mechanisms between sources and sinks, seasonal variables, and how they respond to climate change.
MicroCarb will enable scientists to advise governments and policymakers. It will study how sources and sinks evolve under different climate change scenarios, by predicting how ecosystems react to global warming. In particular, it can reveal how much carbon is being absorbed by oceans and forests.
Paris Climate Agreement and European Strategy
The Paris Climate Agreement 2015 is an international legally binding treaty, adopted by 196 parties, which came into force on November 4 2016. Its aim is to limit global warming to below 2 oC, preferably 1.5 oC, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Global leaders have agreed that switching to carbon net-zero economies helps achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
MicroCarb is a highly useful way of measuring and monitoring progress in relation to the Paris Agreement.
How MicroCarb Satellites works
MicroCarb monitors Earth’s atmosphere from space using satellites fitted with extreme precision instruments that measure finely resolved absorption bands of CO2 in reflected sunlight.
It can detect even the smallest changes in surface emissions and carbon uptake of forests and oceans.
MicroCarb monitors city performance using a city-scan observation mode that will map gradients of CO2 at a fine spatial resolution of 2×2 km2. It is already known cities are a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but MicroCarb will inform scientists precisely how much this is.
The satellite used for MicroCarb is due for launch in 2023-24. It is the first of its kind and will become part of the international GHG virtual constellation of satellites.
MicroCarb data models carbon emissions and inverses them, taking them back to the source of where they are created, then quantifying them into actual numbers. This is unprecedented, achieving what no climate change model has ever done before. It will show precisely where the carbon dioxide is coming from, and where it is going.
MicroCarb Technological Advancements through UK-France Collaboration
The UK is considered a key global player in satellite remote sensing technology and a leader in building precision instrumentation and calibration, exploitation and modeling, which enables MicroCarb to pinpoint the exact sources of carbon emissions.
MicroCarb is essentially a spectrometer, which measures the amount of light on the satellite in four different bands. Two of them measure CO2, one surveys the background, and the last studies aerosols and other things that may affect the measurements.
NPL is providing the test equipment to test the performance of the satellite before launch to calibrate it and understand its reaction to light in the four different infrared bands. It has built some equipment called ‘Star’ to test the geometric aspects, which are the image aspects, and radiometric aspects, which are how the satellite reacts to different wavelengths and amounts of light.
GMV UK is responsible for designing and implementing quality assurance algorithms and processors, which convert the raw data into real numeric values to inform climate datasets.
GMV UK is also responsible for ensuring operational processors will integrate with the processing infrastructure of its mission partner, the French Space Agency (CNES), and those of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT)
MicroCarb technology provides a climate model with an unprecedented high level of confidence in the results.
The UK is providing an eclectic team of scientists, engineers and researchers, with expertise from Leicester and Edinburgh Universities. Different skill sets and technical know-how ranging from calibrating data, are able to produce the data itself and translate it into emissions sources and sinks for distribution to policy makers.
MicroCarb technology informs researchers how carbon is moving around in the atmosphere in real-time situations, and how that changes over time.
City-scan observation mode enables researchers to study cities such as Paris or London to address how cities emit a large proportion of fossil fuel emissions.
Thales Alenia Space (TAS) is responsible for the final assembly, integration, and test of the satellite before launch, including the technology for where the satellite will point and scan specific targets at local and global levels.
TAS has leading world-class clean rooms, test equipment and facilities to perform vibration testing and thermal vacuum testing. It will also finalize the National Satellite Test Facility, which is a coordinated facility for the simplification of logistics for large spacecraft.
Benefits of MicroCarb
MicroCarb informs decision-makers via high-accuracy precision data. The high confidence level provides extremely reliable data in comparison to some climate computer modeling with lower confidence ratings.
The mission provides the UK space sector with an opportunity to design and build complex technologically advanced satellites.
Not only will MicroCarb inform climate scientists from all over the world, but it will also help with the preparation of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports for global leaders and policymakers, the leading organization in climate change data provision for governments.
MicroCarb will provide a more accurate measurement of the carbon cycle and emissions to inform climate change mitigation strategies and net-zero actions. A better understanding of the carbon cycle can also inform teaching for students studying inter-related sciences such as environment, or geological studies.
The project is funded by the UK Space Agency, which announced an additional £3.9 million in November 2021, taking the UK’s contribution to £13.9 million since the collaboration with France was agreed.
References and Further Reading
Case Study: MicroCarb in Gov.uk (online) (accessed 05.26.2022) https://www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/microcarb
Microcarb Satellite 02.18.2020 in Space4Climate online (accessed 05.26.2022) https://space4climate.com/microcarb-satellite/
Microcarb Mission 08.23.2018 in cnes online (accessed 05.26.2022) https://microcarb.cnes.fr/en/MICROCARB/GP_mission.htm
What is the Paris Agreement? in UNFCCC online (accessed 05.26.2022) https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
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Georgie Lyng is a freelance writer, with a strong interest in environmental issues, a focus on sustainable technologies, climate change science, improving biodiversity, and protection of natural ecosystems. Georgie completed an Open University BSc Environment Studies degree in 2016, enjoys researching environment issues, and writing about the latest scientific developments in the industry and sustainable solutions to help protect the environment.