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FORUM: the satellite mission, dedicated to better understanding climate

on 19 December 2019

Following a rigorous selection process, the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected a new satellite mission to fill in a critical missing piece of the climate jigsaw. By measuring radiation emitted by Earth into space, FORUM will provide new insight into the planet’s radiation budget and how it is controlled.

The Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring (FORUM) mission was one of two concepts competing to be ESA’s ninth Earth Explorer mission.

Earth Explorers use innovative measurement techniques to yield new insight into different aspects of the Earth system and the interactions that bind the system as a whole. Fundamentally, they are designed and built to fill knowledge gaps identified by the scientific community, so, importantly, the community retains a key role in the selection and development process.

Earth’s surface temperature is driven by the radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere, but this balance has been disturbed by the emission of greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise escape into space.

More than half of this outgoing longwave energy is in the far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum – and this has not, so far, been measured.

Filling this gap, FORUM will measure across Earth’s entire far-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

These measurements are important because Earth’s outgoing radiation at these wavelengths is strongly affected by water vapour and ice clouds, which in turn, play a key role in regulating surface temperatures.

Measurements from this exciting new mission will improve confidence in the accuracy of climate change assessments that form the basis for future policy decisions.

You can watch a short film about the new mission here.

Image credit: ESA/Met Office/Météo-France/geoGraphics