Research Network for Surface Temperature

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology


We propose a network to stimulate new international collaboration in measuring and understanding the surface temperatures of Earth. This will involve experts specialising in different types of measurement of surface temperature, who do not usually meet.

Our motivation is the need for better understanding of in situ measurements and satellite observations to quantify surface temperature as it changes from day to day, month to month. Knowing about surface temperature variations matters because these affect ecosystems and human life, and the interactions of the surface and the atmosphere. Surface temperature (ST) is also the main indicator of "global warming".

Knowledge of ST for >150 years has been derived from in situ meteorological and oceanographic measurements. These have been fundamental to weather forecasting, to environmental sciences, and to detection and attribution of climate change. Thermal remote sensing of ST from space has a ~30 year history, including operational exploitation. Observations of high accuracy and stability come from the 20-year record of Along Track Scanning Radiometers (ATSRs) . ATSR-class capability will shortly become operational in the space segment of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), and will continue until at least 2030. The best insight into ST variability and change through the 21st century will come from jointly using in situ and multi-platform satellite observations. There is a clear need and appetite to improve the interaction of scientists across the in-situ/satellite 'divide' and across all domains of Earth's surface. This will accelerate progress in improving the quality of individual observations and the mutual exploitation of different observing systems over a range of applications.

Now is a critical time to initiate this research network. First, the network will link closely to a major new initiative to improve quantification of ST from surface meteorological stations ( Second, there are areas of acute need to improve understanding of ST: e.g., across regions of Africa, where in situ measurements are very sparse; and across the Arctic, where the evolving seasonal sea ice extent challenges the current practices for quantifying ST variability and change. Third, it is timely to share experience between remote sensing communities. All these motivations are present against a backdrop where ST is, in relation to climate change, of current public interest & relevance to policy.

This network will increase the international impact of UK science. UK investigators are involved across the full scope of the proposed ST network, and have leading international roles in several areas. The network will ensure UK participation at the highest level across all domains of ST research. In this proposal, key world-class organisations overseas have roles in steering and/or hosting network activities. The network will welcome participation of others not contacted in preparation of this proposal. Permission will be sought from the originators of all data used for case studies to make the data set freely available.

The network will be organised around three themes over three years:

Year 1. In situ and satellite ST observations: challenges across Earth's domains
Year 2: Quantifying surface temperature across Arctic
Year 3: Joint exploitation of in situ and satellite surface temperatures in key land regions.

The first theme is an inclusive question, designed to bring together research communities and develop a full picture of common research needs and aspirations. The second theme is a pressing research question to which the network will co-ordinate a useful and unique contribution. The third theme is one of long-term interest and importance in the strengthening of the observational foundations for climate change monitoring and diagnosis.

Planned Impact

Beyond academia, we would see our research following these pathways in bringing the results to a wider grouping of concerned parties:

1) Those in UK government departments, such as DECC, the MoD, DFID and Defra, concerned with measures of global and regional surface temperature change. These government departments will benefit from an improved understanding of the quality of the data contributing to the climate record both now and in the future, the nature of uncertainties in these data sets and the likely integrated system that is resulting from their investments.

2) The IPCC and GCOS communities who will benefit from the outcomes of the focused workshops and resulting publications to be able to understand much better the integrity of the surface temperature record and the confidence we can build in assessing climate changes in significant regions such as the Arctic and Africa. Moreover, many network participants are directly involved with these and other relevant bodies.

3) Those in meteorological services who are concerned with the quality and impact of data that they utilize within the forecast analysis, represented for example by the Met Office and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF). These services will benefit from a much more detailed understanding of the relationship between different observational systems and how in situ and satellite data can complement each other. Knowledge of the error characteristics of different sensors and also the quality of land surface temperature (LST) satellite data is essential to correctly obtain a gain in skill with utilisation of each type of data.

4) The operational data buoy and ship monitoring networks represented by the Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology(JCOMM), the Data Buoy Co-operation Panel (DBCP) and Argo. These organizations will benefit from better quality information about their sensors relative to satellite observations.

5) The space industry which wants to understand the utility of satellite instruments for Earth Observation (EO), and the future scenarios and instrument requirements for new missions for climate. It is worth noting that a large component of the surface temperature record from satellite will come from the SLSTR instrument on Sentinel-3, which is a key instrument in the operational, EC-led Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme.

6) Improved information for the public who will benefit from better access to information on the accuracy of current observation systems.

7) Outreach into schools (e.g. via the Edinburgh "Sci-Fun" van) to demonstrate the value of research, the power of observations, and to encourage and learn from school children about their interests in STEM subjects. Our experience suggests that schoolchildren benefit in their experience of STEM subjects from illustration with big stories. Climate change and space are very popular topics.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/I030127/1 02/10/2011 29/04/2013 £183,509
NE/I030127/2 Transfer NE/I030127/1 30/04/2013 29/09/2015 £113,661
Description This is a research network supported to increase collaboration in the area of various forms of surface temperature. Many new collaborations, a community paper, and two significant research grants have been the result.
Exploitation Route Being taken forward via new research grants.
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