Kopernikus, a project that will help us fight climate change

Kopernikus, (or Copernicus) is one of Poland’s most famous scientists and thinkers, although the Germans also lay claim to him. Whatever his ethnicity, he was one of Europe’s most important thinkers in the middle ages, and now a project concerning climate change has been named for him. 

The Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, also known as Kopernikus, will use satellites to build a full picture of our planet’s climate and how it is changing. Engineers and scientists from the European Union and the European Space Agency will attempt to generate long term data, which they hope will not only show us what is going on with the climate but whether our policies, puny as they are, are having any effect. The project will not only use satellite data but also data from ground observations.

This is particularly important, because notwithstanding the good work of NASA in the United States, we have only patchy data about the effects of climate changes in the whole atmosphere. We have hundreds of years of data about, for example, precipitation and temperatures at ground level on many places in Europe and in North America, but the climate does not simply operate at ground level.

The bundle of gases surrounding our planet extends 10,000 kilometres from the ground into the Exosphere. The troposphere, the closest layer extends from the earth to a varying distance of between seven and twenty kilometres, and this is the main area where the thermal masses circulate. That is not the whole story because above the troposphere is the stratosphere, where ozone circulates, which layer is around 25 kilometres. Above that the Mesosphere, which protects us from meteors, for another 25 kilometres, and before you reach you reach the exosphere there is 600 kilometres of Themosphere to understand.

The project proposes to build new satellites, to be called Sentinels, which will be used in the future to collect data from all these layers of our atmosphere.

It is worth noting that the United Kingdom passed up a significant opportunity to lead the project when it started in 2005. It has better things to spend its money on, I assume, then believing that climate change was very low on the list of government expenditure authorised by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now the United Kingdom is prepared to spend money on the project, some £85 million, although the cynics may believe that the expenditure has now been authorised, not to research climate change as its prime motive, but to ensure that the UK aerospace industry has an opportunity to build part of the Sentinel craft that will be critical to the project.

Whatever the motivation the Kopernikus project is as important to our understanding and protection as Kopernikus himself was, five hundred years ago.

 

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