Accurate radiometry from space: an essential tool for climate studies

Nigel Fox, Andrea Kaiser-Weiss, Werner Schmutz, Kurtis Thome, Dave Young, Bruce Wielicki, Rainer Winkler, Emma Woolliams

Abstract

The Earth's climate is undoubtedly changing; however, the time scale, consequences and causal attribution remain the subject of significant debate and uncertainty. Detection of subtle indicators from a background of natural variability requires measurements over a time base of decades. This places severe demands on the instrumentation used, requiring measurements of sufficient accuracy and sensitivity that can allow reliable judgements to be made decades apart. The International System of Units (SI) and the network of National Metrology Institutes were developed to address such requirements. However, ensuring and maintaining SI traceability of sufficient accuracy in instruments orbiting the Earth presents a significant new challenge to the metrology community. This paper highlights some key measurands and applications driving the uncertainty demand of the climate community in the solar reflective domain, e.g. solar irradiances and reflectances/radiances of the Earth. It discusses how meeting these uncertainties facilitate significant improvement in the forecasting abilities of climate models. After discussing the current state of the art, it describes a new satellite mission, called TRUTHS, which enables, for the first time, high-accuracy SI traceability to be established in orbit. The direct use of a ‘primary standard’ and replication of the terrestrial traceability chain extends the SI into space, in effect realizing a ‘metrology laboratory in space’.

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