Category: Earth Observation & Climate Data

The under-appreciated influence of the tropics on the ‘jet stream’

The under-appreciated influence of the tropics on the ‘jet stream’

By Prof Tim Woollings

Over the past decade or so, a scientific debate has emerged around whether rapid Arctic warming could be affecting extreme weather in the mid-latitudes. Much of this work focuses on the jet stream – the narrow current of strong winds encircling the globe around 40-50 degrees North.

The science is far from settled. The jet stream can vary wildly from week to week, or from year to year, and questions remain over whether any signal from the Arctic can yet be seen over the background “noise” of natural variability. (The latest study on the topic, for example, suggests the link is “insignificant”.)

The current winter provides an interesting, if trivial, example. In the Arctic, the steady decline of sea ice continues, with the January 2020 average extent among the lowest 10 years in the satellite record. According to some of the most widely reported theories, we might expect the jet to have been weaker and more “wavy” this winter as a result. But the reality is quite the opposite. So far this season, the jet has mostly been strong and straight, bringing mild and stormy weather to much of northern Europe.

Of course, lots of this is just ‘weather’ – we expect a certain randomness in the jet stream – and this is a key reason why influences, such as Arctic warming, are so hard to pin down. But, intriguingly, the jet this winter seems to have been highly predictable, with early warnings of such a pattern first being made in the autumn. 

We cannot say for certain what has caused this yet, but most meteorological eyes are directed away from the Arctic, towards the south. And, in fact, there is possibly an even more important influence on our weather under a changing climate: the tropics.

Hadley

Ultimately, the jet stream derives its energy from the contrast in temperatures between the warm air over the equator and the cold conditions of the Arctic. And is it intimately tied to conditions in the tropics. 

Blessed with a surplus of energy pouring in from the sun, the tropics are in many ways the powerhouse of the Earth’s climate. Somewhere near the equator, depending on season, the surface will face directly towards the sun and so the air here will be heated more than anywhere else, becoming lighter and rising upwards as a result. This forms a giant convection cell in the atmosphere, known as the Hadley cell, with air rising above the equator before moving away, to both the north and south, and then sinking again.

Global circulation of Earth's atmosphere displaying Hadley cell, Ferrell cell and polar cell. Credit: Kaidor, published under CC BY-SA 3.0
Global circulation of Earth’s atmosphere displaying Hadley cell, Ferrell cell and polar cell. Credit: Kaidor, published under CC BY-SA 3.0

George Hadley was a London lawyer, pondering science questions in his spare time, when he hit upon the basic mechanism explaining the “trade winds”. These are the year-round east-to-west winds that blow across the tropics, on which traders sailing across the Atlantic relied for a swift passage to the Americas. Hadley described the theory in his seminal paper, published by the Royal Society in 1735.

Hadley, G. (1735) VI. Concerning the cause of the general trade-winds, Philosophical Transactions, doi:10.1098/rstl.1735.0014
Hadley, G. (1735) VI. Concerning the cause of the general trade-winds, Philosophical Transactions, doi:10.1098/rstl.1735.0014

Hadley first theorised the existence of the cell which now bears his name and also that the near-surface air moving towards the equator would be turned by the rotation of the Earth, forming the trade winds. He also predicted that, on the flip side of his cell, there should be strong winds blowing from west to east far above the surface, which he named the “anti-trades”. Today, of course, we call this the jet stream.

(Cartoons of the atmosphere typically feature two jets, one linked to the Hadley cell and one further north linked to a much weaker feature called the polar cell. Although this picture is useful, the two jets are, in reality, often merged into one dominant structure in the mid-latitudes, simply referred to as the jet stream.)

Tropical changes

While scientists are still pondering how variations in the Arctic may affect the jet, the influence of the tropics is abundantly clear. 

We need look no further than the dramatic weather disruption caused by El Niño events in the Pacific Ocean, when the balance between the tropical trade winds and the warm equatorial ocean currents is upset. By shifting the locations of the powerful convection driving the Hadley cell, these events send “waves” along the jet stream that can temporarily alter weather patterns around much of the world.

El Niño is a naturally-occuring phenomenon affecting weather and climate worldwide.

Normally, trade winds blow strongly from east to west in the tropical Pacific. During an El Niño, the trade winds relax, cutting off the supply of cool water to the sea surface.
Infographic: What is El Nino? Credit: Tom Prater and Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief.

El Niño is the poster-child of climate variability, responsible for much of the skill in our long-range “seasonal” forecasts, which aim to predict average conditions for the season ahead. But there is more to the tropics than just El Niño. The tropical atmosphere is much less stable than that over the Arctic, enabling powerful storm systems to reach up and shunt around air masses up at the heights where the jet is strongest.

For example, it seems likely that weather patterns in the tropics have helped to nudge the jet into its strong and straight configuration this winter, and it is this signal which enabled early warnings for Europe in the autumn of 2019. Specifically, this year’s events are quite consistent with some previous studies of the influence of Indian Ocean weather patterns on the jet stream. 

And what about climate change? Might we be seeing changes in the jet stream already because of how the tropics are responding to warming? 

The tropics are indeed changing, although there is more uncertainty over how exactly than there is in the Arctic. For example, George Hadley’s great circulation cell has been expanding over recent decades, its boundaries inching slightly, but detectably, polewards. 

While this is exactly the signal we expect to arise from climate change, our best assessment is currently that much of the recent changes reflect natural variations, at least in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, the climate change signal is clearer, especially as it is boosted by the effects of stratospheric ozone depletion.)

Ocean heat

The tropical oceans are, of course, warming, along with most oceans around the world. However, here again there is uncertainty over exactly how. 

Climate models generally predict the tropical Pacific will warm most strongly in the east, close to South America, while the observed trends show strongest warming instead in the west. Given the sensitivity to these regions evidenced by El Niño, this discrepancy has serious implications for our ability to predict the details of changing weather patterns. 

Surface temperature anomalies for 2019 from Berkeley Earth, using a 1951-80 baseline.
Surface temperature anomalies for 2019 from Berkeley Earth, using a 1951-80 baseline.

Some new evidence suggests that the observed pattern of stronger western warming might be a signature of climate change, regardless of what the models say. Given the extent to which the details really matter in the tropical Pacific, however, uncertainty is likely to remain here for some time.

Keeping this uncertainty in mind, though, has the warming of the tropical oceans had any effect on the jet stream yet? 

Some of our recent work suggests, potentially, yes. El Niño peaks in the northern hemisphere winter – it was originally named after the infant Jesus by Peruvian fishermen – but it also has important impacts in summer by sending giant, continent-sized waves along the jet stream. 

For example, a series of extreme weather events rocked Eurasia in 2010, from the searing Russian heatwave to the torrential Pakistan floods, and it seems the climate dice were loaded for these events by La Niña, the so-called “little sister” to El Niño.

Crucially, the pathway for these influences seems to have shifted and strengthened in recent decades, due to a subtle shift of the jet, so that El Niño and La Niña now affect parts of Eurasia in summer that they did not reach before. This is associated with a subtle southward shift of the jet over southeast Asia, which makes it more sensitive to weather disturbances from over the Pacific.

We have been able to reproduce this change in climate model experiments but – importantly – this occurs only when the observed warming of the tropical oceans and the subsequent influence on the jet is included.

It is early days for this type of research, and many uncertainties remain, but we might just be starting to see an example of how the tropics will affect jet stream variability under climate change. 

In any case, both Hadley’s circulation cell and El Niño’s shockwaves demonstrate the power of the tropics over the jet stream. As weather patterns alter in our warming world, those of us in the northern mid-latitudes should be looking nervously to the south at least as much as to the north.


This article was originally posted on The Carbon Brief under CC licensing.
Cover photo by NASA Johnson on Flickr.
New paper explores open Earth observations for sustainable urban development

New paper explores open Earth observations for sustainable urban development

A new discussion paper prepared by AidData and the Group on Earth Observations explores the role of open Earth observations for sustainable urban development.

Prepared for UN-Habitat’s World Urban Forum in United Arab Emirates, this paper concentrates on examples where Earth observation (EO) data can complement or enhance traditional data sources for cities and urban areas.

According to the United Nations, nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Ensuring sustainable urban development will be key for urban planning, land management and the timely achievement of the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.

Download your copy of the discussion paper here.


For general inquiries or questions related to the paper please contact: Mihir Prakash (mprakash@aiddata.org)

For activities of GEO: Steven Ramage (sramage@geosec.org)

For questions about GeoQuery: Seth Goodman (sgoodman@aiddata.org)


Cover photo of Satellite imagery of Subarnarekha river delta and beach ridges by NASA via WikimediaCommons.
Phase two is underway for the EO4SD CR Cluster

Phase two is underway for the EO4SD CR Cluster

The EO4SD Climate Resilience (CR) Cluster has embarked upon phase two of their mission to help countries around the world increase their climate resilience by using EO data. In collaboration with several International Financial Institutions (IFIs), the cluster has developed EO-based integrated climate screening and risk management products and services to help manage climate-related risks and capitalise on the opportunities that climate resilience can create. The cluster is also working to build the capacity of IFI staff and IFI client states, allowing stakeholders to autonomously use EO-based information for climate resilience decision making.

Part one’s scoping phase, identified the potential areas for EO data to increase climate resilience and set about designing systems that would enable this to inform decision making. Phase two will see further refinement of the tools and training and capacity building for staff in using the information generated from the tools. For example, in the Philippines, the pilot project used satellite-based, highly automated, open water surface inundation tools to detect both seasonal fluctuation of water bodies and long-term changes. This Inundation Monitoring Service (IMS) maps the extent of flooded areas over time, which can help build a picture of the flood response of an area. As the pilot has worked so well, the EO4SD CR cluster will work with the ADB over the next 12 months to identify more sites where the IMS can be implemented.

The Cluster has also worked with the World Bank in a pilot phase to seamlessly integrate high-resolution, global observed datasets for three climate-related variables into the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP), which is one of the most high-profile, publicly accessible, climate data platforms in the world. Data was chosen specifically to add depth to the portal’s observational data offer, enhancing the accessibility of reliable data whilst making sure to cater for different user skill levels. Phase two will develop new visualisations of the EO data accessible via the CCKP, and develop country-specific EO-based and climate projection data to inform sectoral risk assessment on the CCKP (including energy, water, agricultural, and health).

Data was also successfully integrated into the pre-existing platforms with International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), as well as Africa RiskView (ARV) in conjunction with African Risk Capacity (ARC). For ARV, the Cluster combined Earth Observation (EO) data with population vulnerability data to provide an early-warning model that measures food insecurity and estimates response costs, enabling decision-makers to plan and respond quickly and efficiently to drought stresses. In addition, access has been given to products available through the EO4SD Cluster’s own platform that can deliver precipitation, soil moisture, and sea surface temperature data which is being used to test the possibilities for integrating other products into the ARV. Based on this initial engagement and testing, the next steps are to further integrate EO data into the ARV tool, and refine the types of information it is able to provide. Similarly, the Cluster worked with International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) to integrate EO data into its risk screening tool, upgrading their ability to assess the materiality of climate impacts, past and future. Phase two work includes integrating more EO data into their screening tool, with the timeline and resolution of data enabling a more detailed analysis.

The Cluster has also helped AGRHYMET’s ability to have a comprehensive view of climate risk as a function of hazard, exposure and vulnerability by identifying several products and services that can be provided in support of its work. Combining EO data, climate projection derived information and socioeconomic data, AGRHMET can improve its understanding of factors affecting Sahelian food security, desertification control, and water control and management. As a result, the wetlands monitoring service was chosen as a pilot and has been implemented in a region in Mali with a temporal range of 2017 to 2018. This pilot successfully demonstrated that the product could be applied in practice and usefully deliver relevant information. Over the course of the next 12 months the Cluster will further refine the prototype products and identify other projects for which they might be usefully applied. The Cluster will work with AGRHYMET to implement a service that provides full coverage of a pilot area, covering some 3,800 km2 of the Inner Niger Delta wetlands at a resolution of 20 km2. This service will enable monthly monitoring of surface wetness and water bodies integrating observed and projected rainfall data as well as a Water and Wetness Probability Index (WWPI), which will further enable comparing monthly means with observed measurements.

In Greater Monrovia, EO data will be used to analyse the exposure of critical infrastructure to coastal hazards. This includes generating analysis and projections of coastal shoreline change, rates of coastal erosion, and land subsidence. By combining this analysis with other EO data (for example, Modified Normalized Difference Water Index, Digital Terrain Models, and bathymetry data), climate projections, and socio-economic data, the cluster will also develop analysis on the population exposure to coastal flooding. The World Bank are also working with the Cluster in supporting the Monrovia Integrated Development Project (MIDP) by understanding the region’s urban growth, and how, in conjunction with the shoreline analysis, other socioeconomic factors might contribute to climate vulnerability. The next phase is to integrate more EO data to better identify risks and estimate projected coastal erosion, vital for informing resilient interventions by stakeholders.

Critical infrastructures and settlements likely to be flooded due to coastal flooding in West Point and Clara Town (Greater Monrovia, Liberia).

A vital part of phase two is to provide capacity building activities in order to increase the effectiveness of climate and disaster risk management. In order to do this, the Cluster will be helping partners by increasing the capacity of their staff to be able to provide better services and tools to local stakeholders (such as governmental bodies and other organisations with overlapping objectives). Capacity building activities will initially focus on the EO4SD CR platform, providing to staff training on how to access and test EO derived data. By showcasing examples of how EO derived information relates to daily operations, staff will understand how EO data can be used for assessment and awareness activities. These will be delivered via a series of introductory webinars and regional events, before curating dedicated webinars and ‘on demand’ webinars, acting as a helpdesk to the various stakeholders. For example, in the Philippines, specific capacity building options may include how EO services can feed into nature-based flood protection solutions by identifying suitable locations, and using real-time EO data to monitor rivers to strengthen early flood warning systems.


This article was originally published on the EO4SD CR website.
Cover image by USGS on Unsplash.
2019 picks from the Acclimatise article archive – Data and Analytics

2019 picks from the Acclimatise article archive – Data and Analytics

Our third article of top picks from our 2019 article archive, features six articles related to climate data and analytics. As poor populations living in developing countries face frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the threat of global climate change. Emerging climate data and analytics services help in exposing these climate risks and vulnerabilities before disaster strikes, whilst providing methods of applying these data to real-world decision-making.

While demand for climate projections are growing, alternative methods of contributing to our understanding of how to build resilience to climate impacts are presenting themselves.  Citizen science has emerged as a useful tool for raising awareness, bridging data and capacity gaps and influencing governments through actively engaging civil society in research and monitoring.

Acclimatise remains at the forefront of providing effective climate analytics services. In fact, our analytics software division is creating some of the first user-centric climate change risk assessment applications, running on some of the world’s most sophisticated datasets. For example, platforms such as our Aware platform is being used by Multilateral Development Banks include the Asian Development Bank and the European Investment Bank to screen their project and investments for climate risks.

Beyond climate models: Climate adaptation in the face of uncertainty

By Erin Owain and Richard Bater

In recent years, demand has been placed on climate science by policy makers to produce increasingly high-resolution climate projections to inform shorter-term, local decisions. The authors of a recently published paper argue that this is partly attributable to an over-estimation, on the part of decision makers, of the level precision with which the current set of models are able to project future change.

Read the full article here.

People Power: How citizen science is building climate resilience in South Asia

By Uma Pal   

While diverse and extensive ecosystems, climates and socio-economic features in South Asia make it a challenge to collect adequate data and conduct research on the impacts of climate change, citizen science can be a useful tool for enabling more comprehensive research and resilience building initiatives both at the individual level and at scale.

Read the full article here.

Using earth observation data in climate risk assessment for financial institutions

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor and Jennifer Steeves

Working with financial institutions to understand analyse and disclose physical climate risks and opportunities to loans, investments and across portfolios demands the application of the most up-to-date climate data and information. By deploying data from historic climate observations, modelled projections of future climate and various social, environmental and economic datasets it is possible to begin to build a picture of risk exposure to financial institutions. 

Read the full article here.

Resilience planning can uncover investment opportunities at the city level

By Will Bugler

Countries in Asia are faced with a huge infrastructure investment gap, primarily resulting from a lack of identifiable, bankable projects at the city level. To address this, cities are in need of support to develop robust, integrated, and climate-responsive infrastructure plans. Investing in a resilience approach to urban planning can support municipal governments to develop such plans and unlock a multitrillion-dollar investment opportunity.

Read the full article here.

Earth Observation data: the new frontier in climate resilience

By Acclimatise News

Earth observation is the gathering of information about the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems and has the capability to do so across remote and inaccessible terrain. Providing large quantities of timely and accurate environmental information, EO data can help governments around the world prepare for climate change impacts and inform sustainable and climate resilient development planning to account for future climate risks.

Read the full article here.

This New Climate – Episode 3: OASIS & the democratisation of climate data

By Acclimatise News

In the third episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler explores how the OASIS group of companies are seeking to transform our ability to understand climate risk through a commitment to open source data.

Listen to the podcast here.


Matching supply and demand: A typology of climate services

Matching supply and demand: A typology of climate services

A new framework for classifying and understanding types of current and potential climate data and information has been presented in a peer-reviewed journal article due to be published shortly (in press as of 8 January 2020). The framework put forth in the article can help professionals in the financial services, urban planning, and tourism sectors articulate their climate service preferences. It can also help identify challenges and opportunities for other climate service users and service providers. Due to be published in the journal Climate Services, the open-access article is titled ‘Matching supply and demand: A typology of climate services’. It is the result of research carried out in the EU’s Horizon 2020 EU-MACS project, where Acclimatise led the engagement with the financial services sector. 

The European Roadmap for Climate Services defines ‘climate service’ as “…the transformation of climate-related data — together with other relevant information — into customised products such as projections, forecasts, information, trends, economic analysis, assessments (including technology assessment), counselling on best practices, development and evaluation of solutions and any other service in relation to climate that may be of use for the society at large. As such, these services include data, information and knowledge that support adaptation, mitigation and disaster risk management (DRM)”. The European MArket for Climate Services (EU-MACS) project sought to understand and develop the climate services market in Europe and beyond. The climate service market is currently undergoing rapid expansion and has the potential to be a rewarding space for both users and providers.

The article, led by researchers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands, (Visscher and Stegmaier) indicates that although the climate services market is growing and consolidating, there has not yet been ‘extensive reflection on the kinds of services such a new market could encompass, and on the ways in which formats can be created that match supply and demand’ (pg. 1). Using a research approach based on Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA), the article provides this by elaborating and illustrating a typology of the current variety of climate services seen. Specifically, the article presents a typology of climate services, including: ‘Maps & Apps’, ‘Expert Analysis’, ‘Climate-inclusive Consulting’, and ‘Sharing Practices’ types (see figure 1).

Figure 1: A Typology of Climate Services (Visscher et al., in press 2020)

The typology provides a framework for the further development of climate services as it can be used by actual and potential providers of climate services to reflect upon the general outline of their services. In particular, the article goes some way to capture examples of climate service use cases and demand in the financial services, urban planning, and tourism sectors. These are also elaborated in more detail in the EU-MACS outputs. Additionally, policymakers can use the article to reflect upon the kind of services they want to stimulate through funding, procurement, or other measures. Supporting these services helps to professionalise climate services and to stimulate their uptake in complex and institutionalised settings (Visscher et al., in press 2020).

Acclimatise’s Robin Hamaker-Taylor, a co-author of the article stated: ‘This research is an important and innovative effort to outline the contours of the climate services market. As the climate impacts are increasingly felt, climate data is proving increasingly useful, especially by those in the financial services sector. Apart from providers and policymakers, the framework we set out and illustrate in this article can be a useful starting point for users such as financial services firms who would like to begin their climate data journey and peer into the wide world of climate services.’ 


Cover photo by NASA on Unsplash
Using Earth Observation data in climate risk assessment for financial institutions

Using Earth Observation data in climate risk assessment for financial institutions

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor and Jennifer Steeves

Working with financial institutions to understand analyse and disclose physical climate risks and opportunities to loans, investments and across portfolios demands the application of the most up-to-date climate data and information. By deploying data from historic climate observations, modelled projections of future climate and various social, environmental and economic datasets it is possible to begin to build a picture of risk exposure to financial institutions. In recent years, Acclimatise has also been working with new data sources such as Earth Observation (EO) data, which offer the potential to develop our understanding of real-time risk exposure, especially in areas where other data is sparse.

Acclimatise worked with leading programmes, such as the European Space Agency’s Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) cluster, to demonstrate the potential of EO data to build climate resilience. The potential of EO data is enormous, and the developments in the temporal and spatial resolution of satellite data is a powerful tool of analysis. In recognition of this, Acclimatise this month became an Associate Member of Group on Earth Observations (GEO). The GEO is an intergovernmental partnership that improves the availability, access and use of EOs for a sustainable planet.

What is EO and EO data?

EO is the collection, analysis and presentation of information about the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems and has the capability to do so across remote and inaccessible terrain. It involves monitoring and assessing the status of and changes in the natural and man-made environment. There are now thousands of data buoys operating in the world’s oceans, hundreds of thousands of land-based environmental monitoring stations, tens of thousands of observations from aircraft platforms and numerous environmental satellites orbiting the globe, according to GEOSS and other academic research.

EO satellites can collect real-time data on a wide range of indicators such as water distribution, land use, water cycles, atmospheric profiles, heat mapping, sea surface evaluations, and global-regional energy exchanges. EO data provide large quantities of timely and accurate environmental information, which, when combined with other datasets, can give unique insights into managing climate risks.

Of the 50 Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) essential climate variables, roughly half can only be observed from space, making EO an irreplaceable component of climate monitoring. EO datasets are critical in regions where insufficient information is available from weather stations (which is often the case), and its consistency facilitates coordination of information sharing. It is also very useful where on-the-ground assessments of infrastructure are not possible, for example, due to safety concerns.

Why is EO data useful for financial institutions?

Financial institutions (FIs) are accustomed to integrating data from various sources into their risk screening processes. As FIs become increasingly aware of the need to consider physical climate risks in their assessments, EO data offers enormous potential. FIs often lend or invest in diverse geographies with varying levels of available climate hazard data.

EO datasets can complement data held by FIs on their borrowers or investments including data on physical assets, on-site operations, supply chains, markets and logistics. High-quality data on climate parameters combined with other critical investment-relevant information helps investors and asset managers understand current and future risks to their investments across sectors. EO data is often used for post-disaster damage assessment. EO data can also be integrated into existing tools platforms and analyses used by FIs.

Evidence from current uses of EO data by financial institutions

To date, EO data has been used in the context of climate risk primarily by development finance institutions (DFIs), which indicates how commercial FIs could eventually use this type of data. The EO4SD Climate Resilience Cluster provides EO-based products and services to DFIs that have investments in developing countries to support climate resilience. DFIs and other agencies supported through the project include the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), African Risk Capacity (ARC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

For example, the EO4SD project is collaborating with a World Bank urban development initiative in Greater Monrovia, Liberia to provide EO-based products and services. An example of this is a coastal erosion service involving 41km of shoreline evolution monitored through a 34-year satellite series, which has been acquired through analysis of satellite images from Landsat, Sentinel 2 and Worldview 3. The analysis estimates that the land loss area from 1984 to 2019 in the 50 km coastline of Greater Monrovia is 0.8 km2. This can be overlaid with data on population and critical infrastructure to aid investment planning.

Flood mapping is also benefiting from EO-based services as EO data provides consistent historical information on floods. The 34-year high-resolution sea-level rise data was also used to identify coastal and inland flood risk areas in parts of Monrovia. The model integrates sea level rise projections to 2030, mapped against a digital terrain model to identify high flood risk areas. These flood maps help the World Bank and local authorities identify the most effective flood management actions and enable better planning decisions to avoid unnecessary development in risky areas.

The direction of travel: What next for EO?

EO data can help banks and lenders around the world understand and prepare for climate change impacts, accounting for future climate risks and opportunities in investment and lending decisions. As EO data gets easier to extract and apply, its use in climate risk assessments will continue to unfold.

One exciting potential application of EO data is in the context of trend analysis where past events are correlated to experienced losses to help paint a picture of risk. There is also potential to develop statistical information using EO data for certain climate hazards such as flooding. Processed climate data will soon be available on flood return periods, for example, as will statistics on flood extent and flood duration. Acclimatise are now gearing up for phase 2 of the EO4SD project, which will build the capacity of DFIs and partner agencies in the practical application of EO data.


Stay in touch with how this project unfolds and how we are using EO to build climate resilience here.

Acclimatise becomes an Associate Member of GEO

Acclimatise becomes an Associate Member of GEO

Acclimatise is proud to announce that it has been officially recognised as an Associate Member of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Formally accepted at the 48th GEO Executive Committee in Geneva, Switzerland last month, Acclimatise will join the GEO Member governments and participating organisations in informing the development and implementation of the GEO Work Programme.

The GEO is an intergovernmental partnership that improves the availability, access and use of Earth observations for a sustainable planet. Promoting open, coordinated and sustained data sharing and infrastructure for better research, the GEO offers all countries the opportunity to benefit from collective knowledge, expertise and skills to develop national Earth observations programmes.

“With the in-depth understanding of its wide-ranging clients’ analytics needs and long-standing industry experience, Acclimatise is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities that the Associate Membership of the GEO would present,” said Head of Analytics Dr Xianfu Lu.  “In particular, through leveraging the wealth of data, information and knowledge and the partnerships made possible by the GEO, Acclimatise aims to develop cutting-edging analytics tools that enable climate resilience solutions and investment opportunities.”

Acclimatise is unique in the Earth Observation community drawing on its fifteen years’ of experience advising corporates, financial institutions and governments to develop climate resilience solutions based on EO-data. In doing so, Acclimatise is able to provide significant added value through its unique focus on cloud-based software to deploy EO-based data in combination with climate projections and other socio-economic data sets. Such solutions will support the efforts of governments, corporates and the financial services sectors in delivering climate- and disaster-resilient development.

For more information, view the full list of GEO Associates here.


Cover photo of Iraq flood posted under CC by-SA 3.0-igo from Wikimedia Commons.
EO4SD climate cluster collaborates with World Bank applying EO support to Lake Victoria Basin projects

EO4SD climate cluster collaborates with World Bank applying EO support to Lake Victoria Basin projects

The Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) Climate Resilience Cluster has been working with International Financial Institutes (IFIs) to develop a satellite-based integrated climate screening and risk management service to build capacity in IFI client states and help them meet long-term climate resilient development planning goals. The Cluster is supporting future environment and natural resources management (ENRM) projects in partnership with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) to develop an environmental management project for the Lake Victoria Basin. The LVBC coordinates the partner states of the East African Community in managing the Basin.

The Basin is Africa’s largest freshwater lake and is spread across 5 countries – Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda. The ENRM projects in the Great Lakes region aim to strengthen transboundary natural resource management by improving regional information services on water quality and ecosystem health, encouraging sustainable land and water resource management (SLWM) and building climate resilience in select hotspots in the Basin. These projects will increase the LVBC’s capacity to deliver on its mandate of coordinating the management of water quality in the Basin.

The Basin currently faces multiple environmental, economic and social challenges. Different hotspots in the Basin are under pressure from a combination of factors such as high population density, land use change, and water and land pollution due to inefficient waste management and treatment. These factors are contributing to the degradation of Lake Victoria.

The Lake has turbid waters with high chlorophyll concentrations turning them green. Excessive turbidity and chlorophyll concentrations indicate high mineral density in the water and poor water quality, a problem that is being exacerbated by climate change, which will increase the rate of environmental degradation in the Lake. Rising temperatures will accelerate the growth of floating macrophytes (aquatic plants), which will reduce the oxygen content of the lake. The conditions for disease vectors such as mosquitos are also likely to become more favourable and the increasing frequency and severity of floods and droughts will further drive erosion and increase sediment in runoff.

Water hyacinth in Winam Gulf (Lake Victoria). Floating water hyacinth areas are depicted in red. Obtained from satellite imagery: MODIS (250 m) on 22nd March 2019 (left) and Sentinel-2 (10 m) on 18th March 2019 (right). More explanations in this Youtube video.
The image shows us the trend in lake surface temperature in the Basin from 1991 to 2010. Displayed in the EO4SD CR platform

Hotspots under pressure

In the Nyabugogo catchment in Rwanda, one of the Lake Victoria’s hotspots, urban settlements within the catchment are already living with the consequences of environmental degradation due to the exploitation of natural resources for agricultural and industrial activities, severe pollution and significant changes in land use. The catchment is at high risk of fluvial and pluvial flooding, with surrounding farmland and villages being frequently inundated. The economy in the Basin area is entirely dependent on water and land resources for agriculture and industry. These effects will be exacerbated by changing climate patterns and climate related events, threatening the economic stability of the region.

Following a high-level climate risk analysis of the Nyabugogo catchment, the cluster identified several adaptation options along with relevant EO data layers. One of the options identified involves synthesis of multi-parameter remote sensing data to monitor and manage catchment changes, which will help monitor catchment health and identify and remedy incipient catchment hazards. This can be enabled by building the GIS and Remote Sensing (RS) capacity of LVBC to enable them to receive, store and synthesise up-to-date and quality remotely sensed spatial data and information on the Basin. Data may cover a broad spectrum of themes, such as lake levels, lake water quality, water hyacinth, land use/land cover changes and biodiversity trends.

Shoreline changes in the mouth of the Nyando River from 1984 to 2019. Its basin is one of the most degraded of all the river basins in the Kenyan portion of the Lake Victoria Basin. False colour is chosen to emphasize changes in vegetation. Plant-covered land is red. Water bodies are dark blue, while turbid water appears in shades of cyan compared to clear water.

Products developed by the cluster include the historic evolution of hyacinth and lake surface temperature, along with the evolution of lake shoreline erosion, for the Winam Gulf part of the Basin. This information can be used, for example, to identify the location and sources of pollution hotspots in industrial and agricultural areas. Following the development of these prototypes, the climate resilience cluster plans to extend the analysis to other hot spots of the Lake Victoria as part of a regular monitoring service, such as monthly changes in water hyacinth cover or lake shoreline erosion. Access to this level of data can improve the LVBC’s capacity to manage its resources across country boundaries and improve regulations to meet the immediate and long-term needs of the Basin to maintain its ecological integrity.

The datasets used for the Lake Victoria project, land surface temperature (LST) and water hyacinth detection (currently based on vegetation indexes) are global and can be provided for other parts of the world. The products developed for Lake Victoria Basin can also be applied to other areas, improving data availability for informed decision making and for mainstreaming climate resilience in development planning.


This article was originally published on the EO4SD Climate Resilience website.
Cover photo of Lake Victoria from Wikimedia Commons.
Earth observation data supports flood resilience in ADB projects in China and Philippines

Earth observation data supports flood resilience in ADB projects in China and Philippines

There is considerable excitement about the potential for Earth Observation (EO) data to support climate resilience planning, design and implementation. As the temporal and spatial resolution of satellite data increases, and costs continue to fall, the potential of EO data to support climate resilience projects is beginning to be realised. Over the past twelve months, the European Space Agency’s Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience cluster (EO4SD CR) has been working with the Asian Development Bank providing EO data in support of climate resilience projects in the Philippines and China.

Inundation Monitoring Service in the Philippines

Analysing flood basins in the Philippines required a tailored approach. The Philippines ranks third among countries with the highest disaster risk and is among the top 10 countries with the most number of people affected by disasters. Storms, typhoons, and associated floods devastate and account 80% of all deaths, 90% of affected people, and 92% of economic impact, and disproportionately affect vulnerable groups of people (World Risk Report 2016 from Alliance Development Works and United Nations University).

According to the Philippines Dashboard of the Climate Change Knowledge Portal Climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of typhoons and heavy rainfalls, exacerbating flooding in existing flood-prone areas, increasing landslides and mudslides, and extend flooding to new areas (). Flood risk management in the Philippines has been ineffective due to a lack of integrated flood risk management planning, suboptimal flood protection infrastructure, limited investment, and inadequate local flood risk management.

To support improved flood management in the region, the EO4SD CR developed a prototype Inundation Monitoring Service (IMS) for the Jaluar River Basin, Panay Island. The IMS provides satellite-based, highly automated, open water surface identification tools that detect both seasonal fluctuations of water bodies and long-term changes. The service maps provide the extent of flooded areas over time, which can help build a picture of the flood response of an area.

Maximum inundation extents – Jalaur River Basin (1990 – 2015).

Flood risk assessment in Yanji City

Yanji City in the People’s Republic of China is highly exposed to flood risk, having experienced between ten and twenty-seven large flood events during the period between 1985 and 2011. The city is home to half a million people, 90% of whom live in urban areas. At the same time, Yanji suffers from inadequate infrastructure and lacks basic flood protection and water management systems, causing inconvenience and disruptions to daily life. Climate change increases the flood risk and threat to water supply, only making these problems worse.

In order to improve the city’s infrastructure and increase climate resilience of vulnerable people, the ADB and Chinese government embarked on the Jilin Yanji Low-Carbon Climate-Resilient Urban Development project Yanji City wanted to learn how to fine-tune the design of their activities, based on the EO data. Specifically, the project aimed to:

  • Develop an intelligent, sustainable, low carbon, urban transport system
  • Create a climate resilience plan for a ‘sponge city’
  • Improve water support and wastewater management systems
  • Increase institutional capacity for carbon and climate resilient urban infrastructure planning.

In order to accomplish this, a climate risk assessment was conducted that went beyond using downscaled GCM data, and was practically applicable and stakeholder oriented in order to highlight particular vulnerabilities and solutions.

To support the assessment the EO4SD CR used past EO images and precipitation and soil moisture data to map in great detail (up to 10m resolution) the extent and location of past flooding events. This identified areas repeatedly affected by flooding, and those only affected in large or unusual flooding events. Understanding how an area floods, and when, means that effective investments can be made in adopting the most appropriate flood management systems and infrastructure.

Maps showing Sentiel-2B imagery to assess flooding in Yanji, China. The image on the left shows the city before the heavy rains between July 20-23 2017. The image on the right from 22 July 2017 shows the city after the flood event. The blue lines indicate areas of flooding. Images are provided at a 10m resolution. Results have been crosschecked with SAR imagery from Sentinel-1B.

The satellite imagery was able to provide detailed information about a recent, historic flood event in Yanji City (see figure above). This information helped to identify areas, infrastructure and populations at risk from similar flood events.

EO data was also able to identify changes in land use and vegetation cover over time. This helps measure the impact of wetland rehabilitation on urban hydrology and river base flow. Satellite imagery can also be used to monitor levels of terrestrial water storage, providing baseline records of water level fluctuation and monthly updates. Future climate models projected an increase in rainfall for every month of the year, and some change in wind speed which could indicate changes in cyclone behaviour. The water supply is forecast to experience greater stress driven mainly by increases in demand, but climate change is also projected to diminish the availability of water. This feedback was delivered to the project at the end of May 2019, and is now being integrated in the delivery of their four project activities.

As demonstrated, EO data clearly has a wide range of applications, and as technology and access to data improves, the ability for EO data to play a key role in improving climate resilience and identifying effective capacity building development only increases. The ADB projects in both Yanji and the Philippines are ongoing, and the EO data provided by the EO4SD CR feeds into the planning and risk assessments phases of the projects. This will provide more robust information on which the ADB can base its future feasibility studies and investment design and implementation phases.

The engagement with the EO4SD CR will continue in both locations. Alongside the EO service provision the EO4SD CR have identified capacity building support to stakeholders to help build their awareness of EO services and how they might usefully be applied. With several capacity building options having been scoped, the stakeholders are better equipped in their decision making by having access to and a greater understanding of the impacts from EO Data. In the Philippines for example, capacity building responses included nature-based flood protection solutions with EO data identifying suitable locations, and the use of real-time EO data to monitor rivers, helping to strengthen early flood warning systems.


This article was originally published on the EO4SD Climate Resilience website.
Cover photo by Theodor Lundqvist on Unsplash.
Earth observation data enhances top climate tools through collaboration with International Finance Institutions

Earth observation data enhances top climate tools through collaboration with International Finance Institutions

Some of the most well-known and established climate change data platforms and tools are being further enhanced by integrating Earth Observation (EO) data. Through an ongoing collaboration between several International Finance Institutions (IFIs) and the European Space Agency’s Earth Observation for Sustainable Development Climate Resilience (EO4SD CR) cluster, Earth Observation products are in process to be integrated into platforms including the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal, the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Risk Tools, Africa Risk Capacity’s (ARC) Africa RiskView, and the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Hydro-BID system.

The EO4SD CR cluster has been working with IFIs over the past year, to demonstrate how EO services can be applied to help build climate resilience. The cluster’s work has focussed on applying EO services to existing IFI investment projects, including Asian Development Bank projectsin the Philippines and China, and World Bank projects in Liberia and Lake Victoria basin. Alongside these projects, the EO4SD CR cluster has also sought to add value to existing services and tools that IFIs use to help facilitate improved climate resilience decision making.

The World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal

One such initiative is the EO4SD CR cluster’s collaboration with the World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal (CCKP); one of the world’s most high-profile, publicly available climate change data platforms. The WB’s CCKP provides global data on historical and future climate vulnerabilities and impacts. It is explorable through a web-based platform organised by ‘country’, ‘region’ and ‘watersheds’. The platform also includes socio-economic data to support climate resilient decision making.

Screenshot showing the map view of the CCKP organised by watershed. Source: World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge Portal

Screenshot showing the map view of the CCKP organised by watershed. Source: World Bank’s Climate Change Knowledge PortalThe EO4SD CR cluster developed functions that would allow EO products to be served to the platform seamlessly when demanded by users. From a user perspective there is no difference in the operation of the CCKP, which simply draws down the data and serves it to the user. This has enabled the WB’s CCKP to include climate data that was not previously available to its users including sea level anomaly data (1993-2015), 2-meter surface temperatures (1979-2018), and sea surface temperatures (1991-2018).

These EO-based Essential Climate Variables (ECV) are provided in both raster and time-series formats allowing for images and time-series data to be used and overlaid. As shown in the image below, the sea level anomaly data can be displayed as a map, and several data points can be selected and compared using time series data, showing clearly the levels of variation across different geographies.

Sea level anomaly time series data (1993-2015) for Madagascar, Monrovia (Liberia) and Venice (Italy).

With the 2m temperature data the EO service provides the full time series and can show temperature variability and averages, making it possible to compare different time periods against each other.

2m surface temperature for Mozambique with data from the years 2016 and 2018 compared against the 2010-2015 average.

Provision to other tools and services

As well as collaborating with the World Bank’s CCKP, the cluster is also providing EO data to climate resilience tools from other organisations, including:

  • 1-day maximum precipitation data for a 20-year return level to the IFC’s Risk Tool.
  • Soil moisture monitoring (1978-present), daily precipitation (2006-present) for Sub-Saharan Africa to ARC’s Africa Risk View tool.
  • Algal pigment concentration for Ypacarai Lake (Paraguay), Titicaca Lake (Bolivia/Peru), and Panama Bay (Panama) 1997-2018 and wetland and water inventory for Pantanal (Brazil) to be integrated into IDB’s Hydro-Bid tool.

Over the next year, the cluster will continue to explore how EO services can be further integrated into existing climate risk portals and platforms. The work done so far indicates that there is a lot of potential for deploying EO services for climate resilience and using existing products provides a good opportunity for putting EO data to work in the near term.


This article was originally published on the EO4SD Climate Resilience website.
Cover photo by Mohit Kumar on Unsplash.