Topic 1g - Part 1: Satellite measurements - Measuring the absorption of light in the atmosphere

There is a variety of satellites that are capable of measuring atmospheric composition, that utilise many different instruments.
Some of the key missions and instrumentation include:

Metop - A series of three polar orbiting meteorological satellites. They include the IASI (infrared atmospheric sounding interferometer) instrument which estimates and monitors the trace gases ozone, methane, carbon monoxide, N2O and CO2 (total column only) on a global scale. And the GOME-2 (Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment–2) instrument, which provides ozone profiles and measures atmospheric content of ozone.

Sentinel-3 - Part of the Sentinel series of satellites in the Copernicus programme, Sentinel-3 is primarily an ocean mission but also provides atmospheric data. It’s OLCI (Ocean and Land Colour Instrument) instrument can provide atmospheric composition (mainly aerosols and water vapor), illumination condition, and downwelling solar radiation data.

Sentinel 5 Precursor - Sentinel-5p is the first satellite in the Copernicus programme that is dedicated to monitoring air pollution. Its instrument is the Tropomi (TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) and is the most advance multispectral imaging spectrometer to date and can measure in the ultraviolet and visible (270–500 nm), near-infrared (675–775 nm) and shortwave infrared (2305–2385 nm) spectral bands. It can take measurements of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, clouds, surface UV-B and carbon monoxide.

Aura - Aura is part of NASA’s Earth Observing System and measures Earth’s ozone layer, air quality and climate. It carries four instruments, these being a HRDLS (High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder) which measures infrared radiation from ozone, water vapor, CFCs, methane and nitrogen compounds; MLS (Microwave Limb Sounder) which measures emissions from ozone, chlorine and other trace gases, and clarifies the role of water vapor in global warming; OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument), which uses ultraviolet and visible radiation to produce daily high-resolution maps; and TES (Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer) which measures tropospheric ozone in infrared wavelengths, also carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen oxides.

Future capabilities

Sentinel-4 - is an instrument, the Ultra-Violet and Near Infra-Red Multispectral Spectrometer (S4 UVN), which will operate with spectral bands within the solar reflectance spectrum. It will work closely with the Infra-Red Sounder (IRS) on the Meteosat Third Generation sounding satellites to observe ozone carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and other trace gases. The Sentinel-4 instrument will monitor key air quality trace gases and aerosols over Europe in support of air quality monitoring and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). The EUMETSAT Meteosat Third Generation Sounder (MTG-S) satellites are due to be launched in 2023 and 2030.

Find out more here

Sentinel-5 - the Sentinel-5 instrument will also be dedicated to atmospheric monitoring, and will consist of a payload carried aboard EUMETSAT’s Metop Second Generation satellites launching from 2022. It will provide operational monitoring of trace gas concentrations for atmospheric chemistry and climate applications.

Find out more here

Featured Educators:

  • Prof. John Remedios

  • Prof. John Burrows

  • Dr Rosemary Munro

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Optional Further Reading

Interactive Apps

Satelite tracking app - Topic 1g part 1

The satellites featured in this topic are as follows:

Sentinel-3a; Sentinel-5p; Metop-a; Metop-b; Aura

You can also use the drop-down menu in the app to view these satellites.



Diagram of Sentinel-5 (polar orbit)

Improved spatial resolution

Improved spatial resolution of Sentinel-5p

Sentinel-5p and Suomi NPP tracks

An important feature of the SENTINEL-5P mission is the synergistic exploitation of simultaneous measurements of imager data from the Visible/Infra-red Imager and Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), embarked on the Suomi-NPP (National Polar-orbting Partnership) satellite of NASA/NOAA (NPP mission started in 28 October 2011). The SENTINEL-5P orbit is selected such that it trails behind Suomi-NPP by 3.5 minutes in Local Time Ascending Node (LTAN), allowing the SENTINEL-5P observation swath to remain within the scene observed by Suomi-NPP.


Image of sentinel-5p in orbit


Artist illustration of Metop-A in orbit.