NASA and ESA Tackle Climate Change

NASA and ESA Tackle Climate Change

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In 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden made climate change a very important part of his campaign.  Firmly, Biden said that if elected, this issue would remain at the forefront of his administration.  True to this promise, President Joe Biden has tasked NASA with leading the way on climate change research.  

As a result, NASA created the new role of Senior Climate Advisor. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt is the first leader to fill this position. This unique role will govern the fulfillment of the administration’s climate science objectives.

Thankfully, another colossal space exploration industry giant joined NASA in their effort. European Space Agency (ESA) agreed to team up with NASA to tackle climate change together.  These two well-known giants, the world’s two largest space exploration agencies have the resources to tackle climate change from a different perspective.

NASA and ESA are taking advantage of a unique opportunity to jointly study the climate from a very unique vantage point. Indeed, outer space is the best place to measure and monitor climate change. Bill Nelson, one of the lead administrators at NASA said after the partnership announcement,

“Climate change is an all-hands-on deck, global challenge that requires action – now”

Bill Nelson, Administrator (NASA)

NASA and ESA Tackle Climate Change

Who is the ESA?

Frequently, when talking about advancements in space exploration, only the names of three countries come up: The United States, Russia, and China.  However, Europe contains some of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world.  Interestingly, the history of European space exploration dates to 1945.

During World War II, many European scientists fled Europe to continue their research in the United States and the Soviet Union.   These great minds made large contributions to the national society of space-related scientists.  Finally, in 1975, 10 European countries established the European Space Agency (ESA). The 10 countries who acting acted as founding members are:

  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Denmark
  • France
  • United Kingdom
  • Italy
  • the Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Spain

Since 1975, a dozen countries have joined the ESA growing the membership to 22 countries.  Of those actively involved, only 5 are located outside of Europe.  All other members are European countries including Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Norway, and Portugal.

The ESA is Europe’s largest space agency. Their mission is to develop Europe’s space capabilities and make new discoveries in space science.  Not only that, they are ensuring that European countries continue their investment in space exploration.  And now, the ESA along with NASA will help tackle climate change, a universal issue.  Surely, this investment into space will result in more benefits for the people of Earth.

NASA and climate change.

In like manner, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is dedicated to the science and technology of outer space.  For over 65 years, this government ran agency has participated in advancements in space science. In fact, people often call the European Space Agency (ESA) Europe’s NASA. 

Established in 1958, NASA’s first program was “Project Mercury”.  The purpose of this project was to discover if human beings could even survive in outer space.  Next, Project Gemini launched to follow Project Mercury.

Subsequently followed by the “Apollo” Projects numbered from 1-14.  These programs focused on building a spacecraft that could safely carry two or more American astronauts to the moon and then return them safely. After many years of effort, NASA finally landed the first human beings on the moon on July 20, 1969. 

Comparatively, NASA has monitored climate change from space for many years. One of the tools they use is a carbon monitoring system.  This satellite sends images recording the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere at a given time. For example, the satellite records the amount of CO2 decrease during the spring and the summer as green plants absorb it from the atmosphere. 

Then, during winter, the carbon monitoring system records the rise in CO2.  NASA has also recorded a steady rise in sea level and an increase in global temperature. With this information, NASA produces global models which help scientists make predictions about global warming.

Hopefully, this information will help scientists tackle climate change. Recently, Gavin Schmidt Senior Climate Advisor spoke to the Discovery Channel about NASA’s observations,

“The impacts that we’re worried about are being triggered, not by a 20-degree warmer world, but by a 1-degree warmer world”

Gavin Schmidt, Senior Climate Advisor (NASA)

The new partnership to tackle climate change.

NASA and ESA’s are now focusing direct attention on tackling climate change.  Their partnership involves developing more Earth-observing satellites together. In addition, the partnership will conduct specific global climate research that they can only do from space.

One of those areas of research is the melting of Permafrost.  Permafrost is a layer of ice underneath the earth’s service.  25 percent of the earth’s land surface contains permafrost. Melting permafrost releases additional methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Moreover, it contributes to rising sea levels.

Uniquely, this partnership is the first strategic collaboration to study the earth’s climate from space.  The ESA has frequently issued reports on the correlation between human activity and global warming. Accordingly, this data drives their effort to tackle climate change and partner with the massive American government agency NASA.

Similarly, on the NASA side of the agreement, this alliance represents swift action from the Biden administration. It shows this administration is serious about climate change.  Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of Science at NASA, told FLORIDA TODAY,

“This is a massive step-up from anything we’ve ever done”

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator (NASA)

The role of Senior Climate Advisor and election of NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt took place only months after Biden’s inauguration. Consequently, through this new role, NASA has become part of the White House’s National Climate Task Force.  This means climate change research will finally receive the funding it needs to move forward.  In a statement, NASA Chief of Staff Bhavya Lal said,

“The appointment of Gavin Schmidt will help ensure that the Biden Administration has the crucial data to implement and track its plan toward the path to achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, and a healthier, safer, more prosperous planet for our children.”

Bhavya Lal, Chief of Staff (NASA)



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Susan Daniels

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