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Studying the Earth's atmosphere using satellites

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is supporting twelve research teams from across Canada to advance scientific knowledge and understanding of the Earth's atmosphere. In analyzing data from instruments aboard Canadian and international satellites (sometimes combined with ground-based observations), they will investigate important issues like ozone depletion, greenhouse gases, air quality, and climate change.

What will researchers do with satellite data?

  • Ozone
    Produce the most comprehensive data record to date and compare with numerical models.

  • Gas emissions
    Quantify and validate harmful surface gas emissions that are reported in Canada's pollutant inventory.

  • Aerosols
    Clarify and validate the impact of aerosols in the stratosphere on climate change.

  • Climate
    Increase knowledge of the chemical processes affecting the earth's atmosphere.

  • Greenhouse gases
    Increase understanding of global water vapour transport to improve climate models used in international reports.

  • Air quality
    Evaluate how satellite-based gas measurements can improve surface pollution forecasting and air quality health index.

  • Data enhancement
    Increase global measurements of harmful gases to improve knowledge of air pollution transport.

  • Air pollution
    Identify pollution sources over Canada and North America to inform air quality regulations.

  • Snow
    Combine data from multiple sources to improve snowfall predictions over Canada and the Arctic.

  • Carbon cycle
    Investigate the impact of wildfires on the Canadian Boreal forest and quantify global urban pollution.

  • Arctic interactions
    Analyze aerosol-cloud interactions over the Arctic and impact on northern sustainability.

  • Energy balance
    Develop and compare global models of water vapour and atmospheric radiation to improve future climate predictions.

CSA grants and contributions

The projects are funded under the CSA Class Grant and Contribution Program following the Announcement of Opportunity: Earth System Science Data Analyses.

To know more about current CSA opportunities, visit the Funding opportunities at the Canadian Space Agency page.

The research grants awarded by the CSA for these projects represent a total value of approximately $2.6 million over three years to advance atmospheric and climate science using data collected by Canadian satellites and instruments like CloudSat, SCISAT, OSIRIS, and MOPITT. These Canadian datasets are complemented in many cases with new European Space Agency (ESA) satellites that gather measurements of the Earth's surface and atmosphere.

Earth system science project summaries


Ozone Time Series Analysis using OSIRIS, ACE-FTS and MAESTRO satellite measurements, ozonesondes and the CMAM model

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated and signed by Canada along with 23 other countries. Since then the World Meteorological Organization has had an ongoing mandate to monitor and assess its effectiveness. To do this, they rely on high fidelity data records such as those produced by Canadian satellite instruments. This project will combine satellite and ground based measurements with Canada's OSIRIS instrument time series to produce Canada's long term data record. Canadian model results will be used to better understand this time series.

Research team:

  • Doug Degenstein, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
  • David Plummer, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
  • David Tarasick, ECCC
  • Yves Rochon, ECCC
  • Adam Bourassa, University of Saskatchewan

Gas emissions

Improved estimates of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions through multi-species and multi-sensor chemical data assimilation

Over the past two decades space agencies around the world have made considerable investments in satellite instruments to measure the changing composition of the atmosphere. We now have a broad range of space-based measurements of atmospheric composition. This project will integrate observations from different satellite instruments to better quantify surface emissions of CO and NOx, which are harmful atmospheric contaminants. Atmospheric CO and NOx are also precursors of tropospheric ozone (O3), which is a harmful pollutant and a powerful greenhouse gas.

Research team:

  • Dylan Jones, University of Toronto (principal investigator)
  • Randall Martin, Dalhousie University
  • Adam Bourassa, University of Saskatchewan
  • Cristen Adams, Alberta Government, Environmental Monitoring and Science Division


Advanced multi-instrument record of stratospheric aerosol and the climate impact

Using measurements from Canadian satellite instruments, the objective of this project is to extend and improve the space-based aerosol data record for the lower stratosphere. This is a challenging region to measure, but important as it has been shown to contain a potentially significant portion of the total aerosol budget. An improved dataset will be used in combination with a Canadian coupled atmosphere-ocean climate model to understand the impact of aerosols on climate change.

Research team:

  • Adam Bourassa, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
  • John Fyfe, ECCC
  • Christopher Sioris, ECCC
  • Doug Degenstein, University of Saskatchewan
  • Jason Cole, ECCC


Climatological, model evaluation and validation studies using data from Canadian satellite and ground-based measurements

Using data from three Canadian satellites, this research project will study the changing atmosphere and improve our ability to simulate these changes with atmospheric models, in three steps. First, the focus will be on understanding how different types of chlorine-containing gases, related to ozone depletion, are distributed in the atmosphere and vary from year-to-year. Second, the team will examine how different satellite instruments and models describe the region of the atmosphere that can have a significant influence on climate. And third, the quality of new measurements of greenhouse gases and air pollutants made from space will be assessed.

Research team:

  • Kaley Walker, University of Toronto (principal investigator)
  • David Plummer, ECCC
  • Kimberly Strong, University of Toronto
  • Christopher Sioris, ECCC
  • Gloria Manney, NorthWest Research Associates

Greenhouse gases

Understanding the role of deep convection in determining the humidity structure in the upper-troposphere and lower-stratosphere (UTLS) and improving model simulation of the process using satellite observations

Atmospheric water vapor plays a significant role in climate change, but its variation in the UTLS region is currently poorly understood and inadequately simulated by global weather and climate models. Satellite data will be used to quantify the impact of air mass circulation on UTLS water vapor. Operational global models of ECCC will be validated against the observations and high resolution cloud resolving simulations. This research will help improve Canada's ability to predict climate and weather and shed light on future climate monitoring missions.

Research team:

  • Yi Huang, McGill University (principal investigator)
  • Man Kong (Peter) Yau, McGill University
  • Kaley Walker, University of Toronto
  • Paul Vaillancourt, ECCC
  • Jason Cole, ECCC

Air quality

Assessing the impact of limb sounding on the forecasting of surface pollution and the Air Quality Health Index

It is generally assumed that stratospheric profile measurements from a space-based limb sounding instrument will lead to improved air quality forecasts (including the Air Quality Health Index). This project will conduct a thorough assessment using the ECCC air quality model and prediction system. Measurements of ozone and nitrogen dioxide from Canada's OSIRIS instrument will be assimilated, and validation and forecast evaluation will be performed using the ACE-FTS instrument on Canada's SCISAT and the North American surface monitoring network.

Research team:

  • Christopher McLinden, University of Saskatchewan (principal investigator)
  • Jean de Grandpré, ECCC
  • Doug Degenstein, University of Saskatchewan
  • Adam Bourassa, University of Saskatchewan
  • Yves Rochon, ECCC

Data enhancement

MOPITT Data Enhancements through Improved Cloud Clearing

Canada's MOPITT instrument measures global CO levels every three days. It has been in orbit since and continues to provide excellent data. This project aims to expand the coverage of the MOPITT data through its entire operational life by improving the scientific treatment of clouds in the field of view, thus increasing the amount of observations used to generate the data products. The results will improve the datasets made available by MOPITT and the resulting science coming from the research community around the world.

Research team:

  • James Drummond, University of Toronto (principal investigator)
  • Merritt Deeter, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Helen Worden, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Dylan Jones, University of Toronto

Air pollution

Modes of Pollution Transport from North America to Nova Scotia and Beyond

This project aims to quantify the long-term variability of different pollution sources (local, regional and continental) and how they affect air quality in Nova Scotia and other Canadian locations. The study will assess the impacts of weather on air pollution events. In doing so, it will inform policy regarding jurisdictional (provincial, federal, trans-boundary) pollutant reduction.

Research team:

  • Aldona Wiacek, Saint Mary's University (principal investigator)
  • Dylan Jones, University of Toronto
  • Kimberly Strong, University of Toronto


Investigation of snowfall and related climate processes from a space-based instrument suite

Seasonal snowfall is important to Canada's climate and water balance. Recent and rapid changes in the amount of falling snow and how long it stays on the ground have been observed. This project will combine observations from multiple sources of snow, and of the weather events during which snowfall occurs, to learn whether satellite instruments can be used to reliably detect and monitor snow and snowfall over Canada. This could improve weather and climate forecasts.

Research team:

  • Chris Fletcher, University of Waterloo (principal investigator)
  • Paul Kushner, University of Toronto
  • Stephen Howell, ECCC

Carbon cycle

CO in the Canadian boreal forest and urban centres

CO is an atmospheric gas that impacts urban air quality and the global carbon cycle. This project will combine atmospheric observations and modelling of CO to:

  • Validate Canada's MOPITT instrument measurements with data from the ground based Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON).
  • Assess the impacts of wildfires on the carbon cycle of the boreal forest.
  • Quantify global urban ratios of CO to carbon dioxide (CO2) to estimate urban emissions.

MOPITT and ground-based datasets will be complemented by CO2 measurements from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) and JAXA's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT).

Research team:

  • Debra Wunch, University of Toronto (principal investigator)
  • Ray Nassar, ECCC
  • Dylan Jones, University of Toronto

Arctic interactions

Analysis of remotely sensed, aerosol-cloud interaction over the Arctic

This project will analyze the aerosol-cloud interactions over the Arctic when aerosols like dust and smoke are predominant (in the upper troposphere during the polar winter; and in the lower troposphere during the polar spring). The analysis will be done using satellite-based instruments supported by ground-based measurements, microphysical surface measurements and transport model simulations.

Research team:

  • Norm O'Neill, Université de Sherbrooke (principal investigator)
  • Jean-Pierre Blanchet, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
  • Rachel Chang, Dalhousie University
  • Patrick Hayes, Université de Montréal

Energy balance

Observation and modeling of the tropical runaway- and super-greenhouse

Using satellite measurements of the Earth's tropics, this research will investigate the local runaway greenhouse and super greenhouse effect. These phenomena occur when there is high water vapour content in the atmosphere, which limits the amount of radiation the surface can give off to cool itself. Currently, this only affects the warmest areas of the tropics (e.g. the Pacific warm pool) but it is expected to spread, and potentially become more severe as the global climate warms.

Research team:

  • Colin Goldblatt, University of Victoria (principal investigator)
  • Norman McFarlane, University of Victoria

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