About SRON’s Earth observation program

SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research

SRON is the Dutch national expertise institute for space research, as part of the Dutch Research Council (NWO). In the Earth Observation program, we contribute to research on climate, air quality and its consequences for biodiversity by working on the entire chain of space missions. We develop key detector technologies, design and realize instruments in collaboration with partners, and develop analysis tools and models to make the data applicable to users. SRON also provides council to the government on scientific space use.

The importance of our research

The Earth Observation program at SRON has key expertise in monitoring atmospheric composition. This expertise was developed over the past decades in a Dutch ecosystem of universities, knowledge institutes, and industrial partners. The Netherlands is world-leading in atmospheric composition monitoring with a series of instruments such as TROPOMI on ESA’s Sentinel-5p mission and SPEXone on NASA’s PACE mission.

The UN climate panel warns that our warming climate, caused by human-made emissions, puts the global ecosystem at risk. Several climate tipping points could be triggered this century, leading to large and irreversible changes to the climate system and large impacts on society. This confronts our society with urgent scientific questions about climate change, air quality, and its consequences for biodiversity. In answering these questions, scientists, governments, and international bodies increasingly rely on earth observation data. Satellites are vital because they provide global and intercomparable information that can be available within hours after sensing  (e.g. shortly after a pipeline leak) and can also provide time series spanning decades of calibrated and validated data of greenhouse gas concentrations and inferred emissions.

Moreover, constant advances in satellite instrumentation make observations with an ever-increasing detail possible. For example, SRON scientists have recently used satellites to spot large methane plumes from individual waste dumps for the first time from space [Maasakkers, Science Adv. 2022].

For the United Nations Methane Alert and Response System (Mars), together with our partners we design a rapid methane hot-spot detection system using satellite observations. This will provide actionable information to reduce emissions of this strong greenhouse gas and curb climate change.

SRON’s Earth Observation program focuses on:

  • CO2 and CH4, the two most important greenhouse gases;
  • Aerosol, relevant for human health and global warming;
  • Aerosol-cloud interactions, a very uncertain but important process affecting global climate;
  • Wildfire emissions, with impact on climate, air-quality, and our global ecosystems.

By contributing to the development of earth observation space missions, SRON takes part in the fulfillment of government policy on Climate & Environment and Science & Education. On the European level, we contribute to Horizon Europe and Copernicus. Internationally, we develop missions together with NASA, contribute to the United Nations Environment Program and facilitate climate action in collaboration with non-governmental organizations such as EDF and GMH.

Interested in adding value to climate change?

SRON has about 200 employees. They form a melting pot of top (instrument) scientists, engineers and other professionals of various nationalities and ages. They inspire each other to push the boundaries of technology and knowledge. Problems faced by scientists challenge sensor developers to construct increasingly more sensitive technology. Together with mechanical and electrical engineers they ultimately develop a scientific space instrument with an exceptional level of performance under the extreme conditions of space. The scientific breakthroughs made with such devices in turn inspire new research and new technology. This approach has enabled SRON to develop into an internationally renowned expertise institute.

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