The polar regions have experienced the most rapid rates of warming in recent years. Expected consequences due to this warming include the loss of sea ice, threats to wildlife, increased emissions and extreme weather. In response to this, ESA and the European Commission have come together to organise the first-ever European Polar Science Week dedicated to discussing how Earth observation can be utilised to monitor and protect this fragile environment.

The UN’s IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate highlights several critical knowledge gaps in the understanding of the functioning of the polar regions, and has recommended future assessments to increase confidence in both models and predictions.

Improving our observation capabilities of the polar regions and translating that information into solutions for society and the environment are major challenges for the future. Earth observation capabilities and Earth system science are essential elements in this process.

Addressing major challenges in polar research will require a collaborative effort and an integrated approach to science where the use of satellite data, in situ and citizen observations, advanced modelling capabilities, interdisciplinary research and new technologies are all essential elements.

For this reason, ESA along with the European Commission (Directorate General for Research and Innovation) are strongly engaged in supporting polar research in Europe, with both institutions keen to provide a joint response to address the polar challenges of the coming decade.

The European Polar Science Week is the first step in that direction. The week kicked off the ‘Flagship Action on Polar Regions’, with the aim to establish a coordinated European Polar Cluster that will promote and foster closer collaboration and networking across the EU and ESA Polar activities.

During the opening session, John Bell, the ‘Healthy Planet’ Director of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, commented, “In a nutshell, our poles give the pulse of our planet’s health. What we are seeing means we need science on the ground and in space to provide a systemic response.”

“Systemic changes needed for the planet and the poles requires an Earth-system science, systemic response to navigate, observe and help us to predict our way through this transition. Big planetary challenges require smart partnerships which is why the Commission has decided to join forces with Josef Aschbacher and his team at the European Space Agency for better research and innovation activities to develop this Earth-system science initiative.”

ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher, added, “With our Earth observation satellites, we are taking the pulse of our planet. Our mission is to make sure we have a wealth of information on our planet so we are able to make predictions on its future. Thanks to our collaboration with the European Commission, this is now possible.”

Throughout the week, key climate scientists, polar researchers, modellers and policy makers came together to share the latest Earth observation results in polar science, discuss observational gaps of the polar regions and define major scientific priorities in polar research that may drive ESA and the European Commission activities in the coming months.

Watch the replays of the week here:

The European Polar Science Week was organised by the European Space Agency and the European Commission together with EASME (the European Executive Agency for SMEs) and EU PolarNet.