How IR sensors are helping track trends in global warming

How IR sensors are helping track trends in global warming

August 08, 2022 . 3min read

For nearly 20 years, growing numbers of IR detectors have been taking to the skies and beyond as more nations incorporate these devices into their satellites to power their wide-ranging space missions. This exponential rise in the amount of IR sensors orbiting our planet has been fueled by the new generation of detectors and their increasingly cutting-edge performance.

This observation technology now plays a major role in analyzing natural and man-made phenomena on Earth in real time. That explains why IR detectors have gained traction for their ability to monitor changing patterns in global warming and monitor the repercussions.

This is how IR sensors are helping track trends in global warming


  • Observing water resources

Water resources and trends in water stress on plant-life (an indicator for whether water resources are present) can be analyzed against a number of criteria, including water temperature, landmass temperature and the evapotranspiration rate. These criteria can be observed and scrutinized on a large scale by harnessing the leading-edge IR detectors embedded in the satellites orbiting our planet.

IR detectors are also capable of carrying out accurate and sophisticated analyses of the components in the Earth's water and thereby determining the quantities present. These parameters are based on the amount of IR radiation absorbed by water, and that information can be used to assess and measure a specific and recognizable heat signature that can readily be analyzed.

Europe's Copernicus program for observing and monitoring the environment features different satellites with embedded dedicated infrared detectors for observing the Earth's water.

IT detectors are invaluable for keeping a watchful eye on the planet's water resources from space, since they are capable of observing large swathes of land at repeated and closely spaced frequencies, which ramps up measurement quality, produces superior results and simplifies the decision-making process.

In addition, they can provide intel on large stretches of water suffering from a lack of on-the-ground hydrological data, since they are often located in developing countries without the necessary equipment to analyze the water resources.

For more insights into how thermal imaging is being used to monitor environmental changes, go ahead and download the LYNRED / Reuniwatt use case.




  • Observing the composition of the atmosphere

Scientists and researchers use imaging spectroscopy to examine the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The technology is key to observing and assessing the presence of such gases as methane in the atmosphere, which is known to be responsible for driving up temperatures around the world and causing global warming.

We can also leverage today's IR sensors to measure the presence of CO2, which has gained a reputation as the main man-made greenhouse gas on our planet and one of the primary culprits behind rising global temperatures.

These observations are mainly performed in the SWIR spectral band between 0.7 and 2.5 μm, and the VLWIR spectral band between 10 and 15 μm. The new generation of IR detectors that are built into systems with the ability to observe and define the chemical composition of the atmosphere delivers class-leading performance in terms of resolution, the number of spectral bands and sensitivity.


  • Observing weather phenomena

The IR sensors fitted to satellites in orbit around our planet have the power to observe and measure landmass and ocean temperatures.

They can also observe and analyze the composition of the different layers in the Earth's atmosphere (especially the water content).

Lastly, satellites with embedded IR detectors can harvest data and keep a close eye on critical climate phenomena, including sandstorms, fires and volcanic eruptions.


Infrared detectors have clearly cemented their reputation as a vital link in the chain for observing the Earth from space and keeping tabs on the changes sweeping our environment. As the challenges from global warming continue to amplify and fuel widespread concern, the ability to observe our planet has an increasingly mission-critical role to play. 

At the same time, future generations of IR detectors are currently in the development pipeline. Efforts will especially focus on digitizing the features for IR sensors. Research is gaining momentum in the wake of changes to the space market model and particularly the advent of a new breed of space market known as "New Space". The high level of growth in this industry is being driven by external actors. Most of them initially specialized in the new technologies and digital business, but are now investing major sums of money in space research and orbital flights. Progress still has a long way to go until it reaches the finish line, and many innovations still need developing.

For more insights into how thermal imaging is being used to monitor environmental changes, go ahead and download the LYNRED / Reuniwatt use case.




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