ESWW2023 Plenary Session: Pathways to Sustainable Space Weather and Space Climate Activities

This plenary session was held during ESWW2023 in Toulouse, France on Thursday 23 November 2023. (ESWW2023 Plenary session)

It was convened by E-SWAN's Sustainability Working Group.

Session description

With space weather and space climate, we seek to understand and mitigate the adverse effects of the space environment on human activities. However, there is a growing awareness of the reverse effect: our activities have a significant impact on the environment in terms of carbon footprint, resource consumption, biodiversity loss and, more globally, the impact of humans on the terrestrial and space environments. These impacts increasingly threaten the sustainability of our activities in space, and human society as a whole. In this session, we invite scientists and stakeholders to share their perception of these critical issues and to present solutions that will allow science to advance in a world of limited resources, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The goal is to address the diagnosis (how we are impacting the environment), the solutions that have been developed, and the lessons learned. The session will consist of a number of invited and contributed presentations. A non-exhaustive list of topics includes: the carbon footprint of research activities and research infrastructure, light pollution of the sky, dealing with the growing amount of space debris, instrument development and life cycle-assessment with limited resources, and more.

1. The carbon footprint of astrophysical research


Abstract: Global warming is fundamentally changing our world and its devastating impacts become ever more visible each year. With their unique perspective on the Universe, astronomers are increasingly questioning their role in this changing world. Like all human activities, research also contributes to global warming, and researchers are looking for ways to reduce their impact on the climate. In this presentation I will review our current knowledge about the carbon footprint of astrophysical research and discuss the principal sources of greenhouse gas emissions. I will summarise the actions that are proposed to reduce the emissions, and discuss the changes that are needed to make astrophysical research sustainable.

Pdf presentation: download.

2. Use of space reshapes sustainability sciences

PALMROTH Minna (University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, Department of Physics).

Abstract: Satellite-based services are a critical building block in the green and digital transition required to ensure society’s sustainability for the growing population of our planet. In this paper, we consider the use of space by methods of the modern societal sustainability theory. We begin by defining sustainability in space by using the common three spheres approach articulating the concepts to be considered: Economy, society, and the environment. We continue by using a scenario method, which reveals the continuity of a system after a dramatic disturbance. While it is commonly believed that the growing number of orbital debris is the primary reason for which the sustainable use of space is called for, we find that concentrating on orbital debris only leads astray, and a more systemic approach is needed. It is not surprising, though – also the environmental sustainability started by considering material waste, before a more systemic circular economy was conceptualised. We find that in the sustainable use of space, the physical space is the primary concept to consider: It both causes and removes debris, and may significantly disturb societal functions during extreme events, threatening green and digital transition. Further, we find that since the reason for using space is the green and digital transition and thus planetary sustainability, the use of orbital space necessarily broadens sustainability sciences in general, by expanding the planetary boundaries that define the resources to be used by humankind.

3. Collision risk in Space – an insurer view


Abstract: Space insurers are protecting many space projects by ensuring they can restart in case of failure. Over the recent years, the collision risk became a growing concern for the overall space community and especially for insurers. In addition, space assets in LEO are evolving: they are more and more used for commercial purpose while their environment become increasingly crowded. The challenge for a space insurer is to evaluate the risk today based on a limited amount data but as well to estimate the risk for tomorrow. After an overview of space insurance and the risk assessment of this issue, the needed next steps to better manage collision risk will be discussed.

Pdf presentation: download.


4. Radio astronomy: the challenge of Radio Frequency Interferences

GRIESSMEIER Jean-Mathias (LPC2E / CNRS & Nançay Radio Observatory)

Abstract: Similarly to optical astronomy, radio astronomy has to deal with perturbations by human technology. Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) has been an issue since the beginning of radio astronomy, but today, modern broadcasting systems (digital audio broadcast, digital TV), telecommunications (5G cellphones) and an ever-increasing number of satellites (GPS, Galileo, Glonass, Starlink, ...) pose severe challenges to the future of radio astronomy. At the same time, modern radio astronomy is moving towards wide-band observations and includes the study of brief, impulsive events, which are sometimes difficult to distinguish from RFI. Using the Nancay Radio Observatory as an example, we will demonstrate some of the problems radio astronomy is facing. We will discuss methods used to reduce the impact of RFI. This includes the allocation of dedicated frequencies, the careful selection of observatory sites, the creation of radio-quiet zones, RFI shielding of potentially problematic equipment, frequency filtering on radio telescopes by dedicated hardware, and digital techniques to remove RFI in observations. A combination of all these is indeed required to allow high-quality radio astronomical observations in the future.

Pdf presentation: download.

5. The harmful effects of anthropogenic light pollution on natural light sources

DEVERCHERE Philippe (DarkSkyLab)

Abstract: Natural light sources in the night sky can be easily impacted or even totally obscured by anthropogenic light emissions into the nocturnal environment. In this session, we will first assess the relative importance of the different contributions of the natural sources to the brightness of the sky background (galactic plane, airglow, star fields, zodiacal light, aurora) then we will estimate the impacts of the artificial skyglow on the observation of these different sources. Results obtained during 2 years of continuous measurement of the night sky brightness in the Atacama desert in Chile, used as a reference of almost pristine skies, will be presented and interpreted to support specific conclusions about the harmful effects of light pollution on the observation of the night sky.

Pdf presentation: download.