US - Europe will launch a satellite to obtain a high-resolution view of Earth’s greenhouse effect. The Forum mission will carry a spectrometer to sense the far-infrared radiation coming up off the Earth. It’s in this long wavelength portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that water vapour and carbon dioxide absorb energy very efficiently, warming the planet in the process.

This means scientists are missing a number of key features in their climate models, including the detailed workings of some of the feedbacks in the planet’s atmosphere that amplify or mitigate warming.

These omissions would include the behaviour of certain types of cloud.

“Satellite missions up until now have mostly measured wavelengths in the mid-infrared - that’s shorter than 15 microns,” explained Dr Helen Brindley from Imperial College London and the UK National Centre for Earth Observation.

“We’re now looking to measure longer than 15 microns which has never been done before from space, with very high accuracy and with what we call very high spectral resolution which means we can really see the fingerprints of different gases in the atmosphere, particularly water vapour, and really get an idea of how the energy is changing with time,” she told BBC News.

Forum is an acronym that stands for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring.