A comprehensive understanding of the Earth’s hydrological and energy cycle is crucial for the sustainable development of the Earth system. Currently, our understanding of water and energy cycles shows important gaps on all spatial and time scales. This is primarily due to the lack of accurate atmospheric humidity and temperature profile measurements with high vertical and temporal resolution, especially in the lower troposphere. These measurements are fundamental to improve meteorological forecasts and analyses and to study of Atmosphere-Earth feedbacks and to improve model parameterizations of transport and turbulent processes within the atmospheric boundary layer. These observational gaps can be filled with the development and spatial implementation of a new active remote sensing system based on the lidar Raman technique. The collection of vibrational and rotational Raman backscatter signals from atmospheric molecules allows obtaining simultaneous and co-located measurements of atmospheric humidity and temperature profiles, as well as a variety of derived atmospheric variables, with an unprecedented vertical resolution of approximately 100 m. This is the key idea behind the Atmospheric Thermodynamics LidAr in Space (ATLAS) mission, proposed to the European Space Agency by a team of European and American researchers, led by Prof. Di Girolamo, as part of the “Earth Explorer-11 Mission Ideas” Call of the ESA Earth Observation Envelope Program, currently being under evaluation for a possible selection in 2021. As part of this key-note, the main scientific impacts of the mission will be illustrated. Its expected performance in terms of measurement accuracy and space-time resolution is also assessed based on simulations carried out using a “performance simulation code” developed at the University of Basilicata.
The key-note will also report specific international efforts in the direction of designing and developing space lidar missions in the infrared spectral region, where a potential role of superconducting nanowire detectors is foreseen.