This activity is a contribution to the EC-ESA Earth System Science Initiative and in particular to the Flagship Action on Polar Changes and Global Impact. Through this initiative, ESA and EC (DG-RTD) are joining forces to establish a strong European coordinated effort to better observe, understand and predict the rapid changes being observed at high latitudes with the ultimate goal to assist citizens, communities and regions in the definition of sustainable and innovative approaches to tackle the resulting risks for society and ecosystems. To this end, this Call for proposal includes dedicated provisions to ensure coordination and collaboration with the relevant projects funded by the European Commission (e.g., EU Polar Cluster activities funded under Horizon Europe).


The Earth’s polar regions have experienced the most rapid rates of warming in recent years resulting in drastic changes to several components of the polar system (e.g., ice sheet melt, reduction in Arctic sea ice, permafrost melt, etc..) that collectively will have significant consequences at local, regional and global scales (e.g., global sea level rise, impacts on ocean circulation, enhancing of Arctic methane emissions, impacts on Earth’s radiation budget, impacts on ecosystem and biodiversity). Addressing this unique set of global challenges will require scientists to advance their understanding of the different drivers governing changes in the Polar regions, its associated processes and its potential impacts, and translate that knowledge into solutions for society, policy advice and effective mitigation and adaptation strategies. This represents a major scientific and technical challenge that will require a significant collaborative effort and an integrated approach to science where the synergistic use of EO satellite data, in-situ, advanced modelling capabilities, interdisciplinary research and new technologies will be essential elements.

Latest advances in EO technology, and the increasing number of missions and sensors available from satellites, offer a unique and unprecedented opportunity to advance the way we observe and understand the changes affecting Polar regions and its impacts at regional and global scale. The ESA Polar Science Cluster aims at contributing to this challenge by promoting collaborative research, and fostering international collaboration, bringing together different expertise, data and resources, and ensuring that the final result may be bigger than the sum of the parts.

ESA is launching this Fixed Call for Proposals to addresses major challenges in Polar Science:

  • Theme 1: Dynamic 4DAntarctica (5DAntarctica): Focussed on establishing a state-of-the-art dynamic reconstruction of Antarctica based on a multi-mission EO reference dataset for assessing change and feedbacks in all Antarctic system components: surface, subglacial, englacial and ice-ocean interface. The focus will be on an integrated study of the dynamic coastal margins of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, assessing the impact of atmospheric and ocean forcing. This should include processes such as ice-ocean and ice-atmosphere interactions, ice-shelf buttressing and ice-shelf health (basal melting, supraglacial hydrology, crevassing and iceberg calving), the marine ice sheet instability and impacts on ice-sheet mass loss and stability.
  • Theme 2: Sea Ice Southern Ocean Mass Balance: Focussed on establishing a state-of-the-art multi-mission reference dataset for assessing the mass balance of Antarctic Sea Ice and feedbacks with the rest of the Polar system, exploiting the full suite of satellite missions and providing a complete characterisation of sea ice, snow-ice, and the snow cover to improve the understanding of sea ice-ocean interactions, with a particular focus on the impacts of changes in sea ice mass balance on the freshwater budget of the surface ocean, the wider ocean circulation and the carbon cycle.
  • Theme 3: Innovative Arctic Integrated Studies: Advances in our capabilities to observe the Arctic are opening new opportunities to better characterise and understand Arctic changes and their role in the Earth and climate system. This action aims at consolidating community efforts to advance towards a novel data-driven description of the Arctic and support efforts to undertake an integrated assessment (ocean-atmosphere-land-cryosphere) of Arctic changes including sea ice variability, freshwater fluxes, Arctic Ocean biology and evolution of the Arctic under more frequent and intense extremes and its role in the Earth system (carbon cycle, water cycles).

Expected outputs include:

  • Contribute to developing and maintaining an Open Polar Science Benchmarking Dataset of the latest and emerging EO-based products, providing an advanced, consistent, and comprehensive multi-variate dataset of key geo-physical variables offering a holistic dynamic reconstruction of Polar regions and its processes.
  • Develop and validate novel and advanced EO methods, retrieval techniques and innovative EO-based products capitalising on the unique synergistic opportunities offered by the increasing space-based observing capacity to address the main priority Themes to address observational and knowledge gaps and significantly advance the way EO satellite technology contribute to observe and understand Polar regions.
  • Capitalise on the above novel observations to significantly advance Polar science beyond the state-of-the-art expanding the frontiers of the fundamental scientific understanding of Polar regions, its changes, drivers and impacts at regional and global scales, including major scientific knowledge gaps in Polar science.
  • Demonstrated high scientific impact including scientific publications, novel products and tools made available to the community following Open Science principles and impacting the future Polar research and potential applications, including the development of relevant Digital Twins.
  • Enhanced coordination and collaboration with the relevant international scientific networks and relevant European activities funded by EC and other national and international science programmes fostering novel collaborative activities of high scientific impact and ensuring the result is bigger than the sum of the parts.

Proposals for developments under this call must demonstrate conclusively all the following:

  • Innovative content: Unlocking the full potential offered by the latest EO technology to demonstrate scientific innovation with expected results well beyond the state-of-the-art.
  • Scientific excellence: Demonstrating the scientific excellence of methods, techniques and science cases to enhance the understanding of the complex underlying processes governing change in Polar regions.
  • High Impact: Maximising the dissemination and use of scientific results, including a significant contribution to advance the state-of-the-art in EO and Earth system science, and contributing novel EO-based products, tools and solutions to the Polar community.
  • Enhanced coordination and collaboration: Ensuring coordination and collaboration with relevant international scientific networks and activities funded by the EC, national or international science programmes, to foster novel collaborative activities of high scientific impact.

Learn more about this Invitation To Tender on the esa-star Publication page.