The Living Planet programme, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched in London yesterday, will begin with a British project called Cryostat which will study the effects of global warming on the polar ice caps in a three-year mission starting in 2002.
Other elements of the programme will use orbiting satellites to measure the subtle physical, chemical and biological processes going on in the atmosphere, the oceans and on land.
The Cryostat mission will be led by Professor Duncan Wingham, of University College, London. He said: "According to computer simulations, the largest rise in temperature because of global warming will be in the Arctic where the almost complete collapse of the Arctic ice cap has been predicted, so it is urgent to see if this is already happening."
The US space agency Nasa and American government arms already have extensive satellite monitoring systems in place as part of Nasa's Mission to Planet Earth.
These have been able to detect tiny changes of a few inches in ocean heights indicative of the destructive El Nino current, which severely affects the weather in South and North America. The ESA's new programme will use more modern systems developed specifically to investigate the extent to which global warming and climate change are affecting the Earth.
Professor Wingham said: "I think the new ESA programme is excellent news for science and scientists. The opening of the programme to competition has energised the scientific community."
Another mission will feature scientists at the Southampton Oceanography Centre and the Institute of Hydrology, as part of a European team investigating the amount of moisture and salt in the soil.Reuse content