Swiss Space Community Celebrates Initiation of the James Webb Space Telescope

by Arian Bastani, NCCR PlanetS, University of Bern

The consortium of the North American (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) space agencies released a series of first images of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on 12th July 2022. Swiss contributors from academia, government and industry gathered at the International Swiss Space Institute (ISSI) in Bern to inform about their contributions and projects related to the JWST.

“There is no empty space for the James Webb Space Telescope”, Antonella Nota, Webb Project Scientist and former head of the ESA office at the Space Telescope Science Institute announced at the event at the International Swiss Space Institute (ISSI) in Bern. “The first test image that was released in spring was supposed to capture a sole star in front of an empty space field”, the ESA astronomer explained. “But the image was peppered with galaxies and stars in the background.”

Antonella Nota points out the extraordinary capabilities of JWST. (Image: Guido Schwarz)

This first glimpse proved to be just that: a mere taste of the capabilities of the most modern space telescope. On Tuesday, the first full colour images – so-called Early Release Observations – were released by NASA. “These show a number of especially intriguing objects and regions of the Universe, that are not necessarily of great scientific value but rather demonstrate the incredible capabilities of the telescope”, Nota said.



Passing the Key

Numerous personalities of the national space science community, such as astronaut Claude Nicollier, Willy Benz (NCCR PlanetS, University of Bern), Sascha Quanz (ETH Zürich), David Ehrenreich (University of Genève), Jean-Paul Kneib (EPFL), all ISSI Directors as well as media representatives gathered in Bern for the Swiss press conference. Before they joined the live-feed from NASA, several researchers gave presentation on their JWST projects – including Adrian Glauser, who led the Swiss contribution to the instrument development.

Adrian Glauser explains to the audience how the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) works. (Image: Guido Schwarz)

“The telescope’s only job is basically to gather and focus light”, Glauser said during his presentation. Most of the scientific results will come from the analysis of that light, enabled by four instruments. One of these, the Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI), was developed with a Swiss contribution that was led by NCCR PlanetS member Adrian Glauser at ETH Zurich since 2007.

The contribution consists of a Contamination Control Cover, which protects MIRI against external contamination during the cooldown phase of the tests and after the launch as well as Cryo-​Cables, which connect the cryogenic mechanisms, calibration sources and temperature sensors of the cold optical bench with the warmer electronics.

MIRI is the only instrument covering the poorly explored wavelength ranges from 5 μm to 28 μm. To be able to do so, it has to be cooled down to minus 266 degrees Celsius (7 degrees above absolute zero), making it the coldest part in the JWST.

“During the past few months we commissioned the instrument and I am glad to say that everything works perfectly. The key therefore now passes from those who developed JWST and its instruments to the researchers who will use them”, Glauser said.

The dawn of a new era in astronomy has begun as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope’s first full-colour images and spectras, which uncover a spectacular collection of cosmic features that have remained elusive until now, were released on 12th July 2022. (Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)


Tracing the Building Blocks of Life

At the event at ISSI, several researchers like Adrian Glauser, Pascal Oesch, Anne Verhamme and Antonella Nota presented what they intend to do with this metaphorical key. Among them, NCCR PlanetS associate and Uni Bern researcher Beatrice Kulterer. She is involved in the so-called Ice Age project, that aims to track the essential molecular ingredients of life from their formation in dense molecular interstellar clouds to their eventual incorporation into the planet-forming regions around young stars.

“The Rosetta space research mission already revealed that organic molecules, such as the amino acid glycine, exist on comets”, Kulterer said. “But it is unclear to what extent these molecules end up in forming planets. The James Webb Telescope will for the first time allow us to study this in great detail.”

“I follow the development of JWST since my time as an undergraduate student. I am very excited to finally be able to work with it and hope to spend a large part of my research career doing so”, Kulterer concluded.

This event was recorded and the edited video will be soon available.


“State of the Climate Crisis: Changes in Climate Extremes and Relevance of Remote Sensing Data” with Sonia I. Seneviratne (ETH Zurich, Switzerland)


This presentation provides an overview of the main conclusions of the 6th Assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2021) on observed and projected changes in weather and climate extremes. For the first time, a full chapter of the IPCC assessment report was dedicated to the topic of weather and climate extremes (Seneviratne et al. 2021). The newest evidence shows that changes in extremes are observed in all regions of the world, and that human influence strongly contributed to observed trends. With every increment of global warming, changes in extremes become larger, with important implications for changes in heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones depending on the region. All regions are projected to be affected by multiple changes in climate extremes and other climatic impact drivers with increasing global warming, in particular above 2°C of global warming. Sonia I. Seneviratne also discusses how remote sensing measurements are contributing to research on climate extremes, and what type of future missions could best contribute to this research area.


IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, In press, doi:10.1017/9781009157896. Available from:

Seneviratne, S.I., X. Zhang, M. Adnan, W. Badi, C. Dereczynski, A. Di Luca, S. Ghosh, I. Iskandar, J. Kossin, S. Lewis, F. Otto, I. Pinto, M. Satoh, S.M. Vicente-Serrano, M. Wehner, and B. Zhou, 2021: Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S.L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M.I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T.K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu, and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1513–1766, doi:10.1017/9781009157896.013. Available from:

Sonia I. Seneviratne is Professor for Land-​Climate Dynamics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. She completed an MSc in Environmental Physics (1999) and a PhD thesis in Climate science (2003) at ETH Zurich. She was then a visiting researcher at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (2003-​2004), in Greenbelt, Maryland (USA). After returning as senior scientist at ETH Zurich, she was appointed as Assistant Professor at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Sciences in 2007. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013, and Full Professor in 2016. Sonia Seneviratne has published more than 200 peer-​reviewed articles. She is listed among the highly cited researchers of Web of science (Clarivate Analytics/Thomson Reuters). In her research, she investigates climate extremes (droughts, heatwaves), land-​climate processes, and human-​induced climate change, based on climate modelling and data analyses, including ground and satellite observations. Sonia Seneviratne has received several awards for her research, among others the Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU, 2013), a consolidator grant of the European Research Council (ERC, 2014-​2019), and the Hans-​Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU, 2021). Sonia Seneviratne was an author on several reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She was recently a lead author of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C global warming (2017-​2018) and a coordinating lead author of the 6th assessment report of the IPCC (2018-​2021).

Webinar was recorded on July 7, 2022

“ESA CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE in support of Terrestrial Carbon science: A view from Space” with Clement Albergel (ESA Climate Office, UK)

Observing changes to the Earth’s climate is vital to informing policies and actions that address the consequences of a changing climate, manage risks and enhance resilience. The European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) research programme in 2008 in response to this need. The CCI is a coordinated Research & Development programme that generates robust, long-term, global satellite-derived datasets for key indicators of climate change known as Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). These ECVS are specified by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and support, not only, the climate information needs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but also the wider climate community. The CCI harnesses 40 years of Earth Observation archives and combines them with data from both Third party and current missions including the Copernicus Sentinel missions. Under CCI there are currently 24 dedicated ECV project teams developing 22 ECVs. In this talk, the speaker will introduce the ESA Climate Change Initiative as well as some of the ECV projects, with a specific focus on those that can be used in support of Terrestrial Carbon science.

Clement Albergel is a scientist working at the ESA Climate Office in the UK where he develops climate applications related to terrestrial surfaces. Prior to ESA he has held position in the research departments of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) as well as of the French Meteorological service (Meteo-France) working on land surface analysis. His activities at ESA are mainly shared between ESA Climate program (ESA Climate Change Initiative), program in support of international development (GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE (  and EOAFRICA (EO AFRICA – Research and Development Facility (, all implemented under the Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes.

Webinar was recorded on June 30, 2022

“Creating “Agency” to Act on Climate Change with Chris Rapley (UCL, United Kingdom)

Climate Change has been described as Code Red for Humanity. We are at risk of tipping the climate system out of control. The scale and pace of human action to avoid the most serious consequences is falling far short of what is needed. Despite the investment of huge sums on the means to characterize, understand and predict the state of the climate system, efforts to deliver such information to society are only partly successful. Many institutions, communities of practice, and communities of place are stuck, not knowing how to act. The UCL Climate Action Unit (CAU) draws on the insights of the mind sciences to intervene with bespoke, facilitated dialogue to help such groups discover and execute their ‘agency’ to act. The speaker will explain the barriers that people face in dealing with climate change, and describe how the UCL works with groups from across society to overcomes these.

Chris Rapley CBE is Professor of Climate Science at University College London. He is Chair of the Advisory Board of the UCL Climate Action Unit. He was previously Director of the Science Museum from 2007 to 2010, and Director of the British Antarctic Survey from 1998 to 2007. In 2008 he was awarded the Edinburgh Science Medal – “For professional achievements judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding and wellbeing of humanity”. Since 2019 Chris has been the Chair of the European Science Foundation’s European Space Sciences Committee.

Webinar was recorded on June 23, 2022



Save the Date: The First James Webb Space Telescope Images and Spectroscopic Data will be released on 12th July 2022

The James Webb Telescope – the most sophisticated space telescope to date – was launched last Christmas, and has now acquired its first images and spectra. 

Save the date for the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Early Release Observations (ERO) event on July 12th, 2022.

The International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern has been selected as the Swiss node in the worldwide network of institutions for celebrating and broadcasting to the public the unveiling of the first images and spectra. These images and spectra will be presented to the global community and public for the very first time during this event.

You are kindly invited to join us using our Game Changer Seminar platform (Zoominar) starting on Tuesday, July 12th at 15:00h CEST, 9:00h EDT. 

Please click on this Link for the Zoom Session >> 

Meeting ID: 852 6990 9362        Password: 459004


15:00  Welcome from Tilman Spohn (ISSI) & Valerie Koller (Swiss Space Office)
15:10  Main talks from Swiss Scientists 
JWST and the Swiss Contribution to the Mid Infrared Instrument – Adrian Glauser (ETH Zurich)
From Dark to Light: The First Generations of Galaxies – Pascal Oesch & Anne Verhamme (University of Geneva)
Making the Building Blocks of Life in Interstellar Ices – Beatrice Kulterer (University of Bern)
16:10 Presentation of the 1st images from JWST
What to Expect from the Early-Release Observations – Antonella Nota (STScI)
16:30  Start of the NASA/ESA/CSA ERO live broadcast

We are looking forward to welcoming you to the seminar on the occasion!

“Embedding Space into Natural Capital Stewardship and the Global Carbon Markets” with Jacqueline McGlade (FLS, FRSA, Kenya)

Nature based solutions to climate change are taking shape all over the world. Coupled with the shift towards sustainable stewardship and the opening up of voluntary and regulated carbon markets worldwide, there is a need to establish consistent, scalable and accurate measures of change. Through the Sentinel missions we now have an extraordinary capacity to match in situ data on he environment with global information at time scales of 10 days and an acuity of 10m. This unprecedented opportunity is enabling investors to develop confidence in a wide variety of financial instruments that rely on the use of space. In this talk, the speaker will cover some of the crucial aspects of how this rapidly emerging market is a game changer for tackling climate as well as for social change amongst some of the poorest rural communities.

Jacqueline McGlade is Professor at the Strathmore University (Kenya), and Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL (UK), and co-founder of Downforce Technologies, a global start-up providing advanced analytics and digital twin of land for investment and net zero, nature based transitions. Previously UN Environment’s Chief Scientist, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency and Director of the UK Centre for Coastal and Marine Sciences. She served on ESA and UKSA Scientific Advisory Committees and has been deeply involved in Sentinel missions since their inception. Her current work is on climate adaptation and mitigation, in the Mau Mara in Kenya and the UK. She has > 200 publications, award winning films (Planet reThink, Netflix Our Great National Parks) and science awards – Knight of the Order of St James (Monaco); 2013 Global Citizen; 2017 Geospatial Ambassador; Il monitor del Giardino Award (Italy); Masaryk Gold Medal (Czech Republic); 1992 Minerva Prize (Germany); 1991 Jubileum Award (Sweden).

Webinar was recorded on June 16, 2022


“Water and Energy Cycle from Satellites: From Global to Storms Scales” with Rémy Roca (CNRS, France)

After introducing the atmospheric water related climate feedback, it is showcased how the current satellite observing systems, together with the water and energy conservation laws can provide a robust observational constraint on the underlying physics at play in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the speaker details two main examples. First, it shows how the various energy fluxes come into balance at the global planetary scale. Then the speaker focuses on the process level and show how we can reveal the internal dynamics of storms using the water and energy budget estimated from various satellite-born instruments in synergy. Finally, it is highlighted new recently selected missions that are to be launched in the coming decade.

Rémy Roca (Dr.) is director of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and is located with LEGOS, in Toulouse. He is the PI of the Megha-Tropiques mission since 2007 and is involved in various earth observations space mission related to the water and energy cycle of the planet. Dr. Roca published over 130 contributions including 75 papers in well-known journals. He led the writing of general audience books on climate change and satellites observations. He is strongly involved in the CGMS and WCRP overarching bodies where he is/was chairing different panels related to the water and energy cycle.

Webinar was recorded on June 9, 2022

“Arctic Changes Derived from Satellites” with Johnny Johannessen (NERSC, Norway)

During the last 3 decades there has been a dramatic decline in Arctic sea ice extent, age and volume. This decline is assumed to be connected to global warming and the corresponding regional Arctic Amplification response triggering multidisciplinary coupled atmosphere, ocean and sea-ice interactive processes and mutual feedback. However, although we have gained good qualitative understanding of these processes and feedback mechanisms we still lack proper quantitative insight. This is predominantly due to the limitation of the existing observing system to routinely collect collocated and multidisciplinary measurements across the broad range of spatial and temporal scales. To advance the knowledge gap it is therefore necessary to design and implement a systematic multi-modal data-driven analysis framework whereby one benefit from the synergy of satellite sensor measurements complemented with improved in-situ measurement capabilities and tools including models, data assimilation and artificial intelligence. This will be highlighted in this webinar whereby new findings on Arctic amplification and evidence of distinct sea ice deformation associated with passage of storm events will be presented. The results are derived from an ESA funded study led by Johannessen with partners from France (Ifremer, OceanDataLab and Novelties).

Johnny A. Johannessen (Prof. Dr.) is affiliated with the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center and Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen, Norway. He has 35 years of experience in satellite remote sensing in oceanography and sea ice research and applications. In particular, he has focused on the use of satellite remote sensing to advance the understanding of upper ocean dynamics and air-sea-ice interaction associated with ocean fronts and eddies. He has also been involved in development and implementation of operational oceanography at national and international level and have had a central role in the transition to Copernicus Marine Environmental Monitoring Service (CMEMS). Johannessen has authored/co-authored more than 200 scientific and technical publications, reports and book articles of which 110 papers are published in International Peer Review Journals.

Webinar was recorded on June 2, 2022

“The Earth Energy Imbalance and its Implications” with Karina von Schuckmann (Mercator Ocean International, France)

Human-induced atmospheric composition changes cause a radiative imbalance at the top of the atmosphere which is driving global warming. This simple number, the Earth energy imbalance (EEI) is the most fundamental metric that the scientific community and public must be aware of as the measure of how well the world is doing in the task of bringing climate change under control. Combining multiple measurements and approaches in an optimal way holds considerable promise for estimating EEI and continued quantification and reduced uncertainties can be best achieved through the maintenance of the current global climate observing system, its extension into areas of gaps in the sampling, advance on instrumental limitations, and the establishment of an international framework for concerted multidisciplinary research effort. This talk will provide an overview on the different approaches and their challenges for estimating the EEI. A particular emphasis will be drawn on the heat gain of the Earth system over the past half of a century – and particularly how much and where the heat is distributed – which is fundamental to understanding how this affects warming ocean, atmosphere and land; rising surface temperature; sea level; and loss of grounded and floating ice, which are critical concerns for society.

Karina von Schuckmann (Dr., HDR) is a physical oceanographer specialized in ocean climate monitoring working at Mercator Ocean International, France. Her interest lies in understanding the role of the ocean in the Earth’s climate system, its changes and underlying processes involved, and how they can be best observed (in situ, remote sensing), monitored (reanalyses and operational systems) and estimated (analyses approaches, ocean indicator development) in support of a sustainable future development. She is – amongst others – the Lead of the Copernicus Ocean State Report, lead author of IPCC SROCC and AR6, member of the European Academy of Science and the GCOS/GOOS OOPC panel, and member of the ISSI Science committee.

Webinar was recorded on May 19, 2022


“Changing Northern Lands – Thawing Ground and Expanding Use” with Annett Bartsch (b geos, Austria)

Pronounced impacts of climate change are observed across the entire Arctic – ocean as well as on land – and they are expected to intensify. As permafrost thaws ground destabilizes and microbes are activated with local and global implications respectively. Soil carbon release into the atmosphere is amplified. High latitude permafrost regions are thus considered a tipping element in the Earth’s climate system. Several million people live on permafrost and the exploitation of natural resources has been continuously expanding across the Arctic for many decades. Earth Observation provides the means to monitor both, the relevant essential climate variables and the expanding land use. Specifically recent satellite missions in the framework of Copernicus offer the necessary level of detail. The presentation will provide insight into the potential of Earth Observation to reveal patterns of permafrost thaw as well as expanding direct human impact across the Arctic.

Annett Bartsch works in the fields of remote sensing, cryosphere and hydrology with focus on the Arctic. Her major interests are in observing climate change impacts on Earth from space, specifically understanding of impacts of permafrost thaw on carbon release and people. Her published works provide insight into remote sensing techniques suitable to efficiently monitor the land surface across large regions such as the Arctic, including novel applications and approaches. Annett received her MSc in Geography from FSU Jena, Germany (2000), her PhD from The University of Reading, UK (2004) and her venia docenti for ‚Applied Remote Sensing’ from Technical University Vienna, Austria (2011). She was a visiting professor at University of Salzburg and at LMU Munich. In 2017, she founded the Earth Observation company b.geos GmbH (Korneuburg/Vienna, Austria), which contributes to climate change related basic and applied research funded through ESA and Horizon 2020. It currently hosts Annett’s team of the ERC Synergy Grant project Q-Arctic. b.geos is a member of the Austrian Polar Research Institute which is a research consortium that promotes and coordinates research and education in the area of polar sciences.

Webinar was recorded on May 12, 2022