Earth observation data can help us understand and address some of the grand challenges and threats facing us today as a species and as a planet, for example climate change and its impacts and sustainable use of the Earth’s resources. However, in order to have confidence in earth observation data, measurements made at the surface of the Earth, with the intention of providing verification or validation of satellite-mounted sensor measurements, should be trustworthy and at least of the same high quality as those taken with the satellite sensors themselves. Metrology tells us that in order to be trustworthy, measurements should include an unbroken chain of SI-traceable calibrations and comparisons and full uncertainty budgets for each of the in situ sensors. Until now, this has not been the case for most satellite validation measurements. Therefore, within this context, the European Space Agency (ESA) funded a series of Fiducial Reference Measurements (FRM) projects targeting the validation of satellite data products of the atmosphere, land, and ocean, and setting the framework, standards, and protocols for future satellite validation efforts. The FRM4SOC project was structured to provide this support for evaluating and improving the state of the art in ocean colour radiometry (OCR) and satellite ocean colour validation through a series of comparisons under the auspices of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). This followed the recommendations from the International Ocean Colour Coordinating Group’s white paper and supports the CEOS ocean colour virtual constellation. The main objective was to establish and maintain SI traceable ground-based FRM for satellite ocean colour and thus make a fundamental contribution to the European system for monitoring the Earth (Copernicus). This paper outlines the FRM4SOC project structure, objectives and methodology and highlights the main results and achievements of the project: (1) An international SI-traceable comparison of irradiance and radiance sources used for OCR calibration that set measurement, calibration and uncertainty estimation protocols and indicated good agreement between the participating calibration laboratories from around the world; (2) An international SI-traceable laboratory and outdoor comparison of radiometers used for satellite ocean colour validation that set OCR calibration and comparison protocols; (3) A major review and update to the protocols for taking irradiance and radiance field measurements for satellite ocean colour validation, with particular focus on aspects of data acquisition and processing that must be considered in the estimation of measurement uncertainty and guidelines for good practice; (4) A technical comparison of the main radiometers used globally for satellite ocean colour validation bringing radiometer manufacturers together around the same table for the first time to discuss instrument characterisation and its documentation, as needed for measurement uncertainty estimation; (5) Two major international side-by-side field intercomparisons of multiple ocean colour radiometers, one on the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) oceanographic cruise, and the other on the Acqua Alta oceanographic tower in the Gulf of Venice; (6) Impact and promotion of FRM within the ocean colour community, including a scientific road map for the FRM-based future of satellite ocean colour validation and vicarious calibration (based on the findings of the FRM4SOC project, the consensus from two major international FRM4SOC workshops and previous literature, including the IOCCG white paper on in situ ocean colour radiometry).
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