Science done with ICOS data

ICOS data on is used by scientists who seek to understand the Earth System and by various governmental bodies and international organisations that need science-based and relevant information on greenhouse gases in their decision making, and in efforts to mitigate the consequences of climate change.

Our network consists of more than 500 scientists, who participate in ICOS related work and operations. These scientists, both in the current member countries and beyond, form the ICOS community. They design, build and operate ICOS stations, but even more importantly, process and use the ICOS data while fitting complex models on it. They publish scientific papers, participate in workshops and conferences, and develop new measurement methods.

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Catalyst of research on carbon & greenhouse gases

ICOS enables many types of studies related to natural carbon and greenhouse gas sinks and sources and the factors that cause changes to the related processes. For example, effect of climate change on ecosystems, such as plant growth or soil carbon stocks, the relationship between ocean carbon fluxes and ocean acidification, and how to separate natural and anthropogenic emissions.

Data provider to satellites and modelling

ICOS data lays foundation to many other scientific fields. Satellites focused on carbon, greenhouse gases, and related parameters require trustworthy data, and therefore scientists using these satellite observations also indirectly make use of ICOS data. ICOS data are used by many different modelling approaches. Inverse models, that estimate greenhouse gas fluxes from different surface areas, use ICOS data directly. Dynamic Global Vegetation Models use the ICOS studies to improve the model parameterisation of biogeochemical processes.

Data provider to global data networks

ICOS data are available at global data networks, such as the World Meteorological Organization's Global Atmosphere Watch (WMO GAW) and Surface Ocean CO2 Atlas (SOCAT). The scientific users of these databases make use of ICOS data, but also the Global Carbon Budget relies on these data sources as well as above-mentioned modelling results.

Climate change policies

ICOS studies are utilised in the knowledge provision by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This knowledge, as well as the Global Carbon budget, satellite observations and products provided by e.g. Copernicus, and modelling efforts feed into national, regional and global policy frameworks related to climate change. Examples are national emission inventories and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


ICOS has published unique datasets providing long-term data on how the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere have developed over the years or in some cases even decades. The data is available on ICOS Carbon Portal. Overall, there were two teams of researchers compiling historical carbon data from 52 ecosystem stations and 48 atmospheric stations, both in and outside of the ICOS station network. 

A direct analysis of the ICOS ecosystem data showed significant reduction in the amount of photosynthesis that plants carried out in the drought-affected area. There was also a decrease in the amount of ecosystem respiration, though this response was smaller than that of photosynethesis. Overall many ICOS ecosystem sites’ data suggest that the vegetation took up less carbon from the atmosphere during the drought.

The study went from idea to results in less than two years, which in the field of environmental sciences is very fast and highlights the power of research infrastructures such as ICOS.