Earth observation and monitoring
A changing climate is having impacts on the Earth; sea levels are rising, ice-caps are melting and extreme weather events, flooding and droughts are occurring more often. It is critical for Governments and decision makers across the globe to monitor these changes and their implicit effects on society. Research based on monitoring these processes affecting the Earth at different scales, global, regional, national, and sub-national, improves our understanding of the impacts and helps to inform policies to protect the natural and manmade environment.
Earth observation has substantially developed through the invention of satellites, which enable monitoring of previously inaccessible regions and provide additional support to land-, air- and ocean-based measurement networks. Earth observation satellites can provide truly global coverage over many years, recording long term measurements and offering an invaluable spatiotemporal approach essential to standing out global trends.
‘Remote sensing’ analyses satellite (or other airborne platforms) data to obtain information about objects or areas from a certain distance. Such platforms have produced an explosion of data and increased our knowledge of the Earth enormously. Remote sensing is indirect, meaning information about a topic of interest is inferred from measuring something else. For example, by detecting backscattered sunlight, satellites can calculate the amount of methane in the atmosphere. It is important to validate or complement these remote data with ground-based data, or ‘in situ’ measurements, which can be obtained from ground stations, ships, buoys.
In the EU, the Earth observation programme Copernicus collects data from multiple sources including satellites, ground stations, airborne and sea-borne sensors, which provide up-to-date and reliable data for policy workers and government authorities .
Many EGU scientists have expert experience in the development of Earth observation techniques, which have a wide range of applications, such as improving computer models (environmental, climate, agriculture, ocean, disaster risk, etc.) and the analysis of resulting data.
Current EU policy
The EU Copernicus programme provides funding for Earth observation initiatives, which include in situ and satellite monitoring, processing reliable and up-to-date data, and providing services to end-users. Copernicus research focuses on six areas: land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency management and security. These may have the following applications: agriculture, forestry and fisheries, biodiversity and environmental protection, climate and energy, civil protection and humanitarian aid, public health, tourism, transport and safety, or urban and regional planning . Copernicus funds building and launching the EU Sentinel satellites, of which there are six. Three are currently in orbit and the others are in development .
Data from the Copernicus programmes is completely free and open for the community to use. As a result, it is expected to create novel applications from the data which may create jobs and positively contribute to the economy.
Additionally, the Galileo initiative is another EU-funded space programme that funds satellite development to enhance global GPS coverage. The two programmes are separately organised but both aim to improve global society through Earth observation and monitoring.
Earth observation and monitoring is a constantly developing research field. Some of the future challenges that need to be addressed to continue its expansion include:
- broadening networks to cover under-represented regions of the globe i.e. South America and Africa;
- further development of the next Sentinel satellites;
- developing techniques to more easily monitor the sub-surface i.e. groundwater;
- widening the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) of all sizes to aid with data validation. For example, NASA operates a Global Hawk unmanned aircraft for longer duration missions than can be achieved with piloted aircraft;
- developing data mining techniques to increase information output from data collections.
EGU Earth observation and monitoring research areas
- Greenhouse gases and other atmospheric measurement networks: monitoring of global trends; data assimilation into weather models
- Past geological, atmospheric, and climate observations through sediment & ice core analysis
- Ocean content and processes analysis
- Satellite development
- Space weather and its effect on Earth
- Natural hazards monitoring and prevention development
- Ocean floor exploration
- Land use mapping e.g. for agricultural purposes
- Sea ice amount and extent
Recent EGU papers
- Global drought and severe drought-affected populations in 1.5 and 2 °C warmer worlds (ESD, 2018)
- More homogeneous wind conditions under strong climate change decrease the potential for inter-state balancing of electricity in Europe (ESD, 2017)
- Core operational Sentinel-3 marine data product services as part of the Copernicus Space Component (OS, 2016)
- The climatic mass balance of Svalbard glaciers: a 10-year simulation with a coupled atmosphere–glacier mass balance model (TC, 2016)
- Mapping snow depth in alpine terrain with unmanned aerial systems (UASs): potential and limitations (TC, 2016)
With special thanks to Dr Michelle Cain, researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK, Dr Joan Masó, EGU Earth and Space Science Informatics Division President, and Dr Cristina Domingo, researcher at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, for drafting this webpage.
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