EO applications and the ESA Living Planet Symposium

Last week’s blog looked at developments in the technology providing Earth Observation (EO); however the industry is evolving and much more attention is now being paid to downstream activities. It’s no longer good enough to get a satellite to collect data, everyone has to think about how applications will, and can, use the data.

At the Living Planet Symposium there were presentations on the applications being developed from European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat-2, which was launched in April 2010; it’s a replacement for Cryosat-1, which was lost due to a launch failure in 2005. CryoSat-2’s main focus is the monitoring of sea ice thickness in the polar oceans and ice sheets over Greenland and Antarctica. During its 3 years of full operation it has witnessed a continuing shrinkage of winter ice volume.

However, the on-board altimeter can also be used for many other applications, for example it doesn’t just acquire data over the polar regions. More interestingly the presenters also showed its potential for mapping coastal waters and inland water bodies with a spatial coverage that’s not possible from current low resolution altimeters.

Freshwater is a scarce resource, 97.5% of the earth’s water is saltwater, and given that almost three quarters of that freshwater is used in agriculture to grow food; the benefits of developing a method for remotely obtaining accurate river/lake water heights with frequent coverage are obvious.

No doubt there will be a variety of new applications developed using this freshwater data over the coming period. However, these applications need to have one eye on the next significant revolution in EO; data visualisation. It’s becoming vital that data is made available in a form that is understandable for non-scientists, and this will be the subject of next weeks blog!