Farmers and forest managers need to monitor vital land management activities and changes in vegetation. They are just two potential end-users of a comprehensive new satellite-based earth monitoring system providing free, full and open mapping data to boost management and protection of the environment.
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The system, developed by the EU-funded GEOLAND2 project, is designed to strengthen the ability of decision-makers to improve land use for agriculture and forestry, and indirectly help authorities respond to potential environmental disasters and emergencies. This is possible thanks to up-to-date data – collected from satellites monitoring (or ‘observing’) the earth – that is converted into maps and visual tools which clearly illustrate current land status and changes to the environment.
The project forms a critical component of the European Commission’s Copernicus earth observation programme (formerly GMES), streamlining land-monitoring services at global, European and local scale to provide better environmental information to decision-makers.
A tool for decisive action
“Decision-makers require accurate and timely information to adopt effective measures,” explains project coordinator Markus Jochum, Future Programme Manager at Airbus Defence and Space. “GEOLAND2 was the land-related Copernicus project, with all major European stakeholders from industry, research and institutional users involved. The size of the project in terms of partners and users has been unique.”
Launched in September 2008, the four-year GEOLAND2 project – which received some €22 million in EU funding – delivered key mapping and information services.
Using satellite data, the mapping service offers basic geo-information on land cover and use, and can generate maps that focus on specific biophysical parameters, such as vegetation coverage, radiation and water availability. The maps are for broad use, and serve as the basis for more elaborated geo-information services, such as visual data on annual and seasonal changes in land-use. The data also supports European and global environmental policy, as well as strategies on climate change, food security and sustainable development in Africa.
All services and products developed within GEOLAND2 have been widely tested by end-users, including farmers and industry, and the results were promising.
Tapping economic potential
GEOLAND2 has also contributed towards the building up of Europe’s burgeoning satellite-based economy. “Copernicus will help to create new jobs and business opportunities,” says Jochum. “Space activities are helping to foster the development of a market for satellite-enabled products and services, and a number of economic segments, such as transport, oil and gas, insurance and agriculture will benefit from accurate and reliable earth observation data.”
Studies have shown that Copernicus, which by 2021 should include six satellites, could generate a financial benefit of some €30 billion and create around 50 000 jobs in Europe by 2030. Several downstream services are designed to help businesses address the commercial and potential spin-off applications of Copernicus data.
One year after the successful launch of the first sentinel satellite, a second was sent into orbit in June 2015, allowing Copernicus to deliver images of earth’s changing land with a higher level of detail and accuracy.