EU Science Hub

Earth observation

Earth observation is the gathering of information about planet Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems via remote sensing technologies, usually involving satellites carrying imaging devices. Earth observation is used to monitor and assess the status of, and changes in, the natural and manmade environment. Space-based technologies deliver reliable and repeat-coverage datasets, which combined with research and development of appropriate methods, provide a unique means for gathering information concerning the planet. Examples include the monitoring of the state and evolution of our environment, be it land, sea or air, and the ability to rapidly assess situations during crises such as extreme weather events or during times of human conflict.

The JRC supports several policies within which the use of Earth observation plays a key role: the INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) Directive, the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS), the European Earth Observation Programme (Copernicus), the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), the Common Agricultural policy (CAP) and the Integrated Maritime Policy.

The ambition of the JRC is to develop a digital replica of our planet that provides globally shared access to the best available data, models, and scenarios necessary to support EU policy, public participation, and scientific research. The JRC helps set international standards for measurements from space through its in-house research and cooperation with partners, and enables the acquisition, access and storage of satellite and aerial remote sensing data.

Land Parcel Information Systems and On-the-Spot checks

The Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) is used to identify land use and boundaries in a given country by using aerial photographs and high precision satellite images. Information is extracted and stored digitally, providing an accurate record that can be periodically updated to monitor the evolution of land cover and the management of the crops.

Earth observation techniques for land and seas

Reliable and accurate information is essential to support environmental policies in identifying the issues to be addressed and monitoring their effectiveness. A fundamental aspect of the JRC’s work involves the validation, quality control and benchmarking of Earth observation products over ocean and land.

Forest observation

The JRC forest observation activities include carrying out quantitative measurements and mapping changes in forest resources, and monitoring European forests and environmental interactions.

Global monitoring of agriculture and food security

The dramatic increases in population seen in the past 50 years and projected to 2050, together with pressures for an alternative use of food-producing land, highlight the need for comprehensive, systematic and accurate global agricultural monitoring activities. 

Earth observation for crisis management

Satellite-derived information plays an essential role in all phases of crisis management as a synoptic, independent and objective data source. The JRC's research focuses on the automatic analysis of satellite data to provide information products and analyses for more effective disaster risk reduction, conflict prevention, and needs assessments for post-disaster response, recovery and reconstruction planning.

More information:

Space technologies for disaster risk reduction and response

Maritime surveillance

Maritime surveillance is essential for creating maritime awareness ('knowing what is happening at sea'). With its competencies in space technologies and data fusion, the JRC helps to strengthen the EU capabilities in maritime surveillance, by contributing to the development of the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) and the Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) for the EU maritime domain, and by investigating maritime surveillance solutions e.g. in the fight against piracy off Africa.

More information:

Maritime surveillance