Copernicus Sentinel-2 highlights from 2019
Mission status and imagery of 2019
• December 20, 2019: With Christmas almost here, the red and white of this Copernicus Sentinel-2 image bring a festive feel to this week’s image featuring Tromsø – the largest city in northern Norway. 1)
- Most of Tromsø, lies on the island of Tromsøya, visible at the top of the image. Owing to its northerly location, the city is a popular area to experience the majestic phenomenon of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
- Tromsø is over 300 km north of the Arctic Circle. During the winter, it’s shrouded in darkness – the Sun sets in late-November and doesn’t rise again until January. The image was captured on 15 October 2019, which means it is one of the last images that Sentinel-2 could acquire before darkness descended.
- During the long winter months, the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission is used to monitor this region instead of Sentinel-2. As an advanced radar mission, Copernicus Sentinel-1 can image the surface of Earth through cloud and rain and regardless of whether it is day or night.
- In September 2019, the German research icebreaker Polarstern left from Tromsø for a mammoth Arctic expedition. The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition involves the icebreaker spending a year drifting in the Arctic sea ice.
- Spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), MOSAiC is the biggest shipborne polar expedition of all time. The data gathered during the expedition will be used by scientists around the world to study the Arctic as the epicenter of global warming and gain fundamental insights that are key to better understand global climate change.
Figure 1: This false-color image was processed in a way that included the near-infrared channel, which makes vegetation appear bright red. The snow over the surrounding mountains is visible in white, adding to the Christmas feel of the image. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• December 13, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the green algae blooms swirling around the Baltic Sea. 2)
- 'Algae bloom' is the term used to describe the rapid multiplying of phytoplankton – microscopic marine plants that drift on or near the surface of the sea. The chlorophyll that phytoplankton use for photosynthesis collectively tints the surrounding ocean waters, providing a way of detecting these tiny organisms from space.
- In most of the Baltic Sea, there are two annual blooms – the spring bloom and the cyanobacterial (also called blue-green algae) bloom in late summer. The Baltic Sea faces many serious challenges, including toxic pollutants, deep-water oxygen deficiencies, and toxic blooms of cyanobacteria affecting the ecosystem, aquaculture and tourism.
- Cyanobacteria have qualities similar to algae and thrive on phosphorus in the water. High water temperatures and sunny, calm weather often lead to particularly large blooms that pose problems to the ecosystem.
Figure 2: In this image captured on 20 July 2019, the streaks, eddies and whirls of the late summer blooms, mixed by winds and currents, are clearly visible. Without in situ measurements, it is difficult to distinguish the type of algae that covers the sea as many different types of algae grow in these waters. The highest concentrations of algal blooms are said to occur in the Central Baltic and around the island of Gotland, visible to the left in the image. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Although algal blooms are a natural and essential part of life in the sea, human activity is also said to increase the number of annual blooms. Agricultural and industrial run-off pours fertilizers into the sea, providing additional nutrients algae need to form large blooms.
- The bacteria that consume the decaying plants suck oxygen out of the water, creating dead zones where fish cannot survive. Large summer blooms can contain toxic algae that are dangerous for both humans and other animals.
- Satellite data can track the growth and spread of harmful algae blooms in order to alert and mitigate against damaging impacts for tourism and fishing industries.
• November 29, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Lake St. Clair, forming the border between Ontario, Canada to the east, and Michigan, US to the west. 3)
Figure 3: The Saint Clair River is visible at the top of the image and flows southwards, connecting the southern end of Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair, visible in the center of the image. The river branches into several channels before reaching the lake, creating a seven-mouth delta. Much of the area surrounding the delta is used for agriculture. In this wintery image, captured on 26 March 2019, many of the frozen lakes northwest of the lake can be seen partially frozen over. The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission allows inland bodies of water to be closely monitored. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The Thames River, visible east of the lake, begins in a swampy area of Ontario, before emptying its muddy waters into Lake St. Clair. Here the murky-colored waters mix with the turquoise waters from the Saint Clair River, creating this fusion of color visible in the heart-shaped lake. The waters then exit the lake via the Detroit River.
- Lake St. Clair is approximately 40 km long and 40 km wide, with an average depth of around 3 meters. The lake is a popular site for fishing and boating, and more than 100 species of fish inhabit the lake including walleye, rainbow trout and muskellunge.
- Detroit, the largest city in Michigan, is visible directly above the Detroit River. The city lies on a relatively flat plain and its extensive network of roads in the city are clearly visible in the image.
- Detroit is nicknamed the “motor city” as it was the key hub for American auto-manufacturing for over a century. It was also home to the first mile of concrete highway, the first four-way three-color traffic light and the world’s first urban freeway.
• November 27, 2019: With heavy rain causing flooding and mudslides in both Italy and France this week, parts of Greece have also been affected. The region of Attica, west of Athens, received torrential rain leading to hundreds of houses being flooded – particularly in the beach town of Kineta. 4)
Figure 4: Using images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, the animation shows the before-and-after of the recent floods from the 24 November. Sediment and mud, caused by the heavy rains, can be seen gushing into the Megara Gulf – stretching 14 km from the coast. Debris, most likely vegetation and rubbish, is visible in brown floating in the waters (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The burnt areas surrounding Kineta, following last year’s wildfires, can also be seen in the image. According to Greek media, the downpour led to overturned cars and roads blocked owing to the debris.
- The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the flood. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.
• November 22, 2019: Ahead of next week’s ‘Space19+’ Ministerial Council, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Seville in southern Spain – the destination for this milestone event. 5)
- On 27–28 November, Ministers from ESA’s Member States along with Associate Member Slovenia and Cooperating State Canada will meet in Seville for the ESA Council at Ministerial Level Space19+ to discuss future space activities for Europe and the budget of Europe’s space agency for the coming three years. Space19+ is an opportunity to direct Europe’s ‘next generation’ ambitions in space, and address the challenges facing not only the European space sector, but also European society as a whole.
Figure 5: Seville, visible towards the top right of this image, is the capital of Andalusia and the fourth largest city in Spain. An inland port, it lies on the Guadalquivir River and while the original course of the river is visible snaking through the city on the right, we can see where water has also been redirected into a straighter course on the left. At over 650 km long, the Guadalquivir is one of the longest rivers in Spain, extending way beyond the frame of this image. Nevertheless, it can be seen winding its course all the way from the top right of the image, just south of the Sierra Norte mountain range, to the Gulf of Cádiz where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. On route, this major river serves as a source for irrigation – here noticeable in the top right of the image, but mainly to the south of Seville where large green agricultural fields appear in sharp contrast to the surrounding drier brown land. This image, captured on 21 June 2019 with Sentinel-2, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The Doñana National Park lies on the right bank of the Guadalquivir River, at its estuary on the Atlantic Ocean. One of Europe's most important wetland reserves, the park is an area of marsh, shallow streams and sand dunes, and an important site for endangered and migrating birds.
• November 21, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured the plumes of smoke from the bushfires in Australia. The recent blazes triggered a ‘hazardous’ air quality warning for Sydney – the highest level on Australia’s Air Quality Index. 6)
- According to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, as of 21:00 local time, there were over 60 bush and grass fires burning in New South Wales, of which over 20 still need to be contained. In Victoria, another 60 blazes are burning – although the exact number is unknown as new fires have been sparked by recent lightning.
- Hundreds of bushfires have been burning this month in Australia, with the greatest damage seen in New South Wales and Queensland.
Figure 6: In this image, captured on 21 November 2019 at 00:02 GMT (11:02 local time), smoke from the Gospers Mountain bushfires, northwest of Sydney, can be seen drifting southwards. Residents with respiratory conditions were advised by authorities to stay indoors, as over 50 people have been treated owing to complications from the smoke (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• November 15, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Lake Tai, the third largest freshwater lake in China. The lake, also known as Lake Taihu, is located in the Jiangsu province and is approximately 70 km long and 60 km wide, with an average water depth of approximately 2 meters. The lake discharges its waters through Wusong, Liu, Huangpu and several other rivers. 7)
- The Tai Basin is a very developed region in China, and includes the mega-cities Suzhou, visible east of the lake, Wuxi, visible north of the lake, and the nearby Shanghai. Over the past decades, rapid urbanization, population growth and excessive fish farming have resulted in eutrophication – where the lake becomes enriched with minerals and nutrients.
- The increase of nutrients deteriorate the water quality of the lake causing toxic algae blooms to form on the lake’s surface – threatening the quality for millions of people who depend on the lake as a source of drinking water.
- In 2007, the algal blooms were so severe that the outbreak was declared a health emergency. Water supplies to Wuxi were suspended, leaving two million residents without drinking water for several weeks.
- Algae blooms have been reported in the lake since the 1980s. Many attempts have been made to salvage the water quality of the lake including removal of the algae, closing chemical and manufacturing plants near Tai and stricter water treatment regulations.
- However, the lake remains to be highly polluted. Agriculture, sewage and manufacturing still affect the lake’s waters – overloading it with nutrients.
Figure 7: This Sentinel-2 image was captured on 24 May 2019, the algae-infested waters are clearly visible. The image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• November 8, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Holbox Island, off the Quintana Roo coast of Mexico. The island is separated from mainland Mexico by a shallow lagoon. This false-color image has been processed in a way that highlights vegetation in bright red. 8)
- Holbox Island is around 40 km long and only approximately 1.5 km wide. The island is located within the Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area, established in 1994.
- Encompassing more than 150,000 hectares, Yum Balam is home to several endangered species including jaguars, crocodiles and monkeys. The waters of Yum Balam are rich fishing areas and also home to whale sharks, over 400 species of birds, and over 70 different species of reptiles and amphibians.
- This summer, a large quantity of the brown seaweed known as Sargassum washed up on the shores of Mexico. The brown algae is an important habitat for many species, yet when it collects along coastlines it rots and produces a pungent smell – causing havoc for both the environment and the tourist industry.
- From 24 to 26 October, the first ever Sargassum International Conference took place in Guadeloupe where organizations and companies came together to discuss seaweed monitoring to find solutions to the massive increase being washed up in coastal communities.
- Earth observation data are important in monitoring Sargassum, as the data can help local services and organizations monitor blooms at sea, and forecast when they are likely to arrive on shore, allowing local communities to act and plan accordingly.
- As part of ESA’s Earth Observation Science for Society initiative, ESA joined forces with CLS-NovaBlue Environment, to monitor floating Sargassum in the Caribbean area using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 missions.
Figure 8: In this image of Sentinel-2, captured on 6 July 2019, the Sargassum floating in the sea can be seen in bright red. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• October 25, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Leelanau Peninsula on the northwest coast of Northern Michigan, USA. 9)
- The region is shaped by rolling hills, large inland lakes shaped by glaciers around 20,000 years ago which form the basis for great farmland. The body of water that surrounds the peninsula is Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the USA.
- In the image, the bright turquoise in the water shows sediments, algae and chlorophyll in the shallower waters along the shore. The greener colors visible in Lake Leelanau to the north, Platte Lake to the west, and several inland bodies of water are due to a combination of a high chlorophyll and plant content.
- The Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore extend for around 55 km along the coast of the peninsula, and is visible in light brown. The name comes from an Ojibwa legend in which a mother bear and her two cubs swim across the lake trying to escape a forest fire. The two cubs are said to have disappeared in the process, and the mother bear waited for weeks for them to re-surface before finally falling asleep and never waking. Touched by her suffering, a powerful spirit is said to have covered her with sand, and raised the two cubs above the water, creating the North and South Manitou islands, visible north of the peninsula.
- A more realistic explanation of the creation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is geology. During the last Ice Age, glaciers spread southwards from Canada burying this area under sheets of ice. During the process, piles of sand and rock were deposited in the area. When the ice retreated and melted, it left the hilly terrain that exists along the lake today. The area is popular for hiking and climbing.
Figure 9: This image of Sentinel-2, which was captured on 18 October 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• October 11, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over two saline lakes in East Africa: the larger Lake Natron in northern Tanzania and the smaller Lake Magadi, just over the border in Kenya. 10)
- The saline waters make the lake inhospitable for many plants and animals, yet the surrounding salt water marshes are a surprising habitat for flamingos. In fact, the lake is home to the highest concentrations of lesser and greater flamingos in East Africa, where they feed on spirulina – a green algae with red pigments.
- The extinct Gelai Volcano, standing at 2942 m tall, is visible southeast of the lake.
- The pink-colored waters of Lake Magadi can also be seen at the top of the image. The lake is over 30 km long and has a notably high salt content, and in some places the salt is up to 40 m thick. The mineral trona can also be found in the lake’s waters. This mineral is collected and used for glass manufacturing, fabric dyeing and paper production.
Figure 10: Lake Natron is around 60 km long and is fed mainly by the Ewaso Ng'iro River. Despite its dark color in this image, Lake Natron is often bright red owing to the presence of microorganisms that feed on the salts of the water. Sentinel-2 acquired this image on 3 February 2019, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• October 4, 2019: The Netherlands is featured in this false-color image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. This image was processed in a way that included the near-infrared channel, which makes vegetation appear bright red. 11)
- Amsterdam, the capital city of the country, is visible towards the top of the image, on the edge of the IJmeer lake. The city’s complex network of canals can be seen in the image, and the city is said to have over 1000 bridges.
- Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands and is visible in the lower left, along the banks of the New Meuse River, which divides the municipality into its northern and southern parts. Rotterdam’s port is the largest port in Europe, stretching over 40 km in length and covering over 10,000 hectares.
- The Hague is north of the port, visible along the North Sea coast. The Hague is home to the Dutch seat of government, and the city also hosts the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
- To the north of The Hague is the coastal town of Noordwijk, home to ESA's European Space Technology Research Centre (ESTEC). ESTEC is ESA’s technical centre where new missions are designed, their industrial development is managed and, in some cases, the spacecraft and instruments are tested.
- On Sunday 6 October, ESTEC is hosting its annual Open Day, where it will open its doors and give general public the chance to meet astronauts, space experts and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of ESA’s largest establishment. The Open Day is now fully booked.
- The theme of this year’s event is ESA to the Moon – where Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers will be joined by pioneering Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, who flew on the first crewed Apollo mission, and Rusty Schweickart, who was the first person to fly the Lunar Module and use an Apollo lunar spacesuit for a spacewalk.
Figure 11: ESA's Earth from Space image of the Netherlands was acquired with the Sentinel-2 satellite. The image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The Rio Negro, visible in black, is the largest tributary of the Amazon and the world’s largest black-water river. It flows 2300 km from Colombia, and it gets its dark coloring from leaf and plant matter that has decayed and dissolved in its waters.
- The Rio Negro contrasts significantly with the Solimões River – visible directly below - which owes its brown-coloring to its rich sediment content, including sand, mud and silt. After flowing for around 1600 km, the Solimões River meets the Rio Negro and together form this important junction.
- Owing to differences in temperature, speed and water density, the two rivers, after converging, flow side-by-side for a few kilometers , before eventually mixing.
- Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon Basin, is visible on the north bank of the Rio Negro. Despite being 1500 km from the ocean, Manaus is a major inland port. The Adolfo Ducke Forest Reserve is visible northeast of the city. The almost square-shaped block of land is a protected area named after the botanist Adolfo Ducke, and is used for the research of biodiversity.
Figure 12: This image of Sentinel-2, captured on 7 February 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The strait ties the Beagle Gulf in the west with the Van Diemen Gulf to the east and separates Australia’s mainland from Melville Island, part of the Tiwi Islands. The southernmost tip of Melville is visible in the upper part of the image.
- The three islands in the southern part of the strait, are the Vernon Islands, which host navigation aids to assist vessels passing through the strait.
- Australia’s Northern Territory is a sparsely-populated region. With a population of around 140,000, Darwin is the territory’s capital and largest city, and is visible in grey in the center of the image.
- In 1839, the HMS Beagle sailed into the waters of what is now known as Darwin Harbor. The harbor was named after the British evolutionist Charles Darwin, but, contrary to popular belief, Darwin himself never visited the area.
- With a strong Aboriginal culture, art and tropical summers, Darwin is a popular tourist destination. The Crocosaurus Cove in the heart of the city houses the world’s largest display of Australian reptiles.
- The waters that surround Darwin are riddled with saltwater crocodiles and deadly box jellyfish, which inhabit the waters from October to May. The Adelaide River, known for its high concentration of saltwater crocodiles, can be seen to the right of Darwin, snaking its way northwards, flowing 180 km before emptying into the Timor Sea.
- The Djukbinj National Park, visible east of Adelaide River, is a protected area and consists mostly of wetlands. The close vicinity to the water makes the park a major breeding ground for a variety of water birds, including magpie geese, herons and egrets.
Figure 13: Sentinel-2 captured this image of the Clarence Strait on 24 June 2019; it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• September 10, 2019: Australia is tackling multiple bushfires that have broken out across New South Wales and Queensland over the past few days. 14)
- The flames, which were said to have been whipped up by strong winds, have now been contained. More than 600 firefighters have been deployed to tackle the fires, and multiple homes and outbuildings have been damaged.
Figure 14: In this image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 8 September, fires burning in the Yuraygir National Park and Shark Creek area are visible. Fires are also burning to the north and south of the villages of Angourie and Wooloweyah (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• September 6, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over a set of small towns in the Colli Albani hills known collectively as Castelli Romani. 15)
- Located around 20 km southeast of Rome, the Castelli Romani area is of volcanic nature, originating from the collapsing of the Latium volcano hundreds of thousands of years ago. The outlines of the inner and outer crater rims are clearly visible in the image.
- Two lakes now occupy the craters, the small Lake Nemi and the larger, oval-shaped Lake Albano. The town of Castel Gandolfo overlooks Lake Albano and is known for its papal summer residence where many popes have spent their summers since the 17th century.
- Owing to cooler temperatures during summer, the hills and small towns are a popular destination for city dwellers trying to escape the heat.
- Each town has its own attraction, for example Ariccia is famous for its porchetta or roast pork, and Frascati is predominantly known for its wine.
- Frascati, which is just north of Lake Albano, is known for a number of scientific research institutes. These include ENEA, the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development; CNR, the Italian Research Council; INFN, the National Institute for Nuclear Physics; as well as ESA’s Earth observation center.
- From 9–13 September, ESA is holding the φ-week event, focusing on Earth observation and FutureEO — to review the latest developments in Open Science trends. The week will include a variety of inspiring talks, workshops on how Earth observation can benefit from the latest digital technologies and help shape future missions.
Figure 15: This Sentinel-2 image was acquired on 13 October 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• August 21, 2019: An unprecedented wildfire has ripped through the island of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. The wildfire, which started on Saturday 17 August, has now started to subside after engulfing around 10,000 hectares of land, leading to the evacuation of over 9000 people. 16)
- The Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated to help respond to the fire. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.
- The fire started near the town of Tejeda and spread to Tamadaba Natural Park, driven by a combination of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. According to authorities, over 700 firefighters on the ground and 16 aircraft helped tackle the blaze, with some flames reaching over 50 meters in height.
Figure 16: This false color image, captured on 19 August, was created using the shortwave infrared bands from the Copernicus Sentinel-2’s instrument, and allows us to clearly see the fires on the ground in bright orange. Burned scars are visible in dark brown. These bands also allow us to see through smoke – but not through clouds (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 26, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Lake Balaton in western Hungary. With a surface area of around 600 km2 and a length of around 78 km, this freshwater lake is the largest in central Europe (Figure 17). 17)
- The lake is mainly fed by the Zala River at its western end. The lakewater flows out near the eastern end via an artificial channel called the Sió, which eventually feeds into the Danube River.
- Originally five separate water bodies, the barriers between have been eroded away to create the lake it is today. Remnants of the dividing ridges can be seen in Balaton’s shape – with the Tihany Peninsula on the northern shore narrowing the width of the lake to approximately 1.5 km.
- Lake Balaton’s striking emerald-green color in this image is most likely due to its shallow waters and chemical composition. It is heavy in carbonates and sulphates, and there are also around 2000 species of algae that grow in its waters.
- The lake supports a large population of plant and animal species. During migration and wintering sessions, the site is an important staging area for thousands of ducks and geese.
- Owing to its pleasant climate and fresh water, the Lake Balaton area is a popular tourist destination. The mountainous northern region is known for its wine, while popular tourist towns lie on the flatter southern shore.
Figure 17: This image of Lake Balaton, captured on 27 February 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 19, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over palm oil plantations in East Kalimantan - the Indonesian part of the island Borneo. 18)
- Palm oil is the most widely-produced tropical edible oil. It’s used in a vast array of products – from ice cream and chocolates, to cosmetics such as make up and soap, to biofuel. Not only is it versatile, palm oil is also a uniquely productive crop. Harvested all year-round, oil palm trees produce up to nine times more oil per unit area than other major oil crops.
- To meet global demand, palm oil trees are grown on vast industrial plantations – leading to acres of rainforest being cut down. Between 1980 and 2014, global palm oil production increased from 4.5 million tons to 70 million tons, and is expected to increase.
- Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil, followed by Malaysia. Together they account for 84% of the world’s palm oil production.
- To produce palm oil in large enough quantities to meet growing demand, farmers clear large areas of tropical rainforest to make room for palm plantations. This leads to a loss of habitat for species such as the orangutan – declared as critically endangered by the WWF. In general, burning forests to make room for the crop is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Figure 18: In this image, captured on 15 February 2019, the various stages of the deforestation process are clearly visible – the green patches in the plantations are the well-established palm oil farms, while the light brown patches show the newly-harvested land. The surrounding lush rainforest is visible in dark green. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 16, 2019: Celebrating 50 years since Apollo 11 blasted off with the first humans that would walk on the Moon, Copernicus Sentinel-2 captures the historic launch site at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, US. 19)
- The crew – Neil Armstrong, mission commander, Michael Collins, command module pilot and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, lunar module pilot – were embarking on a milestone in human history.
- Just four days later on 20 July 1969, the lunar module, the Eagle, touched down. Watched on television by millions around the world, Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on the Moon, famously saying, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
- A few minutes later, he was joined by Buzz Aldrin. They took photographs, planted the US flag, spoke to President Richard Nixon via radio transmission and spent a couple of hours walking and collecting dust and rocks. The two men returned to the lunar module, slept that night on the surface of the moon, and then the Eagle began its ascent back to re-join the command module, which had been orbiting the Moon with Michael Collins. Apollo splashed back down safely in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July 1969.
- The Moon has again captured the attention of space agencies. ESA and international partners are now looking forward to the next era of human exploration, and to better understand the resources available on the Moon to support human missions longer-term. While Apollo 11 touched down for the first time on the near side of the Moon 50 years ago, it is time to explore the far side, examine different types of lunar rocks there to probe deeper into the Moon’s geological history and to find resources like water-ice that are thought to be locked up in permanently shadowed craters near the Moon’s south pole.
Figure 19: On 16 July 1969, the Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 11 began its momentous voyage to the Moon. It lifted off from launch pad 39A – which can be seen in this Copernicus Sentinel-2 image from 29 January 2019. Launch pad 39A is the second pad down from the top (the launch pad at the far top is 39B), image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
• July 12, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain standing at 3776 m tall. In this spring image, the mountain can be seen coated in pure white snow. 20)
- Mount Fuji is near the Pacific coast of central Honshu, straddling the prefectures of Yamanashi and Shizuoka. On a clear day, the mountain can be seen from Yokohama and Tokyo - both over 120 km drive away.
- The majestic stratovolcano is a composite of three successive volcanoes. Generations of volcanic activity have turned it into the Mount Fuji as we know it today. This volcanic activity is a result of the geological process of plate tectonics. Mount Fuji is a product of the subduction zone that straddles Japan, with the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Plate being subducted under the Eurasian plate.
- The last explosive activity occurred in 1707, creating the Hoei crater – a vent visible on the mountain’s southeast flank, as well as the volcanic ash field which can be seen on the east side.
- Mount Fuji is a symbol of Japan, and a popular tourist destination. Around 300,000 people climb the mountain every year – and in the image several hiking trails can be seen leading to the base of the mountain. The city of Fujinomiya, visible in the bottom left of the image, is the traditional starting point for hikers.
- Many golf courses, a popular sport in Japan, can be seen dotted around the image.
- Worshipped as a sacred mountain, Mount Fuji is of great cultural importance for the Shinto religion. Pilgrims have climbed the mountain for centuries and many shrines and temples dot the landscape surrounding the volcano.
Figure 20: This snow-capped mountain is often shrouded in cloud and fog, but this image was captured on a clear day, by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite - flying 800 km above. This image, captured on 8 May 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 5, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over a swirl of sea ice off the east coast of Greenland in the Irminger Sea, which is just south of the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland. 21)
- The ice (Figure 21), which formed by freezing of the sea surface further north in the Arctic Ocean, has drifted southwards along the coast of Greenland before arriving at this location. The ice swirl is considered a typical eddy or vortex, commonly found in the summer marginal ice zone off the east coast of Greenland.
- The marginal ice zone is the transition region from the open ocean, visible in dark blue, to the white sea ice. Depending on wind direction, waves and ocean currents, it can consist of small, isolated ice floes drifting over a large area to smaller ice floes pressed together in bright white bands.
- Strong mesoscale air—ice—ocean interactive processes drive the advance and retreat of the sea ice edge, and result in the meanders or eddies visible in this region.
- Investigations of such ocean eddies and meanders began in the 1970s and 1980s in the Greenland Sea to gain a better understanding of the interactions between the ocean, ice and atmosphere.
Figure 21: In this image captured on 9 June 2019, small pieces of sea ice, known as ice floes, trace out the ocean currents beneath, resulting in a large swirl-like feature of approximately 120 km in diameter. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 4, 2019: Mount Michael is an active stratovolcano on the remote Saunders Island, one of the South Sandwich Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. In situ observations of the volcano prove difficult owing to its remote location and the fact that it is almost 1000 m high and difficult to climb. However, modern satellite imagery can help survey isolated locations such as these. 22)
Figure 22: In these images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 29 March 2018, a distinct hotspot can be seen in orange in the crater of the volcano. The true-color image shows volcanic ash over the snow and smoke plumes coming from its crater, drifting south-eastwards (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA)
- The assessment of Mount Michael’s lava lake is presented in a recent report in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. By using modern satellites, including the US Landsat, Copernicus Sentinel-2 and the US Terra missions, monitoring activity and thermal anomalies within the crater is now possible.
- The paper confirms that the rare lava lake is a continuous feature inside Mount Michael’s crater, with a temperature of approximately 1000 °C.
- Only a handful of other volcanoes in the world are currently hosting persistent lava lakes – Masaya volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, Kīlauea, Mount Erebus, Mount Yasur, Ambrym and Erta Ale.
• On 30 June 2019, a wildfire broke out at a military training site in Lübtheen, in northern Germany. Authorities claim it is the largest blaze in the history of the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state. 23)
Figure 23: This animation was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, with a resolution of up to 10 m, on 1 July at 10:20 GMT (12:20 CEST). The true-color image shows the smoke emerging from the training site, while the other image was processed using the shortwave infrared which allows for a better view of the blaze under the smoke – which can be seen in bright orange (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Emergency services had difficulties containing the site, owing to unexploded munitions from military activities going back as far as World War II. Water has been diverted from the Elbe river to tackle the blaze. According to local firefighters, the fire swept through 400 hectares of forest, and hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes.
• June 28, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Gulf of Taranto, located on the inner heel of southern Italy. 24)
Figure 24: Taranto, an important coastal city, is visible on the bottom right of the image. Founded by a Greek colony in the 8th century, the city is now an important commercial port. The islets of San Pietro and San Paolo, known as the Cheradi Islands, protect the Mar Grande, the main commercial port of the city. It is separated from the Mar Piccolo, an inland lagoon, by a cape which closes the gulf. The industrial district, which is visible northwest of the city, has a high number of factories, oil refineries, steelworks and iron foundries. This image, captured on 6 March 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Along the coast, the Aleppo pine forest of the Stornara Nature Reserve is clearly visible in dark green. It takes its name from the many starlings that migrate there during winter. The reserve was founded in 1977 and covers an area of approximately 1500 hectares.
- Directly above the forest, many various patches of agricultural fields can be seen. Favored by the Mediterranean climate, the food sector has been one of the strongest areas of the Apulian economy. Fruit, vegetables and cereals are grown in a range of crop types throughout the region, depending on the time of year. The blue patches visible are greenhouses.
- Considered as the 2019 European Capital of Culture along with Plovdiv, in Bulgaria, Matera can be seen in the top left of the image, in the Basilicata region.
- Matera hosts an important space hub. The Giuseppe Colombo Center for Space Geodesy, founded by the Italian Space Agency, is located here. It sends regular laser beams to the moon, where they reach reflectors that were placed there during the original Apollo missions and the Lunokhod Soviet robotic missions. These lasers measure the distance from the Earth to the moon, expanding our knowledge of the moon’s internal structure.
- Located next door, the Matera Space Center is one of the ground stations for the reception and processing of data acquired by the Copernicus Sentinel satellites for ESA.
• June 27, 2019: One of the largest wildfires recorded in Arizona, US, has been burning since 8 June, destroying vast swathes of vegetation across the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Efforts to contain the fire include spraying flame retardant from aircraft. Colored red so that firefighters can see it, the retardant is dropped ahead of the path of the fire to act as a break – and remarkably these red lines can be seen from space. 25)
Figure 25: This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image from 24 June not only captures the extent of the Woodbury fire and burn scars in Arizona, but also the red lines of the retardant (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 17, 2019: Today marks the 25th anniversary of World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD). Under its theme ‘Let’s grow the future together,’ the initiative celebrates the 25 years of progress made in sustainable land management. 26)
- One ambitious project – the Great Green Wall – aims to improve life in Africa’s desert regions by planting a belt of trees across the entire width of the continent. Once completed, the wall will be the largest living structure on the planet stretching across 20 countries - from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east.
- By 2030, the initiative aims to have restored 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequestered 250 million tons of carbon and created 10 million green jobs.
- Since the Green Wall started in 2007, progress has been made in restoring the Sahelian lands. In Senegal alone, almost 12 million trees have been planted, and 25,000 hectares of degraded land restored.
- Desertification is the degradation of dry land ecosystems, owing to overexploitation through human activities and climate change. According to the UN, 12 million hectares of land is lost yearly because of desertification and drought, and 75 billion tons of fertile soil is lost due to land degradation.
Figure 26: Captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission in 2019, this image shows the edge of the dry desert in west Africa contrasted with vegetated land. Signs of land degradation can be seen as brighter “islands” around villages and to a lesser extent along roads and rivers showing bare soil and degraded vegetation. The image shows parts of three African countries: Senegal, The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 14, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the island of Bali, one of the 27 provinces of Indonesia. - Indonesia has more volcanoes than any other country in the world, owing to its position on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The islands of Java, Lombok, Sumbawa and Bali lie over a subduction zone where the Indo-Australian plate slides under the Eurasian plate, creating frequent seismic activity. 27)
- The central volcano, which is a predominant feature in this image, is called Mount Agung or Gunung Agung, meaning ‘Great Mountain’. The symmetrical and conical stratovolcano is the highest in Bali, standing at over 3000 m. When it erupted in 1964, it was one of the largest eruptions of the 20th century, claiming over 1000 lives and leaving more than 80,000 people homeless.
- After being dormant over the following 50 years, Agung reawakened in November 2017. Fortunately, small earthquakes warned authorities in time for 100,000 people to be evacuated to safety. Agung still remains very active, with frequent small eruptions spewing ash and lava, causing flights to be cancelled.
- In the image of Figure 27, a bright orange spot can be seen in the volcano’s crater. Recent research provides evidence that Agung and its neighboring Batur volcano, visible northwest of Agung, may have a connected magma plumbing system. 28)
- Mount Batur, or Gunung Batur, has an unusual shape, with the volcanic cone visible in the center of two concentric calderas.
Figure 27: Dotted with clouds, Mount Seraya is visible on the peninsula that juts to the east. Its volcanic rock creates a rugged terrain, but is surrounded by lush vegetation. The area is well known for its many Hindu temples, including the famous Lempuyang Temple, known locally as Pura Luhur Lempuyang. This image of Sentinel-2, captured on 2 July 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 7, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Lake Valencia, in northern Venezuela. This false-color image (Figure 28) was processed in a way that makes vegetation of the Henri Pittier National Park, north of the lake, appear in fluorescent green. These bright colors contrast with the blackness of the lake. 29)
- Unfortunately, the inflow of untreated wastewater from the surrounding industrial and agricultural lands has led to the lake to become contaminated. The lake now suffers from algal blooms and between 1960 and 1990 it lost over 60% of its native fish species.
- It was at this very lake that the German naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt, witnessed how human behavior could cause harm to our natural ecosystem and climate. During his travels in the late 18th century, he noted the surrounding barren land which had been cleared for plantations and crops for sugar and tobacco. He attributed the decreasing water levels in the lake to climate change.
- “When forests are destroyed, the springs are entirely dried up,” he wrote in his travel report, the Relation historique du voyage aux régions équinoxiales du nouveau continent (1814-17). “The beds of the rivers are converted into torrents whenever great rains fall on the heights.... Hence it results, that the destruction of forests, the want of permanent springs, and the existence of torrents, are three phenomena closely connected together.”
- The now poor-quality waters of Lake Valencia prevent the development of tourism and recreational activities in the region.
Figure 28: With a surface area of 370 km2, Lake Valencia formed a few million years ago and is now a reservoir for the cities of Valencia on the west shores and Maracay on the east shores. This image, which was captured on 2 February 2019 with Sentinel-2, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• May 31,2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. 30)
- Lake Guija, visible in the top left of the image (Figure 29), lies on the border between El Salvador and Guatemala. The lake once formed part of the Mayan Empire and legend says that it also hides an ancient city beneath its waters.
- El Salvador sits on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and despite being a small country, it has 25 volcanoes. The volcano complex of the Cerro Verde National Park can be seen dotted with clouds in the lower left of the image.
Figure 29: Captured on 30 January 2019, this false-color image was processed in a way that makes vegetation appear red. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The Cerro Verde National Park is over 2000 m above sea level. It is home to a cluster of three volcanoes surrounded by lush rainforest. Santa Ana, the highest volcano in the country, is clearly visible with its circular peak.
- Izalco, located directly below Santa Ana, was born in 1770 and has erupted more than 50 times since. Its odd color and shape is due to these frequent eruptions.
- The large body of water to the right of Izalco is Lake Coatepeque, one of the largest crater lakes in the country. It is home to a variety of aquatic life and has remnants of ancient volcanic activity such as hot springs and openings emitting steam known as fumaroles.
- The large volcano in the right of the image is named San Salvador. It is adjacent to the capital, with which it shares its name. The city sprawls close to the nearby Lake Ilopango, which occupies the crater of an extinct volcano.
• May 24, 2019: The image of Figure 30 depicts the fragmented coast of western Pakistan, part of the Indus River Delta. A river delta forms when sediment carried from the river enters a stagnant body of water, creating an alluvial fan, which in this case extends 150 km along the coastline. The Indus River, visible on the right, veers through the Sindh Province and is one of the longest rivers in the world, rising in Tibet and flowing around 3000 km before emptying into the Arabian Sea. 31)
- The Indus Delta consists of creeks, swamps, marshes and the seventh largest mangrove forest in the world.
- However, owing to major irrigation works and dams built on the river, as well as low rainfall, the amount of silt discharged into the sea has reduced, affecting the mangrove and local community significantly. A huge proportion of the delta has been lost and the survival of the delta freshwater species, including the Indus river dolphin, are at risk.
- Also responsible for pollution is the port city of Karachi, which is partially visible in the top left of the image.
- To the top right, there are two important bodies of water on the edge of the stony desert, both of which are also wildlife sanctuaries. The artificial, square-shaped Haleji Lake, was expanded in World War II, for the use of additional water for the troops. The freshwater lake supports an abundance of aquatic vegetation, and is home to a number of species of birds.
- To the far right, the freshwater Keenjhar Lake is a major source of drinking water for Karachi, as well as for Thatta, which is to the right of the yellow-beige patch of land.
- Both lakes, as well as the River Indus Delta, are sites of wetland designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention – an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
Figure 30: Captured on 14 April 2018 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite, this image shows western Pakistan and an important wetland area. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• May 17, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite takes us over the Po Valley in northern Italy. The Po River, the longest river in Italy, flows over 650 km from west to east across the country, and ends at a delta projecting into the Adriatic Sea near Venice. The river flows through some of Italy’s important cities of the north. 32)
Figure 31: Image of the Po Valley, the most densely populated area in Italy, accounting for nearly half of the national population. This composite image contains several images captured between June 2018 and February 2019, allowing us to see the area free from clouds and smog. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018–19), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- On the very left of the image, next to the river, the city of Turin can be seen. A business and cultural center, Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region. Rich in history, the city is home of the Shroud of Turin, a famous religious relic, as well as the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy. Turning to modern day, several International Space Station modules, such as Harmony and Columbus, were manufactured in Turin.
- Moving east, the city of Milan can be seen nestling below the Alps. Although Milan is the second most populous city in Italy after Rome, the wider metropolitan area extends over Lombardy and eastern Piedmont, making it the largest metropolitan area in Italy.
- Further east, the blue body of Lake Garda can be seen to the left of Verona. With an area of 370 km2, Garda is the largest lake in Italy and the third largest in the Alpine region. East of the lake is the Adige River, flowing south before curving east toward Verona. The city of Verona has been awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO because of its urban structure and architecture such as the circular Roman amphitheater.
- Along the coast, the turquoise colors of the Venetian lagoon and the islands that make up the city of Venice are visible. Famous for its musical and artistic cultural heritage, millions of tourists flock to the archipelago every year.
- As the Po River nears the Adriatic Sea, its agricultural landscape dominated by fields can be seen. Agriculture is one of the main industries in the Po Basin because of the fertile soils. Cereals, including rice, and a variety of vegetables are commonly grown in this area.
- The main arms of the river push the delta into the sea. An important ecosystem, the area has been a regional park since 1988 and a biosphere reserve since 2015.
• May 10, 2019: ESA's Living Planet Symposium – the largest Earth observation conference in the world – is being held on 13–17 May in Milan, Italy. Held every three years, these symposia draw thousands of scientists and data users from around the world to discuss their latest findings on how satellites are taking the pulse of our planet. 33)
- Over 4000 participants will gather at the largest congress center in Europe: the MiCo Convention Center. With its iconic architecture, this modern building has become a landmark. The event will not only see scientists present their latest findings on Earth’s environment and climate derived from satellite data, but will also focus on Earth observation’s role in building a sustainable future and a resilient society.
- Milan is the second biggest city in Italy and, like most large urban environments, it suffers from air pollution. While there is an effort to reduce the emission of pollutants, the city is also incorporating more vegetation into its development plans. This not only makes the environment more pleasant, but the plants also help soak up greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
- The Bosco Verticale, or the Vertical Forest, for example, aims to inspire the need for urban biodiversity. The two tower blocks have plants and trees planted on its façade, and are located just north of the historical center. The vegetation covering both towers is equivalent to 20,000 m2 of forest and home to a variety of birds and butterflies. This vegetation absorbs approximately 30 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
- Another example of the city’s efforts to ‘go green’, is the Biblioteca degli Alberi, or Library of Trees, visible next to the Bosco Verticale. With its geometric design and irregular patches of land, the gardens are home to over 100,000 plants and trees, interlinked with pedestrian and bike paths.
- But it doesn’t stop there, the local government aims to plant another three million trees by 2030.
Figure 32: In this high-resolution image, captured by Copernicus Sentinel-2 orbiting around 800 km above, the center of Milan is clearly visible. The famous Milan Cathedral or Duomo di Milano with its surrounding square can be seen in the center of the image. Taking six centuries to complete, it is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world. This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video program, was captured on 24 September 2018 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• May 03, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over an area in southern Germany, where approximately 15 million years ago an asteroid crashed through Earth’s atmosphere. The high-speed impact formed what is now known as the Ries crater. Although difficult to spot at first in the image, the result of the impact is actually still visible today. 34)
- With a diameter of 26 km, the rim of the crater can be seen as a semi-circle in the image, delineated by dark green forest to the south. The flat ‘crater floor’ is ideally suited for agricultural use and the corresponding fields mark the crater’s extent.
- The medieval town of Nördlingen (in the Donau-Ries district of Bavaria) was built in its depression. The historical center, approximately 1 km wide, appears as a reddish circle, visible with its red rooftops surrounded by a wall.
- The asteroid was estimated to be travelling at 70,000 km per hour, and when it made impact with Earth, the high-speed force exposed the rock to intense pressure and heat, over 25,000°C. The impact led to the creation of over 70,000 tons of microscopic diamonds, each around 0.2 mm in size.
- Overlooked by the town’s inhabitants, the stone buildings were constructed almost entirely with diamond-encrusted rock. Details on the impact can be found in the well-known Rieskrater Museum in Nördlingen.
- For centuries, Nördlingen locals believed the town was built in the crater of a volcano. But in the 1960s two American scientists (Gene Shoemaker and Edward Chao) proved that the depression was, in fact, caused by a meteorite impact. Today, visitors around the world gather to marvel at this glittering town, also known as the backdrop to the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film.
Figure 33: The Sentinel-2 satellite of ESA captured this image of the Nördlinger Ries on 1 July 2018, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Figure 34: An aerial view of the town of Nördlingen inside the meteorite Ries crater
• April 26, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Australia’s northeast state of Queensland, where a large amount of sediment is visible gushing into the Coral Sea, close to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. 35)
- In early 2019, many areas in Queensland received more than their annual rainfall in less than a week. The downpour led to millions of dollars’ worth of damage, including homes being destroyed and the loss of almost 500,000 cattle.
- The Burdekin River rises on the northern slopes of Boulder Mountain and flows close to 900 km before emptying into the Coral Sea. The Burdekin River is one of Australia's larger rivers by discharge volume, and is a major contributor of sediment and freshwater to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
- The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, extends for 2000 km along the northeast coast of Australia and covers almost 350,000 km2. The reef is an interlinked system of about 3000 reefs and 900 coral islands, divided by narrow passages. An important area of biodiversity, the reef was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
- The sand-color sediment plume can be seen stretching over 35 km from the coast, dangerously close to the vivid turquoise reef. The blues of the coral contrast with the dark-colored waters of the Coral Sea.
- The coral reef suffers regular damage, more than half of the reef has disappeared over the last 30 years owing to climate change, coral bleaching and pollution. Large quantities of sediment that flow out from rivers carry chemicals and fertilizers from inland farms. The sediment blankets the coral, and reduces the amount of light, as well as potentially causing harmful algae blooms.
- Data from Copernicus Sentinel-2 plays a key role in providing information on pollution in lakes and coastal waters. Frequent coverage is also fundamental to monitoring floods.
Figure 35: This image was captured a few days after the torrential rain, and shows the muddy waters flowing from the Burdekin River into the Coral Sea. It was captured on 10 February 2019, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• April 19, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over one of the most remote islands in the world: Easter Island. Located in the Pacific Ocean, over 3500 km off the west coast of South America, this Chilean island is also known as Rapa Nui by its original inhabitants. The island was given its current name the day when the Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen arrived on 5 April 1722 – on Easter Sunday.
Figure 36: Easter Island, with a size of 163.6 km2 and a population of 7500, is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the south-easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. A Sentinel-2 acquired this image on 7 April 2019, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The island is famous for its monolithic stone statues, called Moai, said to honor the memory of the inhabitants’ ancestors. There are nearly 1000 scattered around the island, usually positioned near freshwater. Many are located near the Rano Raraku volcano, on the southeast coast. The white edges along the southern coast show the harsh waves colliding with the shore.
- An interesting feature of the image is the ochre-orange color of the Poike – the peninsula on the eastern end of the island. In ancient times, it is said that there was a lot of vegetation on the island. However, land clearing for cultivation and the Polynesian rat played a role in deforestation, leading to the erosion of the soil, particularly in the east.
- Several reforestation projects have been attempted, including a eucalyptus plantation in the middle of the island, visible in dark green. The brown patch to the right of the plantation is likely to be a burn scar from a wildfire.
- The majority of the island’s inhabitants live in Hanga Roa, the main town and harbor on the west coast, clearly visible in the image. Interestingly, the long runway of the island’s only airport was once designated as an emergency landing site for the US space shuttle.
- At the very edge of the southwest tip of the island lies Ranu Kao, the largest volcano on the island. Its shape is distinctive owing to its crater lake, one of the island’s only three natural bodies of water.
- Many tourists are drawn to the island for its mysterious history and isolated position. What is relatively unknown is the existence of two small beaches on the northeast coast. Anakena beach has white, coral sand, while the smaller Ovahe beach, surrounded by cliffs, has pink sand.
• April 5, 2019: This week, ESA is focusing on its core Basic Activities, which, for Earth observation, include preserving precious data. Long-time series of datasets are needed to determine changes in our planet’s climate so it is vital that satellite data and other Earth science data are preserved for future generations and are still accessible and usable after many years. This example includes a series of satellite images going back to 1998. 36) 37) 38)
Figure 37: This long-time series of over 150 images, captured by the US Landsat series and the Copernicus Sentinel-2 missions, shows the development over 21 years of an important land reclamation project in the Western Desert of Egypt. This comparison highlights how this agricultural project has developed between January 1998 and March 2019. These images are also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: USGS/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Egypt is over 95% desert, making a very small proportion of its land suitable for agriculture. As the demand for food grows, the need for agricultural development in desert areas has intensified.
- This set of images shows an important land reclamation project in East Oweinat, in the Western Desert of Egypt.
- The circular shapes in the images, each approximately 800 meters wide, indicate the irrigation method used here, with water being supplied by a set of sprinklers rotating around a central pivot. Fossil water, stored underground for thousands of years, comes from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, the largest known fossil aquifer discovered.
- The water in the East Oweinat area is low in salt content, making it ideal for cultivation purposes. Crops such as wheat, potatoes and barley are grown here, and are exported through the Sharq El Owainat airport, visible in the right side of the image.
- Another interesting feature in this time series is the drifting sand dunes visible mainly in the upper left corner, which is a phenomena common in sandy deserts with constant winds.
- Changes over the last 21 years are clearly visible when more fields develop, but the data also show other subtle changes within the fields themselves. This data can be used to monitor changes in land-cover over time. Long-term preservation of the satellite data from different missions ensures that changes to the land can be monitored by analyzing data from the archives.
• March 22, 2019: Today is World Water Day, but with millions of people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe struggling to cope in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, the notion of water shortages may not be at the forefront of our minds right now. Even so, floods, like we see here, lead to real problems accessing clean water. Whether the problem is inundation or water scarcity, satellites can help monitor this precious resource. 39)
Figure 38: Water levels in the Theewaterskloof Dam in South Africa’s Western Cape Province have dropped dramatically over recent years. The dam is the major source of water for domestic and agricultural uses in the region. Over the last year, this lack of water has caused the production of grain to drop by more than 36% and the production of wine grapes to drop by 20%, for example. It is estimated that it will need to receive at least three years of good winter rainfall for it to return to its earlier healthy level. Thanks to the TIGER initiative, the Stellenbosch University is applying machine-learning algorithms to data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 missions to carefully monitor the situation (video credit: ESA, the video contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017–18), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- With more than two billion people living without safe water and around four billion people suffering severe water scarcity for a least one month a year, achieving water for all is a huge challenge. And, coupled with a growing global population and climate change, it’s likely to become even more challenging.
- Water allows life on Earth to thrive. The same water has existed for billions of years, cycling through the air, oceans, lakes, rocks, animals and plants and back again. The water we drink today may have once been inside a dinosaur!
- Our most precious resource is probably the strangest thing in the universe. Defying the laws of chemistry, it’s the only known substance that can exist naturally as a gas, liquid and solid within a relatively small range of air temperatures and pressures found on the surface of Earth.
- Although there is no shortage of water on Earth, less than 3% is freshwater. Then the vast majority of this is locked up in icecaps and glaciers, leaving less than 1% available for drinking and other domestic needs, agriculture and industrial processes, and more.
- Freshwater is the single most important natural resource on the planet, but we are very rapidly running out of it – as illustrated by dwindling water bodies.
Figure 39: The Earth's water cycle. The total amount of water present on the Earth is fixed and does not change. Powered by the Sun, water is continually being circulated between the oceans, the atmosphere and the land. This circulation and conservation of the Earth's water, known as the water cycle, is a crucial component of our weather and climate (image credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)
Figure 40: Glacial decline (10 December 2018). 40) A paper published recently in Nature Geosciences describes how a multitude of satellite images have been used to reveal that there has actually been a slowdown in the rate at which glaciers slide down the high mountains of Asia. This animation simply shows how glaciers in Sikkim in northeast India have changed between 2000 and 2018. One of the images is from the NASA/USGS Landsat-7 mission captured on 26 December 2000 and the other is from Europe’s Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite captured on 6 December 2018 [image credit: NASA/USGS/University of Edinburgh/ETH Zurich/ the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018)]
• March 22, 2019: The 22 March is World Water Day, which focuses on the importance of freshwater. The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future. Goal number 6 focuses on ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030. This image takes us over Lake Chad at the southern edge of the Sahara, where water supplies are dwindling. 41)
- Once one of Africa’s largest lakes, Lake Chad has shrunk by around 90% since the 1960s. This receding water is down to a reduction of precipitation, induced by climate change, as well as development of modern irrigation systems for agriculture and the increasing human demand for freshwater.
Figure 41: This comparison shows Lake Chad imaged on 6 November 1984 by the US Landsat-5 satellite and on 31 October 2018 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite. The rapid decline of the lake’s waters in just 34 years is clearly to see. These images are also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA (For Landsat image: USGS/ESA), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Straddling the border of Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria, the lake is a major source of freshwater for millions of people in the area. It is also a source for irrigation, fishing and it was once rich in biodiversity.
- As the lake continues to dry up, many farmers and herders move towards greener areas or move to larger cities to seek alternative work. Several attempts have been made to replenish these shrinking waters, however little progress has been achieved.
- The borders of the lake’s body are only partly visible in the most-recent image – as the majority of the shoreline is swamp and marsh. The Chari River, visible snaking its way towards Lake Chad at the bottom of the image, provides over 90% of the lake’s waters. It flows from the Central African Republic following the Cameroon border from N'Djamena, where it joins with its main tributary the Logone River.
- The demand for water is growing inexorably. Access to water is vital – not only for drinking, but also for agriculture, energy and sanitation. By providing measurements of water quality and detecting changes, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission can support the sustainable management of water resources.
• March 22, 2019: World Water Day! 42) The 66th United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the Water Action Decade from 22 March 2018 to March 2028. The UN Water Action Decade is pursuing two goals:
- Spreading knowledge on the topic of water and water pollution control, including information on water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
- more effective communication measures to implement water-related goals.
Figure 42: The UN Sustainable Goal 6 is crystal clear: Water for all by 2030. For World Water Day we take a look at ways that space can help this global challenge. While Earth-observing satellites monitor our precious water resources, technologies developed for human space missions also serve global needs in harsh environments here on Earth (video credit: ESA)
• March 21, 2019: The UN International Day of Forests is held annually on 21 March. It raises awareness of the importance of all types of forest and the vital role they play in some of the biggest challenges we face today, such as addressing climate change, eliminating hunger and keeping urban and rural communities sustainable. As the global population is expected to climb to 8.5 billion by 2030, forests are more important than ever. 43)
- This year, the International Day of Forests put a particular focus on education, but also on making cities a greener, healthier and happier place to live. In cities, trees can help many urban challenges. They act as air filters by removing pollutants, reduce noise pollution, offer shade and provide an oasis of calm in an otherwise busy urban environment, for example.
- While Bangkok, which is home to over eight million people, is an example of ongoing efforts being made to increase green spaces to improve city life, it also has a much-valued green haven, which can be seen in the center of the image.
- This horseshoe or lung-shaped, green oasis is Bang Kachao and is in the middle of the bustling city.
- Rich in gardens, mangroves and agricultural fields, the 2000 hectares of land is a significant contrast to the vastness of the city’s urban sprawl. Fighting Bangkok’s traffic and air pollution, Bang Kachao’s lush green forest provides the dense city, and the surrounding Samutprakan province, with a flow of fresh air.
Figure 43: Captured on 22 January 2019 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite, this true-color image shows Thailand’s most populous city Bangkok, and its ‘Green Lung’ Bang Kachao. The government-protected oasis of green is wrapped around the Chao Phraya River, which is seen flowing through the city of Bangkok before emptying into the Gulf of Thailand (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Legend to Figure 43: Bang Kachao is an artificial island formed by a bend in the Chao Phraya River and a canal at its western end. It lies south of the Thai capital Bangkok in the Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan Province. The island, covering 16 km2, has been traditionally agricultural with only a relatively small population.
• March 21, 2019: Billions of image pixels recorded by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission have been used to generate a high-resolution map of land-cover dynamics across Earth’s landmasses. This map also depicts the month of the peak of vegetation and gives new insight into land productivity. 44)
- Using three years’ worth of optical data, the map can indicate the time of vegetation peak and variability of vegetation across seasons. Developed by GeoVille, an Austrian company specialized in the analysis of satellite data, this land-cover map dynamics map uses Copernicus Sentinel-2 archive data from 2015-18, and gives a complete picture of variations of vegetation. The map is displayed at a resolution of 20 m, however a 10 m version is available on request.
Figure 44: Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission has been used to generate a new high-resolution map of vegetation across Earth’s entire landmass. The new map depicts global vegetation dynamics and gives insight into land productivity. The time of vegetation peak i.e. the month at which greenness maximum occurs is shown in red (spring) and green (summer) to blue tones (autumn and winter.) The variability of vegetation greenness is represented by light tones in low amplitude areas such as managed grasslands, while high amplitudes are represented by saturated color tones. Areas with low biomass such as urban areas and open bodies of water are shown in black, while areas with higher biomass appear in grey and white tones (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–18), processed by GeoVille)
- It can, for example, support experts working with land-cover classification and can serve as input for services in areas such as agriculture, forestry and land-degradation assessments.
- “In particular, we use this as a basis to develop services for the agrofood industry and farmers growing potatoes and other crops, as well as information on how vegetation changes over the year,” explains Eva Haas, Head of GeoVille’s Agricultural Unit (Innsbruck, Austria).
Figure 45: The inland delta of the Niger River spreads across central Mali – a unique ecosystem in West Africa. A result of the Niger river flowing into the sandy Sahelian plains, this vast network of channels, swamps, and lakes mitigates the severity of the arid climate by supplying water during October and November (blue). In contrast the image shows the sparse rain fed vegetation in the surrounding region (dark green). This image is part of a new high-resolution map of vegetation across Earth’s entire landmasses generated with Copernicus Sentinel-2 data (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–18), processed by GeoVille)
- The land-cover dynamic layer was produced with GeoVille’s processing engine LandMonitoring.Earth, a fully-automated land-monitoring system built on data streams from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 missions, as well as ESA third party missions such as the US Landsat missions.
- “Using the system, we processed the complete Copernicus Sentinel-2 image archive along with artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics,” explains Michael Riffler, Head of Research and Development at GeoVille.
- “However, the key is the dense time-series of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 data which allows this information to be retrieved for the first time. To date, we have processed more than 23 billion pixels.”
Figure 46: The image shows different crop types around Emmelrod in the Netherlands. Here, green shows summer crops, red is potatoes, orange is market crops, yellow is cereals and blue depicts grassland. The area is important for the agrofood sector and, in particular, has strong ties to the international potato industry. By integrating Copernicus Sentinel-2 based crop-type monitoring directly into existing industry workflows, the agrofood industry can gain information about the growth and potential yield of crops, potatoes in particular, including the impact of ongoing droughts (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by GeoVille)
- The development has been done through ESA’s Earth observation innovation hub – Φ-lab, and has been implemented by GeoVille and its subsidiary in the Netherlands – GEO4A.
- “This map forms an excellent foundation for other – more specialized – land cover classifications, whose development and deployment can be further accelerated by applying machine learning and AI,” says Iarla Kilbane-Dawe, the head of ESA’s Φ-Lab in Frascati, Italy.
- The LandMonitoring.Earth system is designed to efficiently implement major client solutions such as the European Copernicus Land Monitoring Service products. Experts can specify desired land monitoring data for any place on the globe for any given time period, and receive a quality-controlled output, depending on the required geographic coverage and frequency.
- The idea is to make information available to non-experts along with the specific resources and tools that they need.
• March 15, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Nairobi, one of the fastest growing cities in East Africa. 45)
- The population of Nairobi has increased significantly in the last 30 years, with rural residents flocking to the city in search of employment. The city, visible in the center of the image, now has a population of over three million, with the vast majority spread over 200 informal settlements.
- Kibera, which can be seen as a light-colored patch at the south-western edge of the city, is considered one of the largest urban slums in Nairobi. Most residents live in small mud shacks with poor sanitation, a lack of electricity and limited access to clean water.
- While migration provides economic benefits to the city, it also creates environmental challenges. Owing to its urbanization, the city has spread into green spaces such as the nearby parks and forests. In this image, the densely populated area is contrasted with the flat plains of Nairobi National Park, directly south of the city. The 117 km2 of wide-open grass plains is colored in light-brown. The park is home to lions, leopards, cheetahs and has a black rhino sanctuary.
- The dark patches in the image are forests. The Ngong Forest, to the west of the city, includes exotic and indigenous trees, and hosts a variety of wild animals including wild pigs, porcupines, and dik-diks.
- To the north of the city, the dark Karura Forest is visible. The 1000 hectare urban forest features a 15 m waterfall, and hosts a variety of animals including bush pigs, bushbucks, suni and harvey’s duiker, as well as some 200 bird species.
- Although Africa is responsible for less than 5% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, the majority of the continent is directly impacted by climate change. Rapid population growth and urbanization also exposes residents to climate risks.
- On 14 March 2019, the first regional edition of the One Planet Summit took place at the UN Compound, which is in the north of the city. The One Planet Summit, part of the UN Environment Assembly, focuses on protecting biodiversity, promoting renewable energies and fostering resilience and adaptation to climate change.
- Data from Copernicus Sentinel-2 can help monitor changes in urban expansion and land-cover change. Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission. Each satellite carries a high-resolution camera that images Earth’s surface in 13 spectral bands.
- As delegates gather in Nairobi for the UN Environment Assembly, ESA is saddened by the news of the Ethiopian Airlines accident. Lives lost included those working for organizations also dedicated to achieving a better world for all and who were travelling to the assembly. — Our thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of those affected.
Figure 47: This image of the Sentinel-2 mission was captured on 3 February 2019, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program
- The Tiber River can be seen snaking its way southwards in the image. The third longest river in Italy, it rises in the Apennine Mountains and flows around 400 km before flowing through the city of Rome and draining into the sea near the town of Ostia. The Tiber River plays an important role in sediment transport, so coastal waters here are often discolored. However, the recent rains resulted in a large amount of sediment pouring into the Tyrrhenian Sea, as this image shows. The sediment plume can be seen stretching 28 km from the coast, carried northwest by currents.
Figure 48: The Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite captured this true-color image on 5 February 2019, just three days after heavy rainfall in Rome and the surrounding area of Lazio, Italy. It shows sediment gushing into the Tyrrhenian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea. The downpour on 2 February led to flooded streets, the closing of the banks of the Tiber River and several roads (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• February 22, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite takes us over western Sicily and the islands of Favignana and Levanzo in Italy. The image of Figure 49 shows a false-color image included the near-infrared channel and was processed in a way, that makes vegetation appear in bright red. 47)
- The bright turquoise colors, near the port city of Trapani, at the top of the image, and the Isola Grande in the middle of the image, depict salt marshes. Both the Saline di Trapani e Paceco Nature Reserve and the Stagnone Nature Reserve with their shallow sea waters, windy coast and abundant sunshine, make the area between Marsala, at the bottom of the image, and Trapani an ideal place for salt production.
- The reserve consists of more than 1000 hectares of landscape dotted with windmills, migratory birds such as flamingos and light-red lagoons visible in summer. This greenish-blue color is heavily contrasted with the black of the open Mediterranean Sea.
- The islands, off the coast, are rich in history, both boasting Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings. The most famous being the Grotta del Genovese on the picturesque island of Levanzo, at the top left of the image. The cave was discovered only in 1949 and is estimated to be between 6000 and 10 000 years old.
- Below, the butterfly-shaped island of Favignana, known for its tuna fisheries and a type of limestone known as tufa rock, is the largest of the Aegadian islands. In 241 BC, one of the Punic Wars’ naval battles was fought at the Cala Rossa (Red Cove), named after the bloodshed.
Figure 49: Captured on 3 September 2018 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite, this false-color image shows part of western Sicily in Italy and two of the main Aegadian Islands: Favignana and Levanzo. This image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• February 15, 2019: Copernicus Sentinel-2 brings you some of the jewels of the Maldives for Valentine’s week. Arguably one of the most romantic destinations in the world, the Maldives lie in the Indian Ocean about 700 km southwest of Sri Lanka. The nation is made up of more than 1000 coral islands spread across more than 20 ring-shaped atolls. 48)
- Like many low-lying islands, the Maldives are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise. In fact, the Maldives are reported to be the flattest country on Earth, with no ground higher than 3 m and 80% of the land lying below 1 m. With satellite records showing that over the past five years, the global ocean has risen, on average, 4.8 mm a year, rising seas are a real threat to these island jewels.
- With the promise of white sandy beaches, azure ocean waters and coral reefs, this romantic getaway draws more than 600,000 tourists every year. While tourism is extremely important for the national economy, development on these pristine islands create pressures, such as ensuring an adequate supply of freshwater, treating sewage and potential pollution entering the ocean. Other environmental issues facing the Maldives include the loss of habitats of endangered species and the damage to the coral reefs.
- The Maldives are undoubtedly fragile but one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and a place to be loved and cherished now and in the future. Valentine’s Day reminds us of love and maybe this year and beyond it’s good to remember to love our planet.
Figure 50: A number of these little islands can be seen in the image, with the turquoise colors depicting clear shallow waters dotted by coral reefs and the red colors highlighting vegetation on land. Different cloud formations can also be seen, the difference in appearance is likely to be due to the different height above the surface. This image, which was captured on 26 August 2015, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2015), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The region tends to be very arid and this false-color image has been processed to highlight different types of rock, soil and sand in pinks, purples and yellows.
- Part of the ‘great north road’ can also been seen running from the bottom-left to the top-right. The road is one of the best in the country, linking Nairobi in the south of the country to Ethiopia. The northern 500-km stretch from Isiolo to the Kenyan–Ethiopian border town of Moyale took about nine years to build and was completed recently, but has reduced travel time from Nairobi to Moyale from three days to about 12 hours and opened up new opportunities for trade and business. Moyale can be seen in the top-right of the image.
Figure 51: The bright green at the top of the image depicts vegetation, but the rest of the area appears relatively devoid of vegetation. Several dry river beds can also be seen etched into the landscape and the black shape in the middle-left appears to be an area of freshly burnt land. The lack of water has, at times, led to clashes between clans over access to water and pasture for cattle. When the rains do come, however, this dry dusty land can burst into life and turn a rich green. This Copernicus Sentinel-2A image is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• February 04, 2019: Wildfires can cause devastation and are also to blame for more than a quarter of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Satellites play a key role in mapping landscape scarred by fire – but the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission has revealed that there are more fires than previously thought. 50)
Figure 52: This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image from 26 January 2019 shows fire-scarred land near the Betty’s Bay area of Cape Town in South Africa. This false-color image has been processed to show burned areas in dark greys and browns, and areas covered with vegetation are shown in red [image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO] 51)
- From the vantage of space, satellites can be used to detect fires and monitor how they spread and, in the first instance, this can often help relief efforts. However, satellites are also important for mapping the scars that fires leave in their wake, particularly in remote regions.
- It is currently estimated that fires contribute 25–35% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere so more precise information gained from satellite-based scar-burn maps could help to better understand how they add to the greenhouse effect.
- Land disturbed by fire is an ‘essential climate variable’, which are global datasets for the key components of Earth’s climate.
- Fire-scar mapping is also used for managing natural resources, assessing fire risk and for adopting mitigating strategies, for example.
- Thanks to Copernicus Sentinel-2’s ability to zoom in on our planet, researchers have discovered that there are more areas that are being affected by fire than previously thought.
- A paper published recently in Remote Sensing of the Environment describes how researcher used the high-resolution imaging capability of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission to produce the first detailed continental map of burns caused by wildfires. 52)
- Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite constellation built for the EU’s Copernicus environmental monitoring program. Each identical satellite carries a high-resolution multispectral imager. The mission has a myriad of uses, particularly related to monitoring the health of world’s vegetation and mapping how the surface of our land changes.
- The authors focussed on sub-Saharan Africa as the region that accounts for around 70% of burned area worldwide according to global satellite databases, making it the ideal testbed for evaluating the potential for improving the understanding of global impacts of fire.
Figure 53: Copernicus Sentinel-2 reveals more fires in Africa than thought. The authors of Ref. 52) focussed on sub-Saharan Africa and found that 4.9 million km2 of land had been burned in 2016 (left image), which is 80% more than reported with information from coarser-resolution satellite sensors (right image). These new-found areas comprised mainly burned areas smaller than 100 ha (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by the University of the Basque Country–E. Roteta)
• January 25, 2019: Zaragoza is the capital of the province of Zaragoza in the region of Aragon in northeast Spain. It is home to about half of Aragon’s population, making it the fifth largest municipality in Spain. 53)
Figure 54: This Copernicus Sentinel-2B image features the city of Zaragoza nestling in the Ebro valley and flanked by mountains to the south. The image was captured on 25 February 2018, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- In the top-right of the image, the Ebro River can be seen winding its way through the city. Between its source in the Cantabrian Mountains in the northwest and its delta on the Mediterranean coast, the Ebro River is fed by more than 200 tributaries as it flows across much of northern Spain. In fact, the Ebro River discharges more water into the sea than any other river in Spain.
- In an otherwise arid region, the river is used to irrigate crops in the valley – fields can be seen in the top-right of the image.
- To the south of the city and dominating the image, lie mountains, relatively devoid of vegetation. There are also mountains to the north that are beyond the frame of this image. These mountains, which effectively surround Zaragoza, form a barrier to moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and from the Mediterranean Sea, creating a semi-arid climate.
- On average, Zaragoza only has about 350 mm of precipitation a year, compared to Paris in France, for example, which has around 650 mm of precipitation a year. In recent years, efforts – from discounts on water-saving products to new watering systems for parks – have been in helping to reduce water consumption. Efforts such as these resulted in Zaragoza’s per capita use of water dropping from 150 liters/day in 1997 to just 99 liters/day by 2012.
• January 18, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Gangotri, one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas and one of the main sources of water for the Ganges River. 54)
- The Gangotri Glacier is in the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The head of the glacier can be seen in the lower-right of the image near the Chaukhamba Peak. From here, Gangotri flows around 30 km northwest, but like many of the world’s glaciers it is in retreat. Studies suggest that Gangotri has been receding for well over 200 years. Measurements have shown, that it retreated by as much as 35 meters a year between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s. While this has now reduced to about 10 meters a year, observations show that the glacier is thinning.
- The glacier’s terminus is called Gomukh, which means ‘mouth of a cow’, presumed to describe what the snout of this huge glacier once resembled. Importantly, the headwaters of the Bhagirathi River form here. In Hindu culture and mythology, this is considered to be the source of the Ganges River and consequentially the destination for many spiritual pilgrimages and treks. Gomukh is a 20 km trek from the village of Gangotri, which is in the top left of the image of Figure 55. While Gomukh and Gangotri have much spiritual significance, the Bhagirathi River offers an important supply of freshwater as well as power as it passes through a number of power stations, including the Tehri hydroelectric complex 200 km downstream (not pictured).
- Gangotri is in an area also known as ‘the third pole’, which encompasses the Himalaya-Hindu Kush mountain range and the Tibetan Plateau. The high-altitude ice fields in this region contain the largest reserve of freshwater outside the polar regions. With such a large portion of the world’s population dependent on water from these cold heights, changes in the size and flow of these glaciers can bring serious consequences for society by affecting the amount of water arriving downstream.
- From the vantage point of space, satellites, such as the Copernicus Sentinels, provide essential information to monitor the changing face of Earth’s glaciers, which are typically in remote regions and therefore difficult to monitor systematically from the ground.
Figure 55: Sentinel-2 captured this image on 7 January 2018, it is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• January 11, 2019: The Copernicus Sentinel-2B satellite takes us along the lower reaches of the brown, sediment-rich Uruguay River. Here, the river forms the border between Argentina and Uruguay and is the site of the Esteros de Farrapos e Islas del Río Uruguay wetlands. 55)
- Composed of lagoons, swamps and 24 islets, the Esteros are a haven for wildlife, protected as a national park and included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance of the Ramsar Convention.
- This wetland system is home to 130 species of fish, 14 species of amphibian, 104 species of bird – a quarter of all birds found in Uruguay – and 15 species of mammal, including the maned wolf, the largest canid (meaning dog-like) species in South America.
- A tourist attraction and a waterway for transport, the Esteros also play an important role in regulating flood levels and maintaining water quality, as well as safeguarding the banks of the Uruguay River from erosion.
- Visible to the lower left – its built structures shown in grey-white – is the Argentinian town of Gualeguaychú. On the eastern shore of the Uruguay River is the Uruguayan city of Fray Bentos, an important national harbor, famous for a plant that once exported corned beef around the world. Now inactive, this sprawling industrial complex has become a World Heritage Site.
- The dark green area to the east of the Esteros is devoted to forestry, an important industry for the region. A pulp mill is located close to Fray Bentos.
Figure 56: Sentinel-2B acquired this image of the Uruguay River wetlands on 17 August 2018, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
1) ”Tromsø, Norway,” ESA, 20 December 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/12/Tromsoe_Norway
2) ”Baltic blooms,” ESA Applications, 13 December 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/12/Baltic_blooms
3) ”Lake St. Clair,” ESA Applications, 29 November 2019, URL: https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/11/Lake_St._Clair
5) ”Seville, Spain,” ESA Applications, 22 November 2019, URL: https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/11/Seville_Spain
6) ”Smoke in New South Wales,” ESA, 21 November 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/11/Smoke_in_New_South_Wales
7) ”Lake Tai, China,” ESA Applications, 15 November 2019, URL: https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-2
8) ”Holbox Island, Mexico,” ESA Applications, 8 November 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/11/Holbox_Island_Mexico
9) ”Leelanau Peninsula, US,” ESA, 25 October 2019, URL: https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2019/10/Leelanau_Peninsula_US
10) ”Lake Natron, Tanzania,” ESA 11 October 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/10/Lake_Natron_Tanzania
11) ”Earth from Space: The Netherlands,” ESA, 4 October 2019, URL: https://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/10/The_Netherlands
12) ”Meeting of Waters,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, ESA, 27 September 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/09/Meeting_of_waters
13) ”Clarence Strait, Australia,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 20 September 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/09/Clarence_Strait_Australia
14) ”Australian bushfires,” ESA, 10 September 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/09/Australian_bushfires
15) ”Castelli Romani, Italy,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 6 September 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/09/Castelli_Romani_Italy
16) ”Gran Canaria wildfire,” ESA, 21 August 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/08/Gran_Canaria_wildfire
17) ”Lake Balaton, Hungary,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 26 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Lake_Balaton_Hungary
18) ”Palm oil plantations,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 19 July 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Palm_oil_plantations
19) ”Apollo 11 launch pad,” ESA, 16 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Apollo_11_launch_pad
20) ”Mount Fuji, Japan,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 12 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Mount_Fuji_Japan
21) ”Earth from Space: Irminger Sea ice swirl,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 05 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Irminger_Sea_ice_swirl
22) ”Rare lava lake,” ESA, 04 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/Rare_lava_lake
23) ”German wildfire,” ESA, 02 July 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/07/German_wildfire
24) ”Gulf of Taranto, Italy,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 28 June 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/06/Gulf_of_Taranto_Italy
25) ”Fire red lines,” ESA, 27 June 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/06/Fire_red_lines
26) ”Desert greenery,” ESA Space in Images, 17 June 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/06/Desert_greenery
27) ”East Bali, Indonesia,” ESA Earth observation image of the week, 14 June 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/06/East_Bali_Indonesia
28) Fabien Albino, Juliet Biggs & Devy Kamil Syahbana, ”Dyke intrusion between neighboring arc volcanoes responsible for 2017 pre-eruptive seismic swarm at Agung,” Nature Communications, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08564-9, Published: 14 February 2019, URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08564-9.pdf
29) ”Lake Valencia, Venezuela,” ESA, 7 June 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/06/Lake_Valencia_Venezuela
30) ”Earth from Space: El Salvador,” ESA, 31 May 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/05/El_Salvador
31) ”Western Pakistan,” ESA Earth observation image of the week: the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over western Pakistan and an important wetland area, 24 May 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/05/Western_Pakistan
32) ”Po Valley, Italy,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 17 May 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/05/Po_Valley_Italy
33) ”Milan, Italy,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 10 May 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/05/Milan_Italy
34) ”Ries crater, Germany,” ESA, 03 May 2019, URL: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/05/Ries_crater_Germany
35) ”Queensland floods,” ESA, 26 April 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/04/Queensland_floods
36) ”Egyptian crop circles,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 05 April 2019, URL:http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/04/Egyptian_crop_circles
37) ”Cultivating Egypt’s Desert,” NASA Earth Observatory, 10 March 2017, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/89820/cultivating-egypts-desert
38) ”Agriculture in Egypt’s Western Desert,” NASA Earth Observatory, 15 December 2018, URL: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/144383/agriculture-in-egypts-western-desert
39) ”Satellites key to addressing water scarcity,” ESA, 22 March 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Satellites_key_to_addressing_water_scarcity
40) Amaury Dehecq, Noel Gourmelen, Alex S. Gardner, Fanny Brun, Daniel Goldberg, Peter W. Nienow, Etienne Berthier, Christian Vincent, Patrick Wagnon & Emmanuel Trouvé, ” Twenty-first century glacier slowdown driven by mass loss in High Mountain Asia,” Nature Geosciences, Volume 12, pp: 22-27, Published: 10 December 2019, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0271-9
41) ”Lake Chad’s shrinking waters,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 22 March 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/03/Lake_Chad_s_shrinking_waters
42) ”World Water Day: what's space got to do with it?,” ESA, 22 March 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2019/03/World_Water_Day_what_s_space_got_to_do_with_it
43) ”Bangkok’s green lung,” ESA, 21 March 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/03/Bangkok_s_green_lung
44) ”Land-cover dynamics unveiled,” ESA, 21 March 2019; URL: http://m.esa.int
45) ”Nairobi, Kenya,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week: a Copernicus Sentinel-2 view over Kenya’s capital, 15 March 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/03/Nairobi_Kenya
46) ”Sediment plume at sea,” ESA, 25 February 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/02/Sediment_plume_at_sea
47) Favignana, Levanzo and western Sicily,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 22 February, 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/02/Favignana_Levanzo_and_western_Sicily
48) ”Jewels of the Maldives,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 15 February 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/02/Jewels_of_the_Maldives
49) ”Northeast Kenya,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 08 February 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/02/Northeast_Kenya
50) ”More of Africa scarred by fires than thought,” ESA, 04 February 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth
51) ”Burn scars near Cape Town,” ESA, 04 February 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/02/Burn_scars_near_Cape_Town
52) E. Roteta, A. Bastarrika, M. Padilla, T. Storm, E. Chuvieco, ”Development of a Sentinel-2 burned area algorithm: Generation of a small fire database for sub-Saharan Africa,” Remote Sensing of Environment, Elsevier, Volume 222, 1 March 2019, Pages 1-17, URL: https://tinyurl.com/yb7mag8n
53) ”Zaragoza, Spain,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 25 January 2018, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/01/Zaragoza_Spain
54) ”Gangotri, India,” ESA, 18 January 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/01/Gangotri_India
55) ”Uruguay River wetlands,” ESA, Earth observation image of the week, 11 January 2019, URL: http://m.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/01/Uruguay_River_wetlands
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).