Copernicus: Sentinel-2 — The Optical Imaging Mission for Land Services
Sentinel-2 is a multispectral operational imaging mission within the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) program, jointly implemented by the EC (European Commission) and ESA (European Space Agency) for global land observation (data on vegetation, soil and water cover for land, inland waterways and coastal areas, and also provide atmospheric absorption and distortion data corrections) at high resolution with high revisit capability to provide enhanced continuity of data so far provided by SPOT-5 and Landsat-7. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8)
Table 1: Copernicus is the new name of the former GMES program 9)
The overall GMES user requirements of the EU member states call for optical observation services in the areas of Global Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol and ensuing regulations), sustainable development, European environmental policies (e.g. spatial planning for Soil Thematic Strategy, Natura 2000 and Ramsar Convention, Water Framework Directive), European civil protection, common agricultural policy, development and humanitarian aid, and EU Common Foreign & Security Policy.
To meet the user needs, the Sentinel-2 satellite data will support the operational generation of the following high level products like:
• Generic land cover, land use and change detection maps (e.g. CORINE land cover maps update, soil sealing maps, forest area maps)
• Maps of geophysical variables (e.g. leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll content, leaf water content).
The mission is dedicated to the full and systematic coverage of land surface (including major islands) globally with the objective to provide cloud-free products typically every 15 to 30 days over Europe and Africa. To achieve this objective and to provide high mission availability, a constellation of two operational satellites is required, allowing to reach a 5-day geometric revisit time. The revisit time with only one operational satellite as it will be the case at the beginning of the deployment of the system is 10 days. - In comparison, Landsat-7 provides a 16-day geometric revisit time, while SPOT provides a 26-day revisit, and neither of them provides systematic coverage of the overall land surface.
The following list summarizes the top-level system design specifications derived from the user requirements:
• Sentinel-2 will provide continuity of data for services initiated within the GSE (GMES Service Element) projects. It will establish a key European source of data for the GMES Land Fast Track Monitoring Services and will also contribute to the GMES Risk Fast Track Services.
• The frequent revisit and high mission availability goals call for 2 satellites in orbit at a time, each with a 290 km wide swath using a single imaging instrument
• Continuous land + islands carpet mapping imaging within the latitude range of -56º to +83º (the selected orbit excludes imagery from Antarctica)
• 10 m, 20 m, and 60 m spatial resolution (in the VNIR to SWIR spectral range) to identify spatial details consistent with 1 ha MMU (Minimum Mapping Unit)
• An accurate geolocation (< 20 m) of the data is required (without GCPs) and shall be produced automatically to meet the timeliness requirements. The geolocation accuracy of Level 1 b imagery data w.r.t. WGS-84 (World Geodetic System - 1984) reference Earth ellipsoid of better than 20 m at 2σ confidence level without need of any ground control points is required.
• Very good radiometric image quality (combination of onboard absolute and on ground vicarious calibration).
• The mission lifetime is specified as 7.25 years and propellant is to be sized for 12 years, including provision for de-orbiting maneuvers at end-of-life.
• 2 weeks of satellite autonomy and maximum decoupling between flight operations and mission exploitation
Table 2: Sentinel-2 fast track service compliance to land user requirements
To provide operational services over a long period (at least 15 years following the launch of the first satellites), it is foreseen to develop a series of four satellites, with nominally two satellites in operation in orbit and a third one stored on ground as back-up.
In partnership: The Sentinel-2 mission has been made possible thanks to the close collaboration between ESA, the European Commission, industry, service providers and data users. Demonstrating Europe’s technological excellence, its development has involved around 60 companies, led by Airbus Defence and Space in Germany for the satellites and Airbus Defence and Space in France for the multispectral instruments. 10)
The mission has been supported in kind by the French space agency CNES to provide expertise in image processing and calibration, and by the German Aerospace Center DLR that provides the optical communication payload, developed by Tesat Spacecom GmbH.
This piece of technology allows the Sentinel-2 satellites to transmit data via laser to satellites in geostationary orbit carrying the European Data Relay System (EDRS). This new space data highway allows large volumes of data to be relayed very quickly so that information can be even more readily available for users.
Seven years in the making, this novel mission has been built to operate for more than 20 years. Ensuring that it will meet users’ exacting requirements has been a challenging task. Developing Sentinel-2 has involved a number of technical challenges, from early specification in 2007 to qualification and acceptance in 2015.
The satellite requires excellent pointing accuracy and stability and, therefore, high-end orbit and attitude control sensors and actuators. The multispectral imager is the most advanced of its kind, integrating two large visible near-infrared and shortwave infrared focal planes, each equipped with 12 detectors and integrating 450,000 pixels.
Pixels that may fail in the course of the mission can be replaced by redundant pixels. Two kinds of detectors integrate high-quality filters to isolate the spectral bands perfectly. The instrument’s optomechanical stability must be extremely high, which has meant the use of silicon carbide ceramic for its three mirrors and focal plane, and for the telescope structure itself.
The geometric performance requires strong uniformity across the focal planes to avoid image distortion. The radiometric performance excluded any compromise regarding stray light, dictating a tight geometry and arrangement of all the optical and mechanical elements. The instrument is equipped with a calibration and shutter mechanism that integrates a large spectralon sunlight diffuser.
Each satellite has a high level of autonomy, so that they can operate without any intervention from the ground for periods of up to 15 days. This requires sophisticated autonomous failure analysis, detection and correction on board.
The ‘carpet mapping’ imaging plan requires acquisition, storage and transmission of 1.6 TB per orbit. This massive data blast results from the combination of the 290 km swath with 13 spectral channels at a spatial resolution as high as 10 m.
In addition, the optical communication payload using the EDRS data link is a new technology that will improve the amount and speed of data delivery to the users. This was very recently demonstrated by Sentinel-1A, which also carries an optical communication payload.
Land in focus: Ensuring that land is used sustainably, while meeting the food and wood demands of a growing global population – a projected eight billion by 2020 – is one of today’s biggest challenges. The Copernicus land service provides information to help respond to global issues such as this as well as focusing on local matters, or ‘hotspots’, that are prone to specific challenges.
However, this service relies on very fast revisit times, timely and accurate satellite data in order to make meaningful information available to users – hence, the role of Sentinel-2. Through the service, users will have access to information about the health of our vegetation so that informed decisions can be made – whether about addressing climate change or how much water and fertilizer are needed for a maximum harvest.
Sentinel-2 is able to distinguish between different crop types and will deliver timely data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll content and leaf water content – all of which are essential to accurately monitor plant growth. This kind of information is essential for precision farming: helping farmers decide how best to nurture their crops and predict their yield.
While this has obvious economic benefits, this kind of information is also important for developing countries where food security is an issue. The mission’s fast geometric revisit of just five days, when both satellites are operational, and only 10 days with Sentinel-2A alone, along with the mission’s range of spectral bands means that changes in plant health and growth status can be easily monitored.
Sentinel-2 will also provide information about changes in land cover so that areas that have been damaged or destroyed by fire, for example, or affected by deforestation, can be monitored. Urban growth also can be tracked.
The Copernicus services are managed by the European Commission. The five ‘pan-European’ themes covering 39 countries are addressed by the land service, including sealed soil (imperviousness), tree cover density, forest type, and grasslands. There is currently insufficient cloud-free satellite data in high resolution with all the necessary spectral bands that cover Europe fast enough to monitor vegetation when it is growing rapidly in the summer. Sentinel-2 will fill this gap.
This multi-talented mission will also provide information on pollution in lakes and coastal waters at high spatial resolution and with frequent coverage. Frequent coverage is also key to monitoring floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides. This means that Sentinel-2 can contribute to disaster mapping and support humanitarian aid work.
Leading edge: The span of 13 spectral bands, from the visible and the near-infrared to the shortwave infrared at different spatial resolutions ranging from 10 to 60 m on the ground, takes global land monitoring to an unprecedented level.
The four bands at 10 m resolution ensure continuity with missions such as SPOT-5 or Landsat-8 and address user requirements, in particular, for basic land-cover classification. The six bands at 20 m resolution satisfy requirements for enhanced land-cover classification and for the retrieval of geophysical parameters. Bands at 60 m are dedicated mainly to atmospheric corrections and cirrus-cloud screening.
In addition, Sentinel-2 is the first civil optical Earth observation mission of its kind to include three bands in the ‘red edge’, which provide key information on the vegetation state.
Thanks to its high temporal and spatial resolution and to its three red edge bands, Sentinel-2 will be able to see very early changes in plant health. This is particularly useful for the end users and policy makers to detect early signs of food shortages in developing countries (Ref. 10).
Table 3: Facts and figures
In April 2008, ESA awarded the prime contract to Airbus Defence and Space (former EADS-Astrium GmbH) of Friedrichshafen, Germany to provide the first Sentinel-2A Earth observation satellite. In the Sentinel-2 mission program, Astrium is responsible for the satellite’s system design and platform, as well as for satellite integration and testing. Astrium Toulouse will supply the MSI (MultiSpectral Instrument), and Astrium Spain is in charge of the satellite’s structure pre-integrated with its thermal equipment and harness. The industrial core team also comprises Jena Optronik (Germany), Boostec (France), Sener and GMV (Spain). 11) 12) 13) 14)
Sentinel-2 uses the AstroBus-L of EADS Astrium, a standard modular ECSS (European Cooperation for Space Standards) compatible satellite platform compatible with an in-orbit lifetime of up to 10 years, with consumables sizeable according to the mission needs. The platform design is one-failure tolerant and the standard equipment selection is based on minimum Class 2 EEE parts, with compatibility to Class 1 in most cases. The AstroBus-L platform is designed for direct injection into LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Depending on the selection of standard design options, AstroBus-L can operate in a variety of LEOs at different heights and with different inclinations. An essential feature of AstroBus-L is the robust standard FDIR (Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery) concept, which is hierarchically structured and can easily be adapted to specific mission needs.
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the Sentinel-2 spacecraft (image credit: ESA, Airbus DS)
The satellite is controlled in 3-axes via high-rate multi-head star trackers, mounted on the camera structure for better pointing accuracy and stability, and gyroscopes and a GNSS receiver assembly. The AOCS (Attitude and Orbit Control Subsystem) comprises the following elements: 18)
• A dual frequency GPS receiver (L1/L2 code) for position and time information
• A STR (Star Tracker) assembly for precise attitude information (use of 3 STRs)
• A RMU (Rate Measurement Unit) for rate damping and yaw acquisition purposes
• A redundant precision IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) for high-accuracy attitude determination
• Magnetometers (MAG) for Earth magnetic field information
• CESS (Coarse Earth Sun Sensors) for coarse Earth and Sun direction determination
• 4 RW (Reaction Wheels) and 3 MTQ (Magnetic Torquers)
• RCS (Reaction Control System) a monopropellant propulsion system for orbit maintenance with 1 N thrusters
The different tasks of the AOCS are defined the following modes:
• Initial Acquisition and Save Mode (rate damping, Earth acquisition, yaw acquisition, steady-state)
• Normal Mode (nominal and extended observation)
• Orbit Control Mode (in- and out-of-plane ΔV maneuvers).
Figure 2: Overview of the AOCS architecture (image credit: EADS Astrium)
The geolocation accuracy requirements of < 20 m for the imagery translate into the following AOCS performance requirements as stated in Table 4.
For Sentinel-2 it was decided to mount both the IMU and the star trackers on the thermally controlled sensor plate on the MSI. So the impact of time-variant IMU/STR misalignment on the attitude performance can be decreased to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the consideration of the time-correlated star tracker noises by covariance tuning was decided.
Figure 3: Sentinel-2 spacecraft architecture (image credit: Astrium GmbH)
Figure 4: Block diagram of the Sentinel-2 spacecraft (image credit: EADS Astrium)
The EPS (Electric Power Subsystem) consists of:
• Solar Array (one deployable and rotatable single wing with three panels). Total array area of 7.1 m2. Use of 2016 triple junction GaAs solar cells with integrated diode. Total power of 2300 W (BOL) and 1730 W (EOL). The mass is < 40 kg.
• SADM (Solar Array Drive Mechanism) for array articulation. Use of a two phase stepper motor with µ-stepping to minimize parasitic distortions during MSI operation, motor step angle 1.5º. Mass of < 3.2 kg.
• PCDU (Power Control and Distribution Unit). PCDU with one unregulated 28 V ±4 V main power bus. Mass of < 21.6 kg; the in-orbit life is 12.25 years.
• Li-ion batteries with 8 cells in series. Total capacity of 102 Ah @ EOL. Mass = 51 kg.
Figure 5: Block diagram of the electrical power subsystem (image credit: EADS Astrium)
The OBC is based on the ERC32 PM (Processor Module) architecture. The PLDHS (Payload Data Handling System) provides source data compression from 1.3 Gbit/s to 450 Mbit/s [state-of-the-art lossy compression (wavelet transform)].
The spacecraft mass is ~ 1200 kg, including 275 kg for the MSI instrument, 35 kg for the IR payload (optional) and 80 kg propellant (hydrazine). The S/C power is 1250 W max, including 170 W for the MSI and < 100 W for the IR payload. The spacecraft is designed for a design life of 7.25 years with propellant for 12 years of operations, including deorbiting at EOL (End of Life).
Table 5: Overview of some spacecraft parameters
Figure 6: Schematic view of the deployed Sentinel-2 spacecraft (image credit: EADS Astrium)
Figure 7: The Sentinel-2 spacecraft in launch configuration (image credit: ESA)
Payload data are being stored in NAND flash memory technology SSR (Solid State Recorder) based on integrated CoReCi (Compression Recording and Ciphering) units of Airbus DS, available at various capacities. The CoReCi is an integrated image compressor, mass memory and data ciphering unit designed to process, store and format multi-spectral video instrument data for the satellite downlink. The mass memory utilizes high performance commercial Flash components, ESA qualified and up-screened for their use in space equipment. This new Flash technology allows mass and surface area used in the memory to be reduced by a factor of nearly 20 when compared with the former SD-RAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory) based equipment. The first CoReCi unit has been successfully operating on SPOT-6 since September 2012. Sentinel-2A is carrying a CoReCi unit. 19) 20)
The MRCPB (Multi-Résolution par Codage de Plans Binaires) compression algorithm used is a wavelet transform with bit plane coding (similiar to JPEG 2000). This complex algorithm is implemented in a dedicated ASIC, with speeds of up to 25 Mpixel/s. Alternatively this unit can be supplied with a CCSDS compression algorithm using a new ASIC developed with ESA support. The ciphering is based on the AES algorithm with 128 bit keys. The modularity of the design allows the memory capacity and data rate to be adapted by adjusting the number of compressor and memory boards used.
• February 27, 2017: The ninth Vega light-lift launcher is now complete at the Spaceport, with its Sentinel-2B Earth observation satellite installed atop the four-stage vehicle in preparation for a March 6 mission from French Guiana. 21)
• January 12, 2017: Sentinel-2B arrived at Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on 6 January 2017 to be prepared for launch. After being moved to the cleanroom and left for a couple of days to acclimatise, cranes were used to open the container and unveil the satellite. Over the next seven weeks the satellite will be tested and prepared for liftoff on a Vega rocket. 22)
• November 15, 2016: Sentinel-2B has successfully finished its test program at ESA/ESTEC in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. The second Sentinel-2 Airbus built satellite will now be readied for shipment to the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana begin January 2017. It is scheduled for an early March 2017 lift-off on Vega. 23)
- Offering "color vision" for the Copernicus program, Sentinel-2B like its twin satellite Sentinel-2A will deliver optical images from the visible to short-wave infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. From an altitude of 786 km, the 1.1 ton satellite will deliver images in 13 spectral bands with a resolution of 10, 20 or 60 m and a uniquely large swath width of 290 km.
• June 15, 2016: Airbus DS completed the manufacture of the Sentinel-2B optical satellite; the spacecraft is ready for environmental testing at ESA/ESTEC. The Sentinel-2 mission, designed and built by a consortium of around 60 companies led by Airbus Defence and Space, is based on a constellation of two identical satellites flying in the same orbit, 180° apart for optimal coverage and data delivery. Together they image all Earth’s land surfaces, large islands, inland and coastal waters every five days at the equator. Sentinel-2A was launched on 23 June 2015, its twin, Sentinel-2B, will follow early next year. 24)
- The Sentinel-1 and -2 satellites are equipped with the Tesat-Spacecom’s LCT (Laser Communication Terminal). The SpaceDataHighway is being implemented within a Public-Private Partnership between ESA and Airbus Defence and Space.
Figure 8: Sentinel-2B being loaded at Airbus Defence and Space’s satellite integration center in Friedrichshafen, Germany (image credit: Airbus DS, A. Ruttloff)
• April 27, 2015: The Sentinel-2A satellite on Arianespace’s next Vega mission is being readied for pre-launch checkout at the Spaceport, which will enable this European Earth observation platform to be orbited in June from French Guiana. — During activity in the Spaceport’s S5 payload processing facility, Sentinel-2A was removed from the shipping container that protected this 1,140 kg class spacecraft during its airlift from Europe to the South American launch site. With Sentinel-2A now connected to its ground support equipment and successfully switched on, the satellite will undergo verifications and final preparations for a scheduled June 11 liftoff. 25)
Figure 9: Sentinel-2A is positioned in the Spaceport’s S5 payload processing facility for preparation ahead of its scheduled June launch on Vega (image credit: Arianespace)
• April 23, 2015: The Sentinel-2A satellite has arrived safe and sound in French Guiana for launch in June. The huge Antonov cargo aircraft that carried the Sentinel-2A from Germany, touched down at Cayenne airport in the early morning of 21 April. 26)
• April 8, 2015: The Sentinel-2A satellite is now being carefully packed away in a special container that will keep it safe during its journey to the launch site in French Guiana. The satellite will have one final test, a ‘leak test’, in the container to ensure the propulsion system is tight. Bound for Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, Sentinel-2A will leave Munich aboard an Antonov cargo plane on 20 April. Once unloaded and unpacked, it will spend the following weeks being prepared for liftoff on a Vega rocket. 27)
• February 24, 2015: Sentinel-2A is fully integrated at IABG’s facilities in Ottobrunn, Germany before being packed up and shipped to French Guiana for a scheduled launch in June 2015. 28)
Figure 10: Photo of the Sentinel-2A spacecraft in the thermal vacuum chamber testing at IAGB's facilities (image credit: ESA, IABG, 2015)
• In August 2014, Airbus Defence and Space delivered the Sentinel-2A environmental monitoring satellite for testing . In the coming months, the Sentinel-2A satellite will undergo a series of environmental tests at IABG, Ottobrunn, Germany, to determine its suitability for use in space. 29) 30)
Figure 11: Sentinel-2A solar array deployment test at IABG (Airbus Defence & Space), image credit: ESA 31)
- Sentinel-2A is scheduled to launch in June 2015; Sentinel-2B, which is identical in design, is set to follow in March 2017. Together, these two satellites will be able to capture images of our planet’s entire land surface in just five days in a systematic manner.
Figure 12: Photo of the Sentinel-2A spacecraft at the satellite integration center in Friedrichshafen, Germany (image credit: Airbus DS, A. Ruttloff)
RF communications: The payload data handling is based on a 2.4 Tbit solid state mass memory and the payload data downlink is performed at a data rate of 560 Mbit/s in X-band with 8 PSK modulation and an isoflux antenna, compliant with the spectrum bandwidth allocated by the ITU (international Telecommunication Union).
Command and control of the spacecraft (TT&C) is performed with omnidirectional S-band antenna coverage using a helix and a patch antenna. The TT&C S-band link provides 64 kbit/s in uplink (with authenticated/encrypted commands) and 2 Mbit/s in downlink..
The requirements call for 4 core X-band ground stations for full mission data recovery by the GMES PDS (Payload Data System).
In parallel to the RF communications, an optical LEO-GEO communications link using the LCT (Laser Communication Terminal) of Tesat-Spacecom (Backnang, Germany) will be provided on the Sentinel-2 spacecraft. The LCT is based on a heritage design (TerraSAR-X) with a transmit power of 2.2 W and a telescope of 135 mm aperture to meet the requirement of the larger link distance. The GEO LCT will be accommodated on AlphaSat of ESA/industry (launch 2012) and later on the EDRS (European Data Relay Satellite) system of ESA. The GEO relay consists of an optical 2.8 Gbit/s (1.8 Gbit/s user data) communication link from the LEO to the GEO satellite and of a 600 Mbit/s Ka-band communication link from the GEO satellite to the ground. 34)
To meet the user requirements of fast data delivery, DLR (German Aerospace Center) is funding the OCP (Optical Communication Payload), i.e. the LCT of Tesat, – a new capability to download large volumes of data from the Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-1 Earth observation satellites - via a data relay satellite directly to the ground. A contract to this effect was signed in October 2010 between ESA and DLR. 35)
Since the Ka-band downlink is the bottleneck for the whole GEO relay system, an optical ground station for a 5.625 Gbit/s LEO-to-ground and a 2.8 Gbit/s GEO-to-ground communication link is under development.
Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit, altitude = 786 km, inclination = 98.5º, (14+3/10 revolutions/day) with 10:30 hours LTDN (Local Time at Descending Node). This local time has been selected as the best compromise between cloud cover minimization and sun illumination.
The orbit is fully consistent with SPOT and very close to the Landsat local time, allowing seamless combination of Sentinel-2 data with historical data from legacy missions to build long-term temporal series. The two Sentinel-2 satellites will be equally spaced (180º phasing) in the same orbital plane for a 5 day revisit cycle at the equator.
The Sentinel-2 satellites will systematically acquire observations over land and coastal areas from -56° to 84° latitude including islands larger 100 km2, EU islands, all other islands less than 20 km from the coastline, the whole Mediterranean Sea, all inland water bodies and closed seas. Over specific calibration sites, for example DOME-C in Antarctica, additional observations will be made. The two satellites will work on opposite sides of the orbit (Figure 13).
• The first stage separated 1 min 55 seconds after liftoff, followed by the second stage and fairing at 3 min 39 seconds and 3 min 56 seconds, respectively, and the third stage at 6 min 32 seconds.
• After two more ignitions, Vega’s upper stage delivered Sentinel-2B into the targeted Sun-synchronous orbit. The satellite separated from the stage 57 min 57 seconds into the flight.
• Telemetry links and attitude control were then established by controllers at ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany, allowing activation of Sentinel’s systems to begin. The satellite’s solar panel has already been deployed.
• After this first ‘launch and early orbit’ phase, which typically lasts three days, controllers will begin checking and calibrating the instruments to commission the satellite. The mission is expected to begin operations in three to four months.
Sentinel-2B will join its sister satellite Sentinel-2A and the other Sentinels part of the Copernicus program, the most ambitious Earth observation program to date. Sentinel-2A and -2B will be supplying ‘color vision’ for Copernicus and together they can cover all land surfaces once every five days thus optimizing global coverage and the data delivery for numerous applications. The data provided by these Sentinel-2 satellites is particularly suited for agricultural purposes, such as managing administration and precision farming.
With two satellites in orbit it will take only five days to produce an image of the entire Earth between the latitudes of 56º south and 84º north, thereby optimizing the global coverage zone and data transmission for numerous applications.
To ensure data continuity two further optical satellites, Sentinel-2C and -2D, are being constructed in the cleanrooms of Airbus and will be ready for launch as of 2020/2021.
Figure 14: Illustration of the Sentinel-2B spacecraft in orbit (image credit: Airbus DS, Ref. 38)
Figure 15: This technical view of the Sentinel-2 satellite shows all the inner components that make up this state-of-the-art high-resolution multispectral mission (video credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
Figure 16: As well as imaging in high resolution and in different wavelengths, the key to assessing change in vegetation is to image the same place frequently. The Sentinel-2 mission is based on a constellation of two satellites orbiting 180° apart, which along with their 290 km-wide swaths, allows Earth’s main land surfaces, large islands, inland and coastal waters to be covered every five days. This is a significant improvement on earlier missions in the probability of gaining a cloud-free look at a particular location, making it easier to monitor changes in plant health and growth (video credit: ESA/ATG medialab)
Note: As of March 2020, the Sentinel-2 file has been split into a total of four files. — As of May 2019, the previously single large Sentinel-2 file has been split into two additional files, to make the file handling manageable for all parties concerned, in particular for the user community.
• This article covers the Sentinel-2 mission and its imagery in the period 2020
Mission status and some imagery of 2020
• August 5, 2020: Satellite images have revealed that there are nearly 20% more emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than previously thought. Scientists, at the British Antarctic Survey, have used satellite data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission to track penguin guano, or penguin poo, to monitor the presence of thousands of penguins. 40)
- The findings, published today in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, reveal 11 new colonies, three of which were previously identified but never confirmed. This discovery takes the global census to 61 colonies around the entire continent. 41)
- Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify at the 10 m pixel resolution that the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission offers.
- These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent.
- Peter Fretwell, lead author and geographer at BAS, comments, “This is an exciting discovery. The new satellite images of the Antarctica coastline have enabled us to find these new colonies. And whilst this is good news, the colonies are small and so only take the overall population count up by 5–10%, to just over half a million penguins or around 265 500 – 278 500 breeding pairs.”
- The results, thanks to satellite images from Copernicus Sentinel-2, are an important milestone for monitoring the impact of environmental change on the population of emperor penguins.
- The flightless birds are known to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, as warming ocean waters are melting the sea ice where they live and breed. Following the current projections of climate change, their habitat is likely to decline. The results from the study show that the majority of the newly found colonies are at the margins of the emperors’ breeding range – locations that could be lost as the climate continues to warm.
Figure 17: This map shows the locations of known, re-discovered and newly discovered penguin colonies in Antarctica (image credit: BAS/ESA)
Figure 18: A penguin colony near Ninnis Bank was spotted by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 26 August 2019. Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify. These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0) IGO)
Figure 19: A penguin colony near Yule Bay was captured in this image by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 23 November 2016. Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify. These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA)
- Philip Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at BAS, has been studying penguins for the last three decades. He says, “Whilst it is good news that we’ve found these new colonies, the breeding sites are all in locations where recent model projections suggest emperors will decline. Birds in these sites are therefore probably the ‘canaries in the coalmine’ – we need to watch these sites carefully as climate change will affect this region.”
- The study found a number of colonies 180 km offshore, situated on sea ice that has formed around icebergs that had grounded in shallow water. These colonies are a surprising new finding in the behavior of this increasingly well-known species.
- Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission designed specifically to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Commission’s Copernicus program. Satellites, such as the Sentinel-2 mission, provide us with a global coverage, revisiting the same region every few days. The data provide a good understanding of the health and behavior of our planet – and how it is continuously affected by climate change.
Figure 20: A penguin colony near Cape Gates was captured in this image by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 7 November 2016. Although penguins are too small to show up in satellite images, giant stains on the ice from penguin droppings – known as guano – are easy to identify. These brownish patches have allowed scientists to locate and track penguin populations across the entire continent (image credit: ESA, the images contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Figure 21: Emperor penguins live in Antarctica, which is not only remote and inaccessible, but temperatures can drop to –50ºC. Studying penguin colonies is therefore extremely difficult. Nevertheless, over the last 10 years, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been able to search for new emperor penguin colonies using satellite imagery (image credit: BAS)
• July 31, 2020: The Flinders mountains in South Australia are a classic example of a folded mountain range, which are formed when two or more of Earth’s tectonic plates collide – folding and pushing layers of land into mountain ranges. 42)
- The formation of the Flinders Range began to form around 800 million years ago, when an ancient sea deposited sediments into the Adelaide Geosyncline basin. Millions of years later, the sediments were folded into mountains, which have since eroded. However, the folded rocks remained and were uplifted to create the landscape as we see it today.
- The Flinders Ranges stretches for over 400 km across the Australian outback – from Port Pirie to Lake Callabonna. The first humans to inhabit the Flinders Ranges were the Adnyamathanha people, who have inhabited the range for tens of thousands of years.
- The area pictured here shows the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park in the Northern Flinders Ranges. The rugged park’s main attractions include deep gorges, chasms and an impressive wilderness. Numerous creeks appear like veins across the entire image, while the straight, white lines visible in the bottom right are dirt roads.
- Slightly west of the image pictured here lies the Ediacara Hills, where some of the oldest fossil evidence of animal life was discovered.
- The flora of the Flinders Ranges are largely species who have adapted to a semi-arid environment, including sugar gum tree, cypress-pine and mallee. Since the eradication of dingoes in the area, the number of red kangaroos, western grey kangaroos and wallaroos in the mountains has increased.
Figure 22: The many colorful curves and folds of the Flinders Ranges – the largest mountain range in South Australia – are featured in this false-color image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. This image, also featured on the Earth from Space video program, was captured on 31 December 2019 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission – a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus program. The image was processed by selecting spectral bands that can be used for classifying geological features (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• July 17, 2020: The Great Salt Lake is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere, and one of the most saline inland bodies of water in the world. The Great Salt Lake is the largest of the lake remnants of prehistoric freshwater Lake Bonneville, that once covered much of western Utah. 43)
- The lake is fed by the Bear, Weber and Jordan rivers which, together, deposit around 1 million tons of minerals in the lake each year. As the lake is endorheic, meaning without an outlet, the water evaporates which leads to a very high salt concentration. It greatly fluctuates in size, depending on the rates of evaporation and the flow of the rivers that feed it.
- The distinct color differences in the lake are caused by the Lucin Cutoff, an east-west causeway built to create a shorter route. The railroad line is visible as a sharp line cutting across the top part of the lake. This acts as a dam, preventing the waters to mix, leading to the north basin having a much higher salinity than the southern, freshwater side of the lake.
- As the lake’s main tributaries enter from the south, the water level of the southern section is slightly higher than that of the northern part. Several small islands, the largest of which are Antelope and Fremont, lie in the southern part of the lake.
- The lake’s varying shoreline consists of beaches, marshes and mudflats. The bright, turquoise colors visible on both sides of the lake are evaporation ponds, from which various salts are collected in commercial operations. Although it is commonly referred to as America’s Dead Sea, the lake is nevertheless an important habitat for millions of native and migratory birds. It is also home to several types of algae, brine shrimp and brine flies.
- The lake’s basin is defined by the foothills of the snow-capped Wasatch Range, to the east, and by the Great Salt Lake Desert, a remnant of the bed of Lake Bonneville, to the west. This part of the desert is known as the Bonneville Salt Flats and is used as an automobile raceway, as the flat and smooth salt beds make the area ideally suited for speed trials. Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, is visible in the bottom right of the image.
Figure 23: Utah’s Great Salt Lake and its surroundings are featured in this false-color image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. This image, which was captured on 17 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)
- This image was processed in a way that included the near-infrared channel, which makes vegetation appear in red, while rocks and bare soil appear in brown. Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission. Each satellite carries a high-resolution camera that images Earth’s surface in 13 spectral bands. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in inland water bodies to be closely monitored.
• July 3, 2020: A popular tourist and diving destination with white sandy beaches, the Republic of Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean, around 700 km southwest of Sri Lanka. This island nation consists of a chain of around 1200 small coral islands that are grouped into clusters of atolls – scattered across 90,000 km2 of ocean. 44)
- An atoll is a circular or oval-shaped reef structure with a lagoon in the center. These structures typically form around a volcanic island that has subsided while the coral grows upwards. The Maldives actually rests on top of an ancient volcanic mountain range.
- One of the world’s lowest-lying countries, more than 80% of the Maldives’ land is less than one meter above average sea level. This extremely low elevation makes the country, and its inhabitants, particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise.
- Satellite data has shown that the global ocean has risen, on average, 3 mm a year over the last 25 years. But more alarmingly, satellite data shows the rate of the rise has accelerated over the last few years, and has been rising at around 5 mm per year. Warming ocean waters, melting glaciers and diminishing ice sheets is making rising sea levels a real threat for low-lying islands such as the Maldives.
- The upcoming Copernicus Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, set to launch in November 2020, will map up to 95% of Earth’s oceans every 10 days. The satellite carries a new generation radar altimeter that will observe annual changes in mean sea level with millimeter precision, together with measurements of surface wind speed, sea state and geostrophic ocean currents. This new satellite will assume the role as a reference mission to provide critical data for the long-term record of sea-surface height measurements.
- These measurements are not only essential for monitoring our rising seas, but also for climate prediction, sustainable ocean-resource management, coastal management and environmental protection.
- ESA is jointly developing the mission with its partners NASA, the European Commission, EUMETSAT and NOAA, with support from CNES.
Figure 24: In this image, the Ari Atoll in the west of the archipelago is featured. The Ari Atoll is one of the largest atolls in the Maldives, and is around 90 km long and 30 km wide. The turquoise colors in the image depict clear, shallow waters which contrasts with the dark colored waters of the deep Indian Ocean. Several clouds can be seen at the bottom of the image. This image of Sentinel-2, which was captured on 12 April 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)
• June 30, 2020: On today's Asteroid Day, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Roter Kamm impact crater in Namibia. The circular shape of the crater rim can be seen in the left of the image, just below the center. 45)
- The Roter Kamm impact crater is located in the Tsau llKhaeb National Park, also known as the Sperrgebiet, a diamond mining area in the Namib Desert, in southwest Namibia. According to geologists, the crater was formed by a meteorite around the size of a large vehicle that collided with Earth approximately 5 million years ago.
- The crater has a diameter of 2.5 km and is around 130 m deep. It is clearly visible in the midst of the rust-red dunes, with its rims rising some 40 to 90 m above the surrounding plain. Its floors are covered by sand deposits at least 100 m thick.
- Meteorites and asteroids have influenced Earth’s development, as seen by the millions of impact craters scarring our world. Each year on 30 June, the worldwide UN-sanctioned Asteroid Day takes place to raise awareness about asteroids and what can be done to protect Earth from possible impact. The day falls on the anniversary of the Tunguska event that took place on 30 June 1908 in Siberia, the most harmful known asteroid related event in recent history.
- Over the last two decades, ESA has been performing detection and analysis of asteroids whose orbits bring them close to Earth, known as near-Earth objects (NEOs). There are an estimated 40,000,000 NEOs out there larger than 10 m – the threshold above which damage on the ground could happen.
- ESA is also developing the Hera mission, which will be the first to test the effectiveness of asteroid deflection, as it flies to the Didymos binary system that will soon be impacted by NASA’s DART. If an asteroid is detected that is on collision course with Earth, these missions mean we will be more prepared to act.
Figure 25: Image of the Roter Kamm impact crater in Namibia, acquired with Sentinel-2. The circular shape of the crater rim can be seen in the left of the image, just below the center (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 26, 2020: The Andes mountains, in southern Peru, are featured in this false-color image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. This image was processed in a way that makes vegetation appear blue, while irrigated vegetation and agriculture is visible in bright blue. 46)
- The Andes are considered the longest continental mountain range in the world. They extend around 7000 km through seven South American countries – from Venezuela in the north all the way to Chile in the south.
- The mountain range is the result of the Nazca and Antarctic tectonic plates moving under the South American plate in a geological process called subduction. Wind and water erosion are also a major factor for the shaping of the landscape.
- The small town of Puquio, with an elevation of over 3000 m, can be seen in the top right of the image – surrounded by vegetation. Directly to the left of Puquio, lies the Pampa Galeras National Reserve. This reserve protects the habitat of the threatened vicuña, a wild camelid which live in the high alpine areas of the Andes.
- The clouds in the bottom-left of the image are an example of marine stratocumulus. These low-lying clouds are caused by cooler waters in the Pacific Ocean being pulled up to the surface, cooling the air above it, and causing water vapor to condense into water droplets and, eventually, clouds. Marine stratocumulus clouds often develop off of Peru, with prevailing winds pushing the clouds inland. As the clouds are low, they are easily blocked by coastal mountains and hills, such as the Andes.
- Under the small cloud in the upper left of the image, lies the city of Nazca. Northwest of Nazca, the famous site of the Nazca lines can be found (not visible). The Nazca lines are a group of geoglyphs, or drawings, etched into the surface of the arid plain. The figures depict various plants, animals and many other shapes and extend over an area of around 500 km2.
Figure 26: In this image of Sentinel-2, captured on 16 June 2020, parts of the Ica, Ayacucho and Arequipa Regions in Peru are featured. Streams of water flowing from the high altitudes, and through the valleys, provide water for irrigation to the nearby agricultural fields. Some of these agricultural plots can be seen in bright blue 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 (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• June 19, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over part of the Great Rift Valley, Kenya. This valley is part of the Gregory Rift, an eastern branch of the East African Rift, which is being caused by the separation of the Somali plate from the Nubian plate. Major tectonic and volcanic activity have shaped the distinctive landscape of the Great Rift Valley which runs through Kenya from north to south. 47)
- The dramatic landscape contains the Cherangani Hills and forests to the west, a chain of volcanoes, of which some are still active, escarpments and jewel-like lakes.
- Lake Baringo, one of the most northern of the Kenyan Rift Valley lakes, is visible at the top of the image. With a surface area of 130 km2 and an elevation of around 970 m, the lake has an average depth of around 5 m and it is one of the two freshwater lakes in the Rift Valley – the other being Lake Naivasha (not visible).
- This lake has no visible outlet; its waters are thought to seep into lavas at its northern end – where the rocky shore contrasts with the alluvial flat on its southern border.
- Baringo is dotted with several small islands. Its largest is visible in the center of the lake and is called Ol Kokwe (also known as the Meeting Place). It is an extinct volcano with several hot springs. A great variety of birds inhabit Lake Baringo, which is also home to hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
- South of Lake Baringo lies Lake Bogoria – a saline, alkaline lake. The long and narrow lake has an area of around 30 km2 and is around 10 m deep. Lake Bogoria provides refuge for the lesser flamingo, with a population of around 1 to 1.5 million, and also supports more than 300 waterbird species. The lake is a designated Ramsar site and is also part of the Lake Bogoria National Reserve.
- The lake is famous for geysers and hot springs along the bank of the lake – some of which can erupt up to 5 m high. The lake’s stable water level makes it highly important during times of drought.
Figure 27: This Sentinel-2 image of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya was captured on 13 March 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)
• June 12, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain. 48)
- On the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona occupies a low plateau along the Mediterranean coastal plain. The city and its red roofs contrast with the forested hills and the sea that surround it.
- The famous Avinguda Diagonal avenue can be seen in the right of the image. The road is one of Barcelona’s broadest avenues and cuts the city diagonally in two, hence its name. The circular Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes was meant to be the city center in the original urban plan, but nowadays is used largely as a roundabout.
- Dominating the left side of the image are the Garraf Massif mountains, their cliffs reaching the Mediterranean coast. Its highest point on the coastal side is La Morella – almost 600 m above sea level.
- The Llobregat River can be seen entering the image in the top left. The river rises in the eastern Pyrenees and flows southeast before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Before reaching the sea, the river forms a small delta, which used to provide a large extension of fertile land but is now largely urbanized. Barcelona-El Prat airport can be seen to the left of the river. Along the coast, the port of Barcelona, one of Europe’s top ten largest container ports, is visible.
- Barcelona is home to the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – the largest engineering university in Catalonia. In 2017, the university won ESA’s Small Satellite Challenge and the top prize at the Copernicus Masters competition with its Federated Satellite Systems (FSSCat) project. The FSSCat mission consists of two small CubeSat satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, and will use state-of-the-art dual microwave and multispectral optical sensors.
- Φ-sat-1 – an enhancement of FSSCat carried on one of the two CubeSats – is set to launch soon from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou. It will be the first experiment to demonstrate how artificial intelligence can be used for Earth observation. Φ-sat-1 will have the ability to filter out less than perfect images so that only usable data are returned to Earth. This will allow for the efficient handling of data so that users will have access to timely information – ultimately benefiting society at large.
Figure 28: This image of Sentinel-2, which was captured on 16 March 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Φ-sat-1 will acquire an enormous number of images that will allow scientists to detect urban heat islands, monitor changes in vegetation and water quality, as well as carry out experiments on the role of evapotranspiration in climate change.
• June 9, 2020: The coronavirus pandemic has brought the tourism and travel industry to a near-standstill, with nationwide lockdowns significantly impacting the aviation and maritime industry worldwide. Satellite images, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, show parked aircraft and anchored vessels in times of COVID-19. 49)
- Global aviation is facing its battle to survive, with most flights grounded since March owing to travel restrictions in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic. According to aviation industry researcher Cirium, the number of passenger jets in service is the lowest it has been in 26 years.
- Managing large-scale storage poses a challenge for the industry, as airlines hunt for space on the ground for storage facilities. Taxiways, hangers and even runways at major airports around the world are being transformed into parking spaces for planes. These images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission show the numerous parked planes on runways – even in remote airports such as Alice Springs in Australia.
- Airport storage facilities are sometimes referred to as ‘boneyards’ owing to airlines sending retired aircraft to the desert. These boneyards are often located in dry and arid places as the climate means planes can be preserved in excellent condition before returning to service or being reused.
- Teruel Airport in the Aragon province in Spain was built with this purpose in mind. According to a recent report in Reuters, the airport is hosting around 100 aircraft and the number of planes arriving per week to be parked in the airport has doubled since the start of the global pandemic.
- Another sector heavily affected by the pandemic is the cruise ship industry. Major cruise lines have suspended operations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Cruise ship operators around the world have struggled to find open ports to disembark, while some were forced to stay anchored at sea for an extended period of time.
Figure 29: Parked planes. These images show parked planes at various airports around the world during the coronavirus pandemic. The Copernicus Sentinel-2 images were captured in May 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Figure 30: Manila Bay, in the Philippines, has been transformed into a parking lot for cruise ships. In this animation, around 20 vessels can be seen anchored off the coast of Manila Bay. Captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, this animation contains a sequence of images captured on 22 April, 2 May and 22 May 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- According to Reuters, the cruise ships have been asked to wait in the Manila Bay anchorage area with hundreds of seafarers remaining on board awaiting clearance in order to return home. The famous Diamond Princess and Ruby Princess vessels are said to be among the fleet.
- In order to learn more about space applications and the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, ESA and the European Commission recently unveiled the new ‘Rapid Action Coronavirus Earth observation’ dashboard, also known as RACE. The platform uses Earth observation satellite data to measure the impact of the coronavirus lockdown worldwide, and monitor post-lockdown recovery.
• June 5, 2020: A state of emergency has been declared after some 20,000 tons of diesel oil leaked into a river within the Arctic Circle. Images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission show the extent of the spill. 50)
- According to media reports, the spillage occurred when a fuel tank at a power plant near Norilsk, operated by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, collapsed on Friday 29 May. The leaked oil is reported to have drifted around 12 km from the accident site. In this animation, diesel oil is visible in the Ambarnaya River on both 31 May and 1 June – easily identifiable in crimson red.
Figure 31: The images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission show the extent of the Arctic Circle oil spill (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The Ambarnaya River flows into Lake Pyasino – a major body of water and source of the Pysaina River. Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus program. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in water bodies to be closely monitored.
• June 5, 2020: This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, takes us over part of Channel Country – a pastoral region located mostly in southwest Queensland, Australia. The name derives from the many intertwined rivers and channels that cut across the 155,000 km2 region during times of high water. 51)
- The landscape is mostly arid and includes flat alluvial terrain that is drained by the Georgina, Thomson, Diamantina and Barcoo rivers. This desert region usually becomes lush with greenery after periods of flooding, and the land is used for cattle grazing.
- In late March 2019, tropical cyclone Trevor hit northwest Queensland and produced heavy rain as it moved inland. According to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology, major flood levels were recorded across the Channel Country catchments.
Figure 32: This false-color image, captured shortly after the cyclone hit, on 5 April 2019, was processed in a way that included the near-infrared channel – which makes vegetation appear bright red. Mud and sediments in the waters of the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers and the other smaller channels can be seen in cyan. Desert, bare soil and rocks are visible in shades of 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)
- Flooded waters then usually empty into the Lake Eyre Basin (not visible), one of the driest areas in Australia.
- In the bottom left of the image, the Lake Machattie area is visible. Covering an area of around 900 km2, the area comprises three freshwater lakes: Lake Machattie, Lake Mipia, and Lake Koolivoo, and two nearby floodplains. The region is a designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by Birdlife International as it has supported over 300,000 water birds.
- The 5 June marks World Environment Day, which aims to raise awareness and take action on urgent environmental issues. World Environment Day 2020 calls for urgent action to protect biodiversity.
• May 29, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over part of Abu Dhabi – one of the seven emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 52)
- Covering an area of approximately 67,000 km2, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate in the UAE – accounting for around 87% of the total land area of the federation. Abu Dhabi has around 200 islands lying along its 700 km long coastline.
Figure 33: The city of Abu Dhabi, after which the emirate is named, is located on an island in the Persian Gulf and can be seen slightly below the center of the image. Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second-most populous city of the UAE – after Dubai. The city is directly connected to the mainland by three bridges: Maqta, Mussafah and Sheikh Zayed. This image, captured on 27 January 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)
- Just east of the city lies the Mangrove National Park, visible as a dark green patch of land. The protected area is around 20 km2 and includes mangrove forests, salt marshes, mudflats and is home to more than 60 bird species.
- The waters surrounding Abu Dhabi are said to hold the world’s largest population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The lighter aqua colors are shallow waters, which contrast with the dark colored waters of the Gulf.
- The iconic red roof of Ferrari World can be seen in the center-right of the image. The Ferrari-themed park is located on Yas Island and is said to be the world’s largest indoor theme park. Abu Dhabi International Airport is visible southeast of the park.
• May 28, 2020: River ice jams are a prime source of flood risk in cold regions. In April 2020, an ice jam developed on the Athabasca River in Canada – leading to the flooding of Fort McMurray. Satellite data provided by the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinels, are lending a hand to monitor river ice conditions. 53)
- Ice jams can occur at any time in winter, but the ones that take place during spring’s river ice breakup tend to be the most common and destructive. The flooding in Fort McMurray displaced some 13,000 people and damaged 1200 properties.
- The independent Dutch institute for applied research, Deltares, are working together with the River Ice Team of Alberta Environment and Parks and, with scientific support from Natural Resources Canada, to set-up operational access to near real-time satellite data, and develop and implement methods to detect and classify river ice.
- Read full story: Copernicus Sentinels help classify river ice.
Figure 34: This false-color image was captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission and shows the extent of the flooding. This composite image contains images acquired on 28 April (majority of image, bottom right) and 29 April 2020 (top left). White lines in the image indicate the normal extent of the river channel (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by Deltares)
• May 22, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over part of Chile's Atacama Desert, which is bound on the west by the Pacific and on the east by the Andes. The Atacama is considered one of the driest places on Earth – there are some parts of the desert where rainfall has never been recorded. 54)
Figure 35: In this image, captured on 26 June 2019, a specific area in the Tarapacá Region, in northern Chile, is featured – where some of the largest caliche deposits can be found. It is here where nitrates, lithium, potassium and iodine are mined. 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)
- Iodine, for example, is extracted in a process called heap leaching – which is widely used in modern large-scale mining operations. Leach piles are visible as rectangular shapes dotted around the image, although the exact reason for the different shades of color is uncertain. Some leach piles could appear lighter or darker owing to the varying water content or soil type concentration.
- The geometric shapes in the right are large evaporation ponds. Brine is pumped to the surface through a network of wells into the shallow ponds. The dry and windy climate enhances the evaporation of the water and leaves concentrated salts behind for the extraction of lithium – which is used in the manufacturing of batteries.
- The bright, turquoise colors of the evaporation ponds are in stark contrast with the surrounding desert landscape – making them easily identifiable from space. Distinctive black lines visible in the image are roads that connect to the various construction sites.
- Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus program. This false-color image was processed by selecting spectral bands that can be used for classifying geological features.
• May 15, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over San Francisco Bay in the US state of California. 55)
- San Francisco Bay, almost 100 km in length (Figure 36), is a shallow estuary surrounded by the San Francisco Bay Area – an extensive metropolitan region that is dominated by large cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. The densely populated urban areas around the bay contrast strongly with the surrounding green forest and park areas.
- The Golden Gate Bridge, around 2.7 km long, is visible crossing the opening of the bay into the Pacific Ocean between Marin County and the city of San Francisco – which can be seen at the tip of the southern peninsula in the center of the image. Treasure, Angel and Alcatraz islands can be seen sticking out of the waters of the bay, with several bridges connecting its east and west shores. Several boats are also visible.
- The bright green and yellow colors in the bottom right of the image are salt ponds and are part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. Covering an area of around 120 km2, the refuge contains salt marsh, mudflat and vernal pool habitats for millions of migratory birds and endangered species.
Figure 36: In the upper right of the image, the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers is visible – with the brown, sediment-filled water flowing down into San Pablo Bay. Here, the murky waters mix before flowing into the larger bay area, which is connected to the Pacific Ocean via the Golden Gate strait. A large sediment plume can be seen travelling westward into the Pacific in the left of the image. This image, captured on 25 January 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)
• May 01, 2020: This week's image of the Earth from Space Program explores the Southern Ukraine. Owing to Ukraine’s climate and arable land, agriculture plays a large role in the country’s economy. In this image, captured on 26 June 2019, a patchwork of agricultural fields dominate the landscape. Ukraine’s main grain crops are winter wheat, spring barley and corn. 56)
Figure 37: Southern Ukraine 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. 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)
- Circular shapes in the image are an example of center-pivot irrigation systems, where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers.
- The bright red contrasts with the black waters of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnieper River, visible at the top of the image. Canals are visible as thin, black lines cutting through the agricultural fields, and are mostly used for water supply and irrigation of the surrounding farmlands.
- In the far left of the image, the oval-shaped Oleshky Sands is visible. Covering an area of around 160 km2, this large expanse of sand is considered a small desert in the Ukraine. The grassy plains that used to cover the area are said to have died off hundreds of years ago owing to sheep farming – initiating the area’s desertification.
- In the bottom-right of the image, a colorful network of salty lagoons lie along the northern border of the Crimean Peninsula. These shallow, marshy inlets are known as Syvash (also Sivash or Sivaš). During summer months, the warmer marsh waters leave unpleasant odors – earning the region the nicknames ‘Putrid Sea’ and ‘Rotten Sea.’
• April 24, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over part of the Namib Desert in western Namibia. At 55 million years old, Namib is considered the oldest desert on Earth. 57)
- The Namib-Naukluft National Park's main attraction is Sossusvlei – a large salt and clay pan visible in the center of the image (Figure 38). The bright white floors of the pan contrasts with the rust-red dunes that surround it.
- Sossusvlei acts as an endorheic basin for the Tsauchab River – an ephemeral river flowing from the east. Owing to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert, the river rarely flows this far and the pan usually remains dry most years. In the past, water from the Tsauchab has reached the Atlantic coast a further 60 km away.
- These dunes contrast with the saffron-colored dunes visible in the Namib Sand Sea, just south of Soussusvlei. The sand sea consists of two dune seas, one on top of another. The foundation of the ancient sand sea has existed for at least 21 million years, while the younger sand on top has existed for around 5 million years. The dunes here are formed by the transportation of materials from thousands of kilometers away, carried by river, ocean current and wind.
- The Namib Sand Sea is the only coastal desert in the world to contain large dune fields influenced by fog – the primary source of water for the Namib Sand Sea. Haze is visible in the bottom left of the image, the last leftovers of fog coming from the Atlantic Ocean.
Figure 38: In this image, captured on 27 October 2019, a large portion of the Namib-Naukluft National Park is visible. The park covers an area of almost 50,000 km2 and encompasses part of the Namib Desert and the Naukluft Mountains to the east. Straight, white lines visible in the right of the image are roads that connect the Namib-Naukluft National Park with other parts of Namibia. This image is 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 23, 2020: While the COVID-19 virus pandemic is forcing everybody to stay at home, we bring you these beautiful views from space of the Dutch tulip fields coming into bloom. Captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 5 April, 10 April, 15 April and 20 April 2020, this sequence of images shows how the fields change from browns and greens to an array of vibrant colors. Lasting just a few weeks, the beauty of these colors normally attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. Sadly, this is not the case this year, as the COVID-19 crisis means that people cannot travel and even locals are actively discouraged from visiting the fields. 58)
Figure 39: The image features the area around the small town Lisse, home to the world-famous showcase for floriculture the Keukenhof flower park. The area, which lies close to the coast in the Dutch province of South Holland, is famed for producing bulbs which are exported all over the globe. The fields are only in bloom for a few short weeks. When the tulips reach full bloom, the farmers quickly remove their colorful heads to divert the flowers' energy back to the bulbs to help keep them strong (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Keukenhof will not open this year: On 23 March, the Dutch government tightened up the measures to prevent the spread of the corona virus. All meetings and events will be canceled until June 1, even with less than 100 visitors. This means that Keukenhof Flower Exhibition cannot open in 2020.
• April 17, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Montevideo – the capital and largest city of Uruguay. 59)
- With an area of around 175,000 km2, Uruguay is geographically the second smallest nation in South America. Around half of the country’s total population lives in the Montevideo metropolitan area – visible as a grey, gridded expanse in this week’s image.
- Montevideo is the southernmost capital city in the Americas and is known for its beaches – visible east of the city. The Rambla of Montevideo, the city’s famous promenade, stretches for 27 km along the coast – making it one of the longest esplanades in the world.
- Montevideo lies on the northern shore of the River Plate, known as Río de la Plata in Spanish, an estuary formed by the confluence of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers. The Santa Lucia River, visible west of Montevideo, forms the natural border between Montevideo and the San José Department. The Santa Lucía River flows for around 230 km before forming a small delta and emptying into the River Plate. It is here that the river’s silt-laden waters, visible in dark brown, mix with the murky colored waters of the River Plate.
- Water from these two rivers then flows eastwards and mixes with the clearer, turquoise-colored waters of the South Atlantic Ocean – visible in the far-right of the image.
Figure 40: This image was captured on 18 October 2019 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission – a two-satellite mission to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus program. The mission’s frequent revisits over the same area and high spatial resolution allow changes in land cover and water bodies 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)
• April 16, 2020: With an outbreak of wildfires recently threatening the closed Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service has been activated and the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission has imaged the fires and smoke, and mapped the resulting area of burned ground. 60)
- Thankfully, heavy rain yesterday means that most of the flames have now been extinguished. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian authorities also reported yesterday that there was still more than 500 firefighters, 124 fire engines and several helicopters still working to contain the smouldering.
- In 1986, the nuclear site suffered a disastrous meltdown that spread radioactive fallout across Europe. The concerns were that the fires could reach the defunct nuclear reactor and a storage site for radioactive waste, and that there could be a risk of exposure to increased radiation from the burning of contaminated forest and soil.
- Fires around Chernobyl are a seasonal phenomenon, but have been worse than normal this year owing to a mild winter and spring that has left the forest floor dry.
- Satellites are key to keeping an eye on vulnerable regions such as this. Each of the two satellites in Copernicus Sentinel-2 constellation is equipped with a wide-swath multispectral sensor that can image in 13 spectral bands.
Figure 41: An outbreak of wildfires recently threatening the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The animation above uses images from Copernicus Sentinel-2 to show the situation prior to the fires on 7 April, and then on 12 April. The image from 12 April is from one acquisition, but has been processed to show thermal anomalies, smoke from the fires and then the burned area through the smoke (image credit: ESA, the image contains Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The mission is being used as part of an activation of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service to provide maps of the burned area to help authorities respond to the consequences of this recent fire. The image on the right is an example of a map being provided through the service.
Figure 42: This map has been generated by the Copernicus Emergency Management Service using an image acquired by Copernicus Sentinel-2 on 12 April 2020. The map shows the burned area around Chernobyl in the Ukraine following an outbreak of wildfires. The Emergency Management Service was activated on 14 April 2020 to help in the response to the fires (image credit: ESA, Copernicus Emergency Management Service)
- Using satellite data, the service provides information for emergency response for different types of disasters, including meteorological and geophysical hazards, deliberate and accidental disasters, humanitarian disasters, and for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities.
- The animation featured in Figures 41 and 42 uses images from Copernicus Sentinel-2 to show the situation prior to the fires on 7 April, and then on 12 April. The image from 12 April is from one acquisition, but has been processed to show the smoke from the fires and then the burned area through the smoke.
Figure 43: This extract of a burned area mapping product was generated by the CIMA Foundation and Fadeout using the WASDI processing environment. It is based on images acquired by Copernicus Sentinel-2 on 26 March and 10 April 2020. It shows the burned area around Chernobyl in the Ukraine on 10 April following an outbreak of wildfires. CIMA Foundation is leading an ESA project called eDRIFT that is looking at Disaster Risk Financing using Cloud processing of Copernicus Sentinel imagery (image credit: ESA, the image contains Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by CIMA Foundation and Fadeout srl)
• April 14, 2020: Italy’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease has led to a decrease of boat traffic in Venice’s famous waterways – as captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. 61)
- The Italian government imposed a nationwide lockdown on 9 March 2020, drastically reducing the movement of Venice’s boats including the ‘vaporetti,’ or water buses, as well as cruise ships.
- The Grand Canal and the Giudecca Channel appear almost empty compared to last year, and traffic from Venice to the island of Murano appears to be non-existent. Two large cruise ships can be seen in the U-shaped Port of Venice in 2019, west of the city, while this year the port appears empty.
Figure 44: These images show one of the effects of the locked-down city of Venice, in northern Italy. The top image, captured 13 April 2020, shows a distinct lack of boat traffic compared to the image from 19 April 2019 (image credit: ESA, the images contain modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- According to the Italian news agency, ANSA, the streets and canals of Venice remained almost empty over Easter – with only police officers patrolling the streets and waterways.
- Meanwhile, the lockdown has led to a sharp decline in air pollution across Europe – particularly in Rome and the Po Valley in northern Italy.
• April 10, 2020: In this week's edition of the Earth from Space program, Copernicus Sentinel-2 takes us over an area in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. 62)
- The term ‘wheat belt’ refers to inland agricultural areas in eastern and southern Australia named for their production of wheat – which was the main agricultural product in the early history of Australia’s development. Wheatbelt areas are usually arid, making agriculture largely reliant on rainfall and irrigation.
- The Wheatbelt is one of the nine regions of Western Australia and lies in the southwest section of the state. Covering an area of around 160,000 km2, the region only has an estimated population of around 75,000 residents.
- This image shows a part of the region which is very arid and is used mainly for agricultural production. The area is a major producer of wheat, barley and wool. The area is also used for the livestock production and the pastoral sheep farming, as well as horticulture.
- Fields have a distinctive appearance in this week’s image, creating a colorful patchwork of geometric shapes. This composite image of Figure 45 was created by combining three separate images from the near-infrared channel from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission.
Figure 45: The first image, from 9 May 2019, is visible in red; the second from 6 September 2019, can be seen in green; and the third from January 2020 can be seen in blue. All other colors visible in the image are different mixtures of red, green and blue, and vary according to their stage of growth over the nine-month period. 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)
- According to reports from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia’s climate has changed over recent decades, with significant reductions in growing-season rainfall. Climate variability and changing weather patterns strongly affect agriculture – increasing production risk for crops and pastures.
- Owing to their unique perspective from space, Earth observation satellites are key in mapping and monitoring croplands. The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission is specifically designed to provide images that can be used to distinguish between different crop types as well as data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area index, leaf chlorophyll content and leaf water content – all of which are essential to accurately monitor plant growth.
• April 03, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Finistère – a French department in the west of Brittany. 63)
- Brittany is an important cultural region in the northwest of France. Previously a kingdom, then a duchy, Brittany was united with France in 1532. Today, Brittany is divided into four departments: Ille-et-Vilaine in the east, Morbihan in the south, Côtes d'Armor in the north and Finistère in the west. Brittany has over 1000 km of coastline – with a wide range of beaches and rocky, coastal scenery making it a popular holiday destination.
Figure 46: Fields blanket the French countryside and dominate this image captured on 27 September 2018 with Sentinel-2. Brittany is one of France’s leading vegetable growing regions known for its artichokes, cauliflowers, carrots and potatoes. In fact, France is one of the EU’s leading agricultural countries and is home to around a third of all agricultural land in the EU. 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)
- The city of Brest can be seen in the left of the image, lying along the sheltered bay close to the western tip of the peninsula. With a population of around 150,000, Brest is the largest city in the Finistère department. The port town played an important role in French history as it was a key naval base during World War II.
- Just west of Brest lies Pointe de Corsen, otherwise known as the westernmost point of continental France. The name Finistère derives from the Latin ‘Finis Terræ’ – meaning ‘end of the earth’.
- Ushant, or Ouessant in French, and the Iroise Islands lie around 30 km from the coast of France and can be seen in the left of the image.
- The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission is designed to provide images that can be used to distinguish between different crop types as well as data on numerous plant indices, such as leaf area, leaf chlorophyll and leaf water – all essential to monitor plant growth accurately.
• March 20, 2020: Earth’s land is covered by a range of different types of vegetation, from forest and marsh to crops and bodies of water, as well as the artificial surfaces that are an increasingly common feature of our landscape. 64)
- Mapping land cover is not only essential for monitoring change, but it also underpins numerous practical applications. However, generating these maps entails handling huge amounts of satellite data and some technical expertise. Thanks to the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission and new cloud-computing resources, fully automated land-cover maps in 10 m resolution are on the horizon.
- Natural processes, climate change and the way we use land to feed, shelter and support a growing population means that Earth’s land cover is in a continual state of change.
- Information on land cover is important at many levels – at local, regional, national and global scales, and over different timescales.
- Up-to-date maps are a basic source of information to track the impact that human activity, natural processes and climate change have on land cover. These maps are critical for making informed policy, development and resource management decisions, and for disciplines such as agriculture, forestry, water management, urban planning, environmental protection and crisis management.
- While the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission delivers ideal images to map land cover, producing maps means that huge amounts of time-series data have to be processed. To make this possible, the ESA-funded Sentinel-2 for Science Land Cover project explored novel ways of capitalizing on the latest cloud-computing technologies and machine learning to automate mapping. While still in the experimental stage, the results demonstrate that fully-automated mapping is just around the corner. For example, Europe’s land-cover has been mapped showing 13 land cover classifications.
- Orbiting almost 800 km above, the two-satellite Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission is on hand to map land cover in 10 m resolution.
Figure 47: Europe land-cover mapped in 10 m resolution of 2017 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by CBK PANsí mi)
- Each identical satellite carries a multispectral imager that can distinguish between different classes of cover such as forest, cultivated areas, grassland, water and artificial surfaces like roads and buildings. The mission can also be used to determine plant indices such as the amount of chlorophyll and water in leaves so that changes in plant health and growth can be monitored.
Figure 48: Austria land cover map (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by CBK PANsí mi)
- Through this experiment, different methodologies were explored and tested over different areas of the world, including the full European region.
- The scientists used dedicated software developed by the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences, CBK PAN, to process the satellite images and auxiliary data.
- Stanislaw Lewinski, from CBK PAN, said, “Indeed mapping land cover is a real technical undertaking, but thanks to funding from ESA we have developed a classification methodology that is mainly automated to make land-cover mapping easier.
Figure 49: Poland land cover map (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by CBK PANsí mi)
- “Our system is based on Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery where each image tile has been classified separately using a set of images from different times, and we chose a pixel-based approach to maintain the mission’s 10 m resolution. Importantly, it also involved many tests in selected areas across Europe. The final maps have been produced on a platform called CREODIAS with the algorithms and software that we developed.”
- CREODIAS is a large-scale computing and data storage platform that enables processing and publication of results of large-scale data analysis activities. The result is a map of Europe at 10 m resolution displaying 13 land-cover classes.
- ESA’s Espen Volden noted, “While we are still in the experimental stage and some land-cover classes don’t reach an accuracy that can be exploited directly and there are some other artefacts, the results are very promising. We demonstrate that fully-automated mapping is on the horizon, opening the way to much more frequently updated land-cover information than has been possible so far.”
Figure 50: Italy’s land classified map (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by CBK PANsí mi)
Viewing and download
- The map of Europe at 10 m resolution displaying 13 land-cover classes can be viewed in full resolution on the CREOSIAS EO Browser (select S2GLC and click search), or accessed as a WMS layer for expert use.
- All classified Sentinel-2 tiles can be downloaded from the CREODIAS finder.
Figure 51: Greece land cover map (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by CBK PANsí mi)
• March 20, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Kuwait in the Middle East. With a total area of around 17,800 km2, Kuwait is considered one of the smallest countries in the world. At its most distant points, it is around 200 km north to south and 170 km east to west. 65)
- Situated in the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula, Kuwait shares its borders with Iraq to the north and Saudi Arabia to the south. Kuwait is generally low lying, with the highest point being only 300 m above sea level.
Figure 52: The flat, sandy Arabian Desert covers the majority of Kuwait and appears as a vast expanse of light sand-colored terrain in this image, captured on 25 July 2019. During the dry season, between April and September, the heat in the desert can be severe with daytime temperatures reaching 45ºC and, on occasion, over 50ºC. 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)
- Kuwait City, visible jutting out into Kuwait Bay, holds most of the country’s population – making Kuwait one of the most urbanized countries in the world.
- The various colors of Kuwait Bay come from a combination of wind and the amount of sunlight reflected off the waters. The Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah Causeway can be seen cutting across the bay. The bridge is 36 km long – making it the fourth largest bridge in the world.
- Al-Jahra lies around 50 km west of Kuwait City and is visible as a small, green oasis on the west side of Kuwait Bay. It is the center of the country’s principal agricultural region – producing primarily fruits and vegetables. The circular shapes to the right of Al-Jahra are an example of the pivot irrigation or center-pivot irrigation method, where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers.
- Just south of Kuwait City lies the Great Burgan oil field – considered the second largest oil field in the world. The Great Burgan comprises three smaller fields: Burgan, Al-Maqwa and Al-Ahmadi. The oil fields can be identified an extensive network of interlocking roads which connect the individual wellheads.
- Satellites, such as Copernicus Sentinel-2, allow us to capture images such as these from space, but also allows us to monitor changing places on Earth. Flying 800 km above, satellites take the pulse of our planet by systematically imaging and measuring changes taking place, which is particularly important in regions that are otherwise difficult to access.
• March 13, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Victoria Falls – one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Victoria Falls, known locally as Mosi-oa Tunya or ‘the smoke that thunders,’ lies along the course of the Zambezi River, on the border between Zambia to the north and Zimbabwe to the south. The Zambezi River flows for around 3500 km from its source on the Central African Plateau and empties into the Indian Ocean. 66)
Figure 53: In this image, captured on 22 February 2019, the river cuts from left to right in the image before plunging over Victoria Falls – visible as a white line in the image. While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls has a width of around 1700 m and a height of over 100 m which classifies it as the world’s largest sheet of falling water. 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)
- The spray from the falls normally rises to a height of over 400 m and is sometimes visible from up to 40 km away. The water from the Zambezi River then continues and enters a narrow, zigzagging series of gorges, visible in the bottom right of the image.
- Despite recent reports of Victoria Falls drying up, the Zambezi River is subject to large seasonal fluctuations – with water levels rising and dropping dramatically throughout the year. According to the Zambezi River Authority, the lowest recorded water flows recorded were during the 1995—96 season, which had an annual mean flow of around 390 m3/s, compared to the long-term mean annual flow of around 1100 m3/s.
- The town of Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, can be seen west of the falls, while the town of Livingstone – named after the famous Scottish explorer – is visible just north of the falls, in Zambia. The Harry Mwanga Nkumbula airport can be seen west of the town.
- The circular shapes in the image are an example of an irrigation method called pivot irrigation or center-pivot irrigation, where equipment rotates around a central pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers.
• March 6, 2020: Thousands of fires broke out in the Amazon last year – sparking an international media frenzy. A detailed analysis, using data from the European Space Agency’s Climate Change Initiative, indicates that while there was a small increase of fires in 2019 compared to 2018, fires in Brazil were similar to the average annual number of fires detected over the past 18 years. 67)
- While forest fires are common in the Amazon region, they vary considerably from year-to-year driven by changes in climate, as well as variations in deforestation and forest degradation.
- Attention on fires last year sparked an international demand for up-to-date information on active fires – particularly in Brazil. However, these numbers were never compared to the number of fires over a longer period of time.
- Detailed in a recent paper published in Remote Sensing, scientists using data from ESA’s Fire CCI project, analyzed burned areas in South America in both 2018 and 2019 – and compared the data to the 2001-18 yearly average. 68)
- According to the report, the total burned area in South America was around 70% more in 2019 compared to the same period of 2018, however only slightly more than the yearly average over the past 17 years.
- These results are particularly interesting for Brazil, which only saw a 1.7% increase of burned area in 2019 compared to the long-term average.
- Bolivia, on the other hand, saw a 51.4% increase of burned areas in 2019, compared to the yearly average.
- Emilio Chuvieco, science leader of the Fire CCI project, comments, “Studies such as these are important to quantify and monitor fire activities in places such as the Amazon. However, they indicate the importance of long-term data series and studies using higher resolution sensors, such as the Copernicus Sentinel-2 multispectral instrument, to detect fires.”
Figure 54: This map shows the increase or decrease of the total burned area in 2019 compared to the 2001-2018 average (image credit: Lizundia-Loiola, J., Pettinari, M.L., & Chuvieco, E. (2020). Temporal Anomalies in Burned Area)
- Earth observing satellites can be used to detect and monitor fires over frequently affected areas. These burned area estimates are from ESA’s Fire Climate Change Initiative project, which produces long-term datasets of burned area information from satellites, as part of the ESA Climate Change Initiative.
- The data is of use for those interested in historical burned patterns, fire management and emissions analysis and climate change research, by providing a consistent burned area time series.
- Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, says, “These observations show the challenge we are facing - the processes on Earth and in the forests are very dynamic. The unusual increase of fire activity in 2019 demonstrates that satellite data is essential to get a clear and independent picture in order to also understand long-term trends.”
Figure 55: This graph shows the country distribution of burned areas for 2018, 2019 as well as the average for the 2001-2018 period. Brazil has a 1.7% increase of burned area in 2019 compared to the long-term average [image credit: Lizundia-Loiola, J., Pettinari, M. L., & Chuvieco, E. (2020)]
- Tropical forests are home to around half of the world’s biodiversity, and are considered a fundamental part of Earth’s ecosystem. Quantifying fires in forests is important for the ongoing study of climate, as they have a significant impact on atmospheric emissions – with biomass burning contributing to the global budgets of greenhouse gases.
• March 4, 2020: A powerful winter storm, with lake-effect snow, brought blizzard conditions to New York last week and buried the area surrounding the Great Lakes under a blanket of snow. Days of strong winds, with speeds of over 90 km/h, blew lake water ashore, encasing several homes in ice. 69)
- Lake-effect snow is a weather phenomenon that occurs when cold, dry air picks up moisture by passing over relatively warmer lake waters. The air rises and forms clouds, generating what is known as lake-effect snow. This lake-effect snow is common in the Great Lakes area – where cold air, usually from Canada, moves in.
Figure 56: This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 29 February, shows the extent of the snow in the area surrounding Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Huron. A layer of ice can be seen over both Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• February 28, 2020: Andros Island, the largest island of the Bahamas, 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 highlights the island’s vegetation in bright red. 70)
- Andros is around 160 km from north to south, and 70 km from east to west at its widest point. The island is largely unpopulated and has undeveloped stretches of land. Even though it is considered a single island, Andros is an archipelago made up of hundreds of small islets and cays connected by estuaries and swamplands together with three major islands: North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros.
- The island’s west coast features many bays, channels and inlets. The turquoise colors of the ocean show shallow waters, whereas the dark blue colors are the deep ocean.
- The West Side National Park covers the west part of Andros and includes its pristine coastal wetlands. The 6000 km2 park is the largest protected area in the region,and is a prime habitat for bonefish and an important feeding area for the endangered West Indian flamingo.
Figure 57: This image was acquired with Sentinel-2 on 5 September 2019, just days after the mighty Hurricane Dorian passed over the Bahamas and unleashed a siege of destruction. Dorian is reported to be one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record – with storm surges, wind and rain that claimed many lives, destroyed homes and left thousands of people homeless. 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)
- Compared to acquisitions captured in the days leading up to Hurricane Dorian making landfall, the area in the top-left of the image appears to be more flooded owing to heavy rainfall, and several submerged islands can be seen.
- In response to Hurricane Dorian, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated. The service uses observations from several Earth observation satellites, such as Copernicus Sentinel-1 and-2, to provide flood, risk and recovery maps.
• February 14, 2020: For Valentine’s Day, we bring you this Copernicus Sentinel-2 image capturing a beautiful heart-shaped geographical formation in the dramatic landscape of the southern highlands of Bolivia. 71)
- The highlands are part of the Altiplano, meaning High Plateau, a region that stretches almost 1000 km from Peru to Bolivia. The landscape consists of a series of basins lying about 3500 m above sea level and is the most extensive area of high plateau on Earth, outside Tibet.
- This particular area featured here is a transition between the desert in the west and the tropical forest in the east. The heart-shaped formation has been molded by many layers of different geological formations over time. The many streams and rivers visible in this image have also contributed to the shaping of the landscape as we see it today.
- Satellites, such as Copernicus Sentinel-2, allow us to capture beautiful images such as these from space, but also to monitor changing places on Earth. Flying 800 km above, satellites take the pulse of our planet by systematically imaging and measuring changes taking place, which is particularly important in regions that are otherwise difficult to access. This allows for informed decisions to be made to help protect our world for future generations and for all citizens that inhabit our beloved Earth.
- We are sending all our love for Valentine’s Day from the high plateaus of Bolivia – and hope we continue our celebration of love for Earth every day of the year.
Figure 58: This false-color composite image of Sentinel-2 was processed by selecting spectral bands that can be used for classifying geological features – but here the image processing also highlights this lovely heart for today’s image. Sucre, the capital of the Chuquisaca Department, is visible at the top of the image in grey. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city lies at an elevation of around 2800 m above sea level. To the left of Sucre, the Maragua crater can be seen – a popular hiking destination. This image, which was captured on 26 January 2020, is also featured on the Earth from Space video program (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• February 12, 2020: The Pine Island Glacier recently spawned an iceberg over 300 km2 that very quickly shattered into pieces. This almost cloud-free image, captured on 11 February by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, shows the freshly broken bergs in detail (Figure 59). 72)
- A recent animation using 57 radar images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission shows just how quickly the emerging cracks from the glacier grew – leading to this historic calving event.
- Thanks to the combination of both optical and radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel satellite missions, growing cracks were spotted in the Pine Island Glacier last year, and since then, scientists have been keeping a close eye on how quick the cracks were growing.
- The Pine Island Glacier, along with its neighbor Thwaites glacier, connect the center of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean, and together discharge significant quantities of ice into the ocean.
Figure 59: This image of the Pine Island Glacier, captured on 11 February 2020 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, shows the freshly broken bergs in detail (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• January 31, 2020: World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on 2 February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as the Ramsar Convention, in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971. 73)
- World Wetlands Day raises global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for our planet, paying particular attention to wetland biodiversity.
- The equatorial lake (Figure 60) covers an area of around 250 km2 and has an average depth of around 2.4 meters. Lake George is fed by a complex system of rivers and streams originating from the Rwenzori mountains – supplying a system of permanent swamps surrounding the lake.
- A dense fringe of wetland grass, visible in bright green, can be seen around the edges of the lake in the center of the image.
- The wetlands provide a natural living space for a number of mammals including elephants, hippopotamus and antelope. They also provide a habitat for over 150 species of birds including several rare species such as the saddle-billed stork.
- Seen from above, the waters of Lake George appear green as a result of the thick concentration of blue-green algae. Metal pollution, mine seepage and agricultural runoff has caused serious pollution to the lake’s waters and are severely impacting the lake’s health.
- Lake George drains through the Kazinga Channel in the image’s center. The wide, 32km long channel connects Lake George with Lake Edward, which lies on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- The Kazinga Channel flows through the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The almost 2000 km2 park is known for its wildlife including the African buffalo and the Nile crocodile.
- The park is also famous for its volcanic features, including volcanic cones and deep craters which can be seen dotted around the image. Many contain crater lakes, including the Katwe crater lake, whose salt deposits have been mined for centuries.
Figure 60: This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image takes us over Lake George, in western Uganda. In 1988, Lake George was designated as Uganda’s first Ramsar site, given its importance as a center for biological diversity. 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)
• January 24, 2020: This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image features an area in the Santa Cruz Department of Bolivia, where part of the tropical dry forest has been cleared for agricultural use. 74)
- Since the 1980s, the area has been rapidly deforested owing to a large agricultural development effort where people from the Andean high plains (the Altiplano region) have been relocated to the lowlands of Bolivia.
- The relatively flat lowlands and abundant rainfall make this region suitable for farming. In fact, the local climate allows farmers to benefit from two growing seasons. The region has been transformed from dense forest into a patterned expanse of agricultural land. This deforestation method, common in this part of Bolivia, is characterized by the radial patterns that can be seen clearly in the image.
- Each patterned field is approximately 6.25 km2 and each side is around 2.5 km long (Figure 61).
- Small settlements can be seen in the center of each individual field in the image, which typically contain a church, a school and a soccer field. These communities are joined by a road network depicted by the straight lines that bisect the radial fields and connect the adjacent areas.
- Meandering streams and rivers can be seen flowing through the fields. The long, thin strips of land in the top right of the image are most likely cultivated soybean fields.
- Rainforests worldwide are being destroyed at an alarming rate. This is of great concern as they play an important role in global climate, and are home to a wide variety of plants and animals.
- Because of their unique perspective from space, Earth observation satellites are instrumental in providing comprehensive information on the full extent and rate of deforestation, which is particularly useful for monitoring remote areas.
Figure 61: This composite image was created by combing three separate ‘Normalized Difference Vegetation Index’ images from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission. The first image, from 8 April 2019, is visible in red; the second from 22 June 2019, can be seen in green; and the third from 5 September 2019 can be seen in blue. The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index is widely used in remote sensing as it gives scientists an accurate measure of healthy and status of plant growth. 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)
• January 23, 2020: The Philippines’ Taal volcano erupted on 12 January 2020 – spewing an ash plume approximately 15 km high and forcing large-scale evacuations in the nearby area. 75)
- The optical image of Figure 62 has also been processed using the mission’s short-wave infrared band to show the ongoing activity in the crater, visible in bright red. Ash blown by strong winds can be seen in Agoncillo, visible southwest of the Taal volcano. Ash has also been recorded in other areas of the Batangas province, as well as Manila and Quezon.
- According to The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology bulletin published today, sulphur dioxide emissions were measured at an average of around 140 tons. The Taal volcano still remains on alert level four, meaning an explosive eruption is possible in the coming hours or days. The highest alert level is five which indicates an eruption is taking place.
- According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, over 50,000 people have been affected so far. In response to the eruption, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.
Figure 62: This almost cloud-free image was captured today 23 January at 02:20 GMT (10:20 local time) by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, and shows the island, in the center of the image, completely covered in a thick layer of ash (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• January 15, 2020: Heavy rainfall has triggered flooding in southern Iran, particularly in the Sistan and Baluchestan, Hormozgan and Kerman provinces. The downpour has led to blocked roads and destroyed bridges, crops and houses – displacing thousands of people. 76)
- The flooding has also affected Zahedan, as well as Konarak, Saravan, Nik Shahr, Delgan, Bazman, Chabahar, Zarābād and Khash.
- In response to the flood, the Copernicus Emergency Mapping Service was activated. The service uses satellite observations to help civil protection authorities and, in cases of disaster, the international humanitarian community, respond to emergencies.
Figure 63: This image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, shows the extent of the flooding in the Sistan and Baluchestan province on 13 January 2020. Flooded areas are visible in brown, while the flooded villages are highlighted by dotted circles. Sediment and mud, caused by the heavy rains, can be seen gushing from the Bahu Kalat River, Iran, and Dasht River, Pakistan, into Gwadar Bay (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• January 10, 2020: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over the Faroe Islands, located halfway between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Faroe Islands are an archipelago made up of 18 jagged islands and are a self-governing nation under the external sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark. 77)
- The archipelago is around 80 km wide and has a total area of approximately 1400 km2. The official language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese, a Nordic language which derives from the language of the Norsemen who settled the islands over 1000 years ago.
- The islands have a population of around 50,000 inhabitants – as well as 70,000 sheep. Around 40% of the population reside in the capital and largest city of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, visible on the island of Streymoy, slightly above the center of the image.
- The islands are a popular destination for birdwatchers, particularly on the island of Mykines, the westernmost island of the Faroese Archipelago. The island provides a breeding and feeding habitat for thousands of birds, including the Atlantic Puffins.
- Several inland water bodies can be seen dotted around the islands. Lake Sørvágsvatn, the largest lake of the Faroe Islands, is visible at the bottom of Vágar Island to the right of Mykines. Vágar Airport, the only airport in the Faroe Islands, can be seen left of the lake.
- The official language of the Faroe Islands is Faroese, a Nordic language which derives from the language of the Norsemen who settled the islands over 1000 years ago.
- The islands are particularly known for their dramatic landscape, grass-roofed houses and treeless moorlands. The Faroe Islands boast over 1000 km of coastline and because of their elongated shape, one can never be more than five km to the ocean from any point of the islands.
Figure 64: In this image of Sentinel-2, captured on 21 June 2018, several clouds can be seen over the Northern Isles, top right of the image. Low vegetation is visible in bright green. The unique landscape of the Faroe Islands was shaped by volcanic activity approximately 50 to 60 million years ago. The original plateau was later restructured by the glaciers of the ice age and the landscape eroded into an archipelago characterized by steep cliffs, deep valleys and narrow fjords. 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)
• January 9, 2020: Ferocious bushfires have been sweeping across Australia since September, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures, drought and wind. The country has always experienced fires, but this season has been horrific. A staggering 10 million hectares of land have been burned, at least 24 people have been killed and it has been reported that almost half a billion animals have perished. 78)
Figure 65: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission has been used to image the fires. The Sentinel-2 satellites each carry just one instrument – a high-resolution multispectral imager with 13 spectral bands. The smoke, flames and burn scars can be seen clearly in the image shown here, which was captured on 31 December 2019. The large brownish areas depict burned vegetation and provide an idea of the size of the area affected by the fires here – the brown ‘strip’ running through the image has a width of approximately 50 km and stretches for at least 100 km along the Australian east coast (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)