Space can sustain the land!

20 December 2018
Some of the participants in the session, which showcased how Galileo and Copernicus are supporting sustainable land use and management

The productivity and sustainability of land is determined by interactions between land resources, climate and human activities. Selecting the optimal, sustainable use of land is essential to minimise degradation, rehabilitate degraded land, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and mitigate the impact of climate change. So it was appropriate that on World Soil Day, an EU Space Week session showcased how the EU space programmes Galileo and Copernicus are supporting sustainable land use and management.

Taking place, most appropriately, on World Soil Day, the EU Space Week session on 5 December focused on how sustainable land management impacts the resilience and vulnerability of land resources, particularly within the context of mitigating climate change, and was organised around three relevant United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Keynote speaker Markus Erhard from the European Environment Agency (EEA) gave a user perspective of how satellite data impacts on policy in this area, in particular in terms of the EU’s Seventh Environmental Action Programme. “Copernicus is a true game changer in terms of environmental monitoring and assessment,” he stated. “With outstanding availability, accessibility, and at zero cost.”

Elisabeth Hamdouch from the Commission’s DG GROW agreed that EU space instruments were very important and the synergies between Copernicus and Galileo could make a big difference in this area. “These space-based programmes produce huge flows of new data,” she said. The key question was how to make best use of this quantity and quality data.

Read this: European GNSS and Earth Observation: A promising convergence for sustainable development

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

How resource efficiency in agriculture could be improved by early detection of diseases and pests using Copernicus was outlined by João Araújo of Spin.Works. Remote sensing is a key enabling technology to ensure we can feed a burgeoning world population. The company has developed the MAPPING online application that integrates Copernicus data and drone imaging to create insights that help farmers make the right choices and increase yield while reducing inputs such as pesticides and fertilizer.

The GSA-funded Horizon 2020 project Green Patrol showed how Galileo-enabled autonomous robots can detect and control pests in greenhouses thereby boosting yield. Maria Campo-Cossio from Fundación Centro Tecnológico de Componentes in Spain noted that 20 centimetre positioning accuracy was required but they could “count on Galileo for a solution, thanks to its greater resilience to multipath interference” – a major issue when working in large glasshouses.

The role of Galileo and EGNOS to enable precision agriculture and increase both the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture is well documented but has been often seen as a niche application for very big farms. However, now it is becoming mainstream as cheaper entry level applications become available. Stephan Vormbrock of CLAAS E-systems said: “Agricultural vehicles must be smarter, they cannot get bigger!” He presented a range of intelligent solutions that enable farmers to integrate and use all available space-based data to sustainably increase crop yields.

Bernard Richter of HEXAGON Leica Geosystems described their GNSS based solution for land registry applications in particular to enable farmers to comply with the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The system’s network of 4,500 base stations used to correct positioning data is being upgraded to use Galileo data that will enable the centimetre level precision that applications such as accurate seeding require.

And this: Agriculture and Space: The journey from field to fork

SDG 6: Clean water

Irrigation is becoming an increasing issue for farmers across EU-27 countries. The GSA-funded Horizon 2020 project Mistrale uses reflected GNSS signals (GNSS-R) for a number of applications including water management. Tamme van deer Wal from Aerovision showed how the technique can be used as a remote sensing alternative or compliment to Copernicus data. The main advantage for GNSS-R is that it can provide data 24/7 as the signal receiver is mounted on a drone. Practical applications include measurements of field water content, water management in flood areas and monitoring of mine waste seepage.

The use of Copernicus Land Service data to monitor lakes and rivers in near real time was described by Lionel Zawadzki from Collecte Localisation Satellites. The water component is an emerging Copernicus service with various products available including information on snow cover, lake ice extent, lake surface temperatures, and the area of bodies of water.

An enhanced flood mapping service was outlined by Federica Maserati of Telespazio. “Flood risks are rising due to global warming,” she said. However, the Copernicus rapid mapping service is now fully operational with global coverage and enables authorities anywhere in the world to react fast. A new vision for the service is that service users become distributed service providers by supplying additional crowdsourced data input. “We are looking for users to act as in-situ sensors generating local data,” he said. Collection of GNSS geolocation with this social data would help with data integration and increase accuracy.

SDG 15: Life on Land

SDG 15 aims to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems explained Hans Dufourmont of the European Environment Agency (EEA), who outlined how the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (LMS) supported these objectives. Service support includes high level imperviousness data, high resolution data on forest cover, grassland cover and even extent of ploughing indicators. It is possible to monitor CO2 emissions by mapping probable sources and sinks. “Agricultural production is responsible for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions,” stated Dufourmont.

The Farm Sustainability Tool for Nutrients (FaST) was described by Isidro Campos Rodriguez from DG-AGRI. This tool also looks to support farmers under the CAP. The tool is under development and could be a key to boosting digitalisation in agriculture. The tool takes relevant farm information and enables fine tuning of nutrient management on the farm including outputs such as personalised advice on irrigation requirements. The app is currently working with Copernicus data but there is interest in the added value that Galileo can bring.

The final presentation of the session was from Antoine Lefebvre, founder of start-up Kermap that uses Copernicus data with artificial intelligence to analyse and predict urban heat island effects and local climate zones. The work visualises temperature distributions within city areas and enables modelling of climate change impacts on living conditions for citizens.

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Updated: Dec 21, 2018