PML scientists use latest EU Sentinel satellite to study the oceans

PML scientists use latest EU Sentinel satellite to study the oceans

True colour image of Plymouth Sound from Space, darker brown areas indicate suspended matter 

The second in a series of Earth observation satellites was launched by the European Space Agency, ESA this morning. 

As one of six sensor types to be launched over the next few years as part of the Copernicus project, the satellite, ‘Sentinel-2a’, was sent up on a Vega rocket from Kourou in French Guiana with the aim of returning images of the planet's surface in visible and infrared light.

The data will map natural disasters like volcanic eruptions and floods, water quality and sediment levels in lakes and coastal waters, with greater detail and higher frequency than previous satellites have before been able to provide.

PML Head of Science for Earth Observation science Steve Groom commented “what makes Sentinel 2, and the entire Copernicus programme special, is the continuity of coverage. Up until now, space agencies have typically launched single satellites to gather data, yet once that satellite reaches the end of its life the data stop. Now, over the next 20 years, with Sentinel b, c and d following on from Sentinel-2a, we are almost guaranteed no gaps in the data. The images received from Sentinel 2 will benefit the work we do at PML hugely by being more frequent, with higher resolution than previous satellite data”.

The Sentinel 2 mission was predominantly designed for land-based applications such as vegetation monitoring and detection of fires. Inland waters and up to 20km offshore will however also be recorded. PML will use the spacecraft to gather additional information on water quality, assessing water transparency and detecting prominent features such as river plumes and accumulations of potentially harmful algae and cyanobacteria (‘blue-green algae’). Cyanobacteria often cause problems in nutrient rich lakes, forming occasional surface scums which can be harmful to human and animal health. 

Dr Craig Donlon, ESA Principal Scientist for Oceans and Ice, who is visiting PML this week commented:

“There are a number of things about the Sentinel 2 mission which are really remarkable. There will be a massive amount of high spatial multi-spectral resolution data made available in a sustained and operational context through Copernicus with an open and free data policy. This will result in an unprecedented amount of data available for the coastal zone which will be incredibly useful for coastal managers, policy makers, planners, local authorities and national governments for the next 20 years. The intention of Copernicus is to invest in the space hardware, infrastructure, Copernicus services and the people who will use the data. That’s where PML comes in; to train up this generation of scientists who are able to work with the data for societal value.”

Image above, right: an intense bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake IJssel, The Netherlands.

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