Open access remote sensing data in digestible form is at the core of climate action, as set out in the first Global Space Conference on Climate Change (GLOC), held in Oslo, Norway.
Earth observation data have been instrumental in our understanding of the climate crisis, but data’s true value is reached only when they are used by local users. This was the key take-home message from GLOC 2023, held between 23 – 25 May, in Norway’s capital city.
GLOC was the first-of-its-kind conference to focus on space as a toolbox to help monitor and mitigate the climate crisis. Over six hundred global leaders and experts from 45 countries gathered to premier this conference under the theme “Fire and Ice – Space for Climate Action.”
In one of the opening plenary sessions of the conference, leading space industry leaders celebrated the vast amounts of Earth observation (EO) data streaming in from diverse, global satellite missions and its critical role in tracking climate change over time.
Data shall not linger in archives
While it’s essential we allow this data stream to continue - expanding it with ever increasing resolution and bandwidth – the onus is also on the space industry to ensure datasets are put to best use.
Data shall not linger unused in archives, went the debate. Listening to user’s needs, making data both open-access and in digestible form, while also providing useful platforms and tools to disseminate the data – this is how EO data can reach its full potential.
We are deep into the climate crisis now, concluded experts, – “the wolf is in the house” – and data will help us both with climate mitigation and our transition to a net-zero world.
The efforts of the space community to contribute data were recognised at GLOC, when the organising International Astronautical Federation (IAF) presented ESA with the “Space for Climate Protection” Special Award for their participation in the tri-agency ESA-JAXA-NASA Earth Observing Dashboard.
The genesis of this collaboration was during the COVID-19 pandemic, when ESA deliberated how best their Sentinel missions could serve humankind.
The dashboard is a prime example of how open data in an easy-to-use form can serve all kinds of users, from scientists to decision makers without prior experience of satellite data.
Over 700 million Sentinel data users
The benefit of collaboration was also highlighted in an opening plenary session, when ESA advocated the capacity of the 25-year-old Copernicus programme – disseminating free and open Sentinel data to a growing community of users.
During its origins in the Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES) programme, users were not engaged, so the Agency decided to focus on users’ needs, allowing the Copernicus programme to blossom into a powerful tool to take the pulse of Earth’s system.
ESA is constantly improving its Sentinel data access service – not least with its new Copernicus Data Space ecosystem - and with over 700 registered users, is a world-leader in the delivery of EO data.
Machine learning allows better use of data
Copernicus data facilitate the tracking of essential climate variables, and at GLOC, ESA’s FireCCI project – part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) - presented their current suite of global products to measure the fire disturbance climate variable.
By including Sentinel-3 data in their datasets, FireCCI’s burned area products can detect more burned area than previously and by using high resolution Sentinel-2 data, over 90% more small fires were detected in Africa than with previous datasets.
In one of the GLOC technical sessions, machine learning was in the spotlight. Machine learning and artificial intelligence help users use the massive amounts of available EO data in smart ways.
Abigail Robinson, from Science & Technology, Sweden, presented a deep-learning approach to model supraglacial lake-depth and extent, to better exploit Copernicus Sentinel-2 data. Supraglacial lake volume is an important parameter with respect to understanding the hydrology of the Greenland ice sheet.
The GLOC conference proved to be a vital gathering to air the role of space in climate action.
The position of space data in our efforts to mitigate climate change, were perfectly summarised in a highlight lecture by Richard Spinard, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA, "It is not enough to have good data from space and other sources about climate change. We need products and services that can be readily used by decision makers in the field.”