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Sentinel Success Stories
Copernicus Sentinels improve monitoring of coastal ecosystems
11 July 2019
An early detection of changing patterns and altering ecosystems in coastal wetlands can prevent irreversible biodiversity loss and assist in the identification of problematic areas. The Copernicus Sentinel missions are now providing vital information to help visualise and explain trends to policy makers.
The Wadden Sea, in the south-eastern part of the North Sea, is one of the largest coastal wetlands in the world and an internationally relevant, highly productive estuarine area. Its diverse characteristics provide fertile feeding, nursery and breeding grounds for various species.
However, over the past decades, continual pressures from oil and gas mining, sand extraction, shipping and pollution have led to multiple changes in the area, such as a decrease in the number of migratory bird species and the area of spawning grounds for critical fishery species being strongly affected.
Earth observation is much more cost-effective and less time consuming than monitoring programs, with satellite images recording near-real time observations, easily enabling generation of maps.
Satellite images like those from the European Union's Copernicus Programme are able to detect areas with high mussel and cockle abundance, or detect algae which species feed upon. This can be used in the validation or support of modelling efforts, as stand-alone monitoring products. When these images are enhanced and included in 3D models, better predictions on population trends and dynamics in the Wadden Sea are made.
The independent Dutch institute Deltares is developing models such as 3D-biogeophyiscal process-based or Bayesian Networks - which are probabilistic models - to investigate ecological structures behind shifting trends and to induce management strategies.
Data sets from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites are critical for the foundation of Bayesian Networks, and traditional point measurements either through field campaigns or distributed monitoring networks do not provide the needed spatial and temporal resolution desired. These data provide higher resolution (both in space and time) information on vital proxies to quantity ecosystem services, trade-offs, and management strategies impacts over time, helping inform on the decrease of birds whilst simultaneously providing intelligence on fishing and recreation.
Researcher at Deltares, engineer Alex Ziemba, comments, "Data from the Copernicus Sentinels are bringing critical information, useful for various aspects of coastal monitoring – Copernicus Sentinel-1 for erosion and shoreline tracking, while Copernicus Sentinel-3 for ocean colour products."
The Copernicus Sentinels are a fleet of dedicated EU-owned satellites, designed to deliver the wealth of data and imagery that are central to the European Union's Copernicus environmental programme.
The European Commission leads and coordinates this programme, to improve the management of the environment, safeguarding lives every day. ESA is in charge of the space component, responsible for developing the family of Copernicus Sentinel satellites on behalf of the European Union and ensuring the flow of data for the Copernicus services, while the operations of the Copernicus Sentinels have been entrusted to ESA and EUMETSAT.
This article refers to the work conducted within the framework of the H2020 project ECOPOTENTIAL (Grant Agreement n. 641762) by Alex Ziemba and Ghada el Serafy from Deltares, the Netherlands, partner of the project. ECOPOTENTIAL is a project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which focuses its activities on a targeted set of internationally recognised Protected Areas, blending remote sensing Earth Observations with field measurements and data analysis. The project works side-by-side with 24 protected areas across Europe and beyond in providing the tools and models that make use of Copernicus Sentinel data for addressing this specific monitoring need (among others).