Pin It

The satellite giving Earth a healthcheck

The scientist behind the Copernicus project on how it will keep tabs on climate change

To celebrate this month's Girls Rule issue, Dazed is running a series of takeovers, kicking off today with a Stacy Martin special, including: a thinkpiece on Lars Von Trier's men, exclusive images of art from Kaye Donachie, a head-to-head with Nymphomaniac co-star Sophie Kennedy Clark, and pieces on the satellite ching up on Earth and the 19th century actress that could teach us all some lessons. Keep checking our Stacy Martin Day page for more throughout the day. 

In April, a golden satellite will launch and orbit 800 kilometres above the globe. Everyday, it will laser 2.5 terabytes of data down to Earth. Its mission? To show us all how we're looking. Set to run in five stages, the Copernicus project, organised by the European Space Agency, will, in staggering detail, show us a picture of the Earth, its atmosphere and its seas. The information, far more detailed than previously available, will be available for free and openly available to every member of this rapidly heating planet. Not for nothing it's being called the "Earth Health Check". 

At Stacy's request, we interviewed the man behind the Copernicus project, Josef Aschbacher:

Dazed Digital: Can you please tell us more about the Copernicus project?

Josef Aschbacher: Copernicus has three main components, but by far the largest is the space component, which provides satellite-based observations from dedicated space missions called Sentinels, and data from approximately 30 so-called contributing missions. Altogether there are six families of Sentinels launching in coming years, which will provide a rather comprehensive network of observations of the planet's state of health. The Sentinel programme is the most ambitious, but also the most comprehensive and complex earth observation system from space in the world.

The forthcoming Sentinel-1 satellite will provide measurements for a number of observations, for example: ice monitoring, for ship route optimisation and ice berg monitoring/avoidance; ice coverage, for climate change studies to determine the amount of ice melting due to global warming; this includes large ice and snow masses in Greenland, Arctic, Antarctica as well as glaciers; ice coverage is a very sensitive climate indicator; oil spills – to detect/monitor pollution from ships, oil rigs, etc; flooding – for damage assessment, rescue operations, etc and agricultural crop mapping and monitoring, at global scale for food security. It can also measure sinking or rising to the degree of a few millimetres.

DD: How will the project's five phases expand our understanding of the earth? Can you expand on the environemental aspects of the Copernicus project? For example, how will the satellites monitor pollution, glacial expansion and so on?

Josef Aschbacher: Sentinel-1 will provide measurements for a number of observations. Ice coverage will be monitored across Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as glaciers – ice coverage is a very sensitive climate indicator.

We will be able to spot minute changes in the viscosity of the sea water, indicating oil spill or pollution. The sea surface temperature can be measured to within a tenth of a degree celcius, globally, over many years, to track global and regional changes. Ocean currents to study the Gulf stream, and whether any changes occur, and sea height to a tenth of a millimentre, can be spotted. Atmospheric trace gases such as methane, NOx, ozone, can be spotted, as well data on as greenhouse gas effects and pollution sources at large/global scale will be gathered by the Sentinels.

DD: To what extent is this a project to show how bad things are?

Josef Aschbacher: Indeed, the better observations (yet to come when the Sentinels are launched) will provide much better evidence of the parameters mentioned above, with higher accuracy and more often. Of course, it is then up to politicians and decision makers to take action based on the information they get.

DD: I loved what you said about you simply providing the data for people to educate themselves and pressure for change. Can you expand on that?

Josef Aschbacher: The free and open data policy also creates trust and transparency. As always, access to information by many supports the democratic process. Knowing what happens in your neighbourhood, region or country builds trust and can help disburse tensions or doubts. This shall allow individuals to use Sentinel data for their daily lives. There are many, many aspects of daily life that will emerge and benefit from the free data access. The Sentinel data policy, which was decided last fall, foresees a free and open access to Sentinel satellite data. This is quite a novelty, and it took us long to reach this agreement. It means that satellite data is basically available to everyone, free of charge.