Earth observation (EO) data is crucial in monitoring the causes and impacts of climate change. Satellites offer global observations of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, providing us data on the speed of glacier retreat, sea level rise, carbon soil health and much more. Ahead of COP26, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognised the importance of the role of EO data from satellites in addressing the climate crisis. This data will also hold nations accountable to the pledges they make to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Earth observation refers to the use of remote sensing technologies, such as sensors on satellites, to study the earth. Since the launch of the first Landsat satellite aimed at Earth observation in 1972, technology has advanced significantly, and ever more sophisticated multispectral sensors focused on gathering climate data are being developed. As well as giving detailed current and historical information on the rate of climate change, space data also equips countries, organisations, and individuals with the knowledge to mitigate some of its impacts.
Extreme weather events such as flooding are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change. Flood mapping data from satellite observation enables more accurate risk analysis, loss assessments and informs better disaster management during floods.
Here in the UK, food security has been identified as one of the nation’s biggest risks from climate change. It may not be obvious why satellites help ensure that the pasta aisle is fully stocked, but the data they provide is of critical importance to keeping the supply chain, which is highly dependent on imports, moving. Climate change has huge impacts on agriculture from increased temperatures and changing rainfall patterns to increased frequency of extreme weather such as drought which dramatically affect crop yields making food supply chains increasingly vulnerable. 78% of harvested croplands are located in the global south where the impacts of climate change are already disproportionately manifesting.
Thankfully, EO data is becoming increasingly accessible to farmers around the world to support them in adapting practices to cope with the impacts of climate change. Examples of this include reviewing rainfall data for early famine warning and risk management, understanding soil moisture and water resource data to know when to withdraw water to irrigate crops and improved land use mapping to determine crop rotation. Satellite technology equips farmers with the knowledge they need and empowers them to make more informed decisions. This is just one example of the real-world impact space data has.
Previously satellite images required extensive processing and were extremely expensive. Thanks to satellites like NASA’s Landsat providing data free of charge and global Earth Observation for Sustainable Development (EO4SD) initiatives educating people on how to use it, space data applications are becoming increasingly accessible to those impacted most by climate change.
Every day, much of this valuable data is lost on orbit due to limitations caused by reliance on radio frequency communication from satellites to the ground (learn more about that here). At Archangel Lightworks, our mission is to get 100x more of this valuable data downloaded from space and into the hands of those who need it most. Without space data, we cannot measure the impacts of climate change, we cannot inform climate mitigation and adaptation, and we cannot hold each other accountable to meeting the goals set at COP26.
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