EU offers Copernicus satellite data to PHL

Stephen Coulson, head of Sustainable Initiatives Office of the European Space Agency, discusses the Copernicus Space Component and Data Access during the National Conference on Copernicus Systems and Applications for the Philippines on March 12. The EU is offering assistance to the Philippines in order to address many issues in the country, including climate change, through the Copernicus system, a family of satellites that provides free accessible data.

Story & photo by Stephanie Tumampos

The Philippines’s geographical location is a vulnerable, prone to many calamities and natural phenomena. As the country sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, earthquakes can happen anytime. And as the country is located just above the equator, it is definitely exposed to stronger typhoons and global warming.

While the country’s Department of Science and Technology has already geared up its space program, the capacities of its satellites in space are still in their younger stages.

To properly monitor phenomena and other situations on any other country, one must need a system of satellites that have advanced technologies. They should be capable of bringing real-time specific data that could help the government in policy and decision-making processes.

This is where European Union’s (EU) Copernicus Satellite System comes in and offers its Earth data obtained from space for free to any country in the world.

(On a historical note, in the early 1500s, when virtually everyone believed Earth was the center of the universe, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed that the planets instead revolved around the sun.)

‘Most comprehensive, most complete environmental observing system’

In 2014, the EU launched its first satellite of the ambitious Copernicus System in space—the Sentinel 1A.

On board the satellite is a state-of-the-art synthetic-aperture radar imaging device that creates finer spatial resolution of two-dimensional images or produce three-dimensional reconstructions of landscapes. Its target goals for data include all-weather observation and 24/7 day and night applications.

Fast-forward to 2019, a total of six satellites are already up in space with over 14 more to be launched and serviced until 2040.

“We have a family of six satellites and we’ll be launching about 20 satellites more,” said Stephen Coulson, head of Sustainable Initiatives Office of the European Space Agency’s [ESA], told the BusinessMirror during the National Conference on Copernicus Systems and Applications for the Philippines on March 12.

Coulson said the satellites are called Sentinel. Each Sentinel family has its own purpose for Earth observation. These are: all-weather, day and night radar imagery for land and ocean services for Sentinel 1, land applications for Sentinel 2, ocean and global land monitoring for Sentinel 3, atmospheric composition monitoring and pollution for Sentinel 4, low-orbit atmospheric composition monitoring for Sentinel 5 and altimetry reference mission for Sentinel 6.

The Copernicus System, according to Coulson, has the primary objective to support European agencies and departments in dealing with European environmental legislation and policies.

However, “the system is obviously a global system, so we’re very interested working with people outside the European Union who can take advantage of this operational and environmental system.”

The €6.4-billion system is “simply the most comprehensive and most complete environmental observing system in the world today,” Coulson emphasized.

Applications suited for Philippines

Coulson said that with the environmental problems the Philippines is facing, such as extreme weather events, typhoons and hurricanes that frequently affect the area, Sentinel 1 data could greatly benefit the country.

“The Philippines is sitting on the [Pacific] Ring of Fire so it’s prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides. That’s the primary area Sentinel 1 is providing key information to understand those phenomena. Actually the coverage of the Philippines by Sentinel 1 is programmed specifically so we have good coverage for those types of problems,” Coulson told the BusinessMirror.

Sentinel 1 is also used for maritime surveillance, which would be tracking illegal fishing.

“The floods and the drought phenomenon are also areas where the Philippines has issues on which  the Sentinels can help,” Coulson added.

Alan Mills, British geographer and team leader of European consultancy group COWI Belgium, added that one of the applications the Philippines can rely on the Sentinel program is on disaster management.

“[So it could] respond better to emergencies and make sure people have information as the relief efforts start to be able to target people suffering the most at that moment,” he said.

Looking forward to work with Philippines

The EU boasts that it is the most comprehensive and complete Earth-observation system in the world today with its data being tremendously huge and significant for every country.

Indonesia and the EU are already having “quite advanced discussion” and have designed a data-exchange agreement with the government.

“Sort of formalizes the data which will be used by agencies and to what level of detail and so on,” Serritella added.

In BusinessMirror’s exclusive interview, Coulson mentioned about the discussion they had with Indonesia.

“We are working closely with our partner, the Asian Development Bank here in Manila, to plan the reconstruction of the Sulawesi region, and we’re working with the Indonesian government to provide them with information for [the project].” The reconstruction pertains to the damages and destruction caused by tsunami in Indonesia September of last year.

Mills said, “It’s going to be a meaningful dialogue over the next 12 months or so to identify where there is potential for being able to use it [in the Philippines].”

The conference was also referred by Mills as the launching pad where “we start the conversation formally,” he told reporters.

Mills explained that there are problems in the Philippines “that would deserve a continuous set of monitoring data.”

But in order to avoid spending lots of money, “We got a bunch of satellites that could do it for free and freely download [data]. It is up to somebody in the country to really take that [data] and analyse it in a certain way it can be used.”

The Copernicus data can provide the Philippines with enormous amounts of raw data and through these data, help the government in decision-making processes, especially with issues such as climate change.

For Enrico Strampelli, head of Development Cooperation of the Delegation of EU to the Philippines, the issue of plastics in the country can also be addressed by the Copernicus System.

“What we would like to happen now as European Union delegation in the Philippines is to continue a dialogue with the government to see where we can create a situation where the system can support the Philippines and the government, to make sure they can enjoy the benefits,” he said.

Facilitation is important for the EU delegation. They wish to have progressive talks with the Philippine government. As part of the international development vision, the EU delegation is also willing to help in building local capacity and get Filipinos on board the technical side, the user side and in the facilitation.

Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos



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