Copernicus space program to boost Earth observation projects in PHL

Dr. Peter Zeil (left) of the EU-DOST Copernicus Project and Dr. Renato Solidum, DOST undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction-Climate Change Adaptation, at the second national conference, dubbed “Copernicus: A Strategic Partner for Earth Observation and Sustainable Development.”

By Stephanie Tumampos / Special to the BusinessMirror

The European Delegation in the Philippines firmed up its partnership with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the use of its freely available space data—through Copernicus, EU’s flagship space program—in order to assist the country especially in disaster risk reduction, climate-change monitoring and adaptation and environmental protection.

 In a news conference during the second national conference on Copernicus in Manila on Thursday, Philippe Brunet, of the European Commission Directorate for Cooperation and Development (EC DG Devco), told reporters that the EU, through the Copernicus program, and the DOST has forged a partnership that will boost not only the exchange of data but also the skills and technology transfer through pilot projects which are now in the pipeline.

Pilot projects

Dr. Peter Zeil, of the EU-DOST Copernicus Project, identified the three pilot projects. They are the reduction of emissions through deforestation and degradation; vulnerability assessment for risk reduction procedures of natural disasters and also for climate-change adaptation which will include new methodologies; and marine spatial planning that are being built on existing activities in the country.

DOST Undersecretary Renato Solidum, during the news conference, highlighted that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other agencies, such as the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) and Advanced Science and Technology Institute (Asti) will be involved in the projects.

“DOST, DENR and other organizations within the DOST will have specific activities. Asti will be involved in many activities especially on the facilitation of data and also the training,” Solidum, Phivolcs OIC, explained.

“For Phivolcs, we will be [engaged] in risk hazards and risk assessment and vulnerability assessment, and integrate this with the geo-risk Philippine initiative. The DENR will deal with environment planning and climate-change,” he added.

Brunet noted that the Philippines is already “mature” enough to proceed with the pilot projects given that there is manpower and Earth observation and geo-information skills already in place in the country.

Three-year partnership

The partnership has provided a €10- million funding for a 36-month duration from the European Union in order for the Philippines to implement the pilot projects. 

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña explained the partnership.

“The Copernicus program is a European Union initiative that offers opportunities to develop Earth observation applications, particularly in the disaster-risk reduction and management, and also for environmental protection and likewise for sustainable development,” de la Peña said.

“We see opportunities here [in the Philippines. Actually, we have entered into an agreement for the implementation of a specific project for disaster risk reduction and climate-change adaptation. So this is really more of an Earth observation data, and they are funding this project with €10 million,” he added.

Zeil also noted that the €10-million budget might increase. “We as basically the formulation team, we have given this [budget] as a kind of benchmark. In the discussions, we see the option that this budget might be increased.”

The budget includes not only funding for the project implementation but also for the transfer of skills, technology transfer and even knowledge transfer through exchange of experts in Europe and the Philippines, and academic opportunities.

Zeil identified a possibility of providing grants for two doctoral studies and nine masteral studies for Filipinos to chosen European institutions.

De la Peña added that their meetings with the EU counterpart, a possibility of having facilities of the Copernicus program in the Southeast Asian region was also discussed. The facility will be a mirror site of the Copernicus satellite data which will be the access hub of the Asean region.

The science chief added that he has already involved the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in the discussions to have ease of access to the raw data from Europe by establishing better data connectivity in Hong Kong. 

He noted that the DICT is already expanding data connectivity and that “it will already happen within the year.”

“I requested the DICT to get involved in the discussion. The DICT informed us they have already projects in expanding the connectivity to Hong Kong. When you have the connection to Hong Kong, it’s now easy to connect to Europe,” he added.

Access to free raw imagery data for the benefit of PHL

The Copernicus system is a family of six Sentinel space satellites that have specific applications, including land, marine, atmosphere, emergency management and climate-change. 

The Sentinels provide free and accessible analysis-ready image to anyone around the world. Analysis-ready data are pre-processed images that can be readily used for research and other further analysis.

In the case of the EU-DOST partnership, Copernicus will provide raw data to the DOST to match with the ground observations in the Philippines.

“[We provide] free access to all raw data of our satellites. The reason why we are opening the raw data is that the specific situation of certain country is not similar to that of Europe,” Brunet explained.

“Instead of doing the product for the Philippines, we have taken another road which is to give our own data for the Philippines so that they could do customized processing methods,” he added.

In the recent eruption of Taal Volcano, Solidum said that the country has already used the products of the Copernicus satellite system. Phivolcs used Sentinel-2 satellite images to monitor the processes of volcanoes and faults around Taal.

“We used this [satellite images] to monitor the processes of volcanoes and faults and many other things. In particular for the volcano, we have combined space images with ground-based observation to firm up and have a conceptual framework of what’s happening below the volcano,” Solidum shared during the discussion in the conference.

According to Solidum: “We knew during the [Taal Volcano] eruptions that new magma was coming from below, and based on satellite images, we knew that it’s coming from southwest and also confirmed by our earthquake monitoring. You can actually see with better satellite images but of course, we knew that with our ground-based observation.”

He explained that Phivolcs’s conceptual framework has been firmed up by the combination of ground-based observation and different satellite images, including that of the Sentinel-2.

“And once you have a good conceptual model, you have a very good way of anticipating what can happen and to explain what’s happening to the public and the government,” Solidum said.

He added that EU’s Copernicus system is not only providing them raw data after a disaster but the whole data before and after.

“With the partnership, besides the raw data, is not only given for free after a disaster but it’s all the data, that’s the difference. In this case, it is all available. The rapidity of interpreting things will be much facilitated because of this scope,” Solidum said.

Image credits: Enrico Belga/Office of the DOST Secretary


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