Chile from space and in real time: European satellite network will deliver valuable ocean and weather data to the country

Chile from space and in real time: European satellite network will deliver valuable ocean and weather data to the country

The Center for Mathematical Modeling of the University of Chile reached an agreement with the Copernicus project of the European Union. This organization will provide the university with data obtained by the Sentinel-3 and Sentinel-6 maritime observation satellites of its initiative. In exchange, the U. of Chile will provide data from Earth observation instruments.

How to observe every corner of the planet we inhabit from 700 kilometers high? A system of satellites that monitor the state of the Earth passes over our heads on a daily basis. Day and night they collect data, detail the climatic conditions of each area, the agriculture in remote places, the potential danger of collapse in a mine surrounded by nothing. All this, with free access for any user to use and process the data. However, how do these eyes on the world operate and what is Chile’s contribution with the information they constantly provide?

Seven years ago, the European Union created Copernicus, an Earth observation program that monitors the state of our planet in real time. This initiative put into orbit a group of satellites that constantly record and store data from the sea, land and air. In our country, the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM) of the University of Chile plays a fundamental role in the execution of Copernicus and the use of all this information captured from space.

This program is coordinated and managed by the European Commission. It is implemented in partnership with the Member States of the European Union, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the EU Agencies, Mercator Océan and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

EUMETSAT announced that it will provide the University of Chile with data obtained by the Copernicus Sentinel-3 and Sentinel-6 maritime observation satellites. In return, the University of Chile will provide EUMETSAT with data from Earth observation instruments.

SAtellite image - Laguna San Rafael National Park, Chile Laguna San Rafael National Park, Chile – Photo: ESA

“Operational access to near-real-time ocean surface temperature data will be of maximum benefit to Chile’s marine monitoring capabilities,” said Florencio Utreras, full professor at the University of Chile and international projects manager at the Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM).

The information collected and delivered by the Sentinel-3 satellite will contribute to the understanding of the dynamics of Chile’s vast maritime territory and to the development of new applications and services, such as monitoring harmful algal blooms or ocean currents, such as El Niño. Sentinel-6 data, meanwhile, will help improve medium-term weather forecasts, as well as improve understanding of the changes occurring along our 5,000 km of coastline.

“The data provided by the University of Chile will be particularly useful in assessing the quality of our satellite observations and will enable the development of new products for Copernicus data users,” said Phil Evans, Director General of EUMETSAT.

Copernicus in Chile

Since the launch of Sentinel-1A in 2014, the EU launched this process to place a constellation of almost 20 more satellites in orbit before 2030. In 2018, the CMM signed an agreement with the Undersecretariat of Telecommunications to develop in Chile the distribution of data from this satellite program generated by the European Union. “We created a repository, that is, a place where satellite data can be downloaded to Chile, and from there it can be used by any user in the world, it is open data,” expressed Florencio Utreras in this regard.

So far, the Copernicus program has satellites that capture daily information collected from the surface of the planet. These data are captured through high resolution images, and also through radar signals. The latter, unlike the other satellites, have the particularity that they can emit a wave and receive its rebound. Based on this information, the satellite calculates the distance to the target, for example, with details to the centimeter.

Copernicus Sentinel-6 sobre los Andes Copernicus Sentinel-6 over the Andes – photo: ESA/ATG medialab

“With this, the radar can analyze everything, regardless of whether there are clouds or not, whether it is day or night,” adds Utreras. With this you can know, if you want, the movement of an object in the sea, the agricultural state of a particular surface or the behavior of the terrain in a mining area, among other uses.

Another CMM researcher, Jaime Ortega, is dedicated to analyzing the information emitted by the satellites to create different mathematical models that can be translated into inputs for the country’s development. “Having this whole network of free, open sensors available to everyone can be a tremendous boost to productive development,” he says. This project, when it was launched by the European Union, was thought of as a boost to the planet’s productivity, both for governmental organizations and for those who can offer a service based on the processing of this data delivered in an open and permanent way.

Mathematical modeling from the exosphere

Beyond delivering the information collected from the satellites and making it available to the community, the CMM also conducts advanced studies in mathematical modeling with the data delivered by each Copernicus artificial satellite. “We are interested in the applications of the use of satellite images to different problems, in which mathematics presents an additional advantage. That is, we can use or develop advanced mathematics to solve problems that need to use the resources provided by the satellites,” Utreras emphasizes with respect to the use of this information for scientific development.

With Copernicus data, images can be combined with new technologies and techniques, such as artificial intelligence or data analysis. This information can also be worked with other more traditional mathematical technologies such as statistical analysis of data and images.

El satélite Sentinel-6 de monitoreo del nivel del mar despega

Sea-level monitoring satellite Sentinel-6 lifts off aboard SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket – Photo: ESA – S. Corvaja

“We are doing remote monitoring of aquifers using satellite interferometry. There we can see if they are extracting a lot of water or not, seeing if the surface of the land has gone down or up. In mining, for example, when you want to monitor the walls of tailings, of dams, you can determine with Copernicus data if they have a deformation, because that can mean a danger of collapse,” explains the scholar Jaime Ortega.

Undoubtedly, the information provided daily by Copernicus on the earth’s surface can be an advantage to understand more about the territory around us. At the same time, this enormous amount of freely available data is intended to be a support for various scientific and commercial initiatives that can contribute to the development of the country and the world.

Posted on Jul 9, 2021 in News