Environmental satellite applications

Tim Peake Mascot Illustration

Many satellites launched into space are placed there to look at the Earth. Access to this unique viewpoint has influenced many areas of our lives. This large-scale view has benefitted weather forecasting, disaster management and our understanding of the planet.

Humanitarian crises

With an array of satellites looking back at the Earth, we have an indispensable tool when it comes to emergencies. In large-scale humanitarian crises Earth observation satellites can be used to inform emergency services of the developing situation. From the ground, the scale of events like floods or forest fires can be obscured in the panic. However, the birds-eye view provided by satellites can track where, for instance the flames are moving and what may lie in their path.

Bird watching

Tracking animals can be very tricky, but a team of scientists from the British Antarctic Survey used satellites to aid them.

While studying the breeding patterns of penguins the scientists were able to locate and understand their behaviour. Using Landsat satellite images, the team spotted stains in the snow from the penguins’ poo. Using the changing colour of these stains the team could make accurate estimates of not just the breed of penguin but also the ratio of baby to adult penguins.

Pirates ahoy!

A team of environmental scientists from the University of Leicester noticed something odd when studying shipping lanes from space. Initially they were tracking the pollutants from boats’ smokestacks. They noticed that the shipping lanes would sometimes change, meaning that the boats would sometimes deviate from the usual course.

Further investigation revealed that these detours coincided with reports of naval piracy. This discovery has given authorities a wider picture of this issue and they now have a new tool for discovering similar activities around the world.

Climate monitoring

Satellites have allowed us to compile longitudinal, large-scale studies of our environment. The melting of glaciers and sea ice is something that can be easily monitored from space, as the whole picture can be seen rather than only localised results.