22 February 2021
Sustainability and development; a combination that requires technology to be successful, and which is at the heart of the United Nations 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The 2021 calendar of Telespazio and e-GEOS "Love Planet Earth” revolves around the theme "Sustainability and development. Compatible needs for the future of the planet". Perfectly embodying this spirit with stunning satellite images captured by e-GEOS and inspiring authors’ shots by National Geographic.
These photographs highlight the negative effects of human action on the planet, as well as the fundamental role that satellite observation can play in achieving the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda. Throughout this year, we will analyse the images with monthly insights on the developments in different sectors achieved by Leonardo’s satellite technologies. In January and February, the focus will be on technology to process images and data provided by the AWARE (Agile Watching of Assets and REsources) platform developed by Telespazio and e-GEOS.
Cosmo-SkyMed Image © ASI (2020). Processed and distributed by e-GEOS BREU Peru’
Deep in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest is a small village featuring a group of thatched huts where solar panel technology is used to supply energy. Two shots chosen for January focused on the link between sustainability and development of small communities through the use of affordable and clean energy (SDG n.7). Settlements that maintain their traditions and culture but which, at the same time, are opening up to a changing world (and to the use of smartphones), enable local people to have the energy they need to charge devices and be connected. Solar energy is one of the most available clean energies and a large development of small solar fields is planned. Satellites can provide significant support in planning this development.
Pléiades Imagery Data © CNES (2020). Distribution AIRBUS DS Essen Germany
Now imagine an abandoned coal mine and the pollution it generates. After years of neglect, the area has been redeveloped and returned to its community for cultural events, games and entertainment. The realisation of this dream is reflected in the calendar’s February images dedicated to SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructures’. The satellite image identifies the Skate Park, located in the former Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in the city of Essen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. This site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 and is testament to the benefits of wise technology use.
We speak to Elena Francioni, e-GEOS Product Management for mapcy and AWARE, who provides additional insights.
What can satellites do for these sustainability issues?
If we think about the issue of affordable clean energy for all, satellites can help us follow each construction phase of an industrial site that can generate green and renewable energy, from start to finish. This starts with territorial planning, because with satellite data we can – by studying the conformation of the territory and solar exposure, for example in the case of a photovoltaic system – make these sites more efficient and maximise their yield. But then, there is also the issue of monitoring the territory through satellite interferometry (INSAR), which allows us to detect possible landslides or the deformation of structures – phenomena that can undermine the site’s efficiency. Finally, another aspect concerns the implementation phase and the possible decommissioning phase, i.e. monitoring the actual progress of construction. In the event that a site should be decommissioned, operational controls must be in place to avoid impacts on the local region and regarding disposal of toxic waste.
If we consider cultural heritage and critical assets, such as the Skate Park in Germany, satellites show us – through interferometry – alterations that can lead to subsidence or damage to buildings and infrastructures. Then there is the ability to monitor the areas near the structures and thus detect the presence of illegal landfills or the spread of weeds, which can be dangerous in the event of a fire. Finally, satellite observation plays a very important role also for the analysis of environmental risk linked to possible natural disasters since, in addition to the analysis of the affected areas, it can support recovery and rescue operations.
How does the AWARE platform enhance our knowledge and awareness?
The purpose – and at the same time the strength – of a platform like AWARE is having a single access point capable of providing 360-degree information on what we are observing. This allows us to provide services based on satellite data and concurrently integrate information that comes from other types of sources, such as 'in situ' sensors.
In the case of a structure like the one shown in the February image, we have data from environmental sensors capable of detecting pollution – a variable that could create problems for the site. Analysis of the territory through specific types of sensors also provides analysis of materials, identifying whether they are toxic or contaminated by harmful spills. This aspect, in the context of the recovery of a former mining area, is clearly a key factor. As mentioned, it is valuable to reiterate the importance of satellite interferometry, which allows us to conduct deformation analysis down to the millimetre.
Thanks to AWARE, therefore, we can generate added value for the user because the platform allows not only to view data, but also correlates it with information from different sources and therefore carries out complex analysis.
What else does AWARE do?
The platform was initially created for monitoring critical assets with the use of satellite interferometry; it’s a very demanding type of data from the computational point of view – both generation and management – because it is extremely rich in information. This is why an advanced tool is needed – to allow instant and easy access to big data.
This is also how we understood the importance of accessing information through a unified platform with updated cartography, which helps us understand what is on the ground, integrating and correlating data. It is good to remember that satellite data is part of an overall system, and it is only thanks to the integration of all the sources that we can obtain an exhaustive analysis.