Earth observation

GOCE satellite

Earth images show the world on a large enough scale to allow surveillance of complete, large-scale phenomena with an accuracy and completeness that would take a large community of ground-based observers to match.

ESA’s Earth observation satellites are being used to map land cover and biomass health, identify millimetre-scale buckling in the Earth's crust, measure sea-surface temperature to an accuracy of a few tenths of a degree, and plot any increases in average sea level or decreases in ice-sheet thickness. They also map the chemical composition of the atmosphere with a sensitivity down to a few molecules per million and identify microscopic aerosols drifting in the air. All this is helping to monitor and protect our environment, to help in prediction and prevention of natural disasters and to provide more accurate weather forecasts.

Cooperation with Russia

Russia began to cooperate with ESA on Earth observation in the mid-1990s, with a successful joint project, Ice Watch. Russian scientists have been actively employing these data for various research programmes ever since, including monitoring of:

  • the Caspian and Aral Sea basins
  • ice along the northern sea route
  • Arctic ice cover for global warming studies
  • oil spills
  • the Baikal region
  • emergencies caused by floods, environmental disasters, earthquakes, etc.
  • forest ecosystems
  • permafrost

ESA considers Earth observation data cooperation as a two-way process, which should benefit all partners involved. A trilateral EU/ESA/Roscosmos agreement on Earth observation data exchange was signed in February 2009. This agreement is not restricted to images and derivative products – it also foresees sharing and interoperability of ground station networks. For instance, today ESA runs a tandem ERS-2/ENVISAT mission with key support from a ground station in the city of Khanty-Mansyisk, Western Siberia.

Russia also provides Earth observation satellite launch services to ESA. On 17 March 2009, ESA's GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) was launched on a Rockot vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. Two more ESA missions are due to be carried into space by Russian rockets later this year: SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on board a Rockot vehicle and ice mission Cryosat-2 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on board a Dnepr vehicle.

Last update: 13 May 2009

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