ERS achievements

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ESA / Applications / Observing the Earth

An environmental library

Our planet is constantly evolving around us. Volcanic discharges and forest fires are just some of the natural causes of change in our environment. But man’s everyday activities are speeding up the effects of change and altering the delicate ecological balance of our World.

Pollution from the cars we drive, the power stations that generate our electricity and the industrial processes that release toxins into the air is altering our atmosphere at an unprecedented rate.

To ensure we can understand and stop any further damage to the environment we need ongoing, coherent and precise data of the kind generated by ERS-1/2.

Using the technology of the ERS satellites we have been able to observe all these elements on a daily basis, building up a library of information from which to learn and act upon.

Combating El Nino

El Nino is the weather phenomenon responsible for some of the world’s most drastic and devastating disasters. From summer droughts in Australia, Africa, Brazil, Asia and Central America to milder winters and severe flooding in other parts of the World, El Nino is now recognised by scientists as one of the world’s most serious environmental threats.

Monitoring particular aspects of the environment can provide answers to many of the mysteries surrounding El Nino. ERS onboard instruments can measure changes in sea temperature and levels – two key environmental changes associated with the El Nino event.

The huge amounts of satellite-generated data now available to scientists ensures that they are more able to understand the signs and causes of this extraordinary natural phenomenon and are better able to help governments and communities predict and prepare for future.

Melting pot

Observation of our polar ice caps plays an important role in helping us assess changes in our climate. Fears of melting ice in polar regions are well-founded - it would result in widespread flooding across the globe with many of our coastal cities disappearing beneath rising sea levels.

Fortunately ERS data can help scientists see whether ice is melting or accumulating. Detailed maps of the ice sheets can be drawn up on a continuous basis to watch for emerging adverse patterns or trends.

Devil’s advocate

Oil is one of man’s most valuable resources. We use it to power our cars, create our electricity and produce many of the plastic and cosmetic products that we all rely on. A key element of our modern world it is both our saviour and our enemy.

As we become increasingly reliant on oil to drive our economies, we are finding it more and more difficult to find new sources. The ERS-2 Radar Altimeter is able to produce topographic maps of the sea floor to help us identify new oil supplies.

At the other end of the spectrum, ERS monitoring is helping us to prevent the devastation that oil pollution can bring to our coastal, sea and marine environments. The highly sophisticated Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) can detect oil spills on the ocean surface.

This high vantage point can help special oil spill teams in clearing accidental oil disasters more efficiently, and it can also act as a policing presence. Thanks to ERS satellite monitoring, oil pollution monitoring is now well established. Even illegal discharges principally from ships clearing their tanks at night can be identified and the offenders prosecuted.

Sun screen

The ozone layer is a composition of atmospheric gases above the Earth’s surface that acts like a sunscreen, filtering all the harmful rays of the sun and preventing the planet from overheating.

Since the early 1990s scientists around the world have been concerned about the number of holes appearing in this protective layer. And if the Earth warms up too much, agricultural crops could fail, water supplies could become scarce and diseases and conditions such as skin cancer could increase.

To help us monitor these effects, ERS 2 includes an ultraviolet and visible light spectrometer, called the Global Monitoring Ozone Experiment (GOME) for atmospheric ozone level research.

By keeping ongoing information on ozone levels we can help to prevent further damage to the environment by restricting offending chemicals and pollutants or finding alternatives.