Optical missions

Phytoplankton bloom off the coast of Scotland

Optical imagers and multispectral radiometers provide images of Earth's surface and atmosphere. Copernicus Contributing Missions carrying optical imagers complement the multispectral imagery from Sentinel-2 and images from the Ocean Land Colour Instrument and Sea Land Surface Temperature Radiometer carried on Sentinel-3.

Optical imagers are amongst the most common instruments used for Earth observation. They are generally nadir-viewing instruments with a horizontal spatial resolution ranging of 1–300 m and swath widths in the order of tens to hundreds of km.

They have many application areas such as agriculture, land-cover mapping, damage assessment associated with natural hazards and urban planning. They are, however, limited to cloud-free conditions and daytime operation.

Measurements may be used to infer a wide range of parameters, including sea- and land-surface temperature, snow and sea-ice cover and cloud cover. They supply an important source of data on processes in the biosphere, providing information on global vegetation and its variation through the seasons – important for identifying areas of drought and early warning of food shortages.

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