WWF Italia tags urban 'hot spots' with ESA's UrbEx

12 May 2003

WWF Italia is monitoring the urbanization of the Italian coast to catch overdeveloped 'hot spots,' courtesy of an ESA programme to develop new applications-driven services with space data.

WWF Italia has been working with ESA as part of the Agency's Urban Expansion (UrbEx) project to provide a novel information service that monitors the loss of natural areas from urban development. The project's objective was to demonstrate the capability to monitor urban growth using Earth observation information. In addition, the goal included the development of an imagery database and analytical tools to assess the growth of urbanization and its impact on natural resources.

Under the ESA sponsorship, the Italian technology company, Advanced Computer Systems (ACS), developed the sophisticated mapping service for WWF Italia that allows the environmental watchdog organisation to identify areas that may have been over-developed or subject to other types of environmental stress – the so-called 'hot spots'.

Once the service identified a potential trouble WWF then can verify the exact nature of the problem and, as needed, launch a campaign, an official with the environmental agency said.

New urbanisation in the area of Rome between 1995 and 2000
New urbanisation in the area of Rome between 1995 and 2000

"We are interested in monitoring coastal areas and looking for such things as illegal construction, new roads, expansion of ports and tourist facilities, degradation of natural vegetation regions like wetlands and dunes, and water pollution from civil and industrial sewage," explained Andrea Masullo, energy, climate and waste officer for WWF-Italia. "We want to identify hot spots and investigate before it's too late to do anything about the environmental impact."

The Web-based service permits WWF Italia access to maps that provide different types of land-use analyses and cover different geographical areas, depending on the specific issues of concern. Designed by ESA and ACS after an in-depth process of evaluation and assessment of the user's requirements, the service covers an area of 200 000 sq km, or about two-third's of Italy's total land area.

The prime application is to identify potential at-risk coastline areas for additional WWF attention. Changes in land use are highlighted on maps derived from analyses of satellite imagery from ESA and other satellites acquired in 1994-95, and comparing those with images acquired more recently.

ACS is currently preparing a market analysis and targeting other potential users for the UrbEx service, according to Ferdinando Iavarone, ACS' UrbEx project manager.

"ACS is working on the possibility to offer the service commercially," Iavarone said.

The ACS official said that other potential users for an UrbEx-type service include:

  • organisations similar to WWF interested in the preservation of natural landscapes
  • governmental bodies at local, national and European levels
  • statistical agencies handling agricultural/urban census data
  • mobile communications companies for antenna locations and bandwidth studies
  • commercial mapping companies.

The UrbEx project is part of ESA's Data User Programme aimed at finding innovative, operational applications of Earth observation data to solve environmental and other problems.

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