Aug 07, 2017

Opportunities offered by the Copernicus data and services: The point of view of Visioterra

Brussels, 4 August, 2017. VisioTerra was founded in 2004, an SME oriented towards Scientific Consulting for Earth Observation. This includes not only expertise, training and communication in remote sensing, but also software development using virtual globes and the next generation of cartographic products for GIS.

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Copernicus is a booster for SMEs like ours, which is located at the confluence of Research and Applications. The wide range of free and open data currently produced and the expected future data, such as the atmospheric chemistry measurements that will soon be produced by Sentinel-5P, reinforce VisioTerra’s role for mediation, training and promotional activities. The availability of such a wealth of Copernicus data and services wealth calls for the reinforcement and increased backing of initiatives aiming to raise awareness and boost market development.

The challenge is to enable citizens, scientists and entrepreneurs to easily access this wide range of data in order to create new observations, identify congruences, build new models, and develop new services. That is why VisioTerra has developed a free-access client-server application called VtWeb enabling access to a wide variety of Earth Observation, meteorological, climate and more generally bio-geophysical data.

VtWeb’s hyperlook links for example allow our users to quickly estimate the extent of the fires that have recently affected the south of France. This is only possible thanks to the operational readiness and frequent revisit of the five Copernicus Sentinel satellites currently in orbit, which considerably increase the usefulness and attractiveness of such tools for the public as well as for professionals.

Another example of innovation and advancement of services due to Copernicus data are our projects in the Oil & Gas industry in the fields of exploration and environment. Before, we massively used radar data from precursor satellites such as ERS and Envisat. Now, we use Sentinel-1 to detect the “oil seepages” (natural hydrocarbon slicks from underground reservoirs, seen in fig. 1) or “oil spills” (most of which originated from platforms or tanker de-ballasting in fig. 2) on the sea surface.


fig. 1 – Sentinel-1 radar scene acquired on 26/03/2017 showing oil seepages offshore Peru (2D-view)


fig. 2 – Sentinel-1 radar scene acquired on 14/02/2017 showing a long oil spill (more than 37 km) released by a ship entering the Gibraltar strait (3D-view)


fig. 3 – Normalised frequency of observed oil slicks according to the radar acquisition mode (left panel) and the pixel spacing (right panel)

Free Copernicus Sentinel data have enabled us to successfully carry out several UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) projects. The figures below illustrate, for example:

  • An original “Vegetation Index (NDVI) difference” method computed from Sentinel-2 data to assess the loss of vegetation following Cyclone Matthew on Haiti (fig. 4),
  • A method for assessing the impact of torrential rains by measuring the area of sediment effluents seen by the OLCI instrument on board Sentinel-3 (fig. 5 ),
  • Use of Sentinel-1 radar data for land use monitoring along the Rio Quito River in Colombia and the environmental impact assessment following gold exploration along the river (fig. 6).


fig. 4 – NDVI computed from a Sentinel-2 synthesis before (upper left), after (upper right) Hurricane Matthew which occurred on 04.10.2016. The bottom image displays the difference, showing the vegetation loss


fig. 5 – Sentinel-3 OLCI acquired on 09/11/2016 showing the sedimentary effluents consecutive to heavy rain over Haiti


fig. 6 – Sentinel-1 IW scenes showing the fast expansion of human occupation along the Rio Quito River (Colombia)

The desire of the European Commission to maximise the use of Copernicus Sentinel data also opens new business opportunities. VisioTerra recognises and supports this very important mission, and is involved in several remote sensing and data processing training activities. For example, following an ESA request, we trained more than 50 participants at the opening of the AfriGEOSS Symposium in Sunyani, Ghana, in June 2017. The training focused on access and processing of Sentinel data including a presentation of the Copernicus programme and services. Additionally, initiatives aiming at raising awareness and boosting market development should be reinforcement and backed by the institutions, as it is the case with the Network of Copernicus Relays, the Copernicus Academy and the Copernicus Support Office.

This article was first published in Copernicus Oberserver

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