The ESA funded AMT4SentinelFRM project has now launched, focusing on validating Sentinel satellite data by using measurements taken on the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) during an annual research voyage between the UK and destinations in the South Atlantic.
Satellites are vitally important as they can observe vast areas of the ocean that are difficult to access and sample using traditional methods. Observations from space provide unique information which greatly aids understanding and management of climate change. Satellite data therefore offers a cost-effective means of providing a global coverage of oceanic conditions. However, in order for these observations to be meaningful, they need to be corroborated by measurements taken in the field.
Data from Europe’s Sentinel satellites are central to the project. This new suite of satellites, developed by the European Space Agency, forms the heart of the European Commission’s Copernicus programme – the largest global environmental monitoring initiative ever conceived. The Sentinels carry a vast range of sensors to deliver a stream of complementary imagery and data for monitoring our land, ice, oceans and atmosphere.
The Copernicus programme is unique because of the continuity of spatial and temporal coverage. Up until now, space agencies have typically launched single satellites to gather data, yet once that satellite reaches the end of its life the data stop. Through the Copernicus programme, the European Space Agency is launching a cluster of satellites to provide data to monitor our planet for the next 20 years.
Sentinels 1A, 1B, 2A and the recently launched 3A will be utilised in the project. There has already been some spectacular imagery obtained from these satellites however we now need to be able to prove how good the data are. Continuous on-board ship measurements will be used to validate the accuracy and quality of the satellites orbiting overhead. The AMT transect is of particular value as it covers a vast range of environments from the productive coastal regions to the desert-like gyres in the centre of the ocean, which are rarely accessed by research ships.
The images received by the Sentinels are vital for earth observation research as they can help scientists measure the number and type of plankton in the ocean which is crucial for understanding how the ocean is changing. These plankton form the base of the food-web upon which all life in the ocean is dependent. Plankton is also important for maintaining the balance of gases in our atmosphere and sustaining life on Earth.
Dr Gavin Tilstone, Principal Investigator commented: “The satellite data is only ever as good as the high quality measurements taken at sea which we use to ground-truth them. To have confidence in the satellite data you need to have exceptionally high quality reference data. This is where AMT comes in, taking rigorous in-situ measurements”.
The project will work towards the data being classed as FRM (Fiducial Reference Measurements) which certifies that the measurements meet required conditions to ensure quality and confidence in the resulting data. This will give increased confidence in the satellite data that is available globally and used to improve our understanding of how the oceans are being affected by and buffer human activity.