There is a growing number of examples that prove the benefits of Earth observation, often explored through research projects. In Italy, for example, a team of researchers succeeded in detecting illegal waste dumps and landfills, and monitored their extension and persistence over a period of time by using optical satellite image data and a multi-feature detection algorithm. This is an excellent example of how satellite data can make practical law enforcement more efficient and potentially provide evidence with which to pursue legal action.
Also in Italy, researchers tested a methodology for locating illegal and potentially hazardous cattle-breeding facilities, with promising results. The methodology was based on satellite images and an algorithm that locates certain features, such as typical buildings and pens and crosschecks the findings against the official database of registered facilities. 27% of the identified farms were unregistered, proving that Earth observation can provide in-situ inspectors with science-based improved targeting of possible violations of environmental law, as well as evidence to support their case in a court of law.
Satellite imagery was used in California to monitor water quality in multiple lakes, in addition to in-situ measurements. The data obtained showed lake-wide maps indicating chlorophyll-a and turbidity levels, with an option to also include cyanotoxins. This contributed to measurements of total maximum nutrient loads and the compliance with the targets decided by managing authorities with a goal of stabilising deteriorating lake ecosystems and ensuring the quality of drinking water for which the lakes serve as reservoirs.
In 2017, Young and Onoda shared other success stories. A collaborative project between the International Cooperation Agency of Japan (JICA) and the Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources of Brazil (IBAMA) used satellite images to assess deforestation and support law enforcement agencies to control illegal activities, to great effect. Similar efforts were made at the border of Mexico and Guatemala back in 1990, discovering severe deforestation and successfully leading to the establishment of the transboundary Maya Biosphere reserve.
Meanwhile, monitoring of oil pollution with satellites has become a routine procedure. Developed in Norway, a near-real-time monitoring system detects surface slicks and helps deduce responsibility. In 2010, similar mechanisms where used to track the spread of the oil slick originating from the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform, for use by emergency response personnel to help assess and plan clean-up efforts.
Remote sensing and Earth observation have been put to use in the insurance industry. This technology can verify claims concerning insurance of farmers’ crops, for example. Suspicious claims can be tried against historical images that can reveal whether the lost crop was truly planted to the claimed extent. In this scenario Earth observation data functions as ‘historic evidence’. When it comes to the insurance industry this technology has the potential to be a source of information and evidence for a variety of scenarios, including crop damage and disaster risk and damage assessments. Furthermore, researchers agree that it could help reach new markets for index insurance, allowing insurance to reach remote areas they could not otherwise obtain reliable evidence for.
All of the examples above prove that the potential for use of Earth observation and its services is increasing. To help realise this potential, enviroLENS is striving to develop services to reduce the need for user expertise as well as to increase awareness of their potential.