Editorial Feature

Pairing Remote Satellites with Ground Environmental Sensors

Monitoring the environment is a key challenge that requires the use of advanced sensors, both space- and ground-based. This article will briefly explore how scientists are pairing these approaches to provide accurate, real-time short-term and long-term information on a changing world.

A space satellite above the Earth

Image Credit: Artsiom P/Shutterstock.com

The Challenge of Monitoring the Environment

One of the historical constants of the environment is change. While long-term climactic changes have created today's environment, a growing challenge related to anthropogenic activities and the natural world has become a critical issue for scientists.

Monitoring changing environments, land use, infrastructure, biodiversity, and a warming globe is a complex undertaking that requires the use of sophisticated, interconnected technologies.

Utilizing these technologies helps scientists gather critical data on pollution, industrial emissions, and provides key information on river levels, preventing wildfires, and predicting the amount of solar energy that can be generated in a location regardless of the weather.

One of the main problems related to global environmental monitoring is that there are regions that are not adequately covered by ground-based monitoring stations. These include remote areas in Africa, the Arctic, and hard-to-reach parts of the Southern Ocean. Solving this ground-based resource allocation issue is a critical task for environmental scientists.

The Benefits of Using Satellite-based Sensing Systems

If ground-based resources are inadequately allocated in a specific region, then what is the solution to providing accurate environmental data about that region? An answer to this question is to use satellite-based systems, which can monitor large, remote regions from space.

Utilizing satellites in conjunction with ground-based sensor networks and weather stations provides a comprehensive understanding of changing environments. Pairing these two different technologies fills in the gaps in global weather and environmental datasets.

Challenges Related to Ground-Based and Satellite-Based Monitoring Approaches

As mentioned above, pairing these technologies provides scientists with a comprehensive understanding of ecological factors in a warming world. However, these approaches are not without their own specific challenges, which must be overcome to make this comprehensive approach viable.

Ground- and marine-based sensors provide intimate, real-time localized information on the environment and climate. For instance, they can be used to monitor environmental pollution, temperature changes, and habitat changes. However, this hyper-localized capability is itself a major drawback of this approach.

Using these sensors can be time- and labor-intensive, requiring regular maintenance of stations in potentially hard-to-reach locations. Furthermore, they can be limited in scale (although using networks of sensors can overcome this limitation to a degree) and can be hindered by physical boundaries.

Space-based sensor systems are not limited by geography and can gather and analyze data from broader portions of the landscape, from nations to entire geographical regions. Additionally, their powerful capability to provide critical landscape context for finer ground measurements is critical for scientists.

For example, a satellite can image an entire lake without human intervention (for the most part) and analyze patterns such as reflectivity, but imaging systems may struggle to provide resolution of a single object like, say, a small boat.

Relating these two different types of measurement (remotely sensed, broad-scale satellite-based and finer, hyper-local ecological ground-based) is difficult. Thus, careful consideration and evaluation must be performed when selecting remotely sensed measurements that can be used to link information across different scales.

In short, merging data gathered from multivariate sensors (ground, marine, underwater, air, and space-based) provides a more complete picture of a particular region or ecological factor, overcoming the limitations of each approach and leveraging its benefits.

Using a Comprehensive Approach to Monitor Earth’s “Skin Temperature”

A paper published in 2019 in the journal Environmental Research Letters demonstrated the power of using this comprehensive approach to monitor global warming.

The study used a network of ground-based sensors and NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS,) a satellite-based infrared sensing and measurement system. AIRS began collecting data on the Earth’s “skin temperature” (the temperature at the planet’s surface) in 2002.

By comparing data from AIRS with ground-based data gathered by land-based stations, Antarctic weather stations, ship-based systems, and buoys, the team behind the study produced two data sets (one land-based and one space-based) that closely agreed with each other, confirming the accuracy of global warming measurements.

Interestingly, the study discovered a mismatch between measurements and predictions in the Arctic, seeming to show that this vulnerable region is warming even faster than currently thought. Already, scientists believe that the region may be experiencing a twofold average warming increase compared to the rest of the world.

Specifically, the AIRS data revealed that specific regions of the Arctic Ocean, such as the Kara and Barents seas, are warming at a much faster rate, around 2.5oC (4.5oF) per decade.

Utilizing this double approach to environmental monitoring is especially useful in the Arctic: land-based sensors can only be installed on coastlines as changing sea ice would make their location problematic. Moreover, placing them in the middle of remote oceanic regions would be highly difficult. Satellites can fill this gap.

In Summary

Monitoring human impact on the environment and long-term ecological patterns is vital to provide valuable information that will inform strategies to limit global warming and environmental damage. Both ground- and satellite-based sensors can play a huge role in this endeavor.

However, both approaches have their limitations, but recognizing these and their benefits, scientists are turning to paired approaches that leverage their power. While still in its relative infancy, this solution is already bearing fruit.

Tracking Air Pollution in Space: The TEMPO Satellite Initiative

References and Further Reading

Susskind, J., et al. (2019). Recent global warming as confirmed by AIRS. Environmental Research Letters, 14, 044030 [online] iopscience. Available at: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aafd4e

Gallant, A., et al. (2018). Challenges in Complementing Data from Ground-Based Sensors with Satellite-Derived Products to Measure Ecological Changes in Relation to Climate—Lessons from Temperate Wetland-Upland Landscapes. Sensors,18(3), p.880. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5876606/

Wilkes, M. (2020). Using Space-Based Sensors to Tackle Real-World Problems on Earth [online] Mitre.org. Available at: https://www.mitre.org/news-insights/impact-story/using-space-based-sensors-tackle-real-world-problems-earth

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.


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