What can satellites do for you?

If you are anything like me, then the words satellite data, Earth Observation and Space program make your eyes glaze over and think… ahhh, geeky stuff! And now you wonder: What IS she going to write about this time… ?!

Through long term exposure to these terms and regular contact with lovely people who work in this domain (and yes, most of them ARE men – “boys playing with toys” I believe the saying goes) , I have realised that this apparently geeky stuff underpins a lot of really cool things we are now able to do every day, thanks to satellites and I wanted to share my amazement with you. No, this is not science-fiction but today’s technology and how it is used in our daily life often without us realising. Satellites are everywhere !

A short list I have made of concrete uses of Earth Observation that is important and useful for me:

  • GPS in my car as well as a car tracking device (in case it gets stolen)
  • the same in my phone
  • weather forecast to know if I need that umbrella today (VERY useful in Brussels)
  • air traffic control and safety – important to me as I fly a lot (including the flight tracking apps that tells my parents my plane has safely arrived at destination without me needing to send them a hundred texts…)

But also uses of collective interest such as:

  • satellite guiding agricultural machines in huge fields for easier harvest (used a lot in the US),
  • ocean freighters navigation and tracking,
  • air traffic I have already mentioned, but also river navigation (water levels in rivers)
  • monitoring of environmental issues as varied as deforestation (checking if logging routes in forests are used or not and monitoring density of vegetation cover), monitoring of endangered species to protect biodiversity, or fighting illegal fishing (by monitoring the behaviour of fishing boats to see where and when they fish).
  • promoting safety – alerting to and monitoring floods and fires, but also for example being used to monitor mining operations and their impacts.
  • monitoring water quality (salinity, temperature, etc.) in lakes
  • for some countries, it can indicate where some interesting mineral resources can be found,
  • it can also be used for monitoring of migration – for example the size and growth and organisation of refugee camps (used for the ones in Jordan for example),
  • and lots of other amazing things that sound like coming out of Star Trek…

and then – to prove that there IS beauty in technology – it also produces pictures as lovely as this:

meteosat-dlr_h (photo from the website of the European Space Agency )

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