Copernicus: earth in focus

What does the future hold for forest fires? At what speed will icecaps melt? On which days should asthma sufferers stay indoors? And how should we be tackling agriculture after a dry spell or flooding? These and many other questions about our existence on earth can be answered to satisfaction using information from space. That is what the European Commission’s earth observation programme Copernicus is all about.

Copernicus was previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). The purpose of this programme is to meticulously map changes on planet earth (on the land, at sea and in the air). Data are then used by (climate) researchers, but also for monitoring natural resources among other things, to make high-precision agriculture possible and to perceive natural disasters before they occur.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is co-responsible for the Copernicus programme. It exists of a satellite family known as Sentinel. The first Sentinel uses a radar to watch the earth all the time, day and night, come rain or shine. Sentinel 2 focuses on vegetation, soil water and coastal areas in the first place. The third Sentinel is a topography mission for land and sea, also measuring temperatures worldwide. Sentinels 4 and 5 are fully dedicated to the observance of the atmosphere.

Tropomi is the beating heart of the Sentinel-5 precursor, which is the forerunner of the Sentinel-5 mission. This satellite was called into existence on the special request of the Dutch scientific community for without it, it would leave them with a gap of five to seven years of high-quality atmospheric observations. Until Sentinels 4 and 5 are out there, Tropomi in fact will be the only instrument mapping the earth’s atmosphere painstakingly, on a daily basis.

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