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World Environment Day: Environmental Breakthroughs from Satellite Technology in the South West

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Author:  Gwen de Groot, Director of Naviter Consulting

The natural environment is of huge value to the South West region of the UK and cutting edge satellite data and technology is being used to protect and restore natural capital.

Rapidly developing technologies from satellites have enormous potential to help manage natural resources. It is possible that these technologies are about to change the way we respond to environmental crises and make business decisions that impact the natural environment forever.

Satellite technologies which are being utilised for environmental applications include:

  • Earth Observation imagery (EO) which is used to view, monitor and detect changes across wide scale landscapes and oceans as well as to predict weather and climate conditions.
  • Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) is used for navigational purposes for robotics, autonomous vehicles and vessels, underpins all location data, GPS and has vital applications for the maintenance and security of national infrastructure assets.
  • 5th generation wireless technology (5G) allows connectivity for monitoring environmental changes through sensors and Internet of Things (IoT).


Earth Observation is used to monitor greenhouse gases and other key climate indicators, while applications for high-resolution hyperspectral sensor technology are enabling analysis of the condition of ecosystems around the Earth. European Earth observation program, Copernicus, includes a fleet of Sentinel satellites that are  monitoring Earth’s environment, including CO2 levels in the atmosphere, temperatures, sea levels, and predicting occurrence of floods and earthquakes.


In the South West we have just completed a review of satellite technology capabilities and opportunities for application to natural capital by engaging with key stakeholders in agriculture, marine technology, aquaculture and biodiversity. At a time when safeguarding natural resources for future generations has never been more urgent, here are four ways satellite technologies are underpinning breakthroughs for protecting and restoring our natural environment here in the region:


Coastal erosion

Earth Observation has been used in a project lead by Argans as part of the Coastal Change Consortium. It aims to develop applications to identify and monitor coastal erosion and accretion to inform coastal management plans through volumetric sediment transport and analysis of 25 years of historical ESA data to quantify coastal change over time. The Argans team use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) from Sentinel 1 and optical data from Sentinel 2 while developing their own methodologies to address issues of coastal erosion. They partnered with the British Geological Survey and, to test the value of EO, they chose sites that had quite complex geomorphological differences including Start Bay, Chesil Beach and Perranporth, all three in the south west.


Water management

CREWW Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste, the UK’s leading water research facility, is a partnership between University of Exeter and South West Water. They are exploring novel modelling and innovative approaches for upstream and downstream water and waste management and  initiated Upstream Thinking, a programme focussed on methods to hold water longer in the uplands. By deploying sensors in streams and rivers to collect real time data they can monitor changes to water quality in response to upstream land and water management interventions. They also have a fleet of drones with sensor technology to augment their monitoring capability. The programme is extending to cover a much broader scale with applications of Earth Observation to augment their monitoring of impacts.





Satellites play an important role in proving scalable, interoperable and cost-effective measurements from agriculture. Data from farms can be used to plan for erratic weather conditions in a changing climate. Earth Observation and location data is also being used for precision and effective agricultural practice limiting inputs of fertiliser, fungicide and conserving water. As a result creating a more secure food supply due to better resilience for adverse climate events and  achieve higher yields. Research and innovation in agritech supported by satellites is being in the South West by the Duchy College Rural Business School and Rothamsted Research .



Marine connectivity

In 2020 the Marine Business Technology Centre in Plymouth secured funding from the HoTSW LEP to create the world’s first ocean-based 5G network which went live in April 2021 to provide high speed data links that primarily support autonomy (autonomous vessels and robotics). The programme has significant projects underway with over 300 businesses, many of which would benefit from geospatial applications. There are key opportunities through Smart Sound Plymouth network for integration of  both sensors and earth observation imagery to monitor and conserve marine ecosystems.


Gwen de Groot, Director















Sharon Addinall
ehealth Business Engagement Officer
Sharon has worked within the health sector undertaking administration and management for the majority of her career and prior to joining the Centre, she ran her own business as an Editor for a local magazine.
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