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Earth Day: celebrating the role satellites play in monitoring our environment

By on

Its Earth Day 2021!

This year we have teamed up with South Coast Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications to highlight businesses across our local regions that are already working to combat climate change – celebrating the role satellites are playing in monitoring the environment of our incredible planet.

To tell you more we interviewed Martin Jones, Head of Institutional Affairs & Coastal Mapping Programme Manager at ARGANS Ltd.

ARGANS Ltd was founded in the UK in 2007 and connected with an international group of companies.  

What do you do? 

We develop and validate products and services to analyse geophysical phenomena in our environment combining satellite data with scientific research, engineering, and high-performing IT technology for big data.  We’re particularly proud of our 45 petabyte archive of EO satellite data and 3000 cores of processing capacity.

We uniquely bring EO scientists, coders, engineers, and hydrographers together to monitor environmental change. ARGANS specialises in satellite-based earth observation, remote-sensing applications and services, and geographical information systems used to map and monitor the marine, atmospheric, and terrestrial environments. 





Global sea surface salinity 2012 & 2017 

What projects are you currently working on? 

We have a range of projects covering the monitoring of marine litter and plastics migration from land to sea and at sea, we are also monitoring wetlands for their carbon capturing capability, as well salt marsh extent. We run the multinational Soil Moisture, Ocean Salinity (SMOS) exploitation, as well as leading the consortium working on the Essential Climate Variable of Sea Surface Salinity within the Climate Change Initiative and we monitor phosphate and nitrate run off to predict harmful algal blooms. We have just concluded a project mapping over 2800km of coastline across four nations, and 15 different geomorphological types, to assess coastal erosion and accretion with several follow on projects in the wings. 





Erosion rates 2017-19 Start Bay, England  

What is your company’s relationship to support for the environment / climate change? 

Nearly all the projects we are engaged in are directly focused on environmental monitoring and/or support to providing the vital evidence of climate change or they are supporting the satellite missions (SMOS, Sentinel 2 and 3 Mission Performance) that enable those engaged in earth observations to be provided with trusted, quality controlled and validated data.

What are the challenges of the sector? 

There are two key challenges that we currently face that are germane to an Environmental/Climate Change focus.

The first is the national investment infrastructure in science and research towards SME businesses. Governments are the key consumer of Earth Observation monitoring that is directly related to the policies they will adopt to combat climate change issues or drive environmental management. This requires a long-term commitment and not simply “start-up” small projects lasting 6 to 12 months. The current National Space Innovation Programme appears to have been funded for 6 months and has concluded. SMEs can’t keep scientists and coders waiting for the next announcement and hence vital knowledge momentum is lost.

Government could also help by setting out its customer requirements and programmes in a clear way so that SMEs can invest. It is great news that the UK Government will invest in Horizon Europe, however this is being reported as being at the expense of general science and innovation investment with both falling to UKRI to fund. The finalisation of the UK’s participation in the Copernicus Programme is critical as it has not been concluded and this  has had a detrimental impact on UK companies and institutions wanting to participate in proposals under this programme.

The second is a dichotomy between highly calibrated and checked scientific civil satellite data sets which although free to access require considerable processing and access to much higher resolution commercial imagery that appear to have a “one size fits all” selling model. Quite often we require a very small component of the commercial data but currently must buy a complete package with limits greatly our use.

In your opinion, how can satellites help to support environmental protection? 

A difficult question to answer. They cannot in our view support protection directly, however their unique monitoring capability enables a view across huge spatial areas with frequent revisits employing a wide array of sensors and sections of the EM spectrum. These observations enable evidence to be gathered that is mostly incontrovertible. Translating technical and scientific evidence into a language that helps decision makers feel compelled to act is a skill, however the value of satellite imagery is also that pictures really do paint a thousand words and make this translation so much easier to consume for the non-technical. 





Plastic detection, Southern Italy    

What exciting developments are you looking forward to and what changes do you expect to see over the next 5 years? 

The growth in “new space” missions will hopefully drive the cost of commercial data right down so that imagery becomes as ubiquitous as position and time, however the key “excitement” for ARGANS will be the growth in multi and hyper spectral imagery available, as well as greater resolution and varying microwave/radar coverage.

The key benefits of satellites are to see what can’t easily be seen, whether that is due to physical access, or exploiting the full EM spectrum, and the second value is the ability to detect change. The more vehicles in space offering affordable observations, then the more likely that the changes will be observed in such detail that the causes become obvious. Add this to the advances in AI and prediction with some degree of trust becomes a reality. 


The South West Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications is based in Cornwall with the University of Exeter as the lead delivery partner.
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