25 Years of Copernicus: Pioneering Earth Observation for a Sustainable Future

 25 Years of Copernicus: Pioneering Earth Observation for a Sustainable Future

This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Copernicus, a groundbreaking Earth observation component of the European Union’s Space programme. Named after the Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, this European initiative has exceeded expectations and become one of the most ambitious and successful Earth Observation programmes worldwide. With a set of Copernicus Sentinel satellites in orbit, in addition to contributing missions, in situ sensors, and numerical models, terabytes of free and open data and information services are provided daily to hundreds of thousands of users. 

The History of Copernicus

The Copernicus programme, initiated in 1998 with the signing of the Baveno Manifesto, aimed to establish a monitoring programme for global environmental and climate issues. Originally called GMES (Global Monitoring for Environmental Security), the programme’s acronym was later changed to reflect its expanded focus on the environment and security. The development of the programme me’s satellite constellation, known as the Sentinels, began in 2004 and played a crucial role in positioning Europe as a leader in Earth Observation. Over the years, various Copernicus services were launched, including land and marine monitoring and emergency response. In 2011, the programme entered the GMES Initial Operations phase, eventually renaming as Copernicus, paying homage to Nicolaus Copernicus and his groundbreaking astronomical theories. The programme’s data policy ensures free and open access to Copernicus data for users worldwide. The launch of the first Copernicus satellite, Sentinel-1A, took place in 2014. The subsequent launches expanded the Sentinel constellation to include radar, optical, and altimetry sensors to monitor the Earth’s environment comprehensively.

A History of Copernicus

Old but gold – Use of historic Copernicus EO data

Europe’s Eyes on Earth

The Copernicus services transform this wealth of satellite and in situ data into value-added information by processing and analysing the data. Datasets stretching back for years and decades are made comparable and searchable, thus ensuring the monitoring of changes; patterns are examined and used to create better forecasts, for example, of the ocean and the atmosphere. Maps are created from imagery, features and anomalies are identified and statistical information is extracted.

These value-adding activities are streamlined through six thematic streams of Copernicus services:

Atmosphere. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service supports many applications in various domains, including health, environmental monitoring, renewable energies, meteorology and climatology. 

The service focuses on five main areas:

  1. Air quality and atmospheric composition; 
  2. Ozone layer and ultra-violet radiation; 
  3. Emissions and surface fluxes; 
  4. Solar radiation; 
  5. Climate forcing.

Marine. The Copernicus Marine Service (or Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service) is designed to serve EU policies and International legal Commitments related to Ocean Governance, to cater for the needs of society at large for global ocean knowledge and to boost the Blue Economy across all maritime sectors by providing free-of-charge state-of-the-art ocean data and information.

Sustainable Port Management through Copernicus: Impressive

It provides key inputs that support major EU and international policies and initiatives and can contribute to combating pollution, marine protection, maritime safety and routing, sustainable use of ocean resources, developing renewable marine energy resources, supporting blue growth, climate monitoring, forecasting, and more. It also aims to increase awareness amongst the general public by providing European and global citizens with information about ocean-related issues.

Land. The Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS) provides geospatial information on land cover, land use, vegetation, water cycle, and energy variables to users in Europe and worldwide. It supports applications in various domains such as urban planning, forest management, water management, agriculture, nature conservation, and climate change mitigation. CLMS has been implemented by the European Environment Agency and the European Commission DG Joint Research Centre since 2012. It systematically monitors biophysical parameters, land cover and land use mapping, thematic hot-spot mapping, imagery and reference data, and ground motion measurement.

Climate change. The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) supports society by providing authoritative information about the past, present and future climate in Europe and the rest of the World. The C3S mission is to support adaptation and mitigation policies of the European Union by providing consistent and authoritative information about climate change.

Copernicus: Global Climate Highlights 2022

Security. The Copernicus service for Security applications aims to support European Union policies by providing information in response to Europe’s security challenges. It improves crisis prevention, preparedness and response in three key areas:

  • Border surveillance
  • Maritime surveillance
  • Support to EU External Action

Emergency. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service (Copernicus EMS) provides all actors involved in the management of natural disasters, man-made emergencies, and humanitarian crises with timely and accurate geo-spatial information derived from satellite remote sensing and completed by available in situ or open data sources.

Record Year 2022: The Growing Use of Copernicus Emergency Management Services

Global Impact and Future Prospects

Over the past 25 years, Copernicus has made a significant global impact. Its data has been instrumental in international collaborations, supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and facilitating evidence-based decision-making across various sectors. European citizens, ranging from policymakers, researchers, and commercial to private users and the global scientific community, can benefit in many ways from the data and information provided by Copernicus:

  1. Economic Growth: Copernicus data supports various industries, creates skilled jobs, and contributes to the growth of the European economy.
  2. Cost Savings: The program coordinates national initiatives, resulting in significant cost savings by having a single EU programme.
  3. Environmental Resilience: Copernicus is a long-term investment in understanding and addressing environmental challenges. Regular Earth observation helps us better prepare for climate change and mitigate its effects.
  4. Startup Opportunities: The availability of Copernicus data has led to the emergence of a thriving startup scene, with numerous ventures utilising this information.
  5. Reduced Dependence: Europe is less reliant on third-country data sources thanks to Copernicus, enabling it to act as an autonomous international player.
  6. Enhanced Security: Copernicus plays a crucial role in Europe’s security by providing satellite information for border and maritime surveillance, supporting European external actions, and contributing to the safety of European citizens

Indeed, Copernicus supports a variety of applications in several non-space domains, which potentially impact businesses and organisations in day-to-day activities and operations.

Looking ahead, Copernicus continues to evolve, with plans for the next generation of Sentinel satellites and increased data accessibility. As technology advances, Copernicus is expected to contribute even more to our understanding of the Earth and its complex systems, empowering us to tackle emerging challenges effectively.

Industry view of the future of Copernicus

Pioneering Earth Observation for a Sustainable Future

Since its launch in 1998, the Copernicus programme has been at the forefront of Earth observation and environmental monitoring. Comprised of three key components — the space component with Sentinel satellites and Copernicus Contributing Missions, the Copernicus Services, and the in situ component — the programme has significantly contributed to science, business, and technology. It has played a vital role in monitoring and predicting environmental changes, as well as addressing global challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. With the introduction of “Destination Earth,” the programme aims to continue offering innovative solutions for a sustainable future. The success of Copernicus’ 25th anniversary stands as a testament to its unwavering dedication, groundbreaking technology, and its ability to bring together diverse stakeholders to tackle critical global challenges. As we look back on the past 25 years, we take pride in Copernicus’ role as a symbol of innovation, knowledge, and environmental stewardship. Cheers to the remarkable achievements of Copernicus and the promising future ahead as we collaborate to build a better and more sustainable world for future generations.

Source, images: Copernicus

Kacia Rutkoŭskaja

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