Space Data for Journalism

 Space Data for Journalism

Space data has become increasingly relevant for journalism in recent years. With the advancement of technology, there has been a massive increase in the amount of data that is being collected and analysed from space. This data has been used to uncover new scientific discoveries and to monitor the environment, but it has also become an essential tool for journalists reporting on global events. Nevertheless this ‘tool’ remains underutilised, for a variety of reasons discussed in this article.

It is for this reason that the European Space Agency (ESA) opened a new funding call, for innovative media organisations to think of new ways to enable the use of space data in journalism. This funding call opens on 1 May 2023, closing 30 June.

Read more about the ESA ‘Future of Journalism’ call here.

Tomorrow, 26 April at 11:00 CET there will be an information webinar for anyone interested to write a proposal.

ESA Future of Journalism Webinar
Click the image to go to the event details in our calendar

Unique perspective on the world – literally

Space data can provide journalists with a unique perspective on the world – literally. Satellite images and data can capture changes in the environment that are often invisible from the ground. For example, satellites can track the melting of glaciers, the deforestation of forests, and the movement of large-scale weather patterns. This data can provide journalists with a better understanding of how the world is changing and how these changes are affecting the environment and human populations.

One significant application of space data for journalism is in reporting on natural disasters. When a disaster strikes, satellite data can quickly provide information about the extent of the damage, the number of people affected, and the areas that are most in need of assistance. For example, during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, satellite data was used to create maps of the affected areas, allowing rescue teams to target their efforts more effectively. Satellite data can also be used to track the progress of recovery efforts and to monitor the long-term impact of disasters.

Biomass Satellite
ESA’s Biomass satellite will provide valuable information about biodiversity and climate change (image: ESA)

Track human activities from space

Space data can also be used to investigate environmental and social issues. For example, satellite images can reveal the extent of pollution in a particular area or track the movement of waste products in the ocean. Data from satellites can also be used to monitor deforestation, urbanization, and other land-use changes. By combining satellite data with other sources of information, such as government reports and on-the-ground investigations, journalists can provide more in-depth and accurate reporting on these issues.

Another significant application of space data for journalism is in reporting on conflict and human rights abuses. Satellite data can be used to document the destruction of buildings and infrastructure in conflict zones, providing evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses. For example, satellite images have been used to document the destruction of Aleppo during the Syrian civil war, allowing journalists to provide a more detailed account of the conflict. Satellite data can also be used to monitor the movement of refugees and displaced persons, providing insight into the scope and scale of humanitarian crises.

Access to data is a bottleneck

The use of space data for journalism is not without its challenges. Access to satellite data can be expensive, and the interpretation of data requires specialized knowledge and expertise. Additionally, there are ethical considerations to take into account, particularly when using satellite data to report on conflict zones and human rights abuses. Journalists must ensure that the use of satellite data does not violate the privacy or safety of individuals or communities.

Despite these challenges, the use of space data for journalism is an increasingly important and relevant tool. The wealth of information provided by satellite data can offer journalists a unique perspective on the world, allowing them to report on global events with greater accuracy and detail. By incorporating satellite data into their reporting, journalists can provide their audiences with a more comprehensive understanding of the world around them.

How to access space data?

In recent years, space data has also become more accessible to journalists. Organizations such as NASA and the European Space Agency have made their data freely available to the public, while private companies such as Planet Labs and DigitalGlobe offer subscription services that provide access to high-resolution satellite images.

Also read: Satellite data resources for investigative journalism

As the use of space data for journalism continues to grow, it is likely that we will see more innovative uses of this technology. For example, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can help to analyze and interpret large datasets, allowing journalists to uncover new insights and trends. Additionally, advances in satellite technology, such as the launch of more advanced Earth observation satellites, will provide journalists with even more detailed and accurate data.

Also read: EO Made Easy: Comparison of Sentinel Hub EO Browser and Nimbo Maps

Space is here to stay – and help journalists

In conclusion, the relevance of space data for journalism is undeniable. Satellite images and space data provide journalists with a powerful tool to report on natural disasters, environmental and social issues, conflict zones, and human rights abuses. The availability of this data has increased in recent years, and as it becomes more accessible, we can expect to see more journalists incorporating space data into their reporting. The use of space data for journalism has the potential to transform how we understand and report on the world, providing a unique perspective that can help us address some of the most pressing global challenges of our time.

Space for Journalism
Space for journalism (image: Freepik)

Remco Timmermans

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