Combining Earth observation and collateral data to enhance conventional imagery analysis

Today, millions of people all over the globe make large and heterogeneous volumes of georeferenced data available through their use of smart phones and other technical devices. These data, fused with conventional Earth observation imagery, can enhance the results by providing new elements to be considered in the analysis.

 

The New Earth observation Paradigm: New Data Sources and New Technologies

More than 30-year operational Earth Observation satellite data have been used to provide policy and decision makers with relevant information about situational awareness in different areas of application.  Remote sensing, making use of different types of sensors (e.g., optical, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), thermal imagers), has demonstrated to be a key tool for observing the Earth. 

Today, the Earth observation ecosystem is facing the challenge of an unprecedented scenario, where a huge volume of data is produced at high velocity and by a variety of sources. In the recent years, the access to satellite data has changed from being scarce and available only to very specialized users, frequently requiring a large investment in time and financial resources, to being available to the public at lower cost or even at no cost (e.g., Sentinel satellites of the Copernicus program). 

Indeed, there is the need of producing valuable and understandable information to the decision makers, so turning these huge amounts of data into insights is essential! This information has to be provided on time and answering final users’ needs and requests, without forgetting the reliability that decision-makers and operations require. New technologies as Big Data, Cloud Computing and Machine Learning are now driving innovation in the Earth observation applications. Therefore, tools serving these purposes can have a great impact in several areas and countless initiatives are under development these days.

 

There is the need of producing valuable and understandable information (from available data) to the decision makers, so turning the available huge amounts of data into insights is essential!

 

Collateral data to support Earth observation analysis

It is obvious that providing the most detailed possible description of a situation is important when a decision has to be made. Traditionally, situational awareness analysis of satellite Earth observation data has been based on the detailed scrutiny of individual optical, SAR and infrared images, which is a tedious activity, especially when monitoring large areas, and not always having images available all over the area of interest, as said before. 

To complement the information derived by satellite data, collateral data sources could enhance the information provided to users/decision-makers in the Space and Security domain. Collateral data can be considered secondary information required or made available for the full or proper use of primary information.

In the recent years, the use of social media has arisen significantly, to the point that millions of users all over the globe make large and heterogeneous volume of georeferenced data available. These data, fused with conventional Earth observation imagery, can enhance the results by providing new elements to be considered in the analysis.

Nevertheless, the potential improvement of the analysis when combining this collateral data (e.g., social media) with Earth observation data has to be used cautiously, because the trustworthiness of the sources is not always proved and, if not considered appropriately, could lead to wrong decisions. 

 

Security: Improved situation awareness combining conventional satellite imagery with social media data.

 

Examples in the field of Space and Security

The European Union Satellite Centre (EU SatCen) supports the decision-making and actions of the European Union in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) / Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), providing products and services resulting from the exploitation of relevant space assets and collateral data.

SatCen participates in different Research and Innovation projects to assess new technologies and maintain its capabilities at the state-of-the-art. As part of SatCen Research, Technology Development and Innovation (RTDI) activities, SatCen plays a relevant role in NextGEOSS project, leading the innovation pilot in Space and Security. This pilot focuses in the development of several services using Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 and in applying processing algorithms and techniques that enhance current analysis capabilities. In addition to the improvement in services and processing capabilities provided by NextGEOSS pilot, the analysis of satellite Earth observation data can be complemented by the use of collateral data sources (e.g. social media) that could enrich the information provided to the decision makers.

 

Webinar

In the webinar “Combining Earth observation with ancillary data for Security”  we explain the general context in how satellite Earth observation data can be combined with collateral data sources, giving examples on how social media data can contribute to situation awareness.

 

About the authors

Paula Saameno: Paula Works as Research, Technology Development and Innovation Project Officer in the European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen). She is involved in different R&I initiatives related to the application of the new technologies for the use of EO data in the field of Space and Security, such as NextGEOSS project. She holds a telecommunications engineering background and she has worked in the space industry for more than 14 years liaising with different public and private institutions to develop EO space missions

 

 

 

 

Michele Lazzarini: Michele works as Project Officer in the European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen), providing technical expertise in EO related activities. He received a M.Sc. degree in Remote Sensing from the University College London, London, U.K., in 2007, and a Ph.D. degree in Geoinformation from Tor Vergata University, Rome, Italy, in 2011. Before joining SatCen, Dr. Lazzarini worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher with Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, AbuDhabi, UAE; he also worked in the geomatics industry sector and for ESA-ESRIN on technical/scientific activities for products and services related to EO data exploitation.