How to make the life of the Baltic Sea area better by using remote sensing?

At the international remote sensing training school in Kubija, Võru County, young researchers and renowned experts from around the world meet to discuss making the life of the Baltic Sea area better by using remote sensing.

Remote sensing is the method of using satellites to observe the processes on Earth. It has developed fast, hand in hand with the development of space technology, and has grown to be an important science development and business area by now. In Estonia, remote sensing has set to be one of the priorities in developing the space industry with the approval of both the Space Policy Working Group and the Estonian Space Council.

The potential of Estonian research and development centres and enterprises covers all of the main fields connected to environment as well as the most important applications for Estonia regarding the research and monitoring of waterbodies, forestry, agriculture and atmosphere.

Nearly 20 renowned remote sensing experts from West and East will come to the training school. Their aim is to share their knowledge with around 30 PhD and master's students and young researchers from Estonia but also from other Baltic Sea countries.

ESTHub stores satellite data about the areas important to us

Estonia has its own strengths in the field of remote sensing. Above all, we have been in the forefront in the research of the water quality of lakes and the Baltic Sea as well as waves, sea wind and ice cover. Among others, these topics will be further discussed at the training school by the UT Tartu Observatory's Director Anu Reinart and Associate Professor Krista Alikas. In the recent years, agricultural research using satellite data has also taken some major steps. For example, the observatory's Research Fellow Kaupo Voormansik and his enterprise KappaZeta is developing a system which detects all mowing on agricultural grasslands in Estonia together with the Estonian Agricultural Registers.

The application stores its data in ESTHub, the Estonian Land Board's national mirror site for satellite data. ESTHub was launched this year and is introduced at the training school. It was created to make the best possible use of the data of the Sentinel satellites that have been sent on orbit within the Copernicus programme. In the mirror site, mission data of both Estonia and other areas of interest are stored. The datasets are freely available and downloadable for anyone, but right now, the data processing service within ESTHub is only meant to be used by the government institutions and enterprises providing services for the institutions.

Those kinds of services are developed within the RITA KAUGSEIRE project, which will demonstrate though prototypes how satellite and drone data could be used to solve four problem areas: wildfires, floods, use of agricultural land, and detecting buildings.

Satellites help detect fires and climate changes

To bring new competences to the training school, word-known remote sensing experts have been invited to attend. One of the visitors of the training school, dr Ivan Csiszar from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of USA, has been researching the atmosphere and Earth with satellites for about 30 years now. With his work group he has developed an algorithm that enables to detect and map wildfires using satellite pictures. This kind of algorithms were also used to analyze the scope and effect of the recent Amazon and Arctic fires.

Satellites can detect fires because of the special radiation that fires emit. The light sensor of the satellite recognizes this radiation and can therefore distinguish the burning areas from others. Besides active fires, the scope of the already burnt areas can be mapped. This can help to estimate the effect that the fire had both on the nature and the atmosphere because of the gas that reached there.

Satellite pictures also help to prove climate change. Among others, Kuo-Hsin Tseng from the National Central University of Taiwan will attend the training school. In his studies, climate warming is expressed as the increase of waterbodies and water level change. This is caused by the melting of glaciers. When the increase of waterbodies can be seen on satllite pictures, then to monitor the waterlevel, satellite altimetry is used. It enables to measure water surface heights from space by sending a radio signal from the satellite to Earth, and measuring the time that it takes for the signal to reflect back from Earth to the satellite. Tseng also investigates land displacement associated with land use: for example, the overpumping of ground water in agriculture can contribute to the ocurrence of landslides.

The training school is organized by the UT Tartu Observatory and Institute of Physics and Baltic Earth, which is a network of Earth scientists, as well as the Estonian University of Life Sciences Institute of Forestry and Rural Engineering and TalTech Department of Marine Systems.

The training school is sponsored by the Doctoral School of Earth Sciences and Ecology. It is also funded by the projects KOMEET, Value-Chain Based Bio-Economy, RITA KAUGSEIRE, and BalticSatApps.

The event is held from September 15 to 20. More information about the training school itself and the key speakers can be found the webpage of the training school. 

Karin Pai,, tel 737 4512, UT Tartu Observatory
Piia Post,, tel 737 5563, UT Institute of Physics