Marine Researchers Welcome Extraordinary Sea Images from New European Satellite



Image of the port of Zeebrugge, taken by satellite Sentinel-2A on 6 July 2015. (Photo: ESA)
Marine Researchers Welcome Extraordinary Sea Images from New European Satellite
post by
Reinout Verbeke

The newly launched European satellite Sentinel-2A turns out to be very useful for marine researcher, says bio-engineer Dimitry Van der Zande of our Institute, who presented the first images in Milan. The satellite, launched in June, was originally designed for land applications, but now also offers opportunities for the study of coastal areas. 

The new satellite Sentinel-2A was launched on 23 June from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. It’s the second satellite of the Copernicus-program for Earth Observation of the European Space Agency (ESA).  Sentinel-2B will be launched In 2016 and together they will scan the planet every five days in high resolution (up to 10 meters close). The satellites provide the spectral color ranging from blue to short wave infrared in 12 bands. Scientists will be able to observe changes in landscapes and vegetation. But the images are also promising for marine science.

Watching Coastal Waters

Experts assembled in Milan on 27 July to discuss early images of Sentinel-2A and how a variety of operational and scientific applications could benefit. By detecting changes to land and water bodies over time, Sentinel-2 can help to manage natural resources sustainably. ‘The Sentinel satellites will also monitor changes in water quality of the seas and oceans’, outlines Dimitry Van der Zande from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS). ‘For Belgian waters the first images of Sentinel-2A – even not yet calibrated – seem to have a great potential in mapping sediment transport in coastal and inland waters.

North Sea Windmills

The European countries are committed to generating 20% of their energy from sustainable sources by 2020. Therefore offshore windmill parks are being constructed at several locations in the North Sea. Any offshore construction must include an environmental impact assessment as directed by the EU. ‘With the increased spatial resolution of satellites such as Sentinel-2A and Landsat-8 it is now possible to see these windmill parks from space, and monitor the water quality around the turbines’, says Van der Zande. The C-Power site on the Thornton sandbank, 28km off the coast of Zeebrugge, will be used as a testing site for the new-generation sensors in satellites as Sentinel-2. The data from the new satellite will help monitor environmental changes caused by windmill parks, will complete data from the radiometric system installed on the MOW1 platform (near Zeebrugge) and will be integrated in the AERONET-OC system.


Another use of high resolution satellite data is the monitoring of dumped or dredged sediments. The dredging of ports and navigation routes is essential for shipping and economy. The Sentinel-2A image of the port of Zeebrugge shows ships, their wakes and also the dumped dredged materials coming from the port. ‘You can even see the sediments entering the ports’, says Van der Zande. ‘This image is very interesting for engineers and modellers to better understand the sediment transport in and around the harbour. This type of data will be very valuable to calibrate and validate sediment transport models and optimise dredging operations.’

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