Europe and China collaborate on remote sensing to address global challenges

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A research arrangement has been established between the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (CAS-RADI) in a bid to address global challenges such as sustainable development, climate action and disaster risk reduction. The agreement was signed on 29 June at the EU-China Summit which took place in Brussels. 

Co-operation between the JRC and CAS-RADI started in 2008, with the focus on analysis of human settlements to analyse disaster risks, as well as global urban observation, land and soil cover mapping, and crop monitoring.

Under the new agreement established in June 2015, the co-operation will be reinforced and extended to areas such as: air quality, human settlement detection and characterisation, land and soil mapping, land cover mapping, digital Earth sciences and agricultural monitoring.

The introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), small satellites, and even robotic platforms to applications outside of defence has allowed remote sensing technologies to be used in wider variety of applications, from analysing a town’s flood risk, to monitoring polluting chemicals released from power plants.

Remote sensing technologies can be mounted onto unmanned aerial vehicle’s (UAV’s), for example, to track forest fires or asses oil spills, and allow emergency services to best assign their resources.

Data obtained from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite has helped communities in the United States to monitor their flood risk. Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used the spectral data to investigate how urbanisation will affect the likelihood or intensity of damage in the event of flood. ‘[When urbanisation increases] the ground is no longer able to hold water, which means local flooding sources are going to receive more of that water - the flooding characteristics are going to change,’ Zack Roehr told Electro Optics, a senior spatial analyst with FEMA subcontractor Dewberry.

Furthermore, the DIAL lab developed at the UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL) uses remote sensing technology to measure emissions from up to 3km away, and produce 3D emission maps and the mass emission rates for airborne pollutants such as hydrocarbons. The mobile lab has already been used for monitoring emissions in the USA − including refineries, landfill and coke works − and in a number of other European countries.

The relations between the JRC and CAS-RADI build upon more than a decade of successful co-operation. During their work together, the two bodies contributed to the Digital Earth programme, a global initiative to construct a comprehensive virtual representation of the planet. It is a collaborative effort between Earth sciences, space sciences and information sciences to monitor and forecast natural and human phenomena and decide upon the best disaster management approaches.

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Further information 

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre  

The International Society for Digital Earth