Every minute, satellites and sensors collect enormous amounts of data about the world around us – from temperature to pollution and forest cover to soil quality. This month, Horizon looks into the technologies behind Earth observation and how we can make best use of the vast amounts of information produced. We find out how measurements taken by people with smartphones on the ground can feed into local datasets and how the minituarisation of satellites is creating opportunities for start-ups to enter the Earth observation market. We also discover how measurements are being used to protect ecosystems and what historical data can tell us about extreme weather such as hurricanes and droughts.
Tiny, low-cost satellites that can work together to boost their output and a technology that reduces the loss of satellite data are two of the latest innovations to hit the Earth observation market – and the results promise to reveal a more detailed image of our planet.
An analysis of a newly cleaned-up dataset tracking Europe’s air pollution has revealed that nitrogen dioxide levels are on a steeper downward trend than previously thought, according to Dr Folkert Boersma from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who says that ensuring the quality of Earth observation data can reveal new insights into climate change.
From droughts and forest fires to floods and big freezes, extreme weather events are on the rise. But to what extent are these linked to climate change? Just months before the world’s first wind monitoring satellite enters orbit, scientists have finalised a climate model with exceptional resolution, and the new tools will help identify how climate change impacts weather-related natural disasters like storm surges, hurricanes and heatwaves.
In March 2018, French scientists reported a steep decline in the country’s bird populations, primarily as a result of agricultural activity. Causes include the increase in monoculture, detrimental land-use policies and, perhaps most importantly, the growth in the use of powerful pesticides such as neonicotinoids, which, by killing off insects, reduces the bird population by reducing the food available to them.
As May’s European elections approach, Horizon takes a step back to see what science can tell us about European politics. We look at the latest research into people’s opinions about the EU and how they’ve changed, particularly in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and ask what needs to be done to bring the public closer to politicians. We speak to cryptography expert Dr Steve Kremer about why most of us can’t vote online yet, and democracy specialist Prof. Wolfgang Merkel about the changing political party structures in Europe and whether this is a threat to democracy. We also find out how scientists are working to detect and flag fake news on social media in order to increase the transparency of the information people encounter online.
This month, Horizon explores the global challenge of biodiversity loss. Many experts believe we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, where human-caused factors such as land use and pollution are causing a decline in biodiversity – something that threatens the future of our own species. We speak to British ecologist Professor Georgina Mace about how bad the situation is and what we can do about it. We explore marine ecosystems, where species relocation outpaces that of terrestrial populations, and examine how we can help these environments adapt, as well as finding out what’s in store for bees – our pollinators. Finally, we investigate the services nature provides for people – from cleaning our water to acting as a carbon sink – and ask whether putting a value on natural capital could help save it.
In remote, rural corners of Malawi, hospitals are often faced with life-and-death decisions. Women in need of emergency caesarean sections, older people with hernias, and children with appendicitis need surgery. But should they be rushed to the operating theatre or transferred to specialists in city hospitals?
Mice that have undergone weight loss surgery experience a change in the composition of their gut bacteria and the functioning of their genes, leading scientists to explore the possibility of mimicking these changes to develop a non-surgical treatment for obesity and liver disease in humans.
Technology is helping to improve healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa.
Unexpected effects of bariatric surgery could help develop non-surgical obesity treatments.
We should not over-promise about the safety of automated vehicles if we want people to trust them, says Dr Jean- François Bonnefon.