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.
When it comes to climate change, it is often said that what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. This month, with the COP24 UN climate change conference taking place in Katowice, Poland, Horizon looks north to the region of the world that is feeling the effects of global warming most acutely. We speak to Marianne Kroglund from the Arctic Council about whether it is too late to save the fragile ecosystems there and examine how studies of ice melt show that the world may still have a fighting chance of limiting sea level rise. We find out how the Arctic environment could be protected in the face of increased maritime traffic and look at the effect of melting permafrost – soil, sediment or rock that’s been frozen for at least two years – on the environment and local communities.
In its landmark report in October, the UN's International Panel on Climate Change said that every package of measures we choose to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C must include a way of removing carbon dioxide emissions from the air and reusing or storing them. This month, Horizon looks at what's being done to advance these carbon capture, storage and utilisation technologies. We talk to one expert who is trying to trap emissions from the cement industry before they are released, and find out how International Space Station technology is inspiring the capture of ambient carbon dioxide. We also investigate how captured CO2 can be reused, and examine just how safe it is to store the gas underground.
As Earth's magnetic shield fails, so do its satellites. First, our communications satellites in the highest orbits go down. Next, astronauts in low-Earth orbit can no longer phone home. And finally, cosmic rays start to bombard every human on Earth.
Regular naps may be one of the privileges of retirement but research is pointing to napping as a contributor to cognitive decline. Scientists are now testing the idea that older people should instead meditate or learn a language to preserve brainpower and wellbeing.
A weakened magnetic field in the southern Atlantic Ocean gives us a glimpse of the future.
Meditation and language-learning being trialled to keep brains sharp.
With environmental changes locked in for several decades, are we too late to save the Arctic?