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Interview: The European Union’s Copernicus Programme and the Middle East

Sentinel-2 image of the Nile Delta, the Levant, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Image courtesy of the European Union.
Sentinel-2 image of the Nile Delta, the Levant, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Image courtesy of the European Union.

The European Union’s Copernicus programme is a boon for analysts and researchers around the world since it provides all of the imagery taken by its Sentinel earth observation satellites for free.

SpaceWatch Middle East interviewed Andreas Veispak, the acting Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, about the Copernicus programme and what it means for the Middle East.

1) Tell us about the Copernicus programme and its Sentinel satellites – what are your goals?

The Copernicus programme is a cornerstone of the European Union’s efforts to monitor the Earth and its many ecosystems, whilst ensuring that its citizens are prepared and protected in the face of crises and natural or man-made disasters. Building on the foundations of deeply rooted scientific knowledge and on decades of EU investment in research and technological development, the Copernicus programme is exemplary of European strategic cooperation in space research and industrial development.

The programme entered its operational phase with the launch of Sentinel 1A in 2014 and its governance is based on the Copernicus Regulation adopted the same year which establishes the Commission as the Programme manager owning the infrastructure and data rights on behalf of the Union.

Copernicus services are based on information from a dedicated constellation of satellites, known as “Sentinels”, as well as tens of third-party satellites known as “contributing space missions”, complemented by “in situ” (meaning local or on-site) measurement data. On the basis of this data, its analysis and processing, , Copernicus brings together communities from across the geoinformation and environmental scientific spectrum, and delivers operational services, which range from Arctic sea ice monitoring to emergency response, through oil spill detection and monitoring of urban sprawl. Copernicus has 6 core services, which support a broad range of environmental and security applications, including climate change monitoring, sustainable development, transport and mobility, regional and local planning, maritime surveillance, agriculture and health.

The Copernicus programme places a world of insight about our planet at the disposal of citizens, public authorities and policy makers, scientists, entrepreneurs and businesses on a full, free and open basis. The programme is able to support various policy areas important for the EU and its Member States such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, biodiversity and environmental protection, climate and energy, civil protection and humanitarian aid, public health, tourism, transport and safety, as well as urban and regional planning.

By making the vast majority of its data, analyses, forecasts and maps freely available and accessible, Copernicus contributes towards the development of new innovative applications and services, tailored to the needs of specific groups of users, which touch on a variety of economic and cultural or recreational activities, from urban planning, sailing and insurance to archaeology.

Copernicus marks the beginning of a new era in Earth observation and will represent the most sophisticated and advanced civil Earth observation system in the world. Sentinel satellites are being launched, operational Copernicus services are available, and the first green shoots of the “Copernicus Economy” are starting to be seen in the form of value-added (“downstream”) applications.

Sentinel-2 image of the Arabian Gulf. Image courtesy of the European Union.
Sentinel-2 image of the Arabian Gulf. Image courtesy of the European Union.

2) Are there opportunities for international cooperation in the Copernicus program beyond EU and ESA member states?

Copernicus has a global dimension, and therefore offers opportunities for international cooperation. We are keen on sharing the benefits of Copernicus with partners abroad. The data policy of the Copernicus programme supports an open, full and free of charge access to data that is in line with the data sharing principles of the Group for Earth Observation (GEO).  The European Commission is one of GEO Members and has been co-chairing the initiative since its creation. Copernicus will be a major European contribution to GEO.

The European Commission is also a member of the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). This international coordinating mechanism is tasked with coordinating international civil space-borne missions designed to observe and study planet Earth. CEOS is recognized as the major international forum for the coordination of Earth observation satellite programmes and for interaction of these programmes with users of satellite data worldwide. The Copernicus team supports the important tasks of CEOS, such as exchange of data, interoperability and the establishment of international standards. CEOS has a recognised role for the coordination of tasks related to the Space Component in GEO.

Several countries around the world have expressed their strong interest in accessing Sentinel data. We have recently signed cooperation arrangements on Sentinel data sharing with Australia and key U.S. agencies (such as NOAA and NASA), which are based on the principle of reciprocity. The United States is providing full, free and open access to their civilian Earth observation satellites and Australia will provide in-situ data of the Australian continent to be included in the Copernicus data architecture. This will make our global products better.   In addition, Copernicus will contribute to Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) and Africa by providing data and know-how to enhance the capacity of African countries to deliver meaningful information for informed decision-making – for instance to secure the stability of livelihoods and ecosystems.

Sentinel-2 image of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. Image courtesy of the European Union.
Sentinel-2 image of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. Image courtesy of the European Union.

3) What advantages and opportunities might Middle East countries, institutions, and universities gain from the Copernicus program, and in turn, how would Middle East participation help Copernicus?

The Copernicus programme offers the data from its Sentinel satellites free of charge and the products of the Copernicus services to everyone: this includes universities, institutions and government in Middle East countries. So there is no need to be a ‘participant’ in Copernicus to draw benefits from the programme. Anyone in the Middle East can go online and download what they need from our dedicated website for the Copernicus programme. I invite you to look at  http://www.copernicus.eu where you find the data portal for all operational Sentinel satellites and also links to the products of the Copernicus services. It is an opportunity for Middle East researchers to use Copernicus data for their research projects and to participate in the European Union’s Research and Innovation Programme (H2020) in the area of space and Earth observation. Policy makers in the Middle East countries could use the products of the Copernicus services or develop tailored products for their region to support smart decision-making. Let me give you two examples: Copernicus Sentinel 2A is monitoring in particular changes in land surface conditions, such as those of vegetation and cultures during the growing season. This supports food security monitoring, agricultural production estimation, crop area monitoring for agricultural statistics. It also focuses on water monitoring for water stress assessment and water scarcity forecasting, Information on the extent and impact of water scarcity and drought is indispensable for decision-making at national and continental scale. Our Copernicus Emergency Management service supports responses to major disasters in the shortest possible time, assisting in the identification of priority areas for humanitarian and financial aid and providing essential geographical information for remote areas where the information is absent or inaccurate (e.g. following flooding or earthquakes). So Middle East countries would benefit if they become users of Copernicus programme. It’s free, just use it!

Andreas Veispak, acting Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission. Photograph courtesy of the European Commission.
Andreas Veispak, acting Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission. Photograph courtesy of the European Commission.

Andreas Veispak, an Estonian, started his professional career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, working on and leading numerous projects across different sectors of the economy (industry, financial and insurance, telecommunications, transport, energy, the public sector) in fields related to economic development, strategic advisory, mergers & acquisitions, project finance, public-private-partnerships, due diligence and corporate recovery. He joined the European Commission in 2005 where dealt with the automotive industry and was responsible for questions related to industrial competitiveness, energy and the environment. Between 2010 and 2015 he joined the team of the Director General of DG GROW at the European Commission (internal market, industrial competitiveness, space – Copernicus and Galileo – entrepreneurship and SMEs). In the summer of 2015, he became the acting Head of Unit for Space Data for Societal Challenges and Growth at the European Commission with responsibility for space-related data, user uptake and new business models as well as international relations and outreach activities. Andreas was educated at the University of Oxford where he studied Modern History.

For further information on Copernicus please visit http://www.copernicus.eu

You can also follow the Copernicus programme on Facebook here, and on Twitter at: @CopernicusEU

Original published at: http://spacewatchme.com/2016/06/interview-european-unions-copernicus-programme-middle-east/

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