Earth Observation

Satellite picture of a severe tropical cyclone, named Nicholas, visible off the west coast of Australia - taken in 2008An improved understanding of the Earth and its systems – such as weather, climate, oceans, land, geology, ecosystems, and natural and human-induced hazards – is essential if we are to effectively manage our planet and its resources. Satellite Earth observation data, and the information derived from it, are essential to this understanding.

Prior to the space age, mankind couldn’t develop a global view of the world we lived in. Fifty years later, planet Earth has been redefined through the systematic collection and analysis of vast amounts of information collected by satellites, and we can see our world as never before.

Satellite Earth observation images show the world through a wide-enough frame that large-scale phenomena can be observed to an accuracy and entirety it would take an army of ground-level observers to match.  A single satellite image has the potential to show the spread of air pollution across Australia, the precise damage done by an earthquake or forest fire, or the entire span of a 500-km cyclone from the calmness of its eye to its outermost storm fronts.

Bureau of Meteorology's Casey Station in Antarctica - a large, round, white dome on a flat platform in the snowSatellite Earth observation provides objective coverage across both space and time.  Sensors can gather data from sites across the world, including places too remote or otherwise inaccessible for ground-based data acquisition. Currently, satellite systems monitor the evolution and impact of the El Niño, weather phenomena, natural droughts, vegetation cycles, the ozone hole, solar fluctuations, changes in snow cover, sea ice and ice sheets, ocean surface temperatures and biological activity, coastal zones and algal blooms, deforestation, forest fires, urban development, volcanic activity, tectonic plate motions, and more. 

Satellite Earth observation helps provide some of the evidence necessary for Government to make informed decisions. It supports the science that underpins our societal and environmental decision-making. Better information on everyday activities that support Australian society are an important part of developing strategies to help us cope with contemporary and future challenges.

Worldwide, governments spend around US$7 billion a year on civil Earth observation programs. The 30 plus national civil space agencies that constitute the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), report that they are operating or planning around 260 satellites with an Earth observation mission, over the next 15 years. These satellites will carry over 400 different Earth observation instruments. This sustained investment by civil space agencies will ensure the provision of information of unique value in both public and commercial spheres in Australia, measuring a diverse range of geophysical parameters and phenomena.

The main Australian Government agencies that deal with Earth observation data are:

  • Bureau of Meteorology, for weather prediction and climate research;
  • Geoscience Australia, for a range of purposes including soil surveys, mineral exploration, map making, water resources planning and monitoring and natural disaster assessment; and
  • CSIRO, for a range of scientific purposes including atmospheric, meteorological, oceanographic, geological, environmental and sustainable development research.

Earth Observations from Space (EOS) are an essential component of Australia's Space PolicyAustralian Government agencies have developed a report on Australian Government Earth Observations from Space (EOS) National Infrastructure; Priorities for Australia's Space Policy, June 2011. The report is available here: National EOS Infrastructure Priorities Paper.pdf

The report has received endorsements from Geoscience Australia; Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation; Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and the Space Industry Innovation Council.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information has published a report titled Priorities for Investment in Remote Sensing Satellite Technology for Australia. This report was prepared as a briefing document for the Space Coordination Office. The report is available here: Priorities for EO Technology.