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Tackling the environmental challenge from space

By [email protected] - 9th May 2018 - 10:49

The UK Space Agency recently announced ten new projects to be funded through its International Partnership Programme (IPP). Each project uses UK space expertise to deliver solutions to real-world problems, from improving natural disaster response for Commonwealth Nations to helping identify illegal gold mining operations, improving tropical disease control and supporting coffee farmers in East Africa to improve yields.

The new projects which have been awarded £38 million in IPP grant funding, will add to the 22 already delivering benefits and provide a unique opportunity for the UK space sector to demonstrate its world-class capabilities.

Significant threat

The Satellite Applications Catapult leads on a major IPP project which is supporting the Malaysian government to tackle environmental challenges that pose a significant social and economic threat to the Malaysian people.

14 UK organisations are involved in the project including large and small companies, universities and research institutes. Together, they are developing an Earth and Sea Observation System (EASOS), a comprehensive data platform that uses satellite Earth Observation data integrated with data sets collected by government agencies to produce timely intelligence on which authorities can act. EASOS (http://www.easos.my/) is currently focused on delivering information and analyses to tackle three major challenges.

Mangrove degradation. The mangroves around the coastline of Malaysia are a natural defence to coastal flooding and home to an abundance of marine life, but they are being degraded by marine oil pollution in the Malacca Straits, the world’s busiest shipping lane. Satellite-derived EASOS intelligence will help authorities identify and locate discharges, forecast pollution dispersal and identify vessels that could be responsible.

Deforestation. To reduce the social and environmental impact of illegal logging and increase the economic benefit from legal operations, EASOS will monitor deforestation to help identify illegal activities by providing information on the location and extent of activities for direct intervention and as evidence for prosecution. In addition, the electronic tagging of legally harvested logs as part of the project, will allow traceability through the entire supply chain.

Flood alerts. EASOS will also generate alerts to reduce the economic and social costs of flood events, enabling response teams to activate evacuation plans and deploy short-term flood defences. By implementing the EASOS system, the Malaysian government will have access to improved advanced warning times, better information about impacted areas, and predictions on improving or deteriorating conditions.

Progress report

The team has just completed its first year in operation working closely with ANGKASA (the Malaysian National Space Agency), 24 government agencies and the UK Space Agency to drive the program forward. To date, the team has been able to issue flood alerts through the monsoon season, detect oil in the Malacca straits and, over the next year, will be adding deforestation monitoring to these activities.

Each IPP project is designed and structured to enable sustained, long-term operational capability in-country … both to deliver economic benefits and also improve the lives of the nation’s citizens.

The project team will continue to work with the authorities to build technical capacity in Malaysia, building effective partnerships that can lead to future growth opportunities for the UK space sector as well the increased use of Earth Observation data and technologies.

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