“Nature is like a painting in the eyes of the Sentinel 2”, Says Isabel Caballero, from the Andalusian Institute of Marine Sciences (Higher Council for Scientific Research – CSIC). That look comes from the satellites of the Copernicus observation program, of the European Space Agency (ESA), which orbit the Earth at 786 kilometers of altitude. The main objective is to monitor the evolution of the earth’s crust and to manage natural disasters, but Caballero has discovered, after two investigations in the Gulf of Cádiz and Florida, the importance of the canvas drawn by satellites to analyze the coastal seabed . From these eyes on the sea, for the first time, millions of data emerge for free and in high resolution that allow us to know the quality of the waters or the evolution of the coastline, as well as the consequences of human activity or climate change.
The CSIC’s investigations have been the only Spanish chosen to be presented this past Thursday before the representatives of the European Commission in Brussels in order to develop models and tools for marine and coastal management. “Copernicus is revolutionary. Not even NASA has a similar program. Until now, the best that was achieved were images without sufficient resolution. But now, with the application of multifunctional algorithms, it is possible, for example, to analyze the turbidity generated by a dredging in the entire Guadalquivir estuary and not only in the monitored points or to know if it is extreme or ephemeral or the effects of a discharge ” , explains Caballero.
The applications are endless. Satellite images make it possible to gauge the impact of any phenomenon or activity, as well as to obtain reliable data on water quality. The choice of the Gulf of Cádiz for one of the investigations that have served to demonstrate the viability of the Sentinel as a scientific tool it is not free. “The Guadalquivir estuary, one of the largest and most productive systems in Europe, and the Bay of Cádiz are two critical points strongly affected by human activities because they have suffered rapid agricultural, fishing, tourist and anthropogenic development. Specifically, intense turbid episodes are one of the main factors that alter the functioning of both regions. This coastal area experiences a conflict between the economy and the environment and it is necessary to close the knowledge to guarantee social and ecosystem resilience ”, affirm Caballero, Gabriel Navarro and Javier Ruiz in the research published in International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation.
The satellite images, with an atmospheric correction program, have been used to develop a semi-automatic model that analyzes the entire environment during a period of ordinary dredging carried out by the Port of Seville. Information on the effects of this activity is essential for an estuary that bathes Doñana, a world heritage site. It has also been applied in the trap of Barbate (Cádiz).
“He Sentinel-2definitely helps us solve the challenging water quality control along the coast of Cádiz and opens up new perspectives for applications, such as monitoring dredging-induced turbidity “, says Gregorio Gómez-Pina, engineer and former head of the Andalusia-Atlantic Coast Demarcation.
Dredging and filling activities in estuaries have many ecological effects, most of them harmful, such as reduced light penetration due to increased turbidity and the release of pollutants. The main potential impacts on flora include the physical removal and burial of vegetation, as well as increased turbidity and sedimentation, as reflected in various studies published in the last decade.
The other research that supports the importance of the model developed from the images of the satellites Sentinel has been carried out in Florida, where it has been shown that the Copernicus program is fundamental for the analysis of the shallow seabed, at a bathymetry (underwater equivalent of altimetry) of up to 30 meters. “These data allow us to analyze erosion, floods or rising sea levels,” explains Caballero.
“As economic activity in coastal waters intensifies and the impacts of climate change increase throughout the planet, this project is essential for the management of resources in strategic regions of great environmental, cultural and socioeconomic value”, concludes the researcher of the CSIC, which highlights that its model could be applied worldwide.
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