“What on Earth,” an International Colloquium Exploring Science and Policy Implications of Earth Observation, took place in New Zealand on Feb. 17, 2011. Building on New Zealand’s recent successful forays into Earth Observation, the Colloquium focused on possibilities for the use of remote sensing data for the nation’s policy makers, resource managers, researchers, planners and land managers. “What On Earth” was sponsored by the European Space Agency in association with Venture Southland, and featured speakers from New Zealand’s top Earth Observation organizations and corporations, as well as representatives from the European Space Agency, e-Geos, German Space Agency, New Zealand’s Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS), the Italian Space Agency, the Swedish Space Agency, and Italy’s Telespazio.
European Space Agency’s Automated Transport Vehicle, “Johannes Kepler,” launched on Feb. 15, 2011. Looking to the future, New Zealand has joined forces with Australia and South Africa to make a bid for a €2 billion deep-space radio telescope project called The Square Kilometre Array. With these successful projects under its belt or underway, “What on Earth” was an opportunity to consider options and possibilities for the coming years.
The Colloquium’s speakers reviewed New Zealand’s present Earth Observation capabilities and suggested possibilities for the future. Overall, speakers agreed, increased and improved space-based Earth Observation has the potential to improve New Zealand’s disaster preparedness, land and resource management and national security, and to raise New Zealand’s profile in the international Earth Observation arena. Some highlights from the presentations are listed below:
• “An Introduction to Earth Observation in the New Zealand Context,” presented by Stella Belliss of Landcare Research, which reviewed New Zealand’s 1973 experience with LandSat 2 images, and focused on present capabilities. With three types of satellite sensors now available, including Optical/multispectral, Synthetic Aperture radar and Light Detection and Ranging satellites (LIDAR), New Zealand is able to collect a full range of images relative to irrigation, deforestation, farming and urbanized areas, all of which are distributed through the national KiwImage agency.
• A presentation by Andrea Celentano of Italy’s e-GEOS, which noted that New Zealand now has the opportunity to build on its databases to better predict natural disasters. For example, New Zealand’s GNS Science (formally known as the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences) presently observes 10,000 to 15,000 earthquakes annually. In the future, through remote sensing, an early warning system can be established by studying geological structures such as the Alpine Fault in New Zealand. With new sensors, thermal and gas anomalies can be detected at a more accurate level.
• The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research of New Zealand (NIWA), represented by Dr. Michael J. Uddstrom at the Colloquium, described a remote sensing project now underway utilizing TopNet, a river forecast model. The model allows NIWA to investigate the impact of land use changes, and to explore the likely effects of climate variability and change on hydroelectricity generation and water resource availability.
• The European Space Agency’s E. Oriol Piberna and Dr. Evangelina and the Swedish Space Agency’s Dr. Martin Krynitz described a possible role for New Zealand as the host for a station receiving signals from polar satellites observing climate change. According to Dr. Martin Krynitz of the Swedish Space Corporation, a station built in New Zealand near the South Pole would reduce signal processing time to 50 minutes. Shortened time between acquisition and use of data would help in disaster preparation and even improve the world’s security.
Stephen McNeill of Landcare Research summarized the Colloquium’s message in his presentation, “Remote Sensing for Monitoring and Measurement of New Zealand’s Environment.” According to McNeill, more and better forms of remote sensing will support the creation of improved models of the Earth’s processes. McNeill warns, however, that the “complexity of the remote sensing information must be no less complex than the real-world scene.”