IMPETUS highlights satellite data importance for climate adaptation – ESA Living Planet Symposium 

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Remote sensing data from Earth observation satellites is central to the urgent task of tackling climate change and related work in the EU-funded IMPETUS project. IMPETUS is combining satellite data with societal, financial, administrative, economic and environmental inputs in innovative ways to create a powerful mechanism for science-based climate-change related policy making, knowledge sharing and citizen engagement. This game-changing approach was presented at the 2022 ESA Living Planet Symposium, where more than five thousand scientists, technology experts, and policymakers gathered to exchange the latest knowledge about Earth observation technology and data use.

Climate change has emerged as one of the greatest threats our world faces. It affects every environment differently: heatwaves may occur in the Netherlands while flooding may hit Germany, and wildfires could break out in Greece, while Italy experiences water shortages. The complexity of these issues is why climate change impacts can’t be tackled with a single or isolated approach. Adaptation and mitigation strategies must take regional factors into account. This way, local administrations and communities in different bioclimatic regions can determine which adaptation solutions and investments are appropriate for them. IMPETUS addresses this need by combining satellite data with regionally relevant information, digital tools and human interactions in a new way to create ‘Resilience Knowledge Boosters’ (RKBs). Focusing this work around 7 European bioclimatic regional test sites, the IMPETUS RKBs will facilitate understanding of the local challenges and involve citizens and other stakeholders in creating appropriate solutions and decisions. This approach will also support the flow of knowledge to other communities that can benefit from similar climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions. 

Expert partners and a novel approach 

To achieve its innovative combination of satellite data with other kinds of inputs, IMPETUS uses the expertise of several of its 32 partners: Lobelia Earth – a Barcelona-based enterprise that is a significant player in satellite technology, computational intelligence and data visualisation for climate action; Waterjade by MobyGIS S.r.l. – an Italian organisation that supports IMPETUS development of local-scale climate and hydrologic projections; Eurecat – the leading technology centre in Catalonia, Spain, that coordinates the IMPETUS project and its development of digital technologies for optimal regional climate adaptation strategies; and UiT The Arctic University of Norway, where Dr Andrea Marinoni, an expert in data analysis, is Associate Professor of Applied Remote Sensing. Dr Marinoni presented the project’s objectives and work during the Living Planet Symposium in a session on ‘Climate Security – The key role of R&I and cooperation to address global threats’. 

“The novelty of our approach is to bring together not only the digital dimension of the studies of climate change – sensors, observations, measurements that we can gather across the different demonstration sites and the different regions of Europe – but we will take into account the human dimension. This means having the constant engagement of stakeholders, communities and authorities in our process, so we will be able to understand in practice what climate change means for the different regions in Europe and how this can be addressed in a way that will be impactful.”

Andrea Marinoni of UiT The Arctic University of Norway, presenting IMPETUS at ESA Living Planet Symposium 2022

Andrea Marinoni at Living Planet Symposium 2022: Left – presenting the IMPETUS project; Right: being interviewed

Sentinels of change

A particularly important source of data for IMPETUS is the Sentinel constellation of satellites, which the European Space Agency (ESA) coordinates as part of the Copernicus programme. These satellites use various instruments to monitor our changing planet in different ways, providing a global picture of factors that are significant to our understanding of climate change and its effects, such as temperatures, vegetation and water quantity and quality.  

“Sentinel satellites are able to observe and monitor water bodies in particular. They can be used to estimate the water quantity and quality in lakes and rivers. Sentinel-2 can be used to monitor river flow and estimate discharge, and to monitor snow coverage in the Alpine regions, whereas Sentinel-1 can be used to observe the melting of snow during the spring season.”

Federico Di Paolo, Earth observation specialist, Waterjade by MobyGIS S.r.l 

Understanding snow cover and melt is important for anticipating the amount of water that will be available in regions such as Valle dei Laghi in the Italian Alps, where IMPETUS has one of its 7 demonstration sites. Waterjade by MobyGIS S.r.l. is a partner here, with an important role in processing the satellite data that feeds into the regional climate models and projections. In the eo4alps Snow project, which is funded by ESA, the European Space Agency, Waterjade by MobyGIS S.r.l. and another IMPETUS partner – EURAC research – joined forces with other organisations to create a snow cover visualisation app. This app is expected to become part of the IMPETUS digital toolkit for this demonstration site. At the ESA Living Planet Symposium, the app was demonstrated for the first time by CEO of Waterjade, Matteo Dall’Amico.

“Our aim is to provide public administrations or, say, wineries who are taking water for their daily business with a decision support system to negotiate better during water crises. IMPETUS is becoming very, very urgent because such tools could be very efficient in providing insights on how much water there is going to be in the next weeks or in the next months.”

Matteo Dall’Amico, CEO of Waterjade by MobyGIS S.r.l. 

Matteo Dall’Amico at Living Planet Symposium 2022: Left – with Federico di Paolo presenting the eo4alps Snow app; Right: being interviewed

Benefits for businesses and communities

Monitoring water is only one of the ways in which satellite data will contribute to the benefits that the IMPETUS project is aiming towards. Remote sensing data inputs into the IMPETUS Resilience Knowledge Boosters and to digital twins of some of the project demonstration sites will also support improvements to, for example, early warning systems for flooding in Latvia and the Netherlands and for landslides, avalanches and fjord tsunamis in Norway. It will also support regional climate change policy and investment decisions that benefit agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries, marine spatial planning, forestry, tourism and other sectors as well as local communities in these and the other participating regions in Spain, Greece and Germany. 

“Remote sensing is one of the keystones of our project, to understand the characteristics of all the dynamics of the different ecosystems that we will monitor and retrieve information about the risks and hazards that are connected to climate change in the different demonstration sites. In taking advantage of the ability of remote sensing to constantly monitor the different regions in Europe, we will be able to provide useful information for local communities to understand how their environment is changing and what kind of measures they will be able to take in order to adapt and mitigate its effects.”

Andrea Marinoni, Associate Professor of Remote Sensing at UiT The Arctic University of Norway and leader of IMPETUS work on Adaptation Pathways and Innovation Packages

ESA Living Planet Symposium 2022: Left – the exhibition area; Right: event graphic

ESA Living Planet Symposium

The European Space Agency (ESA) annual Earth Observation symposiums bring together thousands of scientists, satellite technologists, policy makers and data users. The ESA Living Planet Symposium in Bonn on 23-27 May 2022 was among the world’s largest Earth Observation conferences, with a record-breaking 5000 participants. Throughout the week, they showcased the latest advances in Earth observation and highlighted the essential role of Earth observation for decision making regarding the ongoing climate crisis.

This event was an excellent opportunity to present the IMPETUS project’s goals and activities to a knowledgeable audience and to request that future satellite missions should be planned in ways that safeguard and improve the remote sensing data that are so crucial for climate change research and adaptation.

Further information

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High temperatures

Record-breaking summertime temperatures have been recorded in the Netherlands in recent years. With global temperatures rising, such extreme weather events will occur more often, and for longer periods. Prolonged high temperatures, with warm nights as well as hot days, can cause heat stress* and related health issues, particularly among city populations. 

*Heat stress occurs when the human body cannot get rid of excess heat and can impact wellbeing through conditions such as heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes.

"We want to enable municipality decision makers who are working on spatial developments to identify heat stress 'hot spots' and cool areas, analyse the future effects of climate change, and model the effect of different heat stress-reducing measures. The tool must provide them with an easy starting point to integrate heat stress risks in their projects."

Issue

Despite the cooling effect of the sea in the region of Zeeland, the growing risk of heat stress has become a concern.

Elderly and other vulnerable people are more impacted by the effects of prolonged heat, which can cause headaches, dizziness, insomnia and other health issues – even death. Excess temperatures also affect general comfort and liveability of cities. Water quality can be reduced, both for drinking and swimming, and infrastructure can be affected. Buildings and concrete surfaces trap heat, potentially leading to damage, and release it during the night, keeping temperatures warm.

During heat waves, it is important that everyone has access to a cool and comfortable place. Appropriate spatial planning can help to decrease and deal with heat stress. Environmental factors like water bodies, trees, and shade have a major impact on stress caused by high temperatures. Therefore, planting trees, removing concrete surfaces, creating green roofs and cool spaces can improve our comfort and health. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for city planning to address these needs.

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Flood risk

By 2050, sea-level within this region is predicted to rise by 15-40 cm, with more frequent extreme weather and more (severe) storms triggered by climate change. These changes will exacerbate the natural risk of flooding in the IMPETUS ‘Atlantic’ region, because it is surrounded by rivers and the sea, and is below sea level.

*Risk takes into account two aspects; the chance that an event will occur and the negative impact of such an event once it occurs. When there is a low chance that an event will occur, but its impacts are huge, the risk is still significant.

“In the Netherlands, an extensive system of dikes protects us against sea and river flooding. We have always put our faith in this defence and focused almost solely on flood prevention. However, pressure on our system will increase with climate change and rising sea levels. To adapt and maintain a safe living environment, we should develop other safety measures, like more robust spatial planning and contingency plans."

Issue

Rotterdam city, is located in Rijnmond – ‘mouth of the Rhine’. The Rhine river flows through this densely populated area and characterises the region. Protections such as sea dikes and storm surge barriers have been constructed to protect the region, but flooding still occurs.

People living in the city are accustomed to seeing smaller floods. The changing climate affects the interplay between rainfall, river levels and sea storms, increasing the flooding risk. Water levels could rise by a few metres, even in populated areas, with potentially massive impacts. 

Mitigation measures such as storm surge barriers reduce the chance that high water reaches the city, but to minimise the impact of floods when they do occur, adaptation strategies are also needed. A city that can adapt to be safe from floods must be carefully designed. How best to design such an adaptive city?

Critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and evacuation routes, must be accessible at all times. Planning how to best protect them, homes and lives is complex. Flood water behaves in a complex way and flood risks show strong spatial variations. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for adaptive city planning. 

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Energy and waste water

To become climate-neutral by 2050, climate mitigation* efforts are crucial in our strategy for how to deal with climate change. Reducing our energy consumption is a significant mitigation step. In the Netherlands, 15% of energy is consumed in the Rijnmond area around the port of Rotterdam, in large part by a major petrochemical industry cluster.

*Climate mitigation encompasses measures such as technologies, processes, or practices that reduce carbon emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

Issue

The Rotterdam port petrochemical industry cluster is Europe’s largest. It consumes 70% of the Rijnmond region’s energy. A large part of this energy is wasted (64%, 203 petajoules). More than half of that energy is lost with wastewater. In addition, most energy processes within these industries rely on fossil fuels, which has a significant impact on the climate.

Energy use must be minimised and fossil fuels should be replaced by renewable sources if climate change is to be mitigated. Electrification of processes opens up the possibility to use more renewable energy and can greatly impact decarbonisation. Recovering wasted heat would significantly reduce energy consumption and is a first step towards a more circular industry. 

Supporting industries in a transition towards climate-neutrality depends on identifying how best to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing production or performance. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is creating a digital tool that supports decision making about pathways towards an effective energy transition for EU industry.