European Space Agency wants you to Learn Earth Observation

Zambia's Zambezi River from Esa's Envisat. The false-color technique combines radar images taken during the wet and dry seasons to show how dramatically water levels change. Credit: Esa

Zambia's Zambezi River from Esa's Envisat. The false-color technique combines radar images taken during the wet and dry seasons to show how dramatically water levels change. Credit: Esa

Earth observation - using satellite images to study our own planet - isn’t just for spies any more. The European Space Agency wants more people to use orbital data to improve European economies and societies, but getting the most out of the images requires skills that most people don’t learn in school. 

The European Space Agency created the LearnEO! Project to show how Earth observation helps address environmental problems. Designed at a high school and undergraduate level, its tutorials, software, and datasets help anyone learn how to analyze satellite imagery.

Screenshot of Bilko, LearnEO! Project's free software, showing data taken from Envisat's Meris medium-spectral imaging spectrometer for the beginner's tutorial. Credit: LearnEO!

Screenshot of Bilko, LearnEO! Project's free software, showing data taken from Envisat's Meris medium-spectral imaging spectrometer for the beginner's tutorial. Credit: LearnEO!

LearnEO’s lessons are built around the free image analysis software, Bilko. The UN created Bilko in 1987 to bring the benefits of satellite data to developing nations. Esa enhanced the software for the LearnEO! Project, adding features and making it compatible with the more than 200 datasets its satellites produce.

Sentinel-1A radar image of the Netherlands lets scientists monitor changes in agricultural land cover and ocean pollution. Credit: Esa

Sentinel-1A radar image of the Netherlands lets scientists monitor changes in agricultural land cover and ocean pollution. Credit: Esa

Ten lessons guide you through the process of using Bilko to process and analyze Earth observation data. “El Niño and the Southern Oscillation”, for example, is a beginner-level lesson suitable for high school students that analyses the El Niño weather pattern using data on sea levels, surface temperatures, ocean chlorophyll content, wind speed, humidity, and rainfall. By the end of the lesson you will have charted El Niño’s advance across the Pacific and analyzed its impact on rainfall and plankton levels.

More advanced lessons let you monitor oil spills, track storms, measure the decline in Arctic sea ice, and follow Rome’s urbanization over the past 15 years. More lessons are on the way. Throughout 2014 Esa has run a lesson-writing competition to encourage remote sensing professionals to create 2-hour lesson modules.