By Devika Singh
Since 2005, India has launched 17 Earth observation (EO) satellites into space marking a new chapter of increased independence and self-reliance. The collected data are used for a diverse set of applications from agriculture to disaster management. India’s proactive approach, investments, and interest in EO satellites, as well as its international cooperations provide invaluable data towards improving the region’s resilience in the face of climate change.
After many years of using data from aerial photography and the American Landsat programme, India launched its first operational EO satellite in 1988, the IRS-1A. Today, its 17-satellite strong fleet provides all the advantages of space-based observations. Capturing large-scale environmental data in a range of spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions, EO satellites have the unique potential to gather information in remote areas. This is particularly important for a country like India which has a very large and diverse territory including vast mountainous and difficult-to-access regions.
The country’s growing ambition in expanding its space capabilities is directed largely by user needs. Apart from weather data used for forecasting and cyclone detection, India’s new generation of EO satellites collect data on water distribution, land use, natural resources, roads and networks. The tracking and monitoring of water cycles, atmospheric profiles, heat mapping, sea surface evaluations and the global/regional energy exchanges provide the necessary data to self-diagnose problems relating to air quality and air pollution, water resource management, soil quality, and many more.
Such data, also help the government to disseminate timely disaster warnings, be it for floods, cyclones, thunder storms, heat waves, or droughts. Additionally, the satellites provide telecommunication services, thus helping with tracking, search and rescue, and information dissemination, which are all crucial for disaster risk management.
Independent access to the sea of data being collected by India’s own EO satellites will go a long way in improving preparedness to natural disasters, thus reducing devastating loss of human life, and economic losses from infrastructure and property damages. Access to large scale climate related data can inform policy and actions, providing crucial information to decision-makers who have the capability to mainstream climate resilience considerations into all sorts of government plans, from infrastructure and health, to environmental protection.
In addition to swiftly launching its own Earth Observation satellite programmes, India signed a Cooperation Arrangement with the European Union’s Copernicus Earth Observation and Monitoring Programme on 19 March 2018. One of the most significant aspects of this collaboration, apart from technical assistance, is the sharing of data – providing full and free open access to data not only to government agencies and departments, but also institutions, academia, the private sector, and other users.
This sudden availability of unprecedented amounts of climate related and environmental data from own satellites and international cooperations can drastically improve the quality of climate change studies within India, facilitating research and development of better and locally relevant products and services to build climate resilience across all sectors.