Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their Sixth Assessment on Climate Change, in which they present us with some rather grave news. Climate change is here, and it’s here to stay!
How we react now will determine the direction that we will progress towards, collectively, as a society. Some of the topics covered in this report, which we really should start focusing on, are: 

The five points mentioned are, probably, the most important aspects of climate change that we should consider. There are different ways to try to combat, stop, or slow down climate change. But, a tool for doing this that is not mentioned nearly enough is Earth Observation (EO). Geospatial imaging and EO are ideally fit for helping the fight against climate change because of the complementary data that they provide, the ability to see gradual changes accurately and over a long term scale (such as melting ice & glaciers), or even simply natural resource management.

 

                                                                              Credit: Pexels Markus Spiske


What is Earth Observation?

Well, the name itself is rather intuitive, if you ask me. EO is the process of observing the earth from above with the help of sensors or cameras. They are generally attached to a satellite or other flying/floating/freefalling object. So, pretty much anything that is up and over your head, far up in the sky, that has a camera or sensor attached to it, is an EO apparatus. But, to keep this simple, let’s stick to the idea of EO satellites. 

There are really two main types of EO satellites: Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Optical. An optical satellite is a traditional satellite that produces, a regular image of the earth from space, like this.

 

                                                 An optical image in 3 different conditions

 

The problem with Optical satellite imagery is that it can only be utilized approximately 25% of the time. There are many factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of Optical satellite imagery. They have limitations. Cloud cover or darkness can render these standard images incomplete or useless, leaving blindspots when monitoring.

Now, since we have the easy part out of the way, here is a SAR satellite image. Radar satellites actively send their own radio waves towards their target and then measure what is reflected. It enables them to cover large areas in a very short time. The instrument does not require sunlight. It can be used to image areas during the night and the day, and in all weather conditions. But SAR image processing is not easy and extremely difficult to interpret.

 

  A SAR image in 3 different conditions, showing how SAR can be utilized 100% of the time


Different EO satellites are usually launched in constellations. A well-known constellation is the European Union’s Sentinel Constellation, of which there are 6 (Sentinel 1 through Sentinel 6). Each constellation is based on two satellites that fulfill the revisit and coverage requirements, which provide robust datasets for the Copernicus Services
. The reason why the Sentinels are so popular is because the data that they create is free, and, let’s be honest – who doesn’t love free data? Moreover, Each mission focuses on a different aspect of Earth observation; Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Land monitoring, and the data is of use in many applications.

How can EO be used to help with the impact of climate change?

Now that you know about the satellites and Sentinels missions, let’s step back a bit and dive deeper into how EO can be used to help with or fight the impact that climate change can, and will, have on the world and global society. An increase of the global surface temperature can have many negative implications for the world. We are currently experiencing some of the early warning signs of an increased global surface temperature. There are droughts, wildfires, increased rainstorms, and, as a result, increased flooding. 

To fight or counteract the effects of climate change, satellite data can and even need to be used. Satellite data provides authoritative information about more than half of the 50 crucial climate change variables.

Satellite measurements of Earth’s temperature, greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels, atmospheric gases, dwindling ice, monitoring IUU fishing, ocean pollution, and forest cover, etc, are essential for improving the understanding of climate change and predicting the future of the Earth.

Photo: Global concentrations of atmospheric methane produced by ESA CCI. It is from satellite data provide important information about the distribution of sources and sinks of this powerful greenhouse gas. Source: ESA.


And so for example t
he Sentinel-3 mission, which is mainly for applications for the ocean and coastal monitoring, numerical weather and ocean prediction, sea-level change and sea-surface topography monitoring, ocean primary production estimation and land-cover change mapping, and the Sentinel-4 mission, which is to monitor key air quality trace gases and aerosols over Europe.

The above-mentioned missions plus innovations such as the miniaturization of satellites, AI, ML, and high-speed data transfer have made satellites an integral part of the climate change mission. Earth Observation data is our “eye in the sky”.  Without these inputs, decision-makers, governmental leaders, and scientists won’t be able to understand, analyze and predict the impact of climate change, and formulate effective strategies.

Within the next year, many new satellite missions will be launched (e.g. UMBRA) with enhanced image resolution and better temporal resolutions. So let’s make SAR easy and help with or fight the impact of climate change. It will be crucial if we hope to save our world. If you would like to know more about SATIM, satellite technology, or innovations in the space industry please contact us
hello@satim.co

 

Fishing secrets and SAR technology

Fishing is a huge business that brings big economic benefits, while also having an important role to play in providing jobs and food security. The global seafood market is estimated to reach about $138,7 billion by 2027. Despite its international importance, the industry remains a mystery to a large extent.
Limited information and data on vessels’ locations, places where they operate, their owners, the amounts of their catches, and how these stocks are transported leads to illegal activities such as piracy, smuggling, or illegal fishing.

 


The problem of illegal fishing and its impact on the global seafood market

The global seafood market depends on a global fleet of fishing vessels. From trawlers to seiners and small boats, fishing vessels come in many sizes, designs, and destinations. This diversity and location make the industry extremely complicated. No one is able to fully estimate the exact number of vessels. And especially, their activities and challenges related to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing).

Global estimates suggest a minimum of 20% of seafood worldwide is caught illegally, representing economic losses between $10 to $23 billion and 11 to 25 million metric tons of fish. However, as this is a dark market, and many illegal activities take place at night or under the cover of difficult weather conditions, estimates are understated.

 

                                                                                                 Fishing vessels – trawlers


SOUTH CHINA SEA (SCS) and fishing vessels

More than 50% of the fishing vessels in the world are estimated to operate in the South China Sea. This is an area of around 3.8 million square kilometers and is bordered by 12 countries/territories. These places are home to two billion people and represent some of the fastest developing economies in the world. It is one of the top 5 most productive fishing zones in the world in terms of total annual marine production. Moreover, it is one of the zones the most affected by illegal fishing. The South China Sea is currently almost 90% overfished and a very high percentage of fish stocks are used.

It is practically impossible to track all fishing activities in the SCS territories. It is because due to territorial disputes, and difficulties in identifying boats. Maritime activity is usually followed on the basis of Automatic Identification System (AIS), Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), or Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) technologies. This data shows a significant amount of catches in the areas. However, they are not accurate enough to fight illegal activities.

 

                                                                                               South China Sea Area


What are the limitations?

The mentioned data is good and relatively inexpensive, the possibility for AIS/VMS sensor interfere is quite common. Many fishing vessels don’t have these systems because they are small and they are under no obligation to use them. Conversely, they may be going dark to intentionally turn off the signal and hide their IUU fishing activities. Many dark vessels are reporting false identification or a series of them in order to distort maritime situational awareness.

Data from meteorological satellite sensors (VIIRS) are generally open access, are available in near real-time, and have long-term archives, but a major disadvantage is their spatial resolution at the level 750×750 m, which is too inaccurate when it comes to vessel detection.

Discover fishing vessels going dark 

Thanks to international cooperation and new technology, we can make progress in tracking IUU fishing. Coastal states and the industry are working to improve the transparency and accountability of illegal maritime phenomena. Control systems such as AIS, VMS, or satellite optical images can be significantly supported by satellite radar-based imagery. They are accompanied by AI-based vessel detection and classification algorithms. All of that fills the gaps in understanding the problem and increases transparency in the fisheries sector.

 


By using SAR imagery you can get a more detailed analysis of fishing activity and improve the traceability of vessels. Everything regardless of weather conditions and of time of day. The effectiveness of actions to combat illegal fishing depends on many factors. The quality of the data, the ease of obtaining it, and our ability to interpret it, for instance. SAR data with sub-meter resolution is already available on the market. New opportunities allow the development of AI-based solutions. Finally, a new era of SAR will come, where commercial access to data will be possible and simple. 

So, let’s make SAR easy and improve the monitoring of seas and oceans. It will be crucial if we hope to save our fisheries and our oceans. If you would like to know more about SATIM, our technology, or products please contact us hello@satim.co

 

Oil theft labyrinth in Niger Delta and SAR technology

The world drives over a third of its total energy production from oil. As a result, the countries that control the world’s oil reserves often have economic power. Nigeria holds 36,97 billion barrels of proven oil reserves as of 2018, ranking 10th in the world and accounting for about 3,1% of the world’s total oil reserves. 

In early 2021, the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria determined oil production to be well below the average production before the coronavirus pandemic. According to OPEC’s latest data, issues such as vandalism, crude oil theft, and some offshore issues, including insecurity, regulations, and fines, are responsible for the decline.

 

                                      A man with crude oil canisters in Nigeria’s state of Baylesa


The dark side of the fuel market

The impact of oil theft and smuggling are significant and wide-ranging and always result in huge economic loss, human casualties, and extreme environmental pollution.

As one might guess, the highest level of oil theft occurs in countries with large oil reserves and in countries where the complicity among government agencies and security forces with criminal enterprises is big, without proper control measures being in place. The most famous example is Nigeria and its labyrinth of the Niger Delta. 

According to a report presented by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter, Nigeria lost about $8.9 million daily, which sums up to $7.2 billion over the two-year period (2016-2017), which is about 15 percent of the total number of barrels produced per day. Oil crime, in all its forms, is a significant threat not only to local and regional prosperity but also to global stability and security. The instability in the delta region is one of the factors driving the rise in global oil prices.

 

                              Refined oil taken to the market in Nigeria (photo Stakeholder democracy)


How does oil theft happen? 

The infamous labyrinth of the Niger Delta is the perfect place for illegal activities to go undetected. Many nooks and crannies, a complex network of hidden channels, and secret connections make it possible to steal crude oil, on a large scale, in many ways. Oil is already being stolen not by tons but by tankers. An example is the Akshay tanker cruise at the end of 2012, which was stopped on the basis of the illegal export of this raw material. However, over the past ten years, the system of theft and illegal exports has changed. But, the methods and means of transporting illegal oil remain the same. Oil is exported by ships in trace amounts, transported on small vessels, or transported to ships that are traditionally considered to be 'reputable’, and all of this is happening in the muddy regions of the Niger Delta.

 

                                        Illegal oil exports using ships and smaller boats in Nigeria


How can satellite imagery reveal what’s really happening in Niger Delta?

Fuel theft in Nigeria is so systemic that it will not be stopped any time soon. However, there are some tools and solutions that might help to counter oil theft. 

Using the SAR satellite technology, we are able to obtain information about the vessel’s activity and maritime changes. Tankers and small vessels conducting ‘dark operations’, can be spotted using satellite-based SAR imagery, regardless of weather conditions of time of day, and ​reduces the risk of illegal activities around the world.

Use case

In September 2020, SATIM analyzed vessel activity in the Niger Delta. This analysis was aimed at ship detection and recognition based on a SAR image provided by ICEYE. We have found examples of ships raising concerns about possible illegal activities. In our study, we have focused only on the water-borne objects. The research was conducted based on our AI algorithms trained for vessel detection and classification on any satellite SAR data.

Recognition result

As a result of the analysis,143 objects were detected and assigned into categories. 47 of them were classified as vessels. If a vessel was at least 50m long, then the classification process was performed.

Large and medium vessels were subjected to the recognition process (30 objects). Each of these vessels was labeled to one of the types (e.g Tankers, Oil Products tankers, Cargo barge). It was made on the basis of its similarity to signatures generated with our simulator.
Recognized:
8 Oil Products Tankers,
5 Tankers,
10 Cargo Barge,
2 Oil barge
2 Crude oil tankers.
Three vessels could not be properly recognized due to the lack of appropriate 3D models in the database. Our results were confronted with data from AIS. Only 5 of the detected vessels had an AIS signal.

SATIM use satellite-based radar imagery to support our customers with the utmost care. Now we try helping to build a great future where radar technology will provide benefits to people. We make SAR easy. If you’re interested, email us at hello@satim.co. We’d love to have a chat.