Earth Observation From Space: The Optical View

A MOOC on the role of optical Earth observation to monitor the living planet

The course introduces you to the wide range of applications of satellite Earth observation technology. We will focus in particular on the use of data acquired by satellite sensors which use visible light and near infrared radiation – otherwise known as ‘optical’ Earth observation (EO).

You’ll find out how satellite data is acquired and used, the range of data types available, and the terminology and techniques involved. The course will also provide detailed case studies of how this data is used in diverse fields, from climate science to humanitarian relief, monitoring of urban change to agriculture, and many other areas.

Modern optical sensors can capture both qualitative imagery and quantitative information, by using a range of different wavebands of light. That means the imagery is often in a familiar ‘photographic’ form, showing the Earth from the unique and powerful perspective of space. But it can also contain additional information which helps scientists, researchers and decision-makers to understand more about the natural and man-made processes occurring on Earth.

Optical Earth observation is particularly important for observing the ‘living planet’, as the wavebands of light it uses are also those used in photosynthesis. As the resolution of new satellite sensors increases, we can also use this technology for monitoring our own impact on the Earth and the movements of people around the planet.

Throughout the course, the terms ‘Earth observation’ and ‘remote sensing’ are often used interchangeably. The term ‘remote sensing’ refers to the use of electromagnetic radiation (including visible light), emitted or reflected by the Earth, and specialised instruments on board EO satellites, to collect a range of types of data and imagery, at a local and global scale, as they orbit around the Earth. This course focuses specifically on Earth observation from space, and therefore relates to satellite remote sensing rather than similar forms of remote sensing often conducted from aircraft or sometimes ground-based sensors.

What you will learn

  • Explore how we observe and measure the Earth with optical sensors
  • Investigate how satellite data is used alongside other forms of measurement
  • Describe the main types of data acquired through Copernicus and other missions
  • Explore how to conduct simple analysis using a range of different types of optical Earth observation (EO) data

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This course has been produced for ESA by Imperative Space, a multi-faceted education and media company which has produced a range of online courses and training materials for clients in several global sectors, including space, environment, science, technology, NGOs and government.

Other MOOCs on Earth observation data produced by Imperative Space have included courses focusing on EO applications in climate and monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet.