Earth Observation News

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Experts praise students’ studies at Alpbach Summer School

This year’s Summer School in Alpbach, Austria, was one of the most successful ever undertaken, according to both the students and the experts who took part.

The Alpbach Summer School was organised by the Aeronautics and Space Agency of the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). It is co-sponsored by ESA and the national space authorities of its member and cooperating states, as well as by EUMETSAT, with the support of the Interntional Space Science Institute and EARSC, the European Association of Remote Sensing Companies.
Each Summer School concentrates on a different subject, and the theme chosen for the 2006 event was “Monitoring of Natural Hazards from Space”. This topic was considered to be particularly appropriate at a time of growing concern over environmental change, since it involves the use of satellites to improve scientists’ ability to monitor, predict and mitigate natural hazard events.
More than 50% of the Summer School timetable was devoted to student workshops. Following on from lectures covering scientific and technical aspects of Earth Observation from space, with an emphasis on major natural hazards, students were organised into four teams, each of which had to design a different space mission that might answer some of the key questions relating to the theme. At the end of the Summer School, the teams were asked to present their mission ideas to a jury of experts.
Each team was asked to:
* Identify a natural hazard or set of hazards susceptible to space borne observation;
* Determine a set of measurements or procedures that could aid in this process;
* Identify and detail a space mission that can enable these objectives to be achieved;
* Define and outline the design of an instrumental payload to make the observations;
* Establish the mission’s technical feasibility;
* Establish a mission architecture, considering technical and planning aspects;
* Determine the launcher required, and the cost envelope of the mission;
* Identify assumptions underpinning the mission: e.g. ground infrastructure, coordination with ground-based observations, new instrument developments etc.;
* Compare the mission with others in this field and consider its competitiveness;
* Consider the cost effectiveness of the mission.
The following topics were selected:
Floods (blue team)
The blue team produced an implementation plan for a Flood Assessment Satellites mission that would provide data to support and enhance hydrological models and decision making in flood disaster management. Envisaged as a flotilla of 4 satellites, it would use an innovative L-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payload to monitor land water bodies and estimate soil moisture for flood model calibration, drought forecasting and climate research.
Landslides (green team)
The green team presented the case for a Movement Detection Mission, an innovative mission concept for long-term monitoring of global landslide activity at medium and large scales. The key element of the mission is an orbital synthetic aperture radar instrument known as Differential Interferometric SAR. This will provide global coverage of landslide activity over a period of 36 days.
Earthquakes (orange team)
The orange team designed the Monitoring of Surface Deformation in Active Tectonic Zones mission that would increase knowledge of global seismology and advance research in earthquake predictions. In order to achieve the required sensitivity the mission would make use of Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) and the Persistent Scatterers processing concept. It would also include a microwave sounder to correct the low frequencies of atmospheric water vapour and a magnetometer to capture ionospheric disturbances.
Volcanoes (red team)
The ?volcano haSAT’ mission presented by the red team was intended to provide a “global fast response monitoring system for volcanoes”. A 3-satellite constellation would guarantee full global coverage each day. The spacecraft’s L-band SAR sensor would deliver information about ground deformation prior to possible eruptions. This would also lead to the creation of a SAR database for 115 selected high risk volcanoes.
“Never in my life did I get such a high-ranked and comprehensive overview of natural hazards and existing remote sensing capabilities,” commented Professor Hartmut Grassl, chairman of the jury. Professor Grassl went on to compliment the teams on their innovative thoughts and approaches.
“Overall, I was so impressed that I will report to the Earth Science Advisory Committee of ESA on the outcome of this summer school and I will propose the launch of further studies within ESA’s study budget,” he said.
The overall feedback of Summer School students was also extremely positive.
“They all really enjoyed participating in it, and reported back that it was an exceptional experience, they had learned a lot and enjoyed the atmosphere,“ said Michaela Gitsch, the Summer School cordinator.
“From the point of view of the organisers I can say that the students were extremely enthusiastic, very well organised in their work (e.g. they managed to select team spokespersons on the first day), and able to actively engage with each other and with the scientists and engineers. We had outstanding lectures, tutors and students who spent many hours – almost day and night – working toward a successful Summer School,” echoed the Head Tutor, Professor Martin Turner, from the University of Leicester, UK.