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RUS: a new expert service for Sentinel users

Launched in October 2017, RUS (Research and User Support for Sentinel Core Products) was designed to support overcoming the difficulties generated by the huge amount of the downloaded data, the highly performant capacity required to process such data and finally, the capability to handle the data with an ad-hoc training offer, tailored to fit the needs of a wide community of users. This service (funded by the EC and managed by ESA), is offered at no cost to meet the requirements (in terms of technical and scientific support, computing resources and disk space identified by ESA) of different types of users: basic users calling for downloading support, R&D users wishing prototyping support and proficient users, in need of processing support.

1/Introduction to the Copernicus programme

Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation (EO) Programme, looking at our planet and its environment for the ultimate benefit of all European citizens. Copernicus offers information services based on EO satellite and in situ (non-space) data. The Copernicus services deliver near-real-time data on a global level which can also be used for local and regional needs, to help us better understand our planet and sustainably manage the environment we live in. The Programme is served both by a set of dedicated satellites, the Sentinels and contributing missions.

The Sentinel satellites are specifically designed to meet the needs of the Copernicus services and their users. Since the launch of Sentinel-1A in 2014, the European Union set in motion a process to place a constellation of almost 20 more satellites in orbit before 2030.

In October 2017, RUS (Research and User Support for Sentinel Core Products) was launched, with the purpose to support overcoming difficulties generated by the massive volume of the downloaded data, the very performant computing capacity required to process such data and, finally, the capability to handle the data with an ad-hoc training offer, tailored to fit the needs of a vast community of users. Offered at no cost, this service (funded by the European Commission and managed by the European Space Agency (ESA)) meets the requirements (in terms of technical and scientific support, computing resources and disk space identified by ESA) of different types of users: basic users requiring downloading support, R&D users requiring prototyping support and proficient users, requiring processing support.

2/ICT Solutions

The service was set up to smooth out physical issues like downloading, storing and processing by exploiting Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Processing as a Service (PaaS). The IaaS includes network access, Virtual Machines (VM) with Computing Processing Units (CPU) and a scalable storage capacity. The PaaS includes data access (direct access to Copernicus Hub), communication tools (for chatting, mailing, sharing audio and videoconference with the Helpdesk), processing and viewing tools, development tools, collaboration tools, all necessary and relevant documentation and internet links. Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is pre-installed on demand on the VM, but users can also install their own Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) software on the machine. The infrastructure relies on three types of virtual environments:

  • Collaboration environment hosting a platform to offer services such as video-conference and chat, the Front Desk, the Administration Desk and the Service Management Desk
  • User environment hosting the development and processing platform: each RUS user could access to a dedicated cluster of user environments.

All this technological capacity makes it possible for RUS users to access Sentinel data, process it, develop algorithms and benefit from the interactive support provided by the RUS Operators, through the collaborative platform.

Use of Copernicus datasets as the main source of information is a prerequisite to access the RUS service, but EO and other data can be freely imported to be handled. The VMs provided by RUS work on a Linux environment where either free open-source either commercial off-the-shelf software can be installed and also includes programming and scripting environments. Default Processing libraries account for: GDAL, Sentinel Toolboxes, Orfeo Toolbox and SNAPHU; pre-installed processing tools include QGIS and SNAP, whereas current software development utilities are: Oracle JDK 1.8, Apache Ignite, Eclipse, GCC, CMAKE, Maven, GIT, Python 2.7/3.5, R 3.3. The ICT for the user is defined based on an analysis of the received service request: such analysis defines the scaling of the work environment in terms of duration, disk space and size (number of Virtual Machines, number of cores per machine, RAM per core).

More information on the RUS Service and access to the VM is available on https://rus-copernicus.eu/portal

3/Building Knowledge

To complement the ICT offer, training and outreach activities are implemented to create and increase a community of Copernicus users, focusing on a large portfolio of applications. Using the RUS VMs with pre-installed FOSS facilitates handling of such events, where participants can use their own laptops to manage the processing. Processing on the same configuration for each VM discards any pre-existing difference between the used laptops and operating systems. It facilitates the smooth running of the event. Face-to-face events are organized to meet the requirements of small groups of users: they receive specific training on EO theory and then are guided by the trainers, step by step, in the application of the learned theory in practical case-studies. The assigned VM remains accessible to the user, for several months after the training, so as to allow repeating or completing the exercises (or performing other processing activities).

Large webinars are organized on a monthly basis to attract new potential users. Tailored to provide in a condensed format, the instructions to perform some basic processing steps for exploiting Sentinel data, on specific applications. The trainings are closed by a Q&A session, allowing the participants to interact with the trainer. The sessions are recorded and made publically available for re-play on a dedicated youtube channel. Users interested to repeat the exercises can practice their own software. Or, they ask RUS the access to the VM pre-configured with all the material needed to perform the exercise. The theory lectures given during the face-to-face events are recorded and assembled with questions and multiple-choice answers. They are made available on RUS E-Learning portal. Scores are assigned for each completed course and badges are given to the users.

More information and access to the RUS Training Resources can be found at: https://rus-training.eu

4/Examples of utilisation

A few examples of processing results focusing on different applications, obtained by exploiting the service to prepare training sessions are provided in this section. The data and software needed to re-play the exercises are freely available within the RUS environment, together with the step by step instructions to generate most of the presented results.

  • Ship detection with Sentinel-1 enables detection of vessels not carrying Automatic Identification System (AIS) on board such as smaller fishing ships or ships that might be in the surveyed area illegally (illegal fishing, piracy, etc.). As SAR is not reliant on solar illumination and is rather independent of weather conditions, frequent monitoring is possible. The exercise exploits ESA’s Open Source Sentinel-1 Toolbox to process Sentinel-1 data, detecting targets larger than 30m in the Gulf of Trieste. Final output is exported as a point layer to an Open source GIS (QGIS). RUS VMs are used to run this exercise.

Ship detection in the gulf Trieste RUS
Figure 1. Ship detection in the gulf Trieste. Sentinel-1 products can be easily used for ship monitoring. In this case a single Sentinel-1 product was used and the kml derived from the analysis is shown on Google Earth. Each detected target is associated to information about estimated target length.

  • Burned area mapping: Two Sentinel-2 products acquired before and after a series of wildfires which affected central Portugal in June 2017 are used to map location and intensity of damage (burn severity). The exercise exploits ESA’s Open Source Sentinel-2 Toolbox to process Sentinel-2 data, comparing pre and post-imagery and calculating the Relativized Burn Ratio (RBR). Processed results are then exported to an Open Source GIS (QGIS), where post-processing (classification of severity level, following USGS suggested classification) is performed. RUS VMs are used for running the exercise.

RUS Burned area detection in Portugal
Figure 2. Burned area detection in Portugal. Two Sentinel-2 products acquired before and after the wildfires of 17–18 June, 2017 are used to locate the area affected by the fires and assess burned severity. The image shows the output map visualized with QGIS (installed on the RUS VM).

Tutorials to reproduce the results described above exploiting the RUS service are being made freely available on the dedicated RUS Youtube channel. Furthermore upcoming training events are announced through social media, such as Twitter (@RUS_Copernicus) and Facebook .

5/Conclusions

RUS Service is a new, free service carried by an international team led by C-S France and involving Serco SPA, Noveltis, Along-Track and C-S Romania. The main aim of RUS is to promote uptake of Copernicus satellite data. This is achieved by facilitating user access and exploitation of the data through the use of VM with associated processing power and by carrying out training and education activities.

6/Contacts

Outreach: outreach@rus-copernicus.eu
Training: training@rus-copernicus.eu