The “Belle île en ciel” exhibition, which offers visitors a voyage around the world in 600 metres, has been opened on 29 March (5p.m.) by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director-General of the European Space Agency; and Jean Mallot, President of Vulcania European Park.
The exhibition, supported by the European Space Agency, the Parc européen Vulcania, PlanetObserver, Spot Image, RATP (Paris public transport authority) and L’Express magazine, raises awareness of the Earth’s fragility. Assembled from pictures in the PlanetObserver database, the frieze will go on display with 60 panels illustrating the major challenges facing humanity and the protection of its heritage; from water cycle management to biodiversity, pollution, deforestation, global warming and natural disasters, as well as education, communication, dialogue between civilizations and the preservation of human cultures.
Humanity’s most important heritage is the Earth, “a beautiful island in the sky” where, for better or worse, over 6.5 billion people live. The advent of observation satellites has helped to raise awareness of our home planet’s limits. Study of our environment, using satellites such as Meteosat, ERS and the ESA’s Envisat polar platform, has helped to shed light on major climate changes underway. The data gathered enables scientists to model those changes’ long-term impact. To improve and feed the models, the ESA has set up satellite projects in the framework of the “Living Planet” programme intended to enhance our knowledge about such major issues as ocean circulation, ocean salinity, atmospheric dynamics and the melting of the polar ice caps. In addition, with the European Union it is planning the GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) initiative in order to coordinate observations from space for the protection of the environment and people.
The themes dealt with in the exhibition highlight the issues on which UNESCO and the ESA have been cooperating since 2000. Those projects use aerospace technologies to meet humanitarian needs, protect the environment, manage natural disasters, improve education and preserve culture. The satellites’ global coverage and ability to fly over the same regions on a regular basis make them a key tool for managing the planet.
In 2001, for example, the ESA and UNESCO launched the BEGo (Build Environment for Gorillas) project, which uses optical imagery and radar by satellite to help protect mountain gorilla habitats in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Special products have been developed from the data in cooperation with the main organizations involved in protecting the gorillas, such as the WWF, International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and WildLife Conservation Society.
In 2002, after the Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development, the ESA and UNESCO launched the TIGER initiative, which uses satellite data to manage water resources in Africa. Designed to meet Africa’s water needs, TIGER brings together over 150 organizations – water agencies, remote detection centres and universities — that take part in its various activities, workshops and training sessions. In this way, TIGER supports decision-making processes and contributes to technical, human and institutional capacity-building to ensure sustainable water resources management.
Since 2003, the ESA has also participated in the protection of the 812 World Heritage Sites, under a cooperation agreement that enables UNESCO to use satellite data to help monitor and manage the sites
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