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Editorial Winter 2015/2016

In the last edition of eomag, I mentioned briefly a report we had just published looking at the economic benefit of satellite data. It was the first case we published in a series about “Satellites Benefitting Citizens”. In it we looked at the enormous return to the Finnish and Swedish economies coming from the use of satellite imagery by the icebreakers. We are about to publish the report on the second case which looks at the use of imagery to support Forest Management in Sweden – which also shows a strong benefit.

We are interested to take a new look at the benefits which satellite technology can bring to governments, businesses and ultimately the citizens; for this analysis we have developed a new methodology. Previous work has always taken a top-down approach; looking at the macro-economic effects. Studies would look at major economic sectors and trends so as to assess how much use could be made of satellite imagery to support them. The consultant would then assign a percentage for each sector and calculate the total benefit.

We wanted to work bottom-up and take a deep look at how the satellite data is used and how this drives a value-chain. In our first case of Winter Navigation in the Baltic , we start with the icebreakers which are using imagery to help ships through the ice, to serve ports and factories and communities which would otherwise by cut-off due to the ice.

Not many people know that Finland is an island! Yes, it is land-connected with Norway, Sweden and Russia but as around 90% of imports and exports are carried by sea, it has one of the main characteristics of an island. It is also the only country where all of its major ports are ice-bound in winter. So navigating through ice is of strategic importance to Finland.

Since 1973, the country has adopted the policy to keep 25 of its major ports open throughout the year. This means using icebreakers which hence play a key role in keeping the economy of the country turning since, without them, many of the ports and the factories and communities which depend on shipping would stop working for several months of the year.

The icebreakers use SAR imagery because it shows the ice conditions and gives the ship’s captain a wide area view of the whole of the Baltic which then means a better course can be plotted than if they only know the ice conditions for a few km around the ship. This was the case before the SAR imagery became available when each icebreaker would have a helicopter on board which flew the captain around to survey the ice. Of course the helicopter could not fly at all when conditions were bad; just when the information is most needed!

Hence the SAR imagery, replaced the use of helicopters (saving money) and allowed the icebreakers to chart better courses (saving fuel) and helped the ships (save time and fuel). The ship arrival in the port is known more accurately (saving the ports money) and with greater reliability (saving the factories money) and ensures that the local communities are served (meaning that citizens work and are supplied with goods). Right from the ships entering Finnish waters through to the individual citizen, there is a tangible benefit.

In our report, we calculate this total benefit to be up to €120m per annum, which is a good return on the few hundred €k that the imagery costs It will get even better next year as Sentinel 1 data will replace or complement that coming from Radarsat. Finland and Sweden have agreed to work very closely together and hence the analysis considered the benefits to both countries which split very roughly 2/3rds to Finland and 1/3rd to Sweden.

The second case report will be published in the next week or two. This again shows significant return on investment where Spot imagery and in the future Sentinel 2, has been used to produce clear-cut maps of the forestry in Sweden. The clear-cut maps, as the name suggests, show where forest has been harvested at the end of its 80 year growth cycle. The imagery and clear-cut maps underpin the light legislation in Sweden so cutting costs for the forest and timber industry whilst enabling best practices for the management of the forests.

It is applied mainly to the forest belonging to the 300,000 private owners in Sweden which is about 50% of the forest land. By encouraging owners to replant cleared land without delay and to thin the new growing saplings and undergrowth in the 1st 10 years, the final harvest volume increases in volume and in value to the benefit of the owner, the forest and timber companies and the country. Overall, we calculate that the imagery generates a value of between €16m and €21m per annum for an investment of less than €0.5m.

We are now working on our third case – which should be available before the next eomag! I look forward to bringing you news on that at that time. It is a very different application to the first two cases and our preliminary work is again showing significant benefit. We shall be very happy to take this approach further and analyse further cases even if the economic value is much less. Please contact us if you know of any instances which we could look at.

In the meantime, this is looking likely to be an extremely significant year for the industry with a lot of change in perspective. We’ll continue to promote this and bring news and comment on what happens. You can follow us on twitter which also points to our other news services, or directly from our web-site. A happy new year to everyone.

by Geoff Sawyer
EARSC Secretary General