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VIGISAT: CLS keeps a close watch on the ocean

The main missions of the VIGISAT station operated by CLS are to:

  • deliver satellite radar images;
  • provide near real time services in the fields of environmental monitoring, sustainable management of marine resources, maritime safety and other terrestrial applications;
  • assist the French and European authorities in their day-to-day state operations at sea.

The acquisition area for near real time satellite images has a radius of 2500 km centered on Brest (from Greenland to the Canaries and stretching from the Azores in the west to the Black Sea in the east).

VIGISAT was set up by CLS as a key part of its operational infrastructure


CLS is the official French distributor for Europe of RADARSAT-1 & 2 satellite images.

The VIGISAT ground receiving station, which joined the network of receiver stations for the Canadian RADARSAT-1 & 2 satellites in 2009, can program, acquire and process images from these high-resolution radar satellites.

With more than 20 years of experience in processing satellite data, CLS, a subsidiary of CNES and IFREMER, has staffed VIGISAT with a team of specialists internationally renowned for their expertise in processing, analysing and interpreting satellite radar images.CLS can thus offer advanced and tested software solutions for:
Detecting pollution spills
The VIGISAT ground station is a key tool for detecting pollution. Radar imaging satellites transmit radar data to VIGISAT from space in real time. These images can be acquired by day or by night in all weathers and analyzed to detect ships and traces of pollution. The authorities can then be informed in real time.
Combating illegal fishing
Satellite radar images are a key technology in the fight against illegal fishing. CLS has the expertise to exploit imaging satellites and provide effective resources to the fight against the illegal plundering of fish stocks. Experienced operators analysing satellite radar images can detect all the vessels in an area of interest. Their positions are compared with those reported by the VMS system used by ships licensed to fish in the area. By discrimination, this process identifies any illegal fishing vessels.
Monitoring maritime traffic
There is no doubt that VIGISAT is an indispensable tool for monitoring traffic. Its unique ability to provide global coverage of the activity over an area means that satellite imagery has become an essential component of the surveillance systems used by the authorities. Radar data makes it possible to measure the intensity of maritime traffic in key areas such as the English Channel, through the accumulation of images, and to estimate the overall density of traffic in larger areas. By cross-checking satellite information (coastal and satellite LRIT, VMS, AIS) it is also possible to identify illegal vessels or those posing a threat.
Detecting icebergs
CLS has developed a procedure capable of detecting the presence of icebergs and predicting their drift. The system was used successfully during the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe round-the-world race. On these radar images we can observe icebergs of significant size (>150m).
High-resolution measurement of sea states
The high-resolution monitoring of sea-states in real time has become a necessity nowadays. This information is indispensable for the authorities when they need to intervene, as well as for merchant shipping and leisure craft. Specialists from CLS analyse satellite radar images to observe and measure ocean swell. Satellite radar imagery is the only way of measuring complex cross-swell systems and visualising the complex propagation of swell surges in coastal areas.
Measuring wind fields to assist the offshore wind farm industry
Learning about wind conditions from radar data can help to improve several sectors of activity that depend on or are subject to variations in this natural element. CLS experts in radar imagery use data acquired by the VIGISAT receiver station to calculate high-resolution wind fields.

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