Copernicus was initially designed with the aim of providing decisions makers, the scientific community, entrepreneurs and established businesses with a set of ready-to-use information services that address, amongst other applications, environmental and security-related themes.
Thanks to the development of broadband (mobile) internet, mobile devices, cloud storage and processing, etc. Copernicus data and information are now at everyone’s fingertips. More and more data access services are becoming available through private companies and third parties. One of these services, Sentinel Hub provides free visualisation web services for exploring and discovering Sentinel data. It was developed by Sinergise, a Slovenian SME operating in the information technology sector.
In parallel, the number of professional registered users of the Sentinels Open Access Hubs has reached 135,000 (with a total volume downloads of more than 55PB) in April 2018, only four years after the launch of the first Sentinel. However, the real number of Copernicus users is much higher because of emerging third-party data access platforms that enable anyone – with or without technical knowledge – to easily access Sentinel data.
Sentinel Hub is a global archive which removes the complexity of handling satellite data and makes Sentinel data easily accessible by providing real-time data processing services. The beauty of Sentinel Hub relies on the fact that it enables anyone to browse, process and download Copernicus Sentinel imagery in only a few seconds by using one of its two interfaces: Sentinel Playground and EO Browser. Its success is demonstrated by high levels of demand, which reach around 1 million requests per day, meaning that hundreds of thousands of Copernicus users are downloading Sentinel images through these platforms.
EO Browser and Sentinel Playground functionalities
The free satellite imagery visualisation tool, EO Browser, makes it possible to easily search and study a vast number of archives and free satellite imagery stored in the cloud, including Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3 data (Sentinel-5 data in a near future). It is an easy to use web application, publicly available with no registration needed to access standard functions, which is certainly helping to greatly increase the number of Copernicus users especially amongst the general public. A user can “travel” to an area of interest, select criteria such as time range and cloud coverage, combination of spectral bands and inspect the resulting data from different sources in a matter of seconds, before downloading the resulting imagery in a matter of seconds.
The platform has been recently upgraded and now includes a new tool to create time-lapses. After registering, and with only one click, you may download an animated GIF to analyse or simply enjoy the differences displayed at different points in time in one area of interest.
This time-lapse shows the four seasons in the Cadiz bay (Spain) with the natural park, the wetlands and the agricultural cycle. Sentinel-2 false colour imagery processed by the Copernicus Support Office with EO Browser.
Grega Milcinski, CEO of Sinergise, explains briefly to Copernicus Observer that the Sentinel Hub technology “was developed to allow current and potential Copernicus users to experience the power of multi-temporal remote sensing that enables change detection and land cover classification for agricultural and environmental monitoring, insurance risk assessment, natural disaster response and more”. But not only that, “EO Browser and Sentinel Playground simple web viewers are helping Copernicus by spreading the word (visually) on the capabilities of the programme among anyone interested in Earth’s changing surface, since we want to change the way people use Copernicus data”, added Milcinski.
Impressions from Twitter users sharing the time-lapse images processed using Sentinel Hub.
The use of this tool is becoming definitely viral prejudging by the number of tweets posted during the last weeks. Only in February 2018 EO Browser handled 4 million requests.
A Sentinel-2 time-lapse (2016-218) of the Ebro Delta in Tarragona (Spain) generated about 30,000 views on Twitter.
There is a simplified version, Sentinel Playground, which is ideal for someone without any training or experience in the field of satellite imagery who wants to find the latest (or historic) available images of forest fires, to observe water levels in a lake or reservoir, or simply to understand how Earth Observation products are built. Also based on the Sentinel Hub technology, it enables easy-to-use discovery and exploration of full-resolution Sentinel-2 imagery, along with access to state-of-the art, but easy to use image processing tools. Any scene can be displayed in different combinations of spectral bands. The success of this platform is quite extraordinary. It has processed 25 million requests in the last three months!
This is another facet of the Copernicus revolution: bringing EO data directly to citizens, to schools, to journalists etc. This does not only result in beautiful pictures of Earth seen from space. It contributes to raising awareness of the fragility of our environment, of the necessity to understand and control climate change and of the contribution of the European Union’s space programmes to our daily lives and to the challenges our planet is facing.
Sentinel-2 image over Brussels (Belgium) displayed in the Sentinel Playground interface, showing atmospheric penetration based on different spectral bands.