Thank you. Good evening.
I am delighted to have received the invitation from the EPA and also for you to come.
I really am delighted to see so many people here.
I am going to talk to you about the satellites' view of our changing world.
But it's going to be not so much in terms of seasons.
And you are seeing before your eyes the change from summer to winter of the Emerald Isle,
no longer emerald but white.
Rather than seasons I am going to talk over time periods of years in the main,
and occasionally seconds.
But whatever time frame we talk about it's a numbers game.
And the number that you really need to keep in your mind above all others,
I think, is the 7+ billion human beings on the planet.
We actually passed the 7 billion mark a year ago.
It was a year ago that the U.N. population office declared we had hit 7 billion.
Since then we have been adding to that number at a rate of about 135 a minute.
So the pressure on our planet to deliver the resources that are needed to feed and fuel
and provide energy and fibre for that 7+ billion is relentless and remorseless.
And the land that we are all clustered on is finite. We don't make more land.
So land is a fundamental part of the climate system.
When you look at it from space,
and I am sure you are familiar with this very famous image that was taken in 1968,
called Earth Rise, which also gave thought to the blue marble.
You do see the question, why land? Why is land important in the climate system?
Well in fact that's not the photograph that the astronaut took.
Well it is, but it's not presented correctly.
That's the view that he actually saw.
And that's the view that he took. And that one makes more sense.
Because you are seeing the dark side of the earth and the sunlit side of the earth.
And in fact if you look hard enough at that picture
you might start to recognise land features, terrestrial features.
The bright patch at the top is actually the Sahara Desert.
And if you keep in your mind's eye the shape of Africa you can make that out.
And then you come down and you have the Namib Desert.
Unfortunately you cannot see Dublin because it's under cloud.
Not the case today, I have to say, it was a delight today.
So the blue marble, blue, yes.
If we actually look at the planet and we know it's 71% oceans,
hence the blue from space and we have got 29% land.
Why are we worried about this land? It gets even worse.
Let's take away all those bits with no vegetation on, the deserts, get rid of them.
Get rid of those areas which are permanently covered by ice and snow.
We are left with about 20% of the surface covered with vegetation.
What's the big deal?
Well don't think of it as 20% of the surface covered by vegetation.
Imagine all the leaves being stacked up one above the other
from the vegetation that occupies that 20%.
And you would cover the entire planet's surface, if you spread that out.
The measurement is leaf area index, which is the area of leaves per unit area on the ground.
If you took them all off the tree and spread them out or whatever it is, the wheat plant even.
So it's a huge element within the climate system.
And we can explain that in terms of a more scientific approach
where we look at the biophysical land surface processes.
So we look at the interaction of all of those leaves between the atmosphere,
which is our basic driver of the climate system, and the land surface.
And of course as the vegetation greens up
and grows it changes the carbon dioxide part of the cycle.
The plants are photo-synthesising, they are pulling the CO2 out of the atmosphere.
As the leaves die off, they die back, you start to get more respiration.
That bit of the cycle changes.
Water, you are all familiar with the evapotranspiration from standing crops.
It's a fundamental part of the water cycle,
whether there's vegetation there or not.
Then you have to think about the energy component of the climate surface.
You have got the sun as the primary input of energy,
but then when it hits the planet's surface,
the energy interaction will be different if it's a bright white desert or if it's a dark forest.
It changes the energy flux.
And in fact even on the surface it changes the wind flow.
If there's a forest standing you will get different wind patterns
to if it's an open grassland for example.
So what is on the land surface is absolutely inescapably part of the climate system.
Now the big problem is that letter C in the diagram there. It's us.
Anthropogenic land use change. We are the main actors on that land surface.
The 7+ billion of us all concentrated on the land.
Now you can see that signal in the most famous diagram of all, the keeling curve.
You are familiar with the increase in the carbon dioxide over time
and the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 300 or so parts per million
up to close to 400 today.
The saw tooth that you see on there is actually a representation
or a measurement of that greening up process
that we have just been talking about.
So it's mainly the northern hemisphere growing season that is capturing that signal there.
So as the plants all come through and the growing season starts,
it's starting to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere and the curve drops.
The leaves fall off, the crops harvest, they start rotting in the ground,
there's respiration, the curve comes back up again. Hence that saw tooth.
Now what we are doing is, we are using space based technology
to capture that process, and to capture the change that we as human beings
are imposing on this fragile planet that we live in.
This process of using space based technology has been recognised
by all of our governments in the Rio+20 Conference just a few months ago.
The 140 country parties signed up to it, recognised the importance of space technology
based data for building up policy making. And I am going to describe some of that to you.
The other key words on that slide at the moment there are geospatial information.
Now geospatial information is just a neat way of saying maps.
The problem we face is that everybody assumes the map
that you need has always been made, it's always there,
it's always accurate and you can always get your hands on it.
Now in many many parts of the world that is not the case.
It happens to be the case in this part of the world.
The EPA are creating maps of various environmental variables at a huge amount of detail.
Ireland has been mapped for a very very long time.
This was an early example that I found from 1300.
So a long time ago.
What I find even more amazing is that it's based on Ptolemy's coordinates
from around AD one hundred and something.
So even further back in history.
And he did not have access to satellites or GPS or aerial photography.
And how good was he?
Well those are the points that are listed in the Ptolemy database,
and these clever guys, Darcy and Flynn, converted them into a modern set of data.
And I then used those to warp a satellite image to Ptolemy's projection.
So we could see how good he got it.
And in fact if you compare the two, he didn't do a bad job,
considering he had no overhead mapping capabilities at all.
Now we do. So we have no excuse for getting it wrong.
And we have had them for a long time.
In fact ever since photography was invented people have recognised
the strategic and mapping value of getting above the action.
And this gentleman called Gaspard-Félix Tournachon from Paris, that's a very long name,
so he shortened it to Nadar which was much catchier,
and much easier for people to remember.
He put it in a balloon and we have aerial photographs of Paris for posterity.
Balloons though are fairly fickle things and I think this is a wonderful step forward.
This was the Bavarian pigeon corps of 1903.
And some enterprising intelligence gatherers, let's call them that,
strapped little clockwork cameras to homing pigeons and released them.
And as they flew back they took photographs.
And you would get one photograph with the wing tips in,
like the one you can see there.
You can see the tips of the wing.
And then the next frame would be wingless and so on.
But this was a recognised and wonderful precursor to the drone I guess.
And then everything went ballistic, quite literally,
when the Russians launched the first satellite in 1957.
And it was almost no time at all, 1957, the first satellite,
all that one did was beep, basically in 1957.
Sputnik 1. But within three years we were gathering imagery like this,
where you could see runways from space.
Now to give you an idea how far we have come,
not just in terms of technology, but in terms of openness.
That is a declassified military satellite picture.
But today if you go to Google Earth and you look at the same place,
in that little yellow box, you get that, also from space.
So I think it's tremendous that a) we can take the imagery,
but b) we make it available. And that's a key message.
Now we have been doing this for a long time.
This cartoon shows you the number of polar orbiting images
that there are flying today.
And effectively it's an entire history of civilian remote sensing,
which is the term we sort of lump it all together with.
The vertical bars show you how long each individual satellite operated,
the names of them you cannot read. But they are all listed at the bottom.
And then the first one started in 1972. In 1972 LandSat1 was launched.
And that's all we had. We had one civilian earth imaging satellite.
Today we have 64 of them.
Now some of them are more successful than others.
CSat lasted 100 days,
a big expense for 100 days of imaging.
LandSat5 lasted 27 years. So there's accumulation of evidence.
And I think the message that you should take home from this cartoon is continuity.
We have been observing the planet in a consistent way since 1972 in the civilian domain,
gathering information on the way that the land is changing.
Now there are so many satellites up there that now satellites are imaging satellites.
And this is a satellite image of a satellite.
So the guys flying the Spot satellite knew that ERS1
was going to be flying underneath them
and they programmed it so that the one could image the other.
Unfortunately there are also so many satellites up there now
that satellites are crashing into satellites.
So we have a whole new area of concern now, space situational awareness,
where we are basically air traffic controlling space.
There are more than 2,000 operational satellites up there.
They are not all imaging.
They are GPS, they are telephones, they are television.
They are navigation, communications, lots of them.
It's a very crowded place.
And of course virtually every one that we have put up there since 1957 is still up there.
So a big issue.
A quick fly through of what sort of imagery we get from them.
We get pictures like this. This is from a geostationary satellite.
We get pictures like this every 15 minutes.
Now that's the basis of all of your weather forecasting.
But it's also a vital source of environmental information.
We are talking about land here this evening and that is not a cloud.
That's actually dust that's coming off the Sahara Desert.
Now that particular dust storm travelled all the way across the Atlantic
and landed in the sea off the coast of Florida,
changed the chemistry of the ocean and caused a toxic algal bloom.
So we are a connected world.
What happens in different parts of the world affects all of the other interconnected sections.
Every 15 minutes an image like this.
We get much more photo-realistic images like this one maybe once a month,
if you are lucky, and if there's no cloud in the way. How good are they?
Well if you look at the tennis courts, you can see the individual players.
If you look hard at them you can tell who is serving
and who is receiving by their position on the court.
So as intelligence gathering, for environmental purposes,
these are the most amazing resources that we have got at our disposal.
Now it all started as far as we are concerned in the civilian world with this event,
which was on 23rd July 1972, when LandSat1 was launched.
And within just over a month, 27th August 1972, we had the first satellite image of Ireland.
This is the earliest image I can find in the archive.
Now I was introduced to a new term on the way to the meeting here today.
I was told about the sunny southeast.
And that's the little bit of Ireland that you can actually see under the cloud.
You had to wait until 1973 to get a satellite image of Dublin that was cloud free.
You do seem to get an awful lot of cloud here. That's for sure.
If we go in and look at what's happening within Dublin - that's the zoom of that image in 1973 –
you can make out the runway for the airport at the top, you can see the harbour walls.
Oh, and I said that we don't make any more land,
and then I was told about Captain Bligh's wall
and the fact that you do make more land here in Dublin.
And you have the Bull Island, which I thought was creative.
The edge of the city starts to grow remarkably.
Now we move forward to 1988 and we have got a better satellite, a clearer picture.
You can see the airport has grown another runway.
The city has expanded, especially to the north.
Look at the change between 1988 and 2006. I will go back.
Look how it has expanded to the north, you have the new ring road going in,
more buildings around the airport, the city is growing.
So what? People have got somewhere to live.
You need to build houses. All the rest of it.
That is changing that land surface interaction.
It's changing the way the surface interacts with the atmosphere
and will have direct consequences on the climate system.
Has it stopped? No. This is the latest image I could get of Dublin.
This is from August of this year.
And I can see growth between 2006 and 2012.
There are new buildings going in, new sealing that's gone on.
I know that might have changed more recently
or at least the process may not be continuing to accelerate quite as much.
I left this one in also showing the little black stripes.
The satellites are not infallible.
This one is actually broken. It doesn't work that well.
And we get these black lines appearing.
But we can deal with it. Because the next time the satellite comes over
the black lines are in a different place.
So we can add the images together to make the measurements of time.
Now yes, you have had some fairly dramatic change around Dublin over those years.
But there are places on the planet's surface that have changed far more dramatically.
And this is one of them. This is in the Al Jouf Peninsula in Saudi Arabia.
It's an area of about 110km across.
As far as my climate system is concerned
it's a bright light reflective dry non-carbon absorbing desert.
So for the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the surface roughness, bare ground.
I zoom in on it and I look at the town, yes, there's a little bit of vegetation,
there's a little bit of road, not a lot happening though. That's 1987.
Step forward to January of this year and you have got rather a dramatic change.
What's happened is that centre point irrigation systems have been put in.
Each one of those circles is a boom of 500m in length,
pumping fossil water from the aquifers under the desert
and using them to produce much needed crops.
So you can't argue with the process, but climatically you have changed dramatically
from bare desert to green carbon absorbing water exchanging soil.
And of course there's a long term issue about fossil water
and how long that's going to last.
Now the town is just the start of it.
You remember what the desert looked like.
In fact that town is really the tip of the iceberg.
There are 2,500 of those centre point irrigation systems.
It's an entire country's worth almost.
And in fact to illustrate that if you put it on top of Dublin
that whole system would spread
at least half of the country across. It's big.
This is changing the face of the planet.
Now what we are looking at basically is competition for land.
We don't make much more of it.
Captain Bligh's wall had a fractional effect.
Land is finite. And it's under tremendous environmental pressure.
It's under pressure from climate change.
It's under pressure from land degradation.
It's under pressure from societal aspects, the growing population.
But not just the growing population, the moving migrating population.
And it's economic pressure.
The Al Jouf Peninsula, they are growing food,
not just for self-sufficiency but also for export.
There's a market element to it as well.
And in fact that monetisation of land use is now hitting the climate story firmly in the face.
And we have a situation where maybe even 10 years ago
we were interested in forests simply because of their function in the climate system.
They were big dark rough carbon absorbing wet things, and nothing more than that.
And we mapped them on scales of 100km and nothing more.
And we just needed to know roughly where they were for the climate models.
We now have something called REDD,
which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.
This is basically the idea of paying people not to cut the forests down.
You have monetised it in a quite different way now.
You are saying, we recognise how important those forests are for the climate system,
so let's protect them by paying people not to cut them down.
Climate is only part of the story though.
At the same time you have the same parties who have decided on that,
who are now saying, that we want to protect vast tracts of land.
And we have the biodiversity convention which has said
we are going to protect 17% of the planet's surface.
Now that's a laudable goal. It's a good goal.
But currently we are trying to protect 12%
and not doing a 100% successful job of it.
But to go from 12% to 17% and to feed the people,
and to grow the crops, and to deal with carbon sinks,
it's all starting to get a little bit conflicting.
And then, of course, it's the 7+ billion of us living on the planet that drive the change.
And if you look at energy and land cover and land use,
you know about the biofuels story and planting biofuels at the expense of foodstuffs.
But for many people, for about 2 billion people in the world,
their biofuel is literally a piece of wood.
If you want to cook something you set fire to a piece of wood.
These two gentlemen were photographed by my colleague
about an hour's drive in a Land Rover outside Dar es Salaam.
And they were on bicycles.
And they guy at the back, those sacks are full of charcoal.
And you can imagine how many trees and bushes have had to be cut down
to generate a sack of charcoal that size.
Fuel wood meets a vast element of energy needs in Africa today.
And so that's one of the things that we are trying to do is
to put in place monitoring systems with our colleagues in Africa
that allow them to measure and judge their own resources and at the same time
provide much important datasets for the climate models.
We create images like this once a year.
So this is basically a sum of every single picture of Africa for an entire year put together.
And that will give us a cloud free picture.
And then we can go in and we can look in more detail, perhaps with a different satellite.
This one is a radar satellite image which is extremely important.
Radar is slightly different technology. Radar can see through clouds.
And in the tropics that's…maybe also for Dublin…that becomes very important.
We go into more detail and we start to see human intervention.
If you look carefully
you see a road going in.
You start to be able to see direct human impact on the environment.
You start to see little red dots which are actually towns emerging.
Go in in more detail still and you see roads. These are logging roads.
Now the ones in the centre of the picture look bright and blue.
They do on my screen…yes, on yours too.
That's because they have got logging trucks driving up and down them.
So it's basically bare soil. The ones on the extreme edge look orangey.
That's because they are no longer being used by the logging company.
And so you have got a thin veneer of vegetation,
and they are beginning to give the same spectral result as the forest.
So we can use the satellite image to determine
whether the logging roads are being used or not.
Then we can go in and we can look with more detailed satellite images,
and we see the individual trees.
So I have gone in on that crossroads, and I can now see individual tree canopies.
This is roughly equivalent to the tennis court picture I showed right at the beginning.
It's actually slightly poorer resolution. But it's the same principle.
We go back a month later and we see holes appearing
where individual trees have been taken out.
And so we are able to map where an individual tree has been taken out.
Now why is this important to climate?
If you look at that picture you have got red dots on one side of the road
and none on the other.
REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation
will only attract support if you are talking about undisturbed forest.
So you want to be able to identify pieces of forest around the planet
where there has been no logging.
And this is the sort of tool that can allow you to do this.
It can also allow the governments to determine
whether a forest concession is being managed correctly,
and critically how much tax they should be getting back from that forest concession.
You are familiar with blood diamonds because of the film that came out a few years ago.
But blood timber is also an issue. And illegal logging is big business.
And the European Union is pushing something
which goes under the somewhat clumsy name of Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade,
as a means of checking where that wood has come from.
So it's not just for climate.
It goes all the way to helping our partner development countries
gain tax revenue from this monitoring exercise.
We are not just doing that for Africa.
And in my laboratory in Ispra, it's now moved to a colleague.
But we have been working on deforestation monitoring since the 1990s,
the early 90s, for all of the continents.
And the processes are quite different in different parts of the world, the principle drivers.
If you look at Latin America one of the major drivers of deforestation there is ranching.
So it's clearing large tracts of land for cattle ranching. But it's also urbanisation.
And that's not an obvious driver for tropical deforestation.
But there are more than 40 million people living in cities inside the legal Amazon.
And that's 40 million people concentrated and getting concentrated demands
for energy and paper and wood for building and all the rest of it.
So urbanisation is an issue in deforestation in the Amazon, for sure.
We move to Southeast Asia and the drivers are different again.
Here in Real province in Indonesia you have one of the largest,
if not the largest, paper mills in the world.
And it's sitting right next to a rich tropical peat forest.
Now keep the top picture, the top photograph, in your mind.
Because when we look at the satellite imagery,
and if you look at the more detailed one, you can see little black lines on it.
Those are drainage channels.
What happens is, they go in and drain the peat forest,
leave it for a couple of years to dry out,
then you can bring in the heavy duty logging vehicles,
clear it, put the logs in the drainage channels and float them down to the paper mill.
So it's a very streamlined operation.
In Africa a different story again.
The charcoal production that we saw before is a critical factor.
It's a significant factor. If you look at the Virunga National Park,
the Virunga National Park can possibly make $1m a year out of tourism.
But I don't think it ever has hit that figure, but it's close to it.
It regularly though can hit $30m a year from illegal charcoal production.
So the pressure, that competition for land.
Again, do we protect it as a nature reserve?
Or do we use it for charcoal production? You get that happening.
I must say though that the forests of Africa generally speaking are being very well managed.
And the deforestation rates there are much lower than they are in Indonesia and in Latin America.
If we go back to Latin America you can see the scale of the change
on our planet's surface and why we should be concerned.
This is a satellite image roughly equivalent to the first one of Dublin I showed you, three days later.
So if you remember how heterogeneous the landscape of Ireland is when seen from satellite,
and you look at that uniform green carpet of the tropical forest,
you can see the line of the river in there but not much else.
If you look very carefully actually you can see a road.
You certainly couldn't from the floor, but you can from the computer screen.
So I have highlighted that.
Come back a few years later though and the deforestation is rife.
It's gone…it's going. It's not gone…it's going.
What we have been doing is looking at 20kmx20km blocks in a great deal of detail over time,
carefully mapping the change, year to year, and then enlisting the help of regional
and local forestry experts in the different continents to put together a series of statistics.
And so we have been building up blocks like this at 4,016 different locations
throughout the tropics to build up a picture of how rapidly we are losing the forests,
to reduce uncertainty in the carbon cycle,
but also to provide tools for better forest management
in the partner countries that we work with.
If you look at the African situation as an example
the red circles show where natural vegetation has gone.
The green show where it has recovered.
You don't need to do the calculation
you can tell immediately that that's a one way street.
The natural vegetation is going, and fast.
If we actually look at the statistics behind that,
we find that about 50,000 sq.km. of natural vegetation
have been cleared every year since the 1970s.
Now that means that there's a lot more agricultural land.
But the population, back to our 7+ billion figure,
has grown so rapidly in that continent
that there's less agricultural land than there was in 1970s per person.
In fact in 1975 the population of Africa was half the population of Europe.
They didn't hit parity until about the turn of the century,
until somewhere between 1998 and 2000.
Since 2000 the population of Europe has increased by 11 million
and the population of Africa has increased by 211 million.
And our population has pretty much stopped growing now.
We are flatlining. Africa is still increasing rapidly.
So the pressure on the land is not going to go away.
And unfortunately the land that is productive for agriculture is not in abundance.
In spite of Molly Malone's preference for seafood,
most of our calories actually come from the land.
We have got 99% of calories come from the land.
But most of the land cannot actually provide crops.
If you take away all of the areas that are too cold.
Then we eliminate all the areas which are too high,
where the soils are too shallow to actually grow crops.
Get rid of those. Then we take away those that are too hot, too dry.
Get rid of that.
You can see that we are getting less and less and less as we go forward.
We take away those that are too wet. Some of those in Ireland.
Take away the areas that are too acidic.
Again even at this mapping scale I can see some.
Too saline, get rid of that.
And what you are left with is relatively little that supports crops.
And unfortunately we have a habit of building cities in the good land,
or at least they started off as small communities and they are growing.
So we have sealed it up. We have put concrete on it.
Although my colleagues in the soils department call those technosoils.
We call it concrete. But they call it technosoil.
Then get rid of that and you are left with a whole bunch of soils
which are actually rather on the fragile side for supporting crops.
Take those away and take away the young ones
which are really fragile and infertile
and you are left with something between 13% and 18% of the planet
which is actually capable unaided of supporting crops.
That's not a lot.
And when I say we don't make more land we certainly don't make more soil in human lifetime.
And I think we take it for granted.
It takes something like 100 years to make one centimetre of soil in temperate grasslands.
So effectively for us in a human lifetime soil should be considered as a non-renewable resource.
And it's somewhat abused.
Because even if you take that we are eroding it,
we are degrading it, and we are taking it, the land take.
This is a huge issue in the European Union right now.
This is not a map of urban areas. It's a travel time map.
It's a map which tells you how long it will take you
to reach a population centre of 50,000 people or more.
If you are gold you are within an hour of a group of people of 50,000 or more.
If you are dark brown then you are many days.
In fact the most remote place on the planet is 21 days away from a city.
You would have to walk for 20 days and then you would have to get in a car
and drive for a whole day before you reached it. It's out in Mongolia.
But for us in Europe we are an intensely urbanised society.
And in fact we have just completed a study
which shows that the land take has hit something like 1,000 sq.km. a year.
That's about 10 hectares an hour of good land which is going under concrete,
going under car parks, going under roads and the like.
That's not sustainable.
So we are gathering all this information.
What are we doing with it?
It's a powerful driver of science in its own right.
We feed these land cover maps and this land cover change information into climate models
and they get better as a result. It's informing and shaping policy.
I use both expressions. It informs policy.
We tell them there's a problem with land degradation.
But it's shaping policy by providing a means of measuring it and monitoring it and verifying it.
So it's actually helping to shape policy decisions.
It's promoting transparency and good governance.
The illegal logging is a good example.
You can't say to your people,
our forests are protected when somebody can produce a satellite image and show holes in it.
No, it's not. You are not doing the right thing.
It's helping build a knowledge base and it's certainly a vehicle for international co-operation.
Should we be worried? Should we be complacent?
If we look at the Stade de France, one of my favourite places to look at.
But as we lose habitually at rugby there I am quite happy to see it covered in trees.
It takes this long to go from a forested Stade de France to a cleared one.
That's real time.
Add up all our 4,016 samples and you are losing forest,
that's net…that's the red minus the green…it's net loss of a football pitch
or a rugby pitch every three seconds of every day.
So whatever you are doing and it takes three seconds to do it,
the planet has lost a Stade de France worth of forest.
That's a sad thought. Perhaps a happier thought is we are doing good.
We are protecting the planet.
These are the protected areas in Ireland put up.
They are officially monitored. They are officially governed.
And it's worth doing it.
Because it's a mighty beautiful country when seen from above.
And it's a mighty beautiful country when you actually visit it on the ground.
So it's worth fighting for and it's worth striving for.
I think climate change is a challenge.
We as human beings certainly are changing the planet's surface at a faster rate than ever before.
And I think I have illustrated one or two examples for you.
Those changes do affect the climate, but they are also affected by climate.
Science and policy are addressing these issues, but we are not there yet.
We are making the right moves but we are not there yet.
But I don't think either will succeed alone.
Policy needs science.
And ultimately the science needs a policy framework as well in this context.
But I think both need the public behind them and public engagement.
The problem is huge and it affects everybody.
And that's why it's really a delight to see so many people
coming to a science event like this one and to the EPA for organising such an event.
So with that I will say, thank you.
So with that I will say, thank you.
0:00:00 / 0:00:00
Dr Alan Belward, Head of the Land Resource Management Unit of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy
The Satellites' view of our changing world