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Earth Observation from Space: the Optical View

Discover how optical Earth observation data is gathered and used in this free online course from the European Space Agency (ESA).

11,147 enrolled on this course

Earth viewed from space
  • Duration

    5 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours

Earth observation (EO) encompasses a series of techniques that use remote sensing to monitor changes to our climate, and natural and built environment.

Get an introduction to optical Earth observation

This free online course will provide an introduction to optical Earth observation - monitoring our planet from satellites, using photography, imaging in various wavelengths, lidar and other optical sensing technologies.

You’ll find out how satellite data is acquired and used, the range of data types available, and the terminology and techniques involved. The course will also provide detailed case studies of how this data is used in diverse fields, from climate science to humanitarian relief, monitoring of urban change to agriculture, and many other areas.

Learn with ESA - Europe’s Earth observation leader

The course has been developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) - the leading enabler of satellite Earth observation science and technology in Europe.

It will use case studies, real-world applications, and data from ESA and other Earth observation programmes, to help you discover:

  • how we observe and measure the Earth with optical sensors
  • how satellite data is used alongside other forms of measurement
  • the main types of data acquired through Copernicus and other satellites
  • how to conduct simple analysis using a range of different types of optical Earth observation data
  • how optical EO data is used in a range of scientific, policy and decision-making areas, in conjunction with models

Alongside articles and videos, interactive visualisation tools, additional resources and discussions with other learners will provide you with the opportunity to understand Earth observation in depth.

(Animations, data visualisations and imagery from ESA and NASA are provided courtesy of ESA and NASA. This course is produced for ESA by Imperative Space).

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Skip to 0 minutes and 28 seconds Welcome to the European Space Agency Earth Observation from Space– the Optical View Massive Open Online Course. ESA is developing a fleet of satellite to observe and monitor the Earth. So data processed and distributed from those satellites are freely available for science use, services, also for decision-makers. We are in the midst of a sensing revolution. We never had so much data. It tells us a lot of things about the Earth that we didn’t know. It provides new insight, not only for science but also for applications, serving our society, understanding how the Earth operate as a system, and also delivering the new generation of information services.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 seconds This course is about optical remote sensing. That means looking at satellite data between the visible and the short-wave infrared. It’s this part of the spectrum that encompasses the living bit of the Earth’s surface, the bits that are growing– the plants, the phytoplankton, the agriculture, and the forest. Technology for acquiring image data at higher and higher spatial and temporal resolution, finer and finer detail, has dramatically improved over the past decades. And that’s enabled remote sensing to explore and understand parts of the Earth’s system to measure change land use, agricultural applications, forest applications, ocean applications. The optical domain is very natural. People can understand it’s going from the fishery management to food security, energy management.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds This is really where the light is meeting the light. So we will have incredible insight from space into how our planet is a living organism, about the carbon cycle, about phytoplankton in the ocean and vegetation on the land, and how these two interact as a couple Earth system.

Skip to 2 minutes and 26 seconds Now you’ve got the capability to collect data, digitally and almost instantaneously transmit it to the Earth. Optical Earth observation technology has enabled new applications like urban planning, monitoring of vehicles, mapping of building heights in urban environments like this, monitoring humanitarian movements, or looking at detailed changes in the environment that might affect the wildlife.

Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds What is really unique about Earth’s observation is that it touches many disciplines. And it’s a kind of integrator around one common objective, which is understanding our planet. You get a global picture but also the level of details but also to use this information to support decision-making. The simple objective of this course is to de-mystify the use of Earth observation data. We will guide you along this five weeks of this course, through the generation of the imagery, we will explain to you the data distributed, how they can be accessed, and how they can be handled. You can learn at your own pace.

Skip to 3 minutes and 24 seconds And also, you will have the opportunities to enhance in the data, how to practically work with the data, and derive relevant information from 40 years of imaging the Earth. We look forward to you joining this course. And we sincerely hope that you will understand how we can derive really useful information from satellite data.

What topics will you cover?

  • Optical EO technology, terminology and the types of data products available
  • The use of optical EO to observe, measure and conserve the land surface and what lives on it
  • Monitoring the atmosphere and oceans with satellite EO technology
  • Monitoring rapid changes, natural disasters and humanitarian issues
  • How to access, process and work with optical EO data
  • How satellite data is used alongside other forms of measurement
  • The main types of data acquired through the Copernicus programme and other satellite missions
  • The use of optical EO data in a range of scientific, policy and decision-making areas, in conjunction with models

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore how we observe and measure the Earth with optical sensors
  • Investigate how satellite data is used alongside other forms of measurement
  • Describe the main types of data acquired through Copernicus and other missions
  • Explore how to conduct simple analysis using a range of different types of optical Earth observation (EO) data
  • Investigate how optical EO data is used in policy and decision-making, in a range of arenas, in conjunction with models

Who is the course for?

This course is designed both for people with some existing knowledge of Earth observation, as well as newcomers to the field. It will demystify the data, and make it easier for non-technical users to interpret and use it in their professional or day-to-day life, and in discourse and debate.

In case you are interested, new enrolments for the ESA Monitoring the Greenland Ice Sheet from Space course will remain open until 11th November 2017, so if you or your friends and colleagues would like to continue your exploration of satellite observation you can sign up here.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a scientist, interested in vegetation, carbon and climate. I use satellite observations, 3D models and measurements to try and understand these processes.

Martin Wooster is Professor of Earth Observation Science in the Dept. of Geography, King's College London (UK), and a Divisional Director of the NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).

Senior Scientist and Head of Remote Sensing and Marine Optics at Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Assistant Director for the Partnership for the Observation of the Global Oceans.

Who developed the course?

European Space Agency

ESA is a world leader in Earth observation from space, using satellites and novel techniques to ‘take the pulse of our planet’.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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