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Online course

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).

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Earth Observation from Space: the Optical View

Why join the course?

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 secondsWelcome 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 secondsThis 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 secondsThis 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 secondsNow 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 secondsWhat 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

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • 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.

Who will you learn with?

Mathias Disney

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

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).

Shubha Sathyendranath

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?

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. With over 20 Member States, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript £49.00

Statement of Participation £34.00

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join: