A new generation of satellites and hot air balloons to monitor the environment


new satellite technology that protects the environment

Satellites such as Sentinel, which regularly photograph large areas of land and sea, have been changing the way crops and forests are managed for years. However, new equipment and techniques are also revolutionizing our understanding of wildlife and the oceans. From hot air balloons to tagging technologies and satellite data transmission, they are all making life easier for biologists and scientists. This is especially valuable in a time of great change adding to global warming.

One of the most tangible impacts of climate change is the rise in the level of the oceans. That is why the launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite is excellent news for researchers. With a curious "doghouse" shape, the new satellite is already providing information about these variations on a planetary scale. The previous generation of satellites had already registered an annual rise of three millimeters in the last thirty years, but Sentinel-6 will allow much more detailed monitoring. The key is in a highly accurate altimeter that sends electromagnetic pulses to water surfaces, monitoring both sea level and waves. Subsequently, the data is processed to obtain easily interpretable images. This technological project, promoted jointly by the US and Europe, will make it possible to predict with greater precision the fate of coastal population centers in the coming decades. In fact, fifteen of the twenty-three largest cities in the world are currently by the sea.

In addition to monitoring the sea, satellite technology is being used to keep track of its creatures. The results of a new project in this line have just been published in the scientific journal Animal Biotelemetry. Underwater animal monitoring presents several challenges. Mainly, many of these species move to great depths in the high seas, areas that are not particularly characterized by having 5G coverage. To solve the problem, one company has developed an ejectable tagging device that features accelerometers and thermometers. Thus, you can check the depth and speed of swimming, as well as the temperature of the water for a period of up to three months. Once the device has fulfilled its task, it detaches itself from the animal and rises to the surface, where it transmits all the information via satellite. As a starting point, cobia specimens have been installed in a chambered laboratory tank. This has made it possible to contrast the information from the sensors with the data obtained through the cameras. Once its reliability was proven, it was tested on sandbar shark specimens in the open sea for a period of one month. The researchers point out that these data will be essential to analyze changes in the behavior of species due to global warming.

However, the seas are not the only area of ​​work for these remote sensing technologies, which do not necessarily have to occupy a space orbit. One of the most promising projects is the use of hot air balloons. Its use is common in weather forecasts, but they have the problem that they are at the expense of the wind direction. This makes it difficult to use in the study of specific areas, where it is necessary to maintain a geostationary position.

Fortunately, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are helping to solve the problem. In this way, the Loon project, focused on providing Internet to areas without coverage thanks to a network of super-pressure hot air balloons, is integrating AI into its devices. Thanks to it, the balloons ascend or descend autonomously, computing the speed of the wind at different heights, which allows them to return to their initial position. The solar-powered device uses historical wind direction and strength data and gradually learns to find its optimal height.

The promoters of the project, which has already carried out its first successful tests, point to the numerous applications. In addition to their use for telecommunications, they will be able to monitor the melting of permafrost, air quality in cities, the state of forested areas and animal migrations among other things.

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