The Environmental Mapping and Analysis program, or EnMAP, is able to measure things that would otherwise be invisible, from the degree of pollution in a river flowing through a forest to the nutrient input into a plant.
“There have been some big moments already, and I can’t wait to see the data…there are so many possible implications,” Sebastian Fischer, EnMAP’s mission manager, told CNN a week after the successful launch. ‘EnMAP April 1st.
Data from EnMAP will help scientists track and examine environmental changes in real time – whether natural or man-made – and potentially help develop the next generation of long-term climate prediction models, said Anke Schickling, who oversees the operations and science program for the EnMAP mission, told CNN.
“We will receive even more reliable information about human-caused changes and damage to our ecosystems in the future,” said Brandenburg State Research Minister Manja Schüle. “These are the best preconditions for developing innovative climate change adaptation measures.”
“Everyone is really excited to get the data and to understand if their algorithms and the ideas of what they want to do with the data can really take into account what they have been preparing for the last couple of years,” Schickling said.
Understanding how light interacts with different materials – like plants, water or soil – allows researchers to more easily identify them and define their characteristics from a distance. Satellite technology uses nearly 250 different colors to more accurately and specifically determine the characteristics of the land or water it observes.
The satellite’s spectrometers first capture a photo of a section of the Earth below. Rather than assigning a color to the entire photo to categorize it, the satellite dissects each pixel in the photo and assigns each its most appropriate color on the spectrum. This allows for historical accuracy.
“Every item observed by the satellite is like a fingerprint – one of a kind,” Schickling said.
All materials on the surface of the planet reflect sunlight in a unique way. The relationship between how something reflects light and the color assigned to the material is called a spectral signature. These spectral signatures are unique identifiers for EnMAP.
“Without observing the Earth from space, it would be very difficult to quantify the global extent of the climate crisis and its consequences,” says Federal Government Commissioner for Aerospace Anna Christmann. “Germany makes an important contribution to European space technology and to an intact planet.”
The satellite is designed to withstand the harsh conditions of space for at least five years, but scientists expect EnMAP to last longer for optimal data collection. And even though the EnMAP satellite is the first of its kind, successor missions are already underway.