ForEarth – How to involve citizen in environmental issues with EO?

We’re thankful to Marc Gorman who highly contributed to the obtainment of the ForEarth project and will not have the opportunity to see the outcome.

The European Spatial Agency (ESA) launch the initiative: EO Science for Society with the aim to enhance Copernicus data by producing EO applications in responses to global societal issues. ForEarth forms part of this initiative.

EO Science for Society

In EO Science for Society, we have to ask ourselves one key question: what is Society? There are many answers, some practical, some philosophical, but perhaps one interpretation most of us can agree on is that Society is “this thing we all live in”. The “we” and “all” are important words, making clear that Society is a mixture of all types of people with all levels of education and skill. We should not lose track of the fact that Society is not to be equated with a “captive EO community”, where people who know access the data they need. In doing something “for Society”, we need to produce something useful for everyone, not just those already clued up.

Society is scientists, students, local communities, government, interested hobbyists, the Person in the Street, teachers, kids, social networkers.

What we propose to do is to reach some of these categories much more effectively than before; we will give scientists easier tools to do their science, and we will give education institutions, and the public, better tools for education.

In these times of questioning Climate Change, it is important to keep the standards of education high, and people watchful and discerning. Give us this day our daily Science. EO is a key resource for education, and one that has been greatly underused. Let’s change that.

It is vital that using EO, and understanding it, should become as easy as using the web or an app on a smartphone. The functions to process the data, and get easily interpretable results out of it, should be integrated into the web – they should not be arcane and difficult to use.

What will be ForEarth?

ForEarth is a project led by a consortium of three partners:

ForEarth Consortium

The objective of the ForEarth project is to provide a mobile oriented environmental alert service dedicated to public institutions, scientists and citizens to keep a close watch on their surrounding environment based on EO free observations.

A ready to use environmental alert service (email, phone), is designed for public to keep a close watch on their surrounding environment based on EO free observations, Copernicus, Sentinel-1&2. In European contexts, such services would query public environmental data base such as air quality, river discharge and aquifer data base, in case of near real-time delivery. In southern countries, the lack of monitoring programs and data diffusion/transparency together with fast land use changes, recurrent disasters (floods, drought) and highly variable climatic conditions could easily be being evaluated/monitored using EO. We intend to develop a service based on user enquiry to answer to such questions: Is the forest exploited right now around me? What are our drinkable water stocks for the dry season? Am I in a rain shadow zone to develop my crops?

The service tackles, for the first time, arising questions about local environmental variables, through simple and robust remote sensing techniques: change detection over forest, surface water in reservoir dams, irrigated surface area detection within a location. This service would target southern countries where these kind of variables, when monitored by governmental services, are not publicly released or not in a near-real time. The targeted audience is first – a non-GIS expert that could be politically engaged to – micro-businessmen or simply curious citizens, NGO, consulting or insurance companies that would not be capable to get this information from elsewhere and in a near real time. The enquiries collected from users can be a feedback to learn what environmental issues are common in the place where the users are querying the app. Another perspective of this service is to build more specific analyses of EO for diverse and local environmental issues that could be tackles using the platform behind the app. It targets more specialized and expert public to develop appropriate analyses of EO for environmental issues.

How it will work?

We develop a microservices infrastructure, specialized for the needs of EO, and deployed in data proximity, via a container (CaaS) mechanism on all relevant EO service hosting infrastructures, DIAS and Thematic Platforms. This microservices infrastructure is accessed by SnapPlanet an EO specific social networking app on smartphone developed by Jeobrowser, which empowers users of any skill level to trigger web processing of selected EO products and view or download the results. SnapPlanet uses the aforementioned microservices as a back office to perform all its processing.

Part of the Examind framework is updated as a set of microservices exposing REST APIs. Some of these microservices are science-to-citizen services, which keep the Citizen informed of risks to their local environment in real time through the SnapPlanet push notifications capabilities.

In the frame of the ForEarth project, SnapPlanet is the user entry point to interact with our microservices infrastructure. Basically, the user has access to a new subscription service within SnapPlanet. This service provides a simple form to select one Region Of Interest (e.g. Hyderabad area) and the available environmental variables to be monitored (e.g. hydric stress). Each time new data is available on the platform, the environmental variables is automatically computed on the Region Of Interest and compared to reference values range. For every variable that is out of range, the backend server pushes an alert and the user is notified within the SnapPlanet application. Opening the notification displays the processing result in a comprehensive way within the application.

ForEarth architecture2

An application use case

We will validate the ForEarth service use in the Indian socio-hydrological context, based on a previous research program called “Agro-hydrology from space” co-funded by ESA which has taken place in Hyderabad area, Telangana, India. A prototype of irrigated and surface water area extent monitoring has been developed and tested based on the synergetic use of Sentinel-1&2 satellites observation time-series (Detection of Irrigated Crops from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 Data to Estimate Seasonal Groundwater Use in South India). Some identified potential local users of the service have already been associated to this project (Science user – IRD/CESBIO).

With one of the largest populations in the world, mainly composed of rural inhabitants who depend on agriculture as their principal income source, the competition for land and water throughout India is huge and expanding. Indian agriculture consumes more than 80% of the water used in the country, these amounts varying widely from year to year. The groundwater contribution to irrigated water has risen by 90%, encouraged by subsidized electricity for farmers in the two last decades. This financial support changed the status of this water resource from an emergency supply, in case of surface water scarcity, to the main water source for irrigated crops. In that highly irrigated context, the water used for domestic consumption is minor compare to the agricultural use. A small relative increase of agricultural water consumption can threaten the domestic needs, which increase at high rates with urban areas expansion, This situation has led to water shortages and bring the competition for water to a spatial dimension. Runoff from monsoon is captured within a rainwater harvesting system composed by hundreds of thousands small water tanks, spread along the drainage network in upstream parts of the country (see figure below). Initially dug for agriculture irrigation, these tanks are now used as Managed Artificial Recharge (MAR) basins for increasing natural recharge. The evaporated and recharge water volume are missing downstream for aquatic ecosystems and others human uses.

Hyderabad (center of figure below), located in the Telangana state, is one of the fastest city growth in India (6.4 million in 2005; 9.7 in 2017). This development has led to many issues in terms of employment, housing and basic services such as tap water distribution, but has also led to develop an urban civil society highly engaged in environmental issues. In Hyderabad, multiple associations are gathering citizen to promote local organic food consumption or protect ancient granite formations of the Deccan Plateau (Society to save Rocks), or protest against destruction of natural areas for urbanization.

Historically, Hyderabad water distribution mainly relies on big reservoir dams in surrounding areas. These dams, filled with monsoon runoff of upstream catchment, can be empty after several dry years. But the increasing demand for domestic water has led to systematic more or less long shortage periods at the end of the summer period (from April to June) which force authorities to cut the water distribution. A black market of groundwater, coming from the Hyderabad surroundings to fill water tank of each buildings, partly fulfils this domestic water demand. The more long the shortage last, the higher the prices become. This situation will quickly worsen. Indeed, no realistic aquifer management plans are set up by constraining farmers to stop pumping before a lower limit. On the contrary, for electoral reasons, farmers got an extension of free electricity periods in Telangana, allowing them to use more groundwater in less time. This emergency supply for domestic water is threatened in coming years.

This context explains why issues related water resources are a trending topic in press and a regular source of concern for the public opinion. We believe that the service brought by ForEarth will be well received.


The ambition of this project is to develop a water alerting system for urban population based on the automated monitoring of surface waters that are the main source of domestic tap water and to deploy it at the population scale of Hyderabad. The service could be used to just know and anticipate or decide and act according to a weekly use of the service.

ForEarth objectives

Using EO to improve Citizens’ quality of life – directly

While it is true that EO is, in general, aimed at monitoring the planet and helping us to be sustainable, its benefits are often hidden behind institutions and are not available “in the palm of the user”. How would it be if the Citizen has EO-based information, vital to their livelihood, arriving on their handheld device? That is what we are proposing.

Empowering the Citizen to use EO in everyday life

For the past 25 years at least, the dream has always been to weave EO into the fabric of Society. There have been two problems with this: 1) the definition of “society”, which has traditionally been too restrictive in EO contexts (i.e. limited to people who know), 2) there have not really been the tools to do it. One contributor to this proposal was at ESA / ESRIN in the mid 1990s when the “next next” generation of services were being discussed, and of course at the time, the mobile revolution had not quite taken place. Today, the Citizen can use EO for everyday purposes through the use of social media oriented services, from a handheld mobile.

Bringing simple solutions to Scientists working with EO data

Platforms are great – but not always the easy solution scientists are looking for. Microservices centered on EO make things simple: the services are always available as a web address, wherever you are on the internet, and can be used to create additional services. There is no need to carry your services with you as you travel, for demos or for your own work, and there is no need to “configure” an environment on a platform, dimension resources and all that kind of stuff.

Making EO as easy as using a social network

ForEarth will provide specialized services that deliver environmental information to Citizens, informing them about risks and threats in their immediate neighborhood. Beyond that, the User Interface for access to EO provided through ForEarth (based on SnapPlanet) will be “social network like”, so that the Citizen will be able to play with, and say things with, EO, just in the same way as they use Twitter or Instagram. Talk about the Earth…

We are not “yet another EO platform”

Indeed, we want the opposite to be true: we want to be a “non-platform”, and a set of tools that can be used by any system that considers itself an EO platform. We want to enrich the context, not compete with it.

We want everyone to use our service

We want many different kinds of people to use our microservices and app. People who know, and people who don’t. And gradually, the “not knowers” will move into the domain of the knowers. EO is a gift to education: we must all make maximum efforts to use the extremely expensive observation missions that are operating today, or planned for the future, to provide additional resources for education.

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