More than a hundred leading European and Chinese scientists met recently on the island city of Xiamen to commence the Dragon Programme – a wide-ranging research initiative employing ESA Earth Observation data to focus on China.
The sheer size and variety of this vast land means that satellites are particularly useful for its study. The Dragon Programme is a joint undertaking between ESA, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of China and the National Remote Sensing Centre of China (NRSCC). Its purpose is to encourage increased exploitation of ESA space resources within China as well as stimulate increased scientific co-operation in the field of Earth Observation science and technology between China and Europe.
The Dragon Programme was initiated following a September 2003 meeting in Paris between Mr Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director of ESA and Prof. Xu Guanhua, Minister of Science and Technology for the People’s Republic of China.
The participating Sino-European research teams are being joined by ESA Director for Earth Observation Programmes Professor Jose Achache and Mr. Zhang Guocheng, Deputy Director-General of NRSCC.
During the three-year lifetime of the Dragon Programme, data from Envisat as well as other ESA spacecraft will be employed in collaborations between European and Chinese research teams. These fall within thematic areas agreed by ESA and China covering subjects such as rice monitoring and forest mapping, water resources assessment and flood forecasting, air quality measurements and the spread of deserts.
Already initiated is a trainee exchange scheme, with two students from the Chinese Academy of Forestry in Beijing studying radar-based forest mapping techniques at ESA’s European Space Research Institute (ESRIN) in Frascati, Italy.
Forests cover one seventh of China’s land. Radar data such as that provided by Envisat’s Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) instrument can enable more accurate woodland monitoring using InSAR. When multiple images are combined in this way, forested areas become de-coherent in distinctive signature ways enabling interpreters to classify their canopy height, denseness and even their species.
Similar radar-based techniques will be used for agricultural and rice monitoring. Radar instruments are especially well suited to the latter task because fields have to be flooded during rice’s transplantation and growing stages, and radar can distinguish waterlogged ground very well. And radar can see through the clouds that obscure the view of optical satellites above rice-growing areas. Rice yield prediction models will be tested using inputs from ASAR and also multi-spectral optical data from Envisat’s Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS).
Envisat’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Cartography (SCIAMACHY) will also study seasonal variations of methane emissions from flooded rice fields – useful data for improving the accuracy of climate change models. The aim of the project is to improve the ability to monitor and simulate the coupled processes that give rise to China’s summer monsoon.