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Satellite image acquisitions will be synchronized with the tides as part of an ambitious new project to map coastlines from space. Formally beginning in September, ESA’s COASTCHART project aims to develop and qualify a specialized coastline information system that provides satellite-derived coastal data products suitable for operational use by hydrographic organizations. Accurate updated marine charts are essential for safe shipping navigation. They also increasingly serve as management tools for coastal zones – areas that are economically and environmentally important as sites of harbors, fisheries, oil and gas fields, tourism sites, wildlife habitats and home to the majority of the human race.

National hydrographic organizations, as coordinated by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), have the global task of mapping the sea and also the ‘littoral’ – that is, the stretch of shore affected by the sea. Their work is based on surveying campaigns using ships and air-based platforms Updates may also be provided by shore-based authorities or those working in the near shore waters. However the world has around 860000 km of total coastline, and coasts are always changing: sand and mud banks have been known to shift hundreds of metres during a single year.