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The Copernicus Project

In recent years there have been large increases in the amount of satellite derived environmental data, notably through the Copernicus space programme. These data have great potential for the environmental sector and are free at point of access; however appropriate skills and knowledge are required to make best use of them. As leading UK experts in the use of Earth Observation data for environmental applications, JNCC is now partnering with 48 organisations across 23 European countries in a project designed to promote use of Copernicus EO data – the Caroline Herschel Framework Partnership Agreement on Copernicus User Uptake.

Copernicus logo

Copernicus project overview

JNCC has been awarded funding to deliver a set of work packages which aim to increase the use of Copernicus data and services across the UK help to deliver public environmental functions more efficiently or effectively across multiple policy areas.

We are working closely with many stakeholders across the UK’s environmental sector. Four key work packages delivered in 2020 included: a monthly forum for stakeholders to present projects and ideas and gather inputs from other experts; thematic workshops to investigate the use of Copernicus data; investigating existing skills frameworks and providing training to 'upskill' stakeholders; and, working in partnership with stakeholders, development of a set of seven applications which utilise Copernicus data to support existing environmental functions. A key focus of the applications is to help public sector organisations make the transition from pilot and investigative activities to using Copernicus data and services as part of everyday work.

Here is a short video to show the achievements under this project.


Forum for stakeholder engagement

JNCC co-ordinates a monthly online meeting of the 'Earth Observation Implementation Group’, for stakeholders in UK public sector environmental organisations. The aim of these meetings is to advance the use of Earth Observation data and skills in operations across public sector bodies, increase collaboration, and minimise duplication. There are regular presentations on potential Copernicus applications from guest speakers, including external academic and industry partners. Together, the group draws on the technical skills and knowledge of participants to problem solve, collaborate, or learn from each other. The group has a membership of over 80 people, spanning over 20 organisations, and can be used by participants to:

  • Bring along technical problems they are facing, or ideas, at an early stage, to gain the experience of the whole group and facilitate the development of solutions.
  • Share methodologies from which other members of the group could learn, to develop common frameworks or apply to other work areas.
  • Present ideas for projects that have not yet been started, to avoid duplication of effort and encourage collaboration and expert input.
  • Raise questions about relevant tools, EO data and access systems in order to share knowledge and increase our intelligent customer function.
  • Co-ordinate expert input into current initiatives and projects of common interest.
  • Share information on events, workshops, training and funding opportunities of direct relevance to EO.


Themed workshops

Between July and December 2020, two thematic workshops were be held.  These explored the use of Copernicus data in relation to soil moisture, and water quality. 

The thematic workshops clarified Copernicus data products and how they can and can’t be used; identified user priorities and challenges; and engaged academic, commercial and cross-border expertise in identifying solutions and opportunities to collaborate.

A patch of boggy ground and moorland. A pool of water is surrounded by grasses. In the pool, several large rocks are exposed. Photo by Anna Robinson.
Soil Moisture Workshop 14–15 July 2020
A shallow stream in the Yorkshires Dales. There are lots of rocks sticking out of the water. The bank is grassy with yellow flowers. In the background are hills and trees. Photo by Anna Robinson.
Water Quality Workshop 13–14 October 2020


Soil Moisture Workshop (14–15 July 2020): The focus of this workshop was on how to use EO-derived products for monitoring soil moisture analytically and to understand the benefits of these datasets. Sessions included:

  • An introduction to the Copernicus Soil Moisture products (SSM and SWI).
  • Ask the expert.
  • Validation and ground-truthing.
  • International use cases.
  • Opportunities for future research and development collaborations.


Water Quality Workshop (13–14 October 2020)Products derived from Copernicus data have many applications for monitoring water quality in freshwater, estuarine and marine environments. Examples include seabed mapping, predicting species distribution, detecting eutrophication and toxic algal blooms, tracking oil spills, quantifying plastic pollution and helping to predict responses to climate change. This thematic workshop aimed to raise awareness of these products and how they may be accessed and used. The workshop took place on a virtual platform in October and was attended by 174 delegates from 19 countries, who gave overwhelmingly positive feedback about the event. A training session on accessing and using marine EO data was delivered in conjunction with the workshop by Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 

Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, University of Stirling and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency provided expert input to ensure the workshop met user needs and covered a wide range of interests. 

Videos, presentation slides and other resources from the workshop are available on the workshop resource page. A report of the workshop will be added later this year.

The video, presentation slides and other resources from the training session are available on the training resource page.



JNCC has identified a wider need to help organisations know what skills to focus on when looking to employ and develop staff to work on Earth Observation data. There are various skills frameworks that exist to help assess and describe skills levels, and these are widely used by organisations in recruitment and corporate professional development. However, working with Earth Observation data requires a challenging range of competencies, including data management, data science and computing knowledge, as well as specialist knowledge of Earth Observation data and an understanding of what it can be used for. JNCC has investigated the different skills frameworks that exist to see which are most suited to, or could be adapted to, reflect the particular skills needed in this area. This is part of what is needed to help public bodies plan the internal development of their staff to use Copernicus data.

 Earth Observation Skills Framework Research.

To complement the skills framework, JNCC has also identified several areas where UK environmental stakeholders have a clear opportunity to use Copernicus data to meet their needs, but where further guidance and training would make a real difference in enabling them to do this effectively and efficiently. We focused on the following knowledge areas:

A view of a wetland at sunset. Lots of ducks are in the foreground and on the water. There are trees in the background. Photo by Anna Robinson.
Processing and using radar data (November 2020)
A Normalised Difference Vegetation Index image calculated from Sentinel-2 imagery of an area in the Scottish lowlands. Most of the image shows green patches, which indicate healthy vegetation. Some yellow, orange and red patches are also shown.
Using application programming interface (API) for accessing Sentinel data (September 2020)


Processing and using radar data (November 2020): Radar data can be acquired day and night, even in cloudy conditions, providing a dense time-series suitable for trend analysis and change detection. Environmental applications for radar data include: forest inventory, biomass estimation and condition monitoring; emergency response to floods and landslides; habitat and crop mapping; offshore infrastructure and vessel monitoring; and illegal waste investigation. Applications are starting to be operationalised by the UK public sector, but user consultation shows that further skill development is needed to fully exploit potential.

JNCC ran a series of sessions in November 2020 to build knowledge and skills in processing and using Sentinel-1 data for environmental applications. 

The training was delivered by Iain Woodhouse, Professor of Applied Earth Observation at the University of Edinburgh and author of Introduction to Microwave Remote Sensing. Guest speakers from the Environment Agency, Marine Management Organisation and Natural Resources Wales presented case studies about how their organisations are using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data.

Attended by 76 participants from 31 different organisations, the training sessions received excellent feedback. One participant said: "I thought the teaching style was excellent. Very clear, just the right speed, and hugely informative. Prof Iain Woodhouse managed to enthuse the audience about both the science and the application potential of radar. I was really impressed with how clearly he communicated complicated physical processes, and even made it seem exciting!”

Videos of the training sessions can be accessed on the event resource page, along with the slides from the guest speakers’ presentations.


Accessing Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 analysis-ready data via application programming interface (API): The Defra Earth Observation Data Service and the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) provide access to analysis-ready Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data. Both offer view and download services, but analytical users will find it more efficient to access the data via the API. JNCC collaborated with Defra and CEDA to facilitate code sharing and knowledge exchange amongst the S1 and S2 data user community setting by setting up a publicly accessible curated list of code on GitHub and a Slack workspace for discussions. If you have any problems accessing the Slack workspace, please contact us. Following a period of user consultation, a webinar was held in September to explain the background to this project, how to access data via API and discuss protocols and best practice for code and knowledge sharing using the established platforms. The video and slides from the webinar are available on our Resource Hub.


Applications using Copernicus data

A key component of the project involves providing targeted transitional support to individual public sector organisations to help them to take the results of research and methods development into every day operational business processes. JNCC is working with partners from ten organisations on a series of seven applications that use Copernicus data, providing specialist support and computational input to help partners to overcome skills and technological barriers.

JNCC was keen to ensure that the supported applications were of the broadest value in enabling environmental stakeholders in the UK to use Copernicus data. A call for proposals resulted in a high level of interest expressed, with 21 applications submitted. An expert judging panel, representing all four countries, narrowed this down to seven projects that could deliver most value to all. The projects are:

Change detection in protected areas and the wider countryside

Overview: Sentinel-1 and -2 analysis-ready data (ARD) are already used for detailed habitat mapping across the UK, but evidence on habitat condition and change over time is lacking. In 2019, JNCC developed a proof-of-concept web-delivered service which uses ARD to track change over time at a site and highlights changed areas on a map. In collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage, JNCC has enhanced the service and tested it in eight pilot areas across the UK. End users evaluated its utility for monitoring the condition of habitats and historical landscape features in protected sites and the wider landscape. Their feedback has informed current development and scaling-up of this service, with the potential to reduce costs and improve policy delivery through better targeting of survey and management resources.

Using Sentinel data to monitor change in habitats and historic landscape features is available as a report. 


Mapping change in peat detection

Partners: Forest Research, Welsh Government and Natural England

Overview: Building on previous JNCC work, this project explored the use of EO to map changes in peatland condition over time. Focussing on sites across England, Scotland and Wales, the project used high-resolution imagery to create fine-scale maps of areas of bare unvegetated peat, indicating poor condition. Through regression modelling, these maps were then scaled up using a time series of Sentinel-2 optical imagery to estimate the amount of bare peat cover over a wider region and to explore how this has changed over time. The project investigated how we can remotely monitor the condition of these important ecosystems, informing ground operations for restoration and the design of monitoring schemes.

Monitoring Change in Peatland Condition Using Analysis-Ready Sentinel Data is available on the Resource Hub.



Air quality and greenhouse gases

A view of a typical brick industry. Chimneys and piles of bricks are in the foreground. In the background there are wind turbines. Photo by Anna Robinson.

Partners: The Environment Agency. Additional expertise from the National Physical Laboratory and National Centre for Earth Observation


Overview: This project used Sentinel-5P TROPOMI air quality / greenhouse gas measurements. It worked on expanding the toolkit for regulatory compliance and incident response. The project produced a proof-of-concept case study that examines and evaluates the ability to detect methane at levels produced from regulated sources and from covered landfills in the UK.

It also delivered a full day online workshop to disseminate this knowledge and best practice to a wider stakeholder audience.




Wildfire and muirburn burning

Partners: Scottish Natural Heritage

Overview: The project built an operational workflow using Sentinel-2 data to map wildfire and muirburn extent nationally with the possibility of frequent updates. It used Skye, the eastern Cairngorms and Lammer Law  as case studies to test the methodology before expanding to cover Scotland.

Towards an operational wildfire and muirburn monitoring system for Scotland is available as a report.  


Scoping further uses of EO data

An Earth observation image of Cumbria, taken in March 2016, showing the coast and sea, vegetation, and areas of high and low relief. Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel-2 data 2016.

Partners: Welsh Government and Forestry Land Scotland (FLS)


Overview: This project highlighted the potential opportunities of Earth Observation data and methodologies in operational processes. The project delivered a half-day webinar introducing Earth Observation (EO) data and use case examples, an extensive set of materials such as presentations, case studies and demonstration tools for use in promoting the use of EO data in operations across policy areas, as well as specific advice regarding EO business opportunities.

 JNCC have provided a series of impact statements created through an Earth Observation scoping exercise. They include:

  • Earth Observation (EO) for Bare Soil
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Change Detection
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Modelling
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Forestry, Woodland, Hedgerows and Trees
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Land cover and Habitat Mapping
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Marine
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Regulation and Compliance
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Visual Applications and Engagement
  • Earth Observation (EO) for Agriculture: Mapping Crops

The impact statements were produced for the Welsh Government and include examples relevant to Wales.

Highlighting the potential opportunities of Earth Observation data and methodologies in operational processes are available on the Resource Hub. 

Illegal waste

Partner: Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

Overview: This project was joint-funded by Scottish Government through the JNCC Simple Analysis Ready Data Service Project. A JNCC-produced backscatter (Ground Range Detection (GRD)) Sentinel-1 analysis-ready data (ARD) product is routinely used for detailed applications across the UK and abroad. However, Sentinel-1 is a platform that also collects Single Look Complex (SLC) data that can be used to detect subtle movements and changes in surface elevation, using differences in the waves returned to the satellite. Using this technique, SEPA has demonstrated success on a small site-by-site basis for detecting illegal waste disposal. Through this project, the scalability of this to support cloud-based processing techniques for a national basis has been explored. The project aimed to support the use of Sentinel-1 data to facilitate waste crime detection across Scotland.


Using EO in scanning for emerging infectious diseases

A view of a series of diseased tree tops. The foreground trees are leafy and green; but behind them are a series of leafless trees.

Partner: Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)



Overview: This project explored the opportunities to use Earth Observation in horizon scanning for Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs).

Copernicus User Uptake (CUU): Applying Earth Observation to horizon scanning for Emerging Infectious Diseases is available as a report.  



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