Deforestation, pollution, methane leaks… Satellites helping the environment

Posted on January 07, 2023

Advances in artificial intelligence have boosted the power of satellite technologies, opening up many opportunities for environmental protection. Fight against deforestation, detection of methane leaks, identification of illegal landfills… Companies now have in their hands what to scrutinize the impacts of their supply chain.

“This is not (only) a satellite, it is also a powerful tool to fight against deforestation” wrote, in a nod to the painter Magritte, MEP Pascal Canfin on the social network LinkedIn in 2021. He showed the interest of satellite imagery in determining whether imported products are linked to deforestation. The solution has, among other things, convinced the European Parliament to seal a historic agreement on October 6, 2022, banishing from the European Union a certain number of products resulting from deforestation.

Space technologies “abolish the borders and limits of private property, monitoring large areas on a daily basis, which is impossible with drones”, explains Anthony Graveline, founder of the Paris-based company Disaitek. The latter, incubated by the European Space Agency, has specialized since 2020 in “the fight against environmental pollution, public health and climate change” based on artificial intelligence.

Know the environmental and social impacts

Examples of applications to protect the environment are not lacking. Disaitek tackles illegal dumping and illegal landfills. Its customers, in particular the PACA region and the Val d’Oise department, can now “detect as early as possible the formation of landfills that risk polluting water and land, creating fires with toxic fumes and emitting greenhouse gases”, explains Anthony Graveline. A size problem because “the public authorities are disarmed” against these organized crime practices, he continues.

Disaitek also proposes to detect possible leaks of methane, a gas that strongly contributes to the greenhouse effect. Finally, its algorithms make it possible to map water resources or even non-artificialized land, essential elements for implementing artwork environmental protection policies.

Thus, the capture of images from space makes it possible to carry out “accurate reporting” with “homogenized data”, explains Anthony Graveline. Satellites therefore offer an answer to the growing need for companies to know the environmental and social impacts of their supply chain. This requirement is pushed in particular by the laws on the duty of vigilance and on the CSRDthe non-financial reporting obligation.

Mature technologies

Satellite technologies are now reaching maturity after several years of experimentation. “The satellites reach a resolution of 50 centimeters on the ground”, explains Anthony Graveline. Photographs, radars, thermal sensors… These multiple data seen from the sky are associated with field knowledge. Next, “artificial intelligence automates the detection of potentially disturbing changes in a volume of data impossible to analyze otherwise” continues the founder of Disaitek. “The cost, proportional to the area studied, remains moderate for a company that has little area to control, all the more so in comparison with the risks of an absence of surveillance” he says.

The multinational Nestlé was one of the pioneers, in 2016, using the Starling deforestation analysis solution developed by Airbus and the Earthworm Foundation. This allowed it to claim, in 2019, that 91% of the palm oil in its supply chain did not come from deforestation. A result that required first to obtain transparency of all the subcontractors on the production sites.

However, strict environmental protection policies must be associated with the use of these technologies for them to become widespread and have a real impact. This was the case, for example, in Indonesia where “Satellite monitoring has helped achieve a 95% reduction in palm oil-related deforestation”, illustrates Glenn Horowitz, director of the advocacy organization Mighty Earth.

Fanny Breuneval @breuneval_fanny

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Deforestation, pollution, methane leaks… Satellites helping the environment

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