Supporting scientists to study our complex planet
22 May 2019



RAL Space’s Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) is using data science expertise to support a major project that will warn us of changes in the Earth’s ecosystem.



Image credit: Pixabay

​​​Data from Earth observation satellites are being generated at an ever-increasing rate. The Sentinel-3 satellites alone produce up to 2 petabytes of data each year. The quantity and quality of data available can enable innovative environmental science projects but the huge range of data available can also present issues of its own.

“One of the greatest challenges facing our scientific community is being able to access, process and analyse vast amounts of diverse data.  It is only by working effectively with such data that we gain much needed insight into the state of the Earth" said Esther Conway, Senior Earth Observation Data Scientist at RAL Space's Centre for Environmental Data Analysis​ (CEDA).

The Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index (BACI) is a prototype early warning system combining large amounts of data, including satellite observations and ecosystem properties, to provide an indication of how Earth's eco​​systems are interacting and changing.

In order to do this, BACI brings together diverse data from a number of different streams and of different scales, from tree ring records to satellite optical and radar data. In order for the scientists using BACI to compare very different types of data, they used infrastructure, software and tools provided by CEDA.  

“This dataset is being used to identify unexpected changes in the land surface, which may indicate problems that could lead to a potential loss in biodiversity. Once flagged, these changes can be examined more closely to identify the underlying causes and appropriate response. The BACI project is already helping us to understand the human impact on our varying ecosystems, particularly forests and crops. CEDA has been a key part of this process, allowing the BACI team to run computer models to merge satellite data in new ways" said Professor Mat Disney, Professor of Remote Sensing in the UCL Department of Geography and Project Lead for BACI in the UK. The work Professor Disney and his team at ​UCL have carried out on the BACI project has been partly funded by the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).​​

CEDA provided BACI with access to around 12 petabytes of environmental data stored on its archive, equivalent to around 180,000 64GB smartphones. The data were combined and processed using JASMIN, a data-intensive supercomputer for environmental science.

By using both the CEDA Archive and JASMIN's analysis and processing capabilities, BACI scientists and researchers can access and process their own complex data. By accessing these tools remotely, they can cut processing time down from months to days. This has a major impact on the speed these projects become accessible to the public domain and scientific communities for the benefit of all.  

“At the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis we are continually developing cutting edge data infrastructure, software and processes to rise to the challenge of increasingly large and complex data sets" said Esther Conway. “This not only supports the production and analysis of data sets on projects such as BACI but also ensures the further long term exploitation of such datasets – allowing the data to remain valuable and meet the needs of science long into the future. We are extremely proud to have been able to support projects such as BACI and hope to continue to evolve our data science capabilities to take care of our fragile planet long into the future".

​One of the datasets produced from BACI, project 'System State Vector', has recently been opened to everyone on the CEDA Archive. The dataset contains Earth observation data that could be easily used and extended for future biodiversity studies and to help policy-makers plan ecosystem loss initiatives more effectively for years to come.

​Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index (BACI)

BACI is funded through the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It was jointly carried out by: Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Università degli Studi della Tuscia, Eidgenoessische Forschungsanstalt, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Wageningen University, University College London, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Aarhus University, Rezatec Limited and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.


JASMIN is managed jointly by RAL Space's Centre for Environmental Data Analysis and the Scientific Computing Department for STFC on behalf of NERC. Find out more about CEDA and how to access the data.

JASMIN. Image credit: Stephen Kill STFC

​Bringing space down to Earth:​ The work done at RAL Space isn't just restricted to exploring and understanding the space that surrounds our planet, it's also about feeding space science, technology and data back down to Earth. Our staff are involved in a number of exciting projects that have used their roots in space and satellite technology to develop products and services with important applications for life on Earth.​​

Contact: Gill, Manpreet (STFC,RAL,RALSP)