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Coast-mapping satellites will follow the tides

Formally beginning in September, ESA's COASTCHART project aims to develop and qualify a specialised coastline information system that provides satellite-derived coastal data products suitable for operational use by hydrographic organisations.

Accurate up-to-date 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 harbours, fisheries, oil and gas fields, tourism sites, wildlife habitats and home to the majority of the human race.

National hydrographic organisations, as co-ordinated by the International Hydrographic Organisation (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. Aerial surveying can cover hundreds of kilometres in a day, but is costly and can only be performed if weather conditions are right. Both tropical and polar coasts may stay enshrouded in cloud and precipitation for weeks or months at a time.

Radar sensors such as the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) aboard ESA's Envisat can penetrate cloud cover as well as local darkness. They work on the basis of detecting reflected radar pulses to measure surface roughness.

"The textures of land and sea surfaces are quite different, so radar imagery shows up coastlines very well in most cases," said Professor Jean-Paul Rudant of the Universit de Marne La Valle in Paris, a pioneer of the use of radar imagery for coastal mapping and scientific advisor to the COASTCHART project.

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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.d'acunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
23-Sep-2004


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