Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Alpine safety to be improved through Earth observation

A research initiative under the Aeronautics and Space priority of the Sixth Framework Programme sought to simplify and improve available information on natural hazard risks. While focused on the Alps, the information service proposed to reduce the risks for life and property can easily be extended to other mountainous areas.
Alpine safety to be improved through Earth observation
High mountainous regions are challenging in many senses. For centuries people living in these areas had to contend with settling on steep slopes, cultivating on sparse agricultural land and transporting goods on hazardous paths.

Moreover, these unfavourable conditions have strongly influenced the way information on such an extreme environment has been collected for scientific research. That means cumbersome working procedures that do not only require skilled manpower but also generate high costs.

But all that is about to change. Satellite-based earth observation systems offer an opportunity to extract land surface information that until recently could only be derived from aerial photographs or by extensive field work. The European Commission seized this opportunity to improve risk management of landslides, avalanches and debris floods in the Alpine regions.

Researchers engaged in satellite remote sensing, communications technology and alpine safety were funded to develop a portfolio of safety and risk information. The project, known as Assist was carried out under a joint initiative of the European Commission and the European Space Agency, Global monitoring for environment and security (GMES).

Before the Assist project, scientists wishing to use earth observation data collected by satellites faced volumes of data so immense that it is almost impossible to extract information relevant to their needs. The data was often of poor quality and incomplete, not comparable or even difficult to access.

The Assist project proposed a flexible information service which combines data from satellites with ground observations with airborne and meteorological data to help improve services delivered by risk management centres. In, particular, newly developed algorithms have shown the benefits obtained from the combined use of all-weather synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images and high resolution optical data.

Organisations such as the police, fire fighters, hospitals, ambulance and air rescue services form the backbone of this new service. These so-called 'service nodes' are capable of receiving and processing raw data into products suitable for risk prevention and crisis management. In case of crisis, the products are distributed from the regional risk management centres up to the field staff.

Whilst making the lives of mountain inhabitants and tourists safer, the Assist project has also helped the European industry become more competitive. No longer relying on international data, Europe can offer now its own information service and negotiate better its participation in international projects.

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