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Earth observation: Sentinel-1A first images underline societal benefits of Copernicus

The European Commission and the European Space Agency have published some of the first high quality images delivered by Sentinel-1A launched on 3 April 2014.

The images on the state of sea ice, the sea and of the land underline that Copernicus, the largest civil Earth Observation programme ever conceived, is progressing according to plan. The programme will contribute to an improved and more frequent observation of Earth sub-systems, including the atmosphere, oceans, and continental surfaces. Images from Sentinel 1-A, the first satellite of the Copernicus constellation, are produced with state-of-the-art radar imaging technology. By using microwave frequencies, radar satellites can see through clouds and storms (unlike optical sensors) acquiring imagery regardless of the weather. Moreover, radar sensors carry their own illumination source, in the form of radio waves transmitted by an antenna. This means that the radar can be used with equal effectiveness at any time of the day and night.

Sentinel-1 data will be made available systematically and free of charge to all users including public authorities (at European, national and regional levels) the general public, and scientific and commercial users. Furthermore, for emergency response, radar data can be delivered within an hour of image acquisition for Near Real-Time (NRT) image delivery.

European Commissioner Michel Barnier, acting Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: "It is now clear that Copernicus will provide reliable, validated and guaranteed information in support of a broad range of environmental and security applications. By observing the Earth can we ensure a safer world. At the same time we will open up new business opportunities for SMEs."

Sentinel-1A first images

The images presented are the first elements of a more systematic earth observation programme, and cover a number of application areas:

Monitoring sea ice ensures safe year-round navigation

Sentinel-1 images can be used for generating high-resolution ice charts, monitoring icebergs and forecasting ice conditions. The radar can distinguish between the thinner, more navigable first-year ice and the hazardous, much thicker multiyear ice to help assure safe year-round navigation in ice-covered Arctic and sub-Arctic zones. New ice may form in large areas from one day to the next and ice may drift more than 50 km in a day, so it is important to have regular observations in order to provide an up to date ice service for safe navigation.

Evolution of land cover

Sentinel-1A systematically sweeps the globe. A high repetition rate (i.e. the same area may be covered every 12 days) allows the close monitoring of changes in land cover, which is particularly useful for crop classification or to monitor the evolution of forests at global level.

Disaster and emergency support

Since radar-based imagery is not hampered by adverse weather conditions, Sentinel-1 is particularly useful for monitoring floods. The images are used for the preparation of maps to delineate the extent of floods. Moreover Sentinel-1A images can be used for precise terrain deformation monitoring over land slide, seismic or subsidence areas by providing regular and frequent observations of soil movements.

Sea State

Sentinel-1 provides information about wind, waves and currents. This information could help to improve shipping efficiency and sea wave energy applications, as well as climatology.

Maritime Surveillance

Sentinel 1 enhances Copernicus' maritime monitoring capabilities. Sentinel-1A Synthetic Aperture Radar images are a valuable source for near real-time operational monitoring of European seas for vessel detection. Moreover, the radar technology of Sentinel-1 is of particular relevance for oil spill detection. Oil spills from tankers, offshore platforms and oil pipelines can cause enormous damage to the environment and the economy.

Climate Change

The Sentinel 1 mission is designed to monitor key climate variables such as soil moisture, wind speed and direction, sea ice, continental ice sheets and glaciers. While the mission offers timely information for a multitude of operational applications, it continues more than 20 years of radar imagery. This archive is not only essential for practical applications that need long time series of data, but also for understanding the long-term impacts of climate change, such as those on Arctic sea-ice cover, continental ice sheets and glaciers. The observed seasonal growth and retreat of ice cover shows the effects of global warming.


The first Copernicus mission, Sentinel-1 is composed of a constellation of two polar-orbiting satellites, Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B, which will share the same orbital plane and operate day and night, performing so-called Synthetic Aperture Radar imaging.

For more information

Copernicus on Europa

IP/14/380 - Earth observation: Copernicus satellite lifts off successfully

First images of Sentinel-1A

Contacts :

Carlo Corazza (+32 2 295 17 52)

Sara Tironi (+32 2 299 04 03)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

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