Ewa works with the sensors on the Sentinel-3 satellites that monitor ocean colour.

Ewa Kwiatkowska

Ewa Kwiatkowska

Ocean Colour Mission Scientist, EUMETSAT


Amy, Exhibition Developer, Science Museum



Tell me about Sentinel-3a...


Image: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2016

''Sentinel-3a is one of a series of satellites launched into space by the European Commission in cooperation with EUMETSAT and ESA to monitor the land and sea on Earth. Its major observations include measuring temperature and colour of the Earth, sea level and vegetation. This is essential for monitoring the weather, climate change and living ecosystems. It can also help with emergency situations like storms and toxic algae.' '


How does it differ from other satellites?


Image: EU Copernicus Programme (http//:www.copernicus.eu); Science Museum London

''Sentinel-3a provides data about land and the ocean 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in almost real time. It's particularly focused on ocean monitoring and provides the best global coverage. It has powerful cameras that really accurately measure tiny variations in the colour of different things in the sea. For instance, it can monitor levels of phytoplankton - microscopic marine plants that are critical to the health of marine ecosystems.' '


How did you get involved with the project?


Image: Flickr/gail

''My background is in applied mathematics and computer science, and I discovered satellite ocean colour monitoring when I worked at the Japanese space agency. I found applying lots of data using mathematical models and computers extremely interesting. The ocean colour sensors monitor the processes which enabled life as we know it on our planet. I find it really exciting.' '


What can measuring ocean colour tell us about the Earth?


Image: Copernicus Sentinel data (2016)

''The most fascinating part is that we can see tiny phytoplankton from space. They produce half the oxygen we breathe and absorb carbon dioxide too. They are a critical factor in Earth's climate. They bloom in great quantities over large distances and their coloured pigment, used in the process of turning sunlight into food, is used to monitor their numbers from space. They're at the bottom of the food chain - all aquatic life depends on them.' '


Why do we need Earth-monitoring satellites?


Image: Flickr/NOAA Photo Library

''Sometimes the only way to know what's happening on Earth is to get a large-scale overview by watching from space. The climate event El Niño has a drastic effect on marine life, starting from phytoplankton. Observing the numbers of phytoplankton at the Equator helps us predict what impact El Niño might have on whole ecosystems.' '


How is the satellite data being used?


Image: Flickr/Susanne Nilsson

''A range of individuals and policy-makers access the data for a variety of applications: from weather, climate and ecosystem modelling, to aiding shipping and fishing industries. Fishermen can access data on their mobiles to find out where to fish and where to avoid. Also, some plankton are toxic, so monitoring their levels helps us forecast potential danger areas to protect wildlife and people.' '

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