A major new health check on the Earth got under way on 1 March 2002, when
the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite was launched by an Ariane 5
rocket from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. It is the largest and
most sophisticated Earth observation satellite ever built.

Following the launch and deployment of the solar panel and antennas, the
ten instruments on board the satellite were turned on and verified one by
one: all are operating nominally.

The satellite is performing well and providing measurements of the
atmosphere, ocean, land and ice, providing a new, enhanced perspective on
questions related to global environmental monitoring and climate change.
Envisat will reveal new data and build further on the information gathered
over the past ten years by ESA’s ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites, which has
given important insights into the impact of human activity on the
environment and put issues such as ozone depletion and pollution on the
agenda of decision-makers and the media.

The first data available from the satellite were acquired via the Kiruna
station in Sweden and processed at the ESA/ESRIN establishment and
processing and archiving centres throughout Europe.

The first images from the ASAR radar and the MERIS instrument are of
exceptionally high quality, as demonstrated by com/ acquisitions covering
areas of Antarctica and West Africa.

Envisat was launched just in time to observe the break-up of Larsen B in
Antarctica. The collapse of this 3250 km2 ice shelf depicted in the ASAR
image is the latest dramatic event in a region of Antarctica that has
experienced unprecedented warming in the last 50 years.

Over the last month, the 200m thick ice shelf has collapsed into small
icebergs and fragments moving as a plume of medium-high radar reflectivity
from the area south of Seal Nunataks towards the Weddell Sea. This is the
largest single event in a series of retreats by ice shelves along the
Antarctic Peninsula. These retreats are attributed to accelerating
climate warming in the region. The average rate of warming is
approximately 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade and the trend has been
present since at least the late 1940s.

The data acquired by Envisat and the ERS data since 1992 show the retreat
of the Larsen B and other ice shelves, an important indicator of climate
change in polar regions.

These observations are of significance not only to our understanding of
ice dynamics and ice/climate interactions, but also to that of global
ocean circulation, as ice shelves play an important role in the production
of bottom water.

Among the ten instruments on board Envisat, MERIS (Medium-Resolution
Imaging Spectrometer) detected phytoplankton concentration and measured
chlorophyll concentration over the West African region during the first
few days of its operations.

Another important capability of the instrument is the provision of
overviews of dynamic upwelling areas and their primary production. This
information helps in the management of fish stocks as the main fishing
grounds are in upwelling areas. Where the upwelling process collapses, as
has happened along the Peruvian coast during El Niño events, the whole
regional fishing industry also collapses. Any climate change has an
impact on the intensity and geographical position of upwelling areas, with
major repercussions on the local economy and the quality of life in such

Another feature of MERIS is its delivery of information on primary
production of the global ocean for a better understanding of the carbon

The observing capabilities of the MERIS spectrometer, together with the
synergistic use of various other instruments on board Envisat, will
provide very accurate measurements of sea surface temperature and help
understanding of interactions between wind, temperature and phytoplankton

Through Envisat, Europe has acquired a powerful new means of monitoring
key issues related to global environment and climate change. The
satellite will enhance monitoring capabilities, provide information for
warning and mitigation of climate change, and make precise measurements of
the Earth to manage the implementation of major international
environmental conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol, under which Europe
has recently undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% from 1990
levels by 2008-2012.


Envisat, weighing 8000 kilos and as big as a bus, is orbiting in an Earth
polar orbit at 800 km altitude and is an automatic space observatory with
ten highly sophisticated instruments observing the Earth.

Envisat will serve a vast community of users, delivering data products for
Earth science research, development of pilot application projects, public
services and commercial uses.

Designed for 5 years’ operation in orbit, Envisat is the leading satellite
supporting the European initiative for Global Monitoring for Environment
and Security (GMES).

Further information and high-resolution Envisat images are available on
the ESA web portal at http://www.esa.int/envisat/

Project information is available on the dedicated Envisat website

For further information, please contact

ESA Media Relations Office


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