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Baltic Without Secrets
March 27, 2014   
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Scientists at four Polish research centers are working on an ultramodern system for satellite observation of the Baltic Sea that can accurately predict changes in the weather and warn of potential environmental disasters.

The system will be able to monitor any sea or large body of water around the world. It is expected to attract the interest of companies from many sectors of the economy as well as institutions dealing with crisis management, defense, tourism and environmental protection.

The system is being developed as part of SatBa速yk, a zl.40 million project co-financed by the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR) and managed by the Institute of Oceanology run by the Polish Academy of Sciences in the coastal city of Sopot. The system will be based on interpretation of the results of observations conducted from space and modern know-how in marine optics.

In addition to the Institute of Oceanology, the project research consortium is composed of the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Gda雟k, the Institute of Physics at the Pomeranian Academy in S逝psk, and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at the University of Szczecin.

It is enough to look out the window to see that the climate is changing. This poses many risks to the economy and to human life. The public expects that the development of science and observation methods will protect society from natural disasters—or at least that scientists will be able to warn them in time about impending disasters and reduce their impact.

“Disasters caused by changes in the environment call for a radical increase in the intensity of research and ecological forecasting, both globally and regionally,” says Prof. Bogdan Wo幡iak from the Institute of Oceanology, the project coordinator. “A key role in these changes is played by huge marine ecosystems. The bulk of our planet is occupied by water, which includes all water basins, oceans and seas. The processes that occur there determine the existence of life on Earth. It is therefore necessary to study them thoroughly through continuous observations of these environments.”

As a result of photosynthesis, a process of assimilation of carbon occurs in all bodies of water. On the one hand, organic matter is produced in the form of marine algae, which provides food for the entire ecosystem. On the other hand, the oxygen needed by living creatures to breathe is released. Photosynthesis therefore has an impact on the existence of life on Earth. It regulates the ratio of carbon to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An increased level of the latter is dangerous because it causes global warming.

The Polish scientists are observing all the environmental parameters and processes taking place in the sea and atmosphere that determine the state of marine ecosystems and influence the climate. The SatBa速yk system will produce hundreds of maps daily, offering data such as temperature distribution on the surface of the Baltic Sea, the amount of sunlight reaching the water, the concentration of chlorophyll in seawater, the speed of winds and the force of sea currents. Weather information will be made available on the internet, and various sector-specific data will be made available to local governments, crisis management institutions and to businesses.

So far, marine experiments and measurements of selected parameters have been carried out during research on sea vessels. However, this is not a very effective way of obtaining information about what is happening in the marine environment.

Measurements conducted aboard a ship are expensive and limited in scope compared to the kind of measurements that satellites can carry out.

Polish scientists use information from about 40 satellites. These are American, Russian and European devices that orbit the Earth many times a day. That’s why the research they conduct is much cheaper. It enables scientists to see and interpret what the satellite observing the Earth sees in many bands of electromagnetic radiation. Thanks to this, scientists can describe different phenomena taking place in the sea.

The Baltic is particularly vulnerable to contamination because it is a semi-enclosed sea surrounded by countries with highly developed industry. Detailed information on the state of this fragile ecosystem will make it possible to effectively protect the sea’s resources. The use of calculation algorithms makes it possible to determine the key environmental characteristics of the Baltic ecosystem—such as the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the sea, or the amount of organic matter produced as a result of photosynthesis of algae during the day.

In the SatBa速yk project, a group of marine researchers, computer scientists, physicists and oceanographers is working to develop procedures to enable a smooth, routine assessment of the state of the Baltic Sea environment. The researchers plan to study the amount of sunlight hitting the water, the temperature distribution, sea surface dynamics, and the concentration of chlorophyll. This will make it possible to warn the public against toxic algae, strong currents, and contamination, including oil spills. The scientists will also study the characteristics of the photosynthesis process. The monitoring system is at the final stage of development. It uses information from remote satellite teledetection systems covering the Baltic Sea region, in particular Polish waters, as well as information from mathematical models of the sea and the atmosphere.

The SatBa速yk project is being carried out by the Satba速yk Research Consortium comprising research institutes that have worked together before. In 2001-2005, the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Sopot, together with the Institute of Oceanography of the University of Gda雟k, and the Institute of Physics of the Pomeranian Academy in S逝psk, carried out a zl.5 million research project called “Research and development of a satellite monitoring system for the Baltic Sea ecosystem,” commissioned by the Polish Committee for Scientific Research (KBN). The main objective was to develop the scientific know-how and methods for using satellite technology to monitor the Baltic Sea.

As a result of this research, a comprehensive algorithm has been developed for the satellite monitoring of the Baltic Sea environment. It makes it possible to determine many characteristic features of the sea environment on the basis of satellite data.

The Polish research centers also plan to launch the SatBa速yk Center to make the system available for use by the environment and economy ministries. The research project will be completed in 2015. It is expected to benefit institutions, organizations and services working to counteract natural disasters and disasters caused by human activity.

The acquisition of data on the state of the sea and the atmosphere is extremely important for the development of climate and global climate change models. Increasingly sophisticated and accurate maps are needed for institutions involved in the assessment and prevention of adverse climate change as well as those investigating the impact of environmental factors on human health and those managing environmental resources, marine ecosystems, the coastal zone and rivers and lakes.

Another application of the system is that it will help predict the weather, which is important not only for individuals, but will also help improve techniques for energy generation and management of renewable energy sources, where the weather and the state of the environment play a role. The methods developed under the project will also be used in the study of water quality and circulation. Finally, more detailed data is important for national security—something of interest to the government and the army.

The SatBa速yk project involves about 60 researchers, plus around 40 administration workers and related staff. The deputy project coordinator is Prof. Miros豉wa Ostrowska. Miros豉w Darecki, Ph.D., is in charge of the research work at the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Sopot, while Prof. Adam Kr篹el manages the team at the University of Gda雟k. Dariusz Ficek, Ph.D., is overseeing the team at the Pomeranian Academy in S逝psk, and Prof. Kazimierz Furma鎍zyk is in charge of the work at the University of Szczecin.

Karolina Olszewska
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