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Global Change: The Earth system

The twin satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X fly in close formation only a few hundred metres apart, capturing data for digital elevation models.
TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X flying in formation
Image 1/5, Credit: DL

TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X flying in formation

The twin satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X fly in close formation only a few hundred metres apart, capturing data for digital elevation models.

Globale TanDEM-X Waldkarte
Global TanDEM-X forest map
Image 2/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Global TanDEM-X forest map

The global TanDEM-X Forest/Non-Forest Map was derived from interferometric radar data and is freely available for scientific applications.

TanDEM-X elevation model
TanDEM-X elevation model – Thwaites Glacier
Image 3/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

TanDEM-X elevation model – Thwaites Glacier

TanDEM-X elevation model from 11 June 2014 – view over the main branch of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

Permafrost region Herschel Island
Permafrost region Herschel Island
Image 4/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Permafrost region Herschel Island

Herschel Island is located on the northwestern tip of Canada and is characterised by continuous permafrost. The PermASAR radar image acquired in August 2018 reveals vegetation in the L-band frequency range (dark green colour) in the otherwise treeless tundra. The thawing process is also evident along the coasts: In the right part of the picture, broken ice floes float on the sea (violet). On the coast in the left part of the image are traces of mudflows where the thawed soil breaks off and is washed away.

TanDEM-X elevation model
TanDEM-X elevation model – Thwaites Glacier
Image 5/5, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

TanDEM-X elevation model – Thwaites Glacier

TanDEM-X elevation model from 11 June 2014 – view over the main branch of the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

‘Global change’ is not a recently invented term – it has been used since the 1980s to describe changes in the Earth system driven or triggered by human activities. In contrast to climate change, which only deals with one specific issue, global change takes into account a larger range of processes.

Examples are global warming, changes in the composition of the atmosphere, the spread of agricultural land and the consequent loss of natural ecosystems (for example, tropical rainforests) the loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, the melting of glaciers and parts of the polar ice caps, plastic waste in the oceans, urbanisation (since 2010 more people live in cities than in rural areas), changes in air quality and the increase in vulnerability to natural disasters. Some of these change processes are natural, but many are caused by humans. In some cases, the processes influence one another. Demographic change is a major driver of many of the processes – Earth has a population of approximately 7.5 billion, and the United Nations predicts that it will increase to more than 11 billion by 2100.

Remote sensing to assess changes

Monitoring global change is indispensable and there is no alternative method for understanding change processes, assessing their consequences and, where possible, making socio-political recommendations for action. Remote sensing is the best method for global monitoring. Earth Observation (EO) is the only technology that can perform this monitoring globally, comprehensively and with high spatial and temporal resolution and accuracy – and do this independently of political constraints.

DLR is active in Earth observation ­– both satellite-based and airborne – on a large scale. The Remote Sensing Technology Institute, the Microwaves and Radar Institute, the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, the Institute of Optical Sensor Systems and the German Remote Sensing Data Center not only address many of the research topics associated with global change but also play leading roles in the related scientific fields. For many years, DLR has been researching global change with a wide variety of missions. It develops archiving and processing technologies, devises algorithms for extracting relevant parameters from EO data and analyses the results.

Contact
  • Manuela Braun
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Strategy Space R&D
    Communication
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Köln
    Contact
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