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Cloud-piercing satellites unleash torrent of new data, new insights into planet Earth


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The ability to observe and monitor changes to the Earth’s surface via satellite — known as “remote sensing” — has become an indispensable tool for scientists and policymakers, vastly expanding our understanding of climate,
forests, farming and more.

Too often, however, our high-tech vision has been obscured by something so quotidian: clouds.

That’s no longer a problem, thanks to new technology that for the first time is at the fingertips of scientists around the world.

An open-source data platform recently launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) is enabling scientists to lift the lid on clouds, allowing
for faster and more precise monitoring and mapping of changes to land use in tropical places where clouds are a persistent feature.

Oddly enough, this leap has been made possible through new use of an old technology: radar.

In 2014 the ESA launched Sentinel-1A, a satellite that captures pictures of the Earth with radar, using pulses of microwave energy to penetrate all weather conditions and create images based on the returning signals.

Thanks to the new…

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