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Source: European Commission

Effective environmental protection and cross-border civil defence on a European scale require comprehensive data and knowledge. These can be collected, linked and evaluated using modern earth observation and information technologies. This is the aim of Copernicus (formerly GMES; Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), an initiative to create an autonomous European earth observation system.

The political mandate for the Copernicus Initiative (formerly GMES, Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) was issued in June 2001 at the EU Summit in Göteborg and with a resolution of the Council "to build up an operative and autonomous European capacity by 2008".

With Copernicus, the European Union, in cooperation with the European Space Agency ESA and the national systems, is establishing an independent European capacity for the operational provision of global earth observation information.

Under the umbrella, of Copernicus geoinformation of the Member States will be available Europe-wide in a pooled form and via user-related services.

Policy makers, the general public, the administration, the industry and research circles are highly dependent on comprehensive and up-to-date information on the state of the environment. In Germany efficient observation networks are operated to continuously collect high-quality meteorological, hydrological and geodetic parameters. These data are of special relevance for services of general interest. Measurements of the air quality, like concentrations of ozone and fine particulates, the water level of rivers, snow depth or wave swell also play an important role every day. And satellite-based earth observation systems are also of special importance for the production of globally uniform, up-to-date data sets.

An increasing need for environmental information also results from international commitments, as for example European legislation, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Kyoto Convention.

Copernicus services

The core of Copernicus is formed by information services which analyse, process and make available earth observation information to political decision makers as well as European, national, regional and local users. As regards the information services, there is a differentiation between core services and downstream services.

  • Core services provide standardized multi-purpose information, which is important for numerous different fields of application in which the EU operates. They also provide support to players from European institutions in the development, implementation or monitoring of European policies or in their participation in international commitments.
  • Downstream services are to meet (trans-) national, regional or local information needs. They can be based on the core services or directly on the data of the observation structure.

    The first core services have been available since 2012. They provide information in support of:

    • emergency management:

      Objective: Information to improve the ability to respond to disasters and to support emergency services.

    • land monitoring:

      Objective: Information on land cover and use and on changes of the land surfaces made available, for example, for urban planning, urban development, sealing of soils etc.

    Pre-operational services support:

    • marine environment monitoring:

      Objective: Information on the state of the atmosphere, oceans, coastal areas and for shipping (e.g. ice routing).

    • atmosphere monitoring:

      Objective: Information on the composition of the atmosphere for the monitoring of air quality and monitoring of global agreements (such as the Montreal Protocol on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their effectiveness.


Further services for monitoring climate change and to support civil security tasks are under development.

The space component of Copernicus

Environmental changes are not linked to national borders. The comprehensive and uniform data base on a global scale required for environmental monitoring is not conceivable without satellite systems. The claim to establish an independent access to global earth observation data therefore characterizes the outstanding importance of the satellite-based earth observation of Copernicus.

The centre piece of the Copernicus space component are five satellite missions that are especially developed for Copernicus, the ESA Sentinels. Additional missions, mainly from national space programmes, commercial European missions as well as the meteorological missions of EUMETSAT collect important data for the Copernicus services. The volume of the programme for building up the space component (2005 to 2018) which is financed from EU and ESA budgets amounts to approximately 2.9 billion Euros. The German contribution to this is around 770 million Euro.

The Sentinel missions of ESA are the outcome of a requirements analysis against the background of existing missions and the requirements of the Copernicus core services.

  • Sentinel 1: Radar observations, which are independent from weather and light
  • Sentinel 2: A multi-spectral optical sensor with an average spatial resolution. The observation of the land cover and use especially is based on its data.
  • Sentinel 3: Measurements of the colour, surface temperature and surface height of the oceans.
  • Sentinel 4 and Sentinel 5: Instruments to monitor the atmosphere (greenhouse gases, air quality, ozone and solar radiation).

Following its initial development the European Commission is responsible for securing the long-term operation of the space component.