Irish firm wins ESA contract for climate early-warning system

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An Irish Earth observation and geoscience company could play an important role in Europe’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis. According to The Irish Times, the Icon Group confirmed it had won a European Space Agency (ESA) contract worth approximately €500,000 to develop the Danube Environmental Risk Assessment Platform.

The platform will be deployed as part of ESA’s Copernicus Earth monitoring satellite programme and will be used by national and regional authorities in Europe, as well as agricultural and environmental groups.

Its purpose will be to use satellite imagery and cloud-based applications to monitor any potential environmental problems, such as ecosystem collapse or significant agricultural run-off from orbit.

The Icon Group will lead the project alongside two other companies including TerraSigna from Romania and Geoville in Austria. The €500,000 contract is included as part of a series of five projects worth approximately €2m in total and, according to the company’s chief executive Tom McHugh, the World Bank may also be looking to use the platform.

How it works

Explaining further about how the platform will work, McHugh said: “Essentially, somebody takes a sample, analyses it, and sees there is far too much nitrogen in the water. We look at our imagery and say ‘okay, each pixel there has a certain value, and look, there is more of it over there where they didn’t take sample points and will need to check’.

“If you can do it remotely like that you can cover far more ground that if you’re sending guys out to take more samples. It is also about building up a databank for the future to see if things are getting better or worse.”

He added that the platform has a high level of accuracy, including being able to tell barley and wheat apart from orbit. Last month, Irish computer vision start-up Ubotica announced that its AI tech was launched into orbit aboard the Earth observation satellite PhiSat-1.

The company’s technology will be tasked with automatic cloud detection on images to decide what ones it wants to send back to Earth and which to discard.

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