Course introduction

Welcome to ‘Monitoring the Oceans from Space’. In this course, we will introduce you to the powerful role of satellite ‘Earth observation’ (EO) technology in monitoring our oceans, and to the beautiful and inspiring nature of the imagery and data it produces.

It is important to know what our oceans are doing and the role they play in our ecosystem as a whole. The analysis of remote-sensing data makes it possible to understand the ocean in new and exciting ways.

The data we are gathering from monitoring the oceans from space tells us about hazards, how to manage the ocean sustainably, how our climate is changing and our food supply. It’s not just scientists who are using this information but policy makers, public services, offshore industries and other businesses, all the way down to individuals who are simply curious.

Earth observation (EO) provides an unparalleled means for observing our complex planet. It is an increasingly important tool in monitoring and making decisions about climate change and the environment, and encompasses a wide range of techniques used to map, measure, and monitor an enormous variety of environmental parameters and processes on the Earth.

Using ‘remote sensing’ methods, (i.e. using electromagnetic radiation (including visible light), emitted or reflected by the Earth), the specialised instruments on board EO satellites collect a range of types of data and imagery, at a local and global scale, as they orbit around the Earth. This data enables us to make better informed decisions, over longer timeframes, than is possible by just using other forms of environmental monitoring.

This course will provide you with an overview of the different types of data, imagery and their applications and will introduce you to the fundamental techniques and methodologies of working with this data. You will also learn about the types of satellite orbits and instruments used, and you will discover which parameters of the Earth system can be probed by ‘sensing’ in different ways.

This course focuses specifically on Earth observation from space and therefore relates to satellite remote sensing rather than similar forms of remote sensing often conducted from aircraft or sometimes ground-based sensors. Throughout the course, the terms ‘Earth observation’ and ‘remote sensing’ are often used interchangeably. Also, don’t forget that the word ‘data’ in the context of satellite EO refers to optical imagery and photography, as well as to so-called ‘geospatial’ and numerical data.

Essentially, ‘geospatial data’ refers to the information extracted or inferred from measurements at a specific geographical location. A full glossary of terms used in this course is provided in Step 1.4, which you can refer back to at any time during the course.

You will also have an opportunity to directly interact with certain types of EO datasets via online tools during the course, and there is more on this in the next step.

The main topic videos are the backbone of this course, and you can re-watch them as much as you need to. For further context and more detailed explanations, you can also read the introductory text provided with each video, explore the optional ‘further reading’ links, and look in-depth at information about the data, imagery and satellites provided in each topic.

The course videos begin with Topic 1a in step 1.5. Before that, over the next few steps we have provided a bit more information about the course educators and how to get the most out of this course.

We hope you enjoy the course.


This course has been designed and produced for EUMETSAT by Imperative Space. The producers would like to thank all of the academics, experts and institutions who have contributed to and supported production of the course. This includes the universities and research centres to which our onscreen experts are affiliated.

Special thanks goes to: Plymouth Marine Laboratory, CLS (Collecte Localisation Satellites), the National Oceanographic Centre, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pierre-Yves Cousteau, and Réserve Naturelle Marine de Cerbère Banyuls, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, and the National Marine Aquarium (Plymouth).

All NASA, ESA and CMEMS imagery and animations used throughout this course are used courtesy of NASA, ESA and CMEMS.

Throughout the course you can download the videos and transcripts using the links on the right.