Topic 1b - The Copernicus Programme and CMEMS

The Copernicus programme is one of the biggest Earth observation programmes in the world. Previously known as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme (GMES), this initiative is headed by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Copernicus provides a unified system through which vast amounts of data are fed into a range of thematic information services designed to benefit the environment, the way we live, humanitarian needs and support effective policy making for a more sustainable future.

The data they provide is freely available to everybody, so we can make choices about what we do and how we as a society look after and use the marine environment. It serves users from businesses and public services to researchers and curious individuals.

Space Component

The Copernicus Space Component is based mostly on the fleet of dedicated Sentinels and missions from other space agencies, called Contributing Missions.

There are 6 families of Sentinels:

  • Sentinel-1 provides all-weather, day and night radar imagery for land and ocean services

  • Sentinel-2 provides high-resolution optical imagery for land services

  • Sentinel-3 provides high-accuracy optical, radar and altimetry data for marine and land services

  • Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 will provide data for atmospheric composition monitoring from geostationary orbit and polar orbit, respectively

  • Sentinel-5 Precursor will bridge the gap between Envisat and Sentinel-5

  • Sentinel-6 will provide radar altimetry data to measure global sea-surface height, primarily for operational oceanography and for climate studies

Service Component

The Copernicus programme provides essential information for six main domains:

  • Marine Environment - Services relevant for marine safety and transport, oil spill detection, water quality, weather forecasting and the polar environment.

  • Land Environment - Services relevant for monitoring water management, agriculture and food security, land-use change, forest monitoring, soil quality, urban planning and natural protection services.

  • Atmospheric Environment – Services relevant for air quality and ultraviolet radiation forecasts, greenhouse gases and climate forcing.

  • Emergency Management Response – Services to help mitigate the effects of manmade disasters e.g. floods, forest fires and earthquakes and contribute to humanitarian aid exercises.

  • Security Services – supporting peace-keeping efforts, maritime surveillance and border control.

  • Climate Change Monitoring Services - cross-cut all of the above domains.

Featured Educators:

  • Dr Mark Higgins

  • Dr Mauro Facchini

  • Pierre Bahurel

Explore the data

EUMETSAT Oceans MOOC Data Viewer

View featured satellites on the satellite tracking app

Don’t forget you can download the video and transcript with the links on the right.


Chlorophyll a concentrations (mg/m3)

Sentinel-3 OLCI chlorophyll-a concentration early result. The dark blues have the lowest concentrations, followed by the light blues, then greens, yellow, and finally red which has the highest concentration of Chlorophyll a.

Sentinel-1 over Italy

ESA image showing Sentinel-1 flying over Italy.

Sentinel-1 carries an advanced radar instrument to provide an all-weather, day-and-night supply of imagery of Earth’s surface. As a constellation of two satellites orbiting 180° apart, the mission images the entire Earth every six days.

Deepwater Horizon MERIS 1 month later

the spill a month later as the oil had entered the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current. In this image the oil is found in the sunglint zone, and therefore appears brighter than the surrounding water because it reflects more of the direct sunlight. A transition zone marks where the oil-water contrast shifts from positive (brighter oil) to negative (darker oil).

Regional sea level change

Regional sea level change graph

North Atlantic Ocean SST

Sea Surface Temperature for the North Atlantic Ocean for 18 July 2016

Deep blue Red Sea reefs

This beautiful true-colour image features the Red Sea coral reefs off the coast of Saudi Arabia.

Eye of an Algal Storm

Sentinel-2A captured this detailed image of an algal bloom in the middle of the Baltic Sea on 7 August 2015. The image, which has a spatial resolution of 10 m, reveals the bloom in exquisite detail as well as a ship heading into the ‘eye of this algal storm’. The ship’s wake can be seen as a straight dark line where the bloom has been disturbed by the ship’s propellers.

Dust Storm over the Red Sea

The Sentinel-3A satellite caught this image of a dust storm blowing east across the Red Sea on 25 July 2016.


Sentinel-1A transmits data to Earth when passing over ground stations in Norway, Italy and Spain.


The island of Tongatapu and the nearby smaller islands – all part of the Kingdom of Tonga archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean – are pictured in this Sentinel-2A image from 23 May 2016.


Artist impression of Sentinel-3


Sentinel-3a satellite