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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Envisat aid for China's environment
The Yangtze River, Esa/Envisat
Envisat looks down on Shanghai and the Yangtze River
China is attempting to obtain detailed information on its environment in a joint space venture with Europe.

The Dragon Programme, run by a number of Chinese institutions and the European Space Agency (Esa), will monitor forests and farmland from orbit

China has suffered a number of recent disasters - both natural and man-made - and it wants to see better how further growth will impact the environment.

The data will come largely from the sophisticated Earth satellite Envisat.

Space observations are the best way to monitor such a vast country - almost 10 million sq km of land that is now home to one in every five people on the planet.

Advanced equipment

Li Zengyuan, of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, told BBC World Service's Science In Action programme that Dragon was primarily about resource managing.

Rice growing and forestry will be mapped; water availability will be assessed, and flood forecasts made; air quality measurements will be taken and the spread of deserts measured.

"We are selecting areas of a small size, to focus and develop our techniques and methodology," Li Zengyuan explained.

Double Star, Esa

The last few years have seen a number of other collaborations between China and Europe in space. Last year, the Double Star mission was launched to study the Earth's protective "magnetic bubble".

"The focus of the co-operation is the exploitation of Esa missions, and specifically the Envisat mission," explained the agency's Yves-Louis Desnos.

"We launched [Envisat] in 2002... it's a unique opportunity to observe numerous geophysical components at the same time.

"This is really what is new about this programme. We can observe at the same time the land, the ocean, the ice and the atmosphere."

As well the institutes in China, the Dragon Project also involves research centres in Europe concerned with environmental exploitation, including ones in the UK, France and Germany.

Future co-operation

Mr Desnos said that China was a very important country to study because of its size and population, currently 1.3 billion people.

Envisat, Esa
Launched in 2002, Envisat is Europe's most sophisticated Earth observation tool
"More importantly, China is a country affected by huge natural disasters," he added. "It's a kind of model of what can be done using remote sensing data."

The Chinese believe Envisat is a much better adapted satellite to use for the Dragon Programme than any spacecraft possessed by the country itself.

It will be particularly good at monitoring problems such as flooding, which occur regularly in various parts of China's vast river network.

Further co-operation between China and Europe in space is expected.

"Of course the Dragon Programme is limited to scientists from Europe and China, but what we should stress is that all the scientific results will be available and published worldwide," Mr Desnos said.

"If we look beside Dragon, I think we currently have some 600 projects where all the institutes in the world are basically open and running, and performing science and application development using this data."

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09 Jul 01  |  Science/Nature


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