Our 2020 in Review

2020 was an out-of-the ordinary year but, despite the unusual challenges, here at Progressive we were able to achieve important milestones made possible by the commitment and dedication of our Team and our Partners. Such projects have laid the foundations for exciting initiatives coming up in 2021, which we are looking forward to sharing soon.

These are the key highlights of our 2020:

January and February


We continued assisting the growing community of Earth Observation Altimetry data enthusiasts, in the frame of the ESA Research and Service Support – RSS, the ESA service we operate since 2006 dedicated to supporting the Earth Observation (EO) community in exploiting EO data.

We kicked-off 2020 by putting together several processing services for Sentinel-3 and CryoSat-2 developed over the years by different PIs, under a unified umbrella: the SARvatore Services (SAR Versatile Altimetric TOolkit for Research and Exploitation) family. This collection of services enabled more than 200 users to get Earth surface heights over ocean, inland water bodies, rivers or ice sheets.

Figure 1 Fully Focused, Delay-Doppler and Conventional SAR Altimetry acquisitions.

March and April


Together with our partners Solenix, Qualteh JR, Terrasigna and GISAT, we released an updated version of the ESA Copernicus Sentinel App, the gateway to knowing the Copernicus Sentinel satellites. The App enables users to track the Sentinel satellite in orbit, search for products in a specific point over the 3D globe, visualize the latest product acquired from the satellite and save the searches. The new version is enriched with the possibility to browse Sentinel-5P products.

Figure 2 Copernicus Sentinel App – Acquisition of products feature over a specific area of the 3D globe.

Additionally, during the same months, we furthered our work within the Sentinel-3 Mission Performance Centre by contributing to increase the level of quality and maturity of the new Copernicus S3 Fire Radiative Power (FRP) product derived from S3 Sea and Land Surface Temperature Radiometer (SLSTR). We supported the development of a new algorithm for the validation of S3 FRP SLSTR with the objective to measure with higher accuracy the radiative power of land and ocean hotspots (wildfires, volcanoes, agricultural burning etc.) over an area size of 1 km2 on our planet.

May and June


We successfully run the 4th edition of the EODA (Earth Observation Data Analysis) Lab in the frame of the ESA Research and Service Support. Through the EODA Lab we opened a window on the sensors, characteristics, and main applications of the Copernicus Sentinel 1-2-3 missions to aspiring data scientists attending the EODA course taught by prof. Marzano within the Master Degree in Data Science of Sapienza University of Rome.

Figure 3 Postseismic ground displacement map following the Amatrice earthquake (Central Italy, 2016) estimated using SAR Differential Interferometry technique applied to Sentinel-1 SAR IW SLC data.
Figure 4 Mediterranean Sea Surface Temperature Composite. Contains Copernicus Sentinel-3 Data (2020).
Figure 5 Supervised classification over the area of Lake Vico with Sentinel-2 images.

Alongside our activities in the education field, the work we performed in the two following projects has been featured in two new publications.

Part of the work carried out in the frame of the ESA funded project AIDEO (AI and EO Data Innovative Methods for Monitoring West Nile Disease Spread in Italy) together with IZSAM, Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise “Giuseppe Caporale, AImage Lab (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) and ReMedia resulted in a research paper titled [Vincenzi, S., et al. 2020] “The color out of space: learning self-supervised representations for Earth Observation imagery” accepted at the 25th International Conference on PATTERN RECOGNITION (ICPR 2020). The publication provided new insights into the development of effective deep learning techniques for Remote Sensing, proposing for the first time a novel representation learning procedure on a colorization-based method which allows users to overcome the lack of large annotated datasets for satellite images.

The second one [Cigna, F., et al. 2020] “Supporting Recovery After 2016 Hurricane Matthew In Haiti With Big Sar Data Processing In The Geohazards Exploitation Platform (GEP)”, features a work led by the Italian Space Agency aimed at investigating the generation of experimental scientific products of change detection and ground deformation monitoring that Haitian end-users can exploit to support decision-making process and recovery progress after the Hurricane that hit Haiti back in 2016. More specifically, the project exploited two processing services available in the ESA’s Geohazards Exploitation Platform (GEP) that were integrated by us in the context of the RSS service support provisioning.

At the same time the RSS team collaborated with La Sapienza University of Rome in the research project SMIVIA – Snow-mantle Modeling, Inversion and Validation using multi-frequency multimission InSAR in central Apennine addressing snow-deposits monitoring using multi-frequency multi-mission InSAR in central Apennine, by supporting the research team with the automation of the InSAR processing chain and with elaborations and expert technical assistance for the use of the RSS CloudToolbox service.

July and August


The first of August marked an important milestone for the ESA Research and Service Support service which entered into an extension phase until Summer 2021. The tasks we have been in charge so far will remain unchanged during this extension phase. We will continue to be responsible for the service operation and for providing research support by facilitating Earth Observation data exploitation, the development of new algorithms and the generations of value-added processing results.

In these months, we also laid important groundwork for three new Earth Observation tools which we plan to deliver as operational services in 2021:

  • Integration of ACOLITE (Atmospheric Correction for Operational Land Imager) in the processing environment, allowing for a simple and fast processing of coastal and inland water applications;
  • Development of CoDeMinT (Coastline Detection and Monitoring Tool) extracting and analysing shorelines from Landsat and Sentinel-2 imagery;
  • the Cloudy Earth Observation Time Series Restoration Tool, a working implementation of the algorithm proposed in [Bertoluzza et al. 2019] to restore the missing pixels of multispectral imagery time series acquisitions covered by clouds.
Figure 6 Chl-a concentration (left) Suspended Particulate Matter – SPM (right) from a Sentinel-2 image over Venetian Lagoon processed by ACOLITE in G-POD.
Figure 7 Intersections between user-defined transects and detected shorelines from Sentinel-2 images. Contains Copernicus Data [2017, 2020]
Figure 8 Original Image (left); Original Image with masked clouds (centre); Reconstructed Image (right)

September and October


Our team participated in the digital edition of the ESA EO Phi-Week, the ESA event dedicated to the latest achievements in Earth Observation science, technology and applications. We showcased the tools, services and projects derived from some of our latest research and engineering activities:

In the same period, the ESA/ESRIN contract “Maintenance and Evolution of the Copernicus Apps for Mobile Devices” was successfully completed. The contract, started in 2017, has rebranded and upgraded the Copernicus Sentinel App which became one of the most successful ESA mobile apps as of today, with 16 different app versions delivered over the years. In parallel to the evolution of the Copernicus Sentinel App, two new prototypes were also developed within the contract: the Copernicus Eye and the Copernicus Dashboard. The former visualizes information on land, atmospheric and ocean variables taken by The Copernicus Services. The latter is a web-base version of Copernicus Sentinel App. We played an important role as Customer’s interface and in the software independent testing and validation activities to ensure a proper functioning of the apps. The maintenance of the current features of the Copernicus Sentinel App is guaranteed, therefore it is still possible to download the most recent app release on the App Store and Google Play. Its newest features allow users to track the different Copernicus Sentinels directly from their ground position, browse new products for Sentinel-3 and Sentinel-5P through the search feature and download the different Sentinel products on the computer with the Sentinel Download Manager.

November and December


Figure 9 Graphical Abstract of the solution/method adopted in [Candeloro, L., et al. 2020]

The results of our collaboration with IZSAM, AImage Lab and ReMedia within the AIDEO Project were presented in a final review meeting with ESA. Combining past West Nile Virus occurrences, Earth Observation data and Machine Learning algorithms, the project aimed at putting in place a model to predict areas at risk of West Nile Disease circulation two weeks in advance.
The results were promising and represented an important first step towards the development of an early warning system that could support public authorities in better targeting surveillance measures for the prevention of West Nile Disease. Our contribution was focused on the generation and provisioning of Analysis-Ready-Data tailored to the artificial intelligence requirements, which considerably facilitated EO data exploitation and value-added information retrieval.
A conclusive AIDEO paper [Candeloro, L., et al. 2020] “Predicting WNV Circulation in Italy Using Earth Observation Data and Extreme Gradient Boosting Model” was also published in the MDPI Remote Sensing journal and is available here.

In the same months, the first phase of the validation activities for the new S3 SLSTR FRP nighttime product has been successfully concluded in collaboration with the S3 SLSTR Mission Performance Centre experts, and its results have been included in an interactive Web Application. The project officially entered its second phase: the development of the daytime algorithm is currently ongoing, the validation algorithm is being revised and updated accordingly, and the web application is being upgraded.

In the meantime, the RSS altrimetry processing services offer continued to expand improving accuracy and spatial resolution. The SARvatore service in G-POD now offers the possibility to include in output an additional product obtained with ALES+ SAR retracker, a waveform retracker for open ocean and coastal zone SAR altimetry data. The family of SARvatore services was enriched with a Fully Focused SAR altimetry algorithm for CryoSat-2 (FFSAR, developed by Aresys), which allows for a consistent improvement of the along-track spatial resolution (from about 300 m to order of meters), and the Sentinel-6 High Resolution L1A Ground Processor Prototype (GPP) processor.

Figure 10 Comparison between S6 low resolution and high resolution acquisition modes.

Over the last year the entire Progressive Systems team joined forces to bring to light a new platform for the analysis of Earth Observation Data which will be released in 2021 and that will incorporate some of the tools and competencies we have developed in 2020. This is Earth Console, a platform bringing Earth Observation data, algorithm development, integration and processing services, analysis and visualization tools, powerful computing resources and high-speed network connections, all in one place. A comprehensive service characterized by a great degree of flexibility allowing its users to exploit satellite data at diverse extent depending on their needs, from developing their own algorithm, to accessing specific know-how to scale up their application to massive data processing or wide service exposure.

Stay tuned and we really look forward to an even more fruitful 2021!


The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency, the European Union or any other space agency or entity mentioned in the text.


Figure in the cover image:
– Reconstructed Image using the Cloudy EO Time Series Restoration Tool
– Suspended Particulate Matter – SPM (right) from a Sentinel-2 image over Venetian Lagoon processed by ACOLITE in G-POD.
– Shapefiles of the coastline for different acquisition times obtained with CoDeMinT.
– Path followed by 2016 Hurricane Matthew and detailed satellite view before it struck southwestern Haiti (credit NOAA/ NHC – NASA);
– Comparison between S6 low resolution and high resolution acquisition modes (RSS altimetry processing service)
Earth Console Monitoring Dashboard
– Tracking from Ground feature of the Copernicus Sentinel App

The “Maintenance and Evolution of the Copernicus Apps for Mobile Devices” contract successfully completed

The Consortium which developed one the most downloaded ESA mobile apps shared project results in a final presentation


Funded by the EU and ESA

During a final presentation held online on the 10th of November, the Consortium led by Solenix and composed by Progressive Systems, Qualteh JR, Terrasigna and GISAT presented the results achieved over the last three years in the frame of the ESA/ESRIN contract “Maintenance and Evolution of the Copernicus Apps for Mobile Devices”. The project kicked off back in 2017, has rebranded and upgraded the Copernicus Sentinel App which enables users to track the Copernicus Sentinels satellites in real-time, discover their key elements, read the latest news and learn more about their products. Downloaded and installed on more than 56k devices, the Copernicus Sentinel App is one of the most successful ESA mobile apps as of today. Such a success is given by the fact that the Consortium delivered 16 different versions of the App over the years including newer functionalities which were able to increasingly meet the needs of both a specialized and general audience. As a proof of this transversal interest, the Copernicus Office used the App for diverse promotional and educational purposes. At the same time, its features would also allow more expert users to download Sentinel data on one’s device and trigger a processing of the products from the App.

The latest update of the app released on the 29th of October is available free of charge on the Apple store and Google Play and allows users to:

  • Track the different Copernicus Sentinels directly from your position and with your phone;
Tracking from Ground
  • Browse new products for Sentinel-3 and Sentinel-5P through the search feature;
Sentinel-3 products
Sentinel-5P products
  • Download the different Sentinel products directly on the computer (Windows or Mac). Users just need to install the Sentinel Download manager on their computer and select which data want to download from the App. The software and all the instructions to set up the Download Manager are available here;
Download Manager
  • Visualize atmospheric layers from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts – ECMWF such as Carbon Monoxide, Methylene Oxide, Nitrogen, Ozone and Sulfur Dioxide.
Atmospheric layers from ECMWF

In parallel to the evolution of the Copernicus Sentinel App, two new prototypes were also developed: The Copernicus Eye and the Copernicus Dashboard. The former represents a more modern version of My Vegetation App, the app dedicated to promoting the ESA PROBA-V mission providing information on vegetation as seen from space. The Copernicus Eye extends its functionalities to variables other than the vegetation ones such as land, atmospheric and ocean information provided by the Copernicus Services. The latter includes features similar to the Copernicus Sentinel App’s ones but on a web-based solution, readily available from a browser and targeting ESA internal users.

Given its experience and knowledge of ESRIN, in this frame Progressive Systems played an important role as Customer’s interface, collecting requirements and specifications emerging from ESA end users’ needs to be included in future developments of the apps. The company was also in charge of the software independent testing and validation according to defined guidelines to ensure a proper functioning of the apps.

While the maintenance of the current features of the Copernicus Sentinel App will be guaranteed over the coming period under a new contract with ESOC, the successful outcomes of the project may open up promising horizons for new developments to be explored in the future.


The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency or the European Union

Copernicus Trade Marks in this communication are owned by the EU.

Progressive meets Society – Interview with Fabio Valentini

“When managing territories, decisions related to diversified actions, including environmental ones, need often to be taken. Earth Observation data can play an important role in providing valuable information about a territory, both to plan and act promptly in case of emergencies”

FABIO VALENTINI

Public authorities in charge of territorial administration have to deal with diverse challenges, including environment-related ones, and need very often to take actions in a short time frame. For an efficient management of natural resources, local authorities are increasingly recognizing the importance of satellite data to receive information over an area at risk, plan in advance mechanisms to contain that risk, or – in case of emergency – receive promptly information to put in place effective coordination actions in a short time frame.

For the third issue of Progressive meets Society, we interviewed Fabio Valentini, Provincial Councillor of the Province of Viterbo and Council Member of the City of Montalto di Castro, who told us which are the environmental challenges the Province is currently facing and why satellite data can play a role in overcoming them.

The Province of Viterbo is an area rich in natural resources. Can you tell us which are the environmental topics and challenges at the top of the agenda of local authorities and why?

As you have mentioned in your question, the territory of the Province of Viterbo is characterized by the presence of many natural, cultural and archaeological resources. As a matter of fact, from an environmental point of view, each area of the Province requires special attention and awareness, being it a vast territory characterized by diversified environments and landscapes. To understand the variety of the area, suffice it to say that the Province extends from the Tyrrhenian coast of the cities of Tarquinia and Montalto di Castro up to the Cimini hills, passing by the lakes of Bolsena and Vico and many other territories. Each area has its own problems and needs. Just to make a few examples: on the coast it is important to monitor the quality of water and coastal erosion, given the presence of rivers and the risk of floods which have become more and more frequent over the years. Or for examples in some areas, the presence of the Mediterranean scrubland and woods increases the risk of fires, above all during summer time. More recently, the notable presence of monocultures such as that of hazelnuts in the area of the Lake of Vico and the related use of fertilisers and pesticides, raised the issue of pollution in inland waters. And also, the presence of industrial plants such as those for the production of electricity, requires attention in terms of monitoring air quality.

How do satellite data come into the picture to support the management of such natural resources?

When managing territories, decisions related to diversified actions, including environmental ones, need often to be taken. In ordinary circumstances, these actions can be planned, but in extraordinary circumstances such as in the case of emergencies, planning is not possible. In both cases, it is useful to be aware of as much information as possible about the territory. Earth observation data can play an important role in providing that information, both to plan and promptly act in case of emergencies, and they can complement information gained with more “traditional” technologies.

In your opinion, which could be the main implications and benefits of a proper exploitation of satellite data for the citizenship?

I believe that in the field of natural disasters, such as floods or fires, it is important to know the characteristics of the territory in advance in order to estimate and simulate the possible effects of these events which are very often dangerous for the citizenship. This is important above all for local competent authorities to put in place preventive instruments to contain risk. To make an example, in the case of fires it could be useful to have risk maps in order to estimate the potential impact of such events on the territory and on the citizenship, in order to allow to put in place mechanisms aimed at containing the consequences of such events as much as possible. I think that would be useful for other sectors as well, for example in the urban planning, agriculture, or landscape protection sectors, with the objective of setting up effective administrative actions.

Last year in the framework of the ESA RSS Service, we at Progressive met with a delegation of representatives of local authorities from the Province led by you, for an introduction to the potential of Earth Observation and its several applications. How much was important that meeting with EO experts and the collaboration established to fully understand the advantages that satellite data can bring to the work of public managers?

First of all, I would like to thank you for hosting the event and for your professionalism. It was a pleasure to contribute to the realization of this meeting, which was surely important for us, administrators of different municipalities in the Province of Viterbo. The meeting has been useful to raise awareness on the potential of the exploitation of satellite data and to raise the interest towards this world, unknown for the majority of us, and its applications in local areas. Some of the administrators are currently considering some applications resulting from the exploitation of Earth Observation data.

For a close, if you could turn a wish into a reality straight away, for which purpose would you implement a satellite data application for the Province and why?

It is difficult to identify a specific application, especially in the light of the multiple needs of the territory and the high potential offered by the exploitation of satellite data. For sure, monitoring water quality and coast protection, are both topics that catch my attention.


To learn more about Fabio Valentini

Fabio Valentini, born in Orbetello in 1981, holds a Master’s degree in Law at the University of Rome La Sapienza. He has served as chief executive in a service company for diverse years until 2013. From 2014 to 2017 he worked in the staff of the City of Fiumicino. In 2018 he has been appointed Vice President of the Province of Viterbo, where he currently acts as Provincial Councillor. In the City of Montalto di Castro, he also acts as Council Member for Healthcare, Civil Protection, Smart City and Information Services.

Progressive meets Society – Interview with Frank S. Marzano

If “Data science is the sexiest job in the 21st century” as often mentioned, then we may say that “Earth Observation is certainly the funniest”

FRANK S. MARZANO

The demand for professional figures able to manage and interpret the growing availability and complexity of data has been increasing rapidly with the advent of new technologies. Sapienza University of Rome was the first Italian University and one among the first in Europe to address this labour market need with the establishment of the Laurea Magistrale in Data Science back in 2015. The Master degree holds a direct link with the space domain, having enriched its offer with the Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab organized in collaboration with the ESA Research and Service Support service.

We have asked Prof. Frank S. Marzano, professor from the Department of Engineering at Sapienza University of Rome, how the Master Degree was able to attract a growing participation of students year after year and in which way the link with the Earth Observation domain contributed to such a success.

The Sapienza University of Rome was the first Italian university and one of the first in Europe to launch a Master’s Degree in Data Science back in 2015, can you tell us more about the work you do in this regard?

The Laurea Magistrale in Data Science at Sapienza University of Rome was one of the first in Europe, but the first in Italy. I was contributing to enlarge the offer to include Earth Observation (EO) into Data Science courses and students background.

Why was a Master’s Degree in Data Science needed back then?

The need of MSc in Data Science was due to the remarkable increase in the volume and complexity of available data and new technologies that have been developed. Processing them requires a combined multi-disciplinary approach to design an overall strategy aimed at transforming data into useful information. Key ingredients to develop a successful strategy are data manipulation and visualization, large scale computing, statistical modelling, learning techniques and algorithmic thinking.

How did the educational program evolve over time to keep pace with the technological advances in the field of data science?

The Laurea Magistrale in Data Science is a Master degree taught in English. It is a joint initiative within the i3S Faculty combining the expertise of four Departments:

  • Department of Computer Science (DI)
  • Department of Computer, Control and Management Engineering (DIAG)
  • Information Engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET)
  • Statistics (DSS)

This Master program provides a solid and modern preparation to understand and manage the multi-facet aspects of carrying out a complete data analysis, including acquisition, management, and statistical analysis. Its educational program benefits from this inter-department and inter-disciplinary approach to keep pace with the scientific and technological innovation.

The Master’s Degree is currently in its fifth edition and it has been receiving a very positive response with the number of students doubling year after year. In your opinion, which is the reason behind such a success?

The success is probably due to the innovative approach of this Master’s program in Data Science aimed at mixing all the necessary ingredients for a successful learning: a solid multi-disciplinary theoretical background combined with a frequent use of laboratory activity and special emphasis on developing a final data-science thesis project. The program is taught in English to attract the motivated students from everywhere and help them develop the necessary ability to interact in an international multidisciplinary environment. It is a 2-year, 120 ECTS program ending with the development and discussion of a final thesis project.

What kind of role partnerships with Earth Observation experts played in providing a real hands-on experience with the space domain of applications to students?

The role of the Earth Observation experts has been and is essential as they can provide a real hands-on experience to students showing the most updated tools, such as the Sentinel Application Platform (SNAP) platform, as well as using Sentinel data for a variety of applications. In my Earth Observation (EO) Data Analysis course the partnership with the ESA Research and Service Support (RSS) group in ESRIN was greatly appreciated by all students and is probably one of the reasons for the increase of the number of EO students from 5 to 30 in only 3 years.

With a look to the future, what jobs will be the most in-demand in the field of Earth Observation according to you?

Most appealing and requested EO jobs will be probably related to EO big-data analysis both in the midstream and downstream domain. This means that professionals should be able to develop new retrieval algorithms and to understand the physical modelling behind as well as to be capable to apply new machine learning techniques and set up robust data pipelines for data processing.

More generally, where do you see the society taking the most benefit from Earth Observation in 5/10 years from now?

Earth system monitoring applications as well as security, civil protection, urban planning and agricultural production will be the most explored domains. EO data support to governmental policy makers will be probably more and more requested.

For a close, is there anything else you would like to add?

In conclusion, if “Data science is the sexiest job in the 21st century” as often mentioned, then we may say that “EO is certainly the funniest”.

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To learn more about Frank S. Marzano

Prof. Frank S. Marzano received the Laurea degree (cum laude) in Electrical Engineering (1988) and the Ph.D. degree (1993) in Applied Electromagnetics both from the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. During 1993 he collaborated with the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, National Council of Research (CNR), Rome, Italy. After being a lecturer at the University of Perugia, Italy, in 1997 he joined the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of L’Aquila, Italy teaching courses on electromagnetic fields as Assistant Professor. In 2002 he got the qualification to Associate Professorship and co-founded Center of Excellence on Remote Sensing and Hydro-Meteorological Modeling (CETEMPS), L’Aquila. In 2005 he finally joined the Dept. of Information engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET), Sapienza Univ. of Rome, Italy where he presently is a full professor and teaches courses on antennas, propagation and remote sensing. Since 2013 he is the director of Centre of Excellence CETEMPS of the University of L’Aquila, Italy. His current research concerns passive and active remote sensing of the atmosphere from ground-based, airborne, and space-borne platforms and electromagnetic propagation studies. Prof. Marzano has published more than 150 papers on refereed International Journals, more than 30 contributions to international Book chapters and more than 300 extended abstract on international and national congress proceedings. Since 2014 he is Associate Editor of IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing (TGRS) as well as the journal EGU Atmospheric Measurements Techniques. Dr. Marzano is Fellow of RMetS (Royal Meteorological Society) since 2012 and Fellow of IEEE since 2015.

The Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab continues to train the next generations of data scientists

32 brilliant students concluded with success the 4th edition of the EODA Lab last June, the course run by Progressive Systems in the frame of the ESA Research and Service Support

Large attendance was recorded to the 2020 edition of the Earth Observation Data Analysis – EODA Laboratory. The EODA course, taught by prof. Frank S. Marzano, is completely dedicated to Satellite Remote Sensing and EO applications and is held within the Master Degree in Data Science of Sapienza University of Rome. Training skilled professionals who can “mine and interpret the growing availability of complex data”: this is the objective of the Master Degree, which through the EODA Lab was able to open a window on Earth science analysis, offering its students knowledge and tools to effectively manage and interpret satellite data for several environmental and geoinformation applications.

Over three modules, Progressive Systems experts provided an overview on the sensors, characteristics, and main applications of the Copernicus Sentinel 1-2-3 missions, the EU’s fleet of satellites dedicated to the operational needs of the Copernicus Programme. Particular attention was devoted to the hands-on sessions on satellite data analysis and applications with the use of several open-source tools, among which Anaconda, Jupyter, and SNAP (Sentinel Application Platform, the ESA tool for Earth Observation processing and analysis). Students learnt the most important techniques to process data and derive products for information retrieval on atmosphere, land and water which can be transformed into useful knowledge for assessing natural hazards, managing natural resources, setting up early warning mechanisms for crisis management and much more. In full compliance with COVID-19 restriction measures, the lab was completely delivered online and material, including video-tutorials for the hands-on sessions, was prepared and provided to participants to allow for the highest qualitative training experience.

The lab, now in its fourth edition, has managed to attract a growing participation of students year after year, a clear sign that the data scientist is increasingly becoming a key figure for companies, public sector institutions, research and international organizations which work with Big Data.

Training young people interested in starting a career in the Earth Observation domain has always been considered strategic for Progressive Systems. Through the Earth Observation Data Analysis Lab and the long-lasting collaboration with the Department of Information Engineering, Electronics and Telecommunications (DIET) of Sapienza University of Rome enabled by Prof. Frank S. Marzano, Progressive Systems has been investing in this strand of activities to foster young people’s skills development, increase their job-readiness and help bridging the gap between University and Industry.

In pursuing this mission, Progressive Systems gives appointment to all aspiring data scientists at the next edition of the EODA Lab.

Progressive meets Society – Interview with Annamaria Conte

“In the coming decades, the greatest challenge will be moving from big data toward creating value. What we have from Earth Observation offers tremendous possibilities for creative Earth Observation applications, researches and commercial exploitation. But it is fundamental cooperation, dialogue, open data, multidisciplinarity and innovative minds. If each of us brings a piece of the puzzle in the right place, the final picture will be knowledge and benefit for everyone”

ANNAMARIA CONTE

The Earth Observation sector is evolving rapidly thanks to the ever-increasing availability of high-quality Earth Observation data both in terms of resolution and revisit time. This is creating opportunities for private and public entities that have recognized the potential of satellite observations to support their decision-making on a wide range of societal and environmental challenges.

We have interviewed Annamaria Conte, Head of Statistics and GIS Unit at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise “G. Caporale” (IZSAM), the public health institute which operates as a technical and scientific arm of the Italian Ministry of Health. Annamaria shared with us the experience of IZSAM with Earth Observation data and how their exploitation is adding value to the work at the Institute.

IZSAM has been working to safeguard the health of humans and animals for almost 80 years. Can you tell us more about the work you do?

The ongoing epidemic clearly shows us that human health is strictly linked to animal health and the ecosystem in which we live. Protecting the environment and animals, taking care of their health means preserving human health. And this is something that IZSAM has been always working on.

Let me start mentioning the present, what we have been doing since March 16 2020 during the COVID-19 epidemic. IZSAM has processed until today more than 60.000 human samples in support of the diagnostic workflow for SARS-CoV-2 of the Abruzzo and Lombardy regions. Moreover, IZSAM is engaged in the data analysis with the production of an online dashboard and a daily report. IZSAM is also promoting researches and studies to better elucidate the factors influencing the infection spread and carrying out epidemiological investigations. In addition, IZSAM is involved in the post lockdown serological surveillance of workers employed in various enterprises in the Abruzzo region.
In a very short time, IZSAM has made available its experts, its technologies, its resources to respond to an unknown virus epidemic. And this has been done thanks to our experience in working in emergency and following a multidisciplinary approach.

For over 30 years the IZSAM has understood that humans, animals and the ecosystem must be studied together, and this cannot be limited to human and animal doctors. It is necessary to base the knowledge on multidisciplinary teams. In IZSAM, in addition to the health figures of veterinarians and biologists, we have statisticians, mathematicians, GIS experts, computer scientists, engineers, bioinformaticians, trainers, social sciences experts, psychologists, and this means that health issues are addressed from every possible angle, approached transversely, satisfying the societal demand. All in full respect and harmony with what Europe asks us about research: analysis of problems, solutions, generate economy and improve citizens’ health.

This approach that has always characterized IZSAM, in recent years has led us to partnerships unthinkable until a few years ago (e.g. the European Space Agency, the Engineering Departments of the most prestigious Universities), driving IZSAM more and more towards innovation, towards the Big Data era, towards the Earth Observation and Artificial Intelligence fields.

The opportunity to collaborate with the most important Intergovernmental Agencies (the World Organisation for Animal Health – OIE, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO) brings our experts in many countries, in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, where they are asked to study problems and find solutions, while collecting fundamental field experiences on diseases that we do not have in Europe.

The Institute has been exploiting Earth Observation data in diverse initiatives. Can you share with us a couple of examples?

For several years, our Institute has been using EO data to study the influence of climatic and environmental factors on vector-borne diseases (VBD) and vector population dynamics. Most of the environmental variables (geographical, climatological, and hydrological) that influence the transmission cycle of VBDs between pathogen, vectors and intermediate hosts can be monitored efficiently from satellites capable of capturing these parameters frequently and on a global scale.
Knowing where conditions are favorable for the spread of the virus and for the abundance of vectors is of primary importance for directing surveillance activities. The Ministry of Health funds researches and surveillance plans for millions of euros each year and it is important to get the most in terms of knowledge from these programs. Combining the data collected in field with Earth Observation data and the most innovative and powerful big data analysis techniques, is the direction in which IZSAM is going.

Some examples? A research completed in 2018 (1) produced a classification of the Italian territory in similar ecoregions at 250m resolution. A multivariate statistical clustering algorithm was applied to seven climatic and environmental remote-sensed variables and the final ecoregion map (Figure 1) was adopted by some regions to choose targeted areas for West Nile Virus (WNV) surveillance. In case of entry of a new virus transmitted by vectors, knowing which area is similar to the ones in which the virus starts spreading, can better direct us in field research.

Figure 1

Another example is the project started on September 2019, funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) in the framework of the ESA EO Science for Society Permanently Open Call for Proposals – ‘Artificial Intelligence and Earth Observation Data: innovative methods for monitoring West Nile Disease (WND) spread in Italy’ – AIDEO. Its principal aim is to verify the feasibility of an automated process integrating past WND outbreaks, EO data and Artificial Intelligence algorithms to predict where and when WND cases could re-emerge and spread in Italy.

And Progressive is partner of this project, with its support in acquiring and processing satellite images – Sentinel 1, 2 and 3, Landsat 8 and SRTM (Figure 2). Such images are then analysed using Deep learning techniques by AImageLab, a research laboratory of the Engineering Department “Enzo Ferrari” at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, specialized in Computer Vision, Pattern Recognition and Artificial Intelligence.

Figure 2

This project is a perfect example of the multidisciplinary approach necessary to acquire knowledge and implement new solutions especially in the context of VBD.

Another application of EO data we are exploring relates to the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (Copernicus EMS) which provides information for emergency response in relation to different types of natural and man-made disasters. IZSAM manages the Italian National Animal Identification and Registration System and the Livestock Data Bank. The opportunity to have satellite data with timely and accurate geo-spatial information before, during and after disasters, is fundamental to support Veterinary Services in their prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities.

Can you tell us what makes the use of satellite data beneficial for your projects?

The changing of climatic and ecological conditions, human behaviour, mobility, as well as the rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, are key factors that influence the seasonal and geographic distribution of vectors’ population and therefore the transmission of pathogens. Having the possibility to acquire data explaining and monitoring such factors with excellent spatial resolution (just think of the Sentinel 2’s 10 – 20 m) and such a frequent revisit time on a global level is a huge resource.
It gives the opportunity to find information on the territory that can guide field activities. Surveillance activities in field are extremely expensive, both from an economic and human resources point of view. Knowing where and when to go to collect samples would save resources and better allocate efforts.

What kind of role partnerships with Earth Observation experts do you expect in your field?

First of all, a clear and constant dialogue is needed to understand which datasets are produced, what characteristics they have and understand the potential use together. Then it is fundamental the support for manipulation and processing of the data to be associated with the health data to answer research questions. There is a real need to assemble datasets from multiple, disparate sources. Analysis of EO data is complicated: data is often at different spatial and temporal resolution, and datasets must be aggregated or disaggregated to harmonize the spatio-temporal scale. Specific technical skills, computational power and processing power are not always present in our sector. For this reason, I see the development of small and medium enterprises to support the Health System (human and animal) to assist epidemiologists in the collection and processing of EO data. Don’t forget that the ultimate goal in research is to generate knowledge, to translate abundant, diverse, and rapidly growing big data into meaningful insights for animal and human health. And if everyone does its part, the end goal is achieved faster.
In IZSAM we have in part the expertise to process and manipulate EO data, we have epidemiologists and disease experts, laboratory facilities, so we cover quite well what the scientific approach needs to meet the requirements of our Ministry of Health, but much more can be done with partnerships with EO experts.

Do you think that the Health sector is nowadays fully taking advantage of the opportunities coming from the Earth Observation sector?

I believe we are only at the beginning of a new era in which new products are available and new frontiers are opening up. Although for years remote sensed data has been used in modelling the spread of animal diseases there is still a lot to study and explore. The increasing availability and complexity of EO data has led to new opportunities and challenges in human and veterinary epidemiology. Products that have a spatial resolution of 10 m and a revisit time of 3-5 days inevitably need experts in the sector who support experts in the Health domain.

If you could turn a wish into a reality, what will an ideal health application based on EO data look like that would really give a boost to your work?

We expect a lot from the one we are already working on: setting up an early warning model based on EO data and AI algorithms which highlights when climatic and environmental conditions are favorable for the spread of a VBD. If the warning arrives early in advance, Veterinary and Public Health Authorities are able to intervene in field with deeper monitoring and control measures. Of course, being disease/pathogen/vector-specific applications, it is certainly not easy to have a single approach, a single model. But the availability of ‘ready to use’ data would already be a wonderful starting point to develop such systems.

Where do you see the society taking the most benefit from Earth Observation in 5/10 years from now?

There is a deluge of data now being returned by Earth observation (EO) satellites. The archives of the big space agencies and companies are filling up with petabytes of information. The future will be to use all this information in ever smarter ways, using machine learning, deep learning to extract even more relevant insights into the changes taking place on our Earth. The fields of application will be ever larger and ever more disparate: climate, energy, protection of the environment and natural resources. But definitely Health is in the list.
Last March 10, ESA organized an online and live streamed workshop “EO and AI for Health and Urban Resilience Workshop” with specific objectives of identifying the main challenges related to Global Health and Earth Observation at large, and to discuss with scientists, policy makers and industry the most pressing needs and information requirements. A clear sign of the openness that is being created between EO and Health.

For a close, is there anything else you would like to add?

In the coming decades, the greatest challenge will be moving from big data toward creating value. What we have from EO offers tremendous possibilities for creative EO applications, researches and commercial exploitation. But it is fundamental cooperation, dialogue, open data, multidisciplinarity and innovative minds. If each of us brings a piece of the puzzle in the right place, the final picture will be knowledge and benefit for everyone.

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To learn more about Annamaria Conte

Annamaria Conte graduated in Statistics at ‘La Sapienza’ University in Rome in 1994. In 1995 she joined the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise “G. Caporale” (IZSAM) – Teramo, Italy (www.izs.it), a Veterinary Public Health Institute serving the Italian Ministry of Health. Since 2009, she leads the Statistics and GIS Unit, coordinating and managing the activities required by the National and International Reference Centers operating at IZSAM (the National Reference Centre for Epidemiology, the OIE Collaborating Centre for Veterinary Training, Epidemiology, Food Safety and Animal Welfare and the FAO Reference Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology).

Her research focus is on epidemiological analytical methods and spatial epidemiology of major animal infectious diseases, including zoonoses, and on the identification of factors influencing the spread and persistence of vector borne diseases. She leads the development of several web-based GIS which provide near-real time surveillance and modelling tools to share and analyse animal disease data and information.

Recent interests are on the integration of remoted sensed data and deep learning methods to produce early warning systems for preventing and controlling, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

She has an extensive training activity on basic and advanced statistical methods, Spatial Analysis and GIS for the European Union, Italian Ministry of Health, Universities, Veterinary Services and Veterinary Public Health Institution.
Over 100 publications on peer reviewed journal.

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1 – Ippoliti C, Candeloro L, Gilbert M, Goffredo M, Mancini G, Curci G, Falasca S, Tora S, Quaglia M, Conte A. (2019). Defining ecological regions in Italy based on a multivariate clustering approach: A first step towards a targeted vector borne disease surveillance. PLoS ONE 14(7): e0219072. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0219072

New Copernicus Sentinel App release takes users into deeper discovery journey through Sentinel missions

The Solenix-led Consortium rolled out an update bringing a new set of features to the App



Funded by the EU and ESA

Available from the 1st of April, the new version of the Copernicus Sentinel App comes with a brand-new set of features offering an upgraded experience to those who want to have an overview on the Copernicus Sentinels, the EU’s constellation of satellites specifically dedicated to the operational needs of the Copernicus Programme, the Earth Observation programme headed by the European Commission (EC) in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The new release introduces products for S-5P, a precursor satellite mission performing atmospheric monitoring. Just like for other satellites, users can:

  • track the sentinel satellite in real time, move the sentinel along its orbit, display future acquisitions and visualize when the satellite downloads the data to the Ground Station;
  • search for and browse products in a specific point over the 3D globe, visualize the latest product acquired from the satellite and get a notification when a new product is available;
  • visualize case studies on what the mission has achieved so far for the benefit of society;
  • interact with the sentinel 3D model and its main components;
  • read latest news, watch videos and visualize statistical info about the products.
Acquisition of products feature over a specific area of the 3D globe.

In addition to this, with the more user-friendly ‘Map Layers’ menu option users can now also easily manage the visualization of the layers over the 3D globe and optionally display the atmosphere and day/night effect, the elevation model, the name of places and the constellations.

Map Layers Menu with the display constellations option selected.

Launched back in 2014, the app managed to raise the interest both of the scientific community and the general public. Such a success is the result of the fruitful collaboration of a Consortium led by Solenix and composed by Progressive Systems, Qualteh JR, Terrasigna and GISAT, started under the ESA-EU financed contract for “Social Media and Mobile Applications Development for Earth Observation Ground Segment and Mission Operations” and currently ongoing under the “Maintenance and Evolution of the Copernicus Apps for Mobile Devices” contract, financed by the EU.

The new release of the Copernicus Sentinel App is now available worldwide and free of charge for iOS on the App Store and for Android on Google Play. Other updates are currently under development to ensure an ever-improving user experience.



The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency or the European Union.

Copernicus Trade Marks in this communication are owned by the EU.

Progressive Systems at the “The Mathematics of Climate and the Environment” Forum

On the 2nd of December Beniamino Abis, Research and Support Engineer for the ESA RSS service operated by Progressive Systems, joined the Coupled Climate-Ecology-Economy Modeling and Model Hierarchies workshop to discuss the interactions between climate systems, ecosystems, financial systems and the economy. Hosted by the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris, the workshop was part of the wider initiative The Mathematics of Climate and the Environment Forum, a trimester of conferences to explore the latest developments in mathematics which will contribute the most in advancing climate and environmental sciences. The Forum is an important appointment for the experts of the sector and counted on the participation of luminaries in the field such as Professor Lars Peter Hansen, 2013 Nobel Laureate in Economics.

Beniamino presented his study on the boreal forest, an ecosystem of key importance in the Earth system which is being considerably affected by climate change. The boreal ecosystem is undergoing environmental changes more rapidly than any other region on Earth and its surface temperature is increasing twice as fast as the global average. More specifically, his presentation focused on: 1) a methodology to identify potential areas with alternative tree-cover states under the same environmental conditions of the boreal forest; 2) a conceptual model to understand if the competition among tree species with high functional diversity in the boreal forest can explain the observed multistability; 3) an investigation on how the multimodality and multistability of the boreal forest could evolve at high latitudes under different scenarios of anthropogenic climate change. Satellite data had a key role in this framework as they allowed to compare climate and tree-cover data from different regions and continents at the same time, providing a more global perspective.
The conceptual model elaborated raised the interest of the participants and an intense discussion followed the presentation with a focus on global coupled models, wildfires role and future scenarios.

More information on the workshop here.

The Province of Viterbo is looking for environmental monitoring solutions

On the 28th of November, in the frame of the ESA Research and Service – RSS support, Progressive Systems welcomed a delegation of officials from different municipalities in the Province of Viterbo at ESRIN premises for a workshop dedicated to the potential applications of Earth Observation for environmental monitoring. The delegation led by Fabio Valentini, Municipal Councillor at Montalto di Castro, was interested in deepening their knowledge about how satellite data can support competent authorities in tackling different challenges of their territory.

The initiative addressed specific needs to the Viterbo area such as detection of fires, monitoring of water level and quality both in inland and coastal areas, flood management and coastal erosion, air quality monitoring as well as vegetation health. Concrete examples of how those issues can be tackled through the use of satellite data were highlighted by the Progressive Systems team while additional challenges also emerged during the intense discussion and exchange of perspectives among the officials.

Satellite data has proven to be an effective tool to manage properly Earth’s resources and impact positively the economy and society. The officials appreciated the initiative as it opened up a range of opportunities for the resolution of major problems in the area whose concrete feasibility will be explored with Progressive Systems in the near future.

A new project preventing West Nile Disease spread in Italy kicks-off

The 17th of September marks the official start of the AIDEO (Artificial Intelligence and Earth Observation data: innovative methods for monitoring West Nile Disease spread in Italy) project, an ESA Science for Society funded initiative, that involves Progressive Systems, the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale D’Abruzzo e del Molise, the AImage Lab of Modena and ReMedia of Frascati.

AIDEO aims at developing a process which intends to verify if West Nile Disease risk maps can be produced by using Earth Observation data and specific Artificial Intelligence algorithms. The innovativeness of the project builds upon an unprecedented amount of high-resolution EO data available through the Copernicus programme, combined with AI techniques in an effort to shape complex relationships for example between the presence of WND and the environment in which it spreads.

Risk maps appear to be highly relevant for competent authorities such as Ministries of Health for a double reason: first of all to develop alert systems able to inform those authorities when the conditions become favourable for the spread of the disease; secondly for the epidemiological surveillance and control of the disease.

A first technical meeting was held on the 23rd of October with the objective of planning the future scientific activities of the project. On that occasion it was agreed to start the analysis of the images with two pilot areas: Pianura Padana and Sardinia that represent epidemiologically interesting territories.