Data & analytics, Technology & innovation

Leveraging satellite earth observation to transform public sector operations

Satellites have collected data on our planet for over 50 years. The ever-increasing and improving archive of satellite data provides a powerful basis for analysing and documenting trends and changes on our planet. As a result, satellite data is key for measuring, monitoring and documenting development outcomes as well as informing actions and policies by delivering actionable information and insights.

Due to the rapid technological advancement, satellite earth observation (EO) stands out as a transformative tool to empower public authorities and agencies with valuable insights to enhance decision-making, policy formulation and operational efficiency. DHI works with public authorities worldwide to turn theory into practice, developing novel and advanced EO-based tools and systems to map, monitor and quantify the state and dynamics of our planet’s production systems and natural ecosystems.

Satellite technology innovations for the public sector – examples from Denmark

Let’s look at three DHI projects in Denmark that demonstrate how satellite EO has revolutionised public sector operations:

Satellite-based agricultural monitoring has transformed the way we assess eligibility for agricultural income support. Just a few years ago, inspectors had to physically walk through fields to conduct spot checks. Now, thanks to the collaboration between the Danish Agricultural Agency (DAA) and DHI, this inspection takes place 700 km above Earth with the help of satellite technology. This partnership has won prestigious awards such as the Danish Geodata Jury Award and the Danish Digitalisation Award for Innovation.

Through this collaboration, a novel satellite-based system has been developed, facilitating streamlined and accurate monitoring of crop types and farm management practices. Farmers can now continuously track whether their fields adhere to the criteria for agricultural support. Previously, only 5% of fields were controlled through more than 1800 yearly physical field visits. Now, all land parcels receiving agricultural support are systematically controlled without the need for burdensome and time-intensive field visits. This advancement not only improves the effectiveness of agricultural monitoring and frees up resources within the DAA, it also shows how satellite technology can change farming for the better.

Recent advancements in satellite-based soil moisture mapping have empowered the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to effectively monitor hydrology, ecosystem dynamics and climate variables on a national scale. Traditional satellite-based soil moisture products have faced limitations such as coarse resolution and limited soil penetration. In collaboration with the EPA, DHI has introduced a new tool that provides precise measurements of soil moisture content throughout the entire root zone, with resolutions of up to 20 m. This innovative approach combines satellite data with water balance modelling techniques.

A pioneering technology for large-scale monitoring of marine habitats, including submerged aquatic vegetation, has equipped the Danish EPA with an innovative tool to comprehensively evaluate the status and dynamics of marine ecosystems nationwide. This tool fulfils requirements set by the EU Habitats Directive, the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Initially developed in Sweden by DHI in collaboration with Länsstyrelsen Västerbotten on behalf of the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, this technology is now being fine-tuned and implemented in Malaysia and Denmark.

It enables authorities to explore and assess submerged habitats seamlessly on an unprecedented scale. Leveraging the capabilities of multitemporal satellite imagery and human-assisted machine learning, the tool empowers authorities to map and enhance the planning, management and monitoring of coastal and marine ecosystems. Learn more in this project story: Earth observation technology helps protect blue carbon ecosystems.

The potential of satellite technology for public sector support – what lies ahead?

The above are but a few of the many examples of how satellite technology can benefit and enhance public sector work and activities. DHI is currently involved in many more, including developing a new satellite-based excavation site monitoring tool to support the Danish Regional to manage and oversee activities at raw material excavation sites. Scheduled for release in the summer of 2024, this innovative tool promises to streamline management processes and enhance oversight capabilities.

We have also expanded frontiers and are working with the Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure, alongside partners at Airbus DS, to procure a high-resolution satellite dataset covering previously uncharted areas of Greenland. This initiative marks a significant step forward in expanding our understanding of remote regions and unlocking new insights for environmental and scientific research. We are also leading the development of a series of new satellite-based tools tailored for Danish municipal authorities. These tools aim to equip local governments with the resources needed to address climate challenges, including mitigating floods, managing heatwaves and enhancing drought resilience.

Furthermore, they will support efforts to promote environmental sustainability through regreening strategies and biodiversity conservation. Using DHI’s new Danish EO data cube, these tools will transform municipal planning and help authorities make better decisions for a more resilient future.

Curious about the potential of satellite technology for public sector purposes? Contact Mads Christensen ( for more information.