Introducing Planetary Variables: Soil Water Content, Land Surface Temperature, and Vegetation Biomass

Near the end of last year, Planet acquired VanderSat, the company Richard de Jeu founded in 2015, and which I have been a part of from the very beginning.

The company started with the aim of simplifying highly advanced satellite data to deepen our understanding of the world’s water and agricultural systems. VanderSat achieved remarkable success, helping monitor nearly 30 million hectares of agricultural land and supporting groundbreaking research in climate science. Along the way, the scientists on the VanderSat team pioneered new scientific approaches in remote sensing and our publications have garnered more than 20,000 citations in leading journals.

In many ways, joining forces with Planet is the culmination of our journey. We were a natural fit — our missions are incredibly well aligned to serve life on Earth from space. When Richard and I first met with the Planet team, we immediately felt the right connection and got excited by all the opportunities we could see on the horizon. We believe the combination of Planet’s constellation of satellites and our data analytics capabilities will create value for our customers far greater than the sum of its parts.

But because of all the opportunities we perceive, we’re really just getting started on our mission. Today, we mark the next phase of our journey by announcing the release of a new category of Planet product, what we call Planetary Variables. Planetary Variables are pre-processed, accurate data feeds that measure important conditions on the surface of the Earth. Our goal with these products is to capture and quantify the changes in dynamic systems, and render that information to the people on the ground tasked with making decisions.

Currently, we produce the data products that are part of our Planetary Variables by combining observations from a range of public satellite constellations. Much of the work we have done to produce these feeds draws on the use of passive microwave sensors, which provide unique insight in measuring water content in soils and vegetation. The result are three key products:

  • Soil Water Content – A measurement of the volume of water contained in the soil at a 5cm depth, delivered at 100m resolution
  • Land Surface Temperature – A measurement of the radiative skin temperature of the surface of the earth, delivered at 100m resolution
  • Vegetation Biomass Proxy – A relative measurement of the above-ground crop biomass at 10m resolution

We’re building on the advances that Planet has made to capture and deliver daily imagery, and pushing to make that data informative and actionable. We believe the Planetary Variables we’re producing can bring unique insights to customers. They provide globally available data that is unhindered by cloud cover, and customers can now obtain time series measurements of these Planetary Variables by downloading data files and generating unique visual graphs for analysis. By presenting data without the need for as much pre-processing, we are excited to help customers spend less time worrying about manipulating data and more time monitoring and understanding the places that matter to them.

At VanderSat, we learned how to leverage this data to help address pressing environmental issues. We developed relationships with customers like the Dutch Water Authorities, who use Soil Water Content data to keep track of flooding threats. Soil Water Content is also an important tool for the measurement of drought, and we’re pioneering the use of Earth Observation data with customers like Swiss Re and Axa Climate to develop parametric insurance products which help protect farmers against the effects of drought on their livelihoods. By combining optical and radar data, we also produce our Biomass Proxy product, which is used by agricultural companies like BASF to help monitor the health of their customer’s fields.

All three of our Planetary Variables can be found listed as Essential Climate Variables, crucial datapoints that characterize the Earth’s environment. Established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, World Meteorological Organization, and space agencies that operate Earth observation satellites, these variables provide a guiding principle to help produce accurate and meaningful data. Tracking these climate variables is a vital effort to provide reliable, objective evidence to monitor and measure climatic changes and efforts to mitigate their effects. With this in mind, we are proud to offer Planetary Variables, and our goal is to support our customers as they make informed decisions in industries ranging across sustainable agriculture, ecological management, and emergency response.

To inquire about the Planetary Variables product, please contact Planet’s Sales team at sales@planet.com

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