Copernicus: the European Earth Observation Programme

Copernicus at a glance

Copernicus, previously known as GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is a European Union programme implemented by the European Commission (EC) jointly with the European Space Agency (ESA). It is aimed at developing set of European information services based on satellite Earth Observation.

The information gathered and relayed by Copernicus helps to improve the management of natural resources, monitor the quality of water supplies, monitor and forecast air pollution, support town planning and prevent urban sprawl, ease the flow of transportation, optimise agricultural activities and promote the development of renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, Copernicus will lead to the enhancement of the safety of nations and citizens in numerous ways, for example by providing early warning of natural disasters and supporting the management of humanitarian or regional crises, forest fires and floods, thereby helping to prevent loss of life and property damage.

It will also provide a basis for enhanced modelling and forecasting activities to help improve our understanding of the drivers of climate change and mitigate its consequences.

The Copernicus services deal with 6 thematic domains:

  • Land Monitoring
  • Marine Monitoring
  • Atmosphere Monitoring
  • Emergency Response
  • Services for Security Applications
  • Climate Change


A key focus of Copernicus is the combination of output from Earth Observation technologies (i.e. satellites) with in situ data collected from non-space sources, such as from ground stations and sensors installed on buoys or floats, aboard research vessels or “ships of opportunity”, and on research balloons or aircraft. The challenge is to compile and harmonise these data in order to assemble them into useable, compatible and comparable information services. Copernicus does not replace existing European capacities, but rather complements them with a view to fulfilling user needs and guaranteeing sustainability and European autonomy in the long term.

The Copernicus programme has entered into a phase of Initial Operations (2011-2013).  Land Monitoring and Emergency Management services become operational during this period. The remaining pre-operational and research-oriented services are expected to transition to operations from 2014 onwards.

As per the Regulation on GMES and its Initial Operations, Copernicus Services for Security Applications are focused on three topics: Border Control, Support to EU External Action, and Maritime Surveillance.

EU External Action includes peacekeeping, crisis management and reconstruction missions after conflict. Services in this domain also monitor critical assets (such as gas pipelines and oil refineries) and compliance with nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Services for Border Control support the reduction of cross-border crime and illegal immigration, whilst Maritime Surveillance services focus on monitoring the sea border of the EU.

Further information on the Copernicus programme can be found at or on the European Commission’s pages.