Applying space data to solve environmental engineering challenges

4th August 2021

Our urban worlds are expanding at a rate that is no longer sustainable. With the pace of city and infrastructure expansion compounding the rate of environmental issues like climate change, we must find alternative (and more sustainable) ways to live side by side with the natural world.

This is why regulations centred around environmental protection, conservation or regeneration are now a key element of any infrastructure project. These developments have the potential to cause significant damage to their surrounding landscapes and biodiversity, which is why they are a focus for sustainable change. Although this presents more than a few challenges for stakeholders in construction and engineering sectors, it also presents some exciting opportunities for what can be achieved in future, encouraging people to adopt creative and innovative approaches to development.

The integration of environmental sustainability and engineering

Construction companies have always had to contend with developmental regulations, targets and compliance. Environmental considerations are now a bigger part of these regulations than they ever have been before, with end-clients such as government bodies stipulating targets for biodiversity net gain, carbon offsetting, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and more within the majority of urban and rural development projects.

Designers and engineering consultants need to not only integrate more environmentally sustainable practices into their master planning, but they need to be able to evidence that they’ve met these requirements. This means that they need to be able to quantify their impact on the environment and the biodiversity in the development site.

How does this look in practice?

The question now for many engineers is how to adequately track their key metrics and prove they’re adhering within the environmental regulations they’re supposed to. This involves tracking activity, monitoring the environment, and gathering data at various stages.

Most projects will benefit from an environment impact assessment before, during, and after development in order to evidence the state of the land before their involvement and determine their total impact once construction is complete.

The challenges of sustainable engineering

Undergoing these assessments is multifaceted and can take time, making integrating environmental considerations with engineering processes a difficult transition. In many cases, engineering, construction or design firms may not currently be equipped with the resources or skills to complete the necessary steps, especially as regulations are constantly evolving.

Here are some of the most challenging elements that development stakeholders have to consider:

  • Scale: The size of the areas involved in large developments, including multi-site projects, can create significant barriers for time and resource. Performing environmental assessments in-situ and on the ground has the potential to be an overwhelming task.
  • Access: Locations may require a permit to conduct such assessments, which could cost time and money to acquire.
  • Seasonality: To gain accurate representations of vegetations and other species, assessments should ideally be performed in the same seasons. This isn’t always possible to achieve for physical surveys.
  • Health & safety: Having workers perform assessments on the ground can put people at risk.
  • Cost: Physical surveys and assessments come with significant equipment, resource, and other related expenses.

4EI’s approach to environmentally focused engineering and infrastructure

Remotely gathered satellite imagery can help achieve environment-related construction requirements. Data-based solutions such as habitat mapping, change intelligence, and impact assessments will provide the right situational awareness needed to guide a development project from inception to delivery and beyond. Satellite imagery can provide reconnaissance data to inform the planning stages, as well as frequent monitoring to measure progress towards certain objectives.

This innovative method is particularly useful for areas that are less accessible or during COVID-19 restrictions as travelling and physical surveying is more difficult.

This transparent and objective method of data capture can be used to directly quantify key metrics, such as the baseline specifications and the resulting percentage net gain or loss for a project. 4EI provides this information clearly in a client-facing report, focusing on the data you need based on your targets to help you guide activity and successfully achieve the desired results.

Reconnaissance

For any development, a port or a new settlement, it’s often necessary to first create a baseline of conditions so you can later determine and report on any changes caused by development activities. This can be created using historical data about the site, tracking back to when the land was unimpacted by the current project and measuring key metrics.

We perform habitat mapping projects to categorise the land and identify the state of the environment before development. 4EI has key experience directly linking habitat types to what can be identified from imagery, and has worked with experienced ecologists to develop standardised nomenclature. The scale, units, and detail will be determined with the client in advance based on their specific targets.

Throughout this process, we ensure we are using the best imagery for the purposes required. For example, for terrain plans or topographic maps a client may want highly accurate imagery. In contrast, some projects may prioritise fast and cost-effective delivery.

Change monitoring

Stakeholders may also require regular updates to their assessments to monitor what impact their work may be having on the surrounding environment. We develop a repeatable process, based on our baseline assessment, which allows us to continue updating your data in order to quantify long-term change. This can be applied to any terrain, terrestrial or marine. This way, we can support you with data to inform compliance throughout the lifecycle of your project.

Satellite imagery sales

4EI also provide sales and consultancy for organisations who just require satellite imagery. Our team will work with you to assess what’s available and, from resolution to accuracy, identify the imagery that best suits your use case. This will be delivered to you in the format you need, so you can immediately apply it to your assessment activities.

Engineering for people and planet

Engineering and infrastructure projects that put environmental considerations at the forefront are becoming ubiquitous. Developments increasingly drive innovation for the purpose of sustainability, with a greater number of projects being designed to bring natural and urban worlds together as one of their primary functions.

From woven cities to green infrastructure to building with sustainable materials, people are discovering new and exciting ways to not only allow man and nature to thrive together, but to generate significant benefits at a wide scale. For example, green infrastructure is a solution designed to combat climate change as well as to integrate natural features in urban spaces.

As people become more ambitious with how we approach infrastructure, environmental impact assessments, habitat or topographic mapping, change detection and many other environment/asset monitoring activities will be further incorporated into the planning, implementation, and evaluation of construction activities.

Discover more of our engineering and infrastructure solutions here, or get in touch to discuss your latest project.

4EI

by 4EI

4EI provide Applied Earth Intelligence and analytics. We gather evidence-based intelligence about the earth, using data collected through sophisticated space assets.

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