Italian Vineyard Mixes Satellite, Aerial Imagery To Monitor Harvest

By | February 6, 2006 | Feature, Government, Telecom

Part of Frascati’s Controlled Origin Denomination — "Denominazione d’Origine Controllata" or DOC in Italian, a wine’s legally demarcated home region — was surveyed before and after the October harvest using airborne and satellite imagery under a European Space Agency (ESA) program.

The Bacchus-Doc effort, intended to use earth observation and GIS technology to improve European wine quality, used the aerial imagery to compliment data provided by a mix of commercial and government imagery satellites, including the French Spot system, Landsat imagery from the U.S. government, ESA’s European Remote-Sensing Satellite-2 (ERS-2), Digitalglobe‘s Quickbird satellite and the Ikonos spacecraft now operated by Geoeye.

The study, which covered a 24.5-square kilometer area, is intended to determine to what extent the airborne and satellite radar imagery is sensitive to vineyard surfaces and the change in biomass following the grape harvest. With global competition growing, the hope is to develop tools that combine aerial and satellite imagery with geographic information system (GIS) technology in support of vineyard management and improving wine quality.

The processed data of the area near Rome now is being studied by a team from ESRIN, ESA’s European Centre for Earth Observation, which is located within the area of study, and Rome’s Tor Vergata University. "We have been demonstrating the potential use of satellite radar imagery from ERS and Envisat for correlating the radar signal with the vineyard biomass, and in particular the grape biomass," Luigi Fusco of ESRIN, said in a statement. "The early results — applying detailed geographical information gathered on the area during previous projects — have shown that this correlation exists, and this detailed analysis is proving worthwhile."

The study is being overseen by ESA’s dedicated Campaigns Unit, along with Tor Vergata personnel, who performed accompanying ground measurements, and the German Aerospace Center, which operated its Experimental Synthetic Aperture Radar (E-SAR) aboard a customized Dornier-228 flown out of nearby Ciampino Airport. The airborne radar, which captures imagery with a resolution of 4 meters, provided a means to simulate results expected to be provided by future space-based instruments.

The initial flight took place Oct. 5, with a second mission conducted Oct. 25 following the harvest. Highly radar-visible corner reflectors were placed within the area of interest to act as reference points. The precise aircraft route was tracked using GPS backed up by an onboard inertial navigation system. "The SAR image acquisitions were accompanied by contemporary ground measurements on the vineyards," Domenico Solimini, a professor at the university, said. "An extensive survey identified the general conditions of vegetation and of the terrain in a wide area of the Frascati wine production zone. For the second overflight, when the grapes had been harvested, the parameters of stable structures were the same, so only the variable elements were monitored, such as leaves, weeds, roughness and moisture of the terrain."

The main scientific objective of Bacchus-Doc was to investigate the sensitivity of the radar in measuring grape biomass, as well as gather additional data that could be used for inventorying and characterizing vineyards, such as vine rows, spacing, orientation and vineyard borders. The potential to estimate local soil roughness and moisture also is being assessed.

ESRIN was selected for the study because a dedicated GIS has been constructed for this DOC area as part of a European Commission-funded project called Bacchus. While Bacchus has been completed, a follow-on project called DiVino is extending the capabilities of the Frascati GIS. The part-EC-funded DiVino research consortium is made up of public and private bodies from four wine producing countries – Italy, France, Spain and Portugal – with participants covering different aspects of vine cultivation and marketing. Within Italy the participants include the Frascati DOC consortium, which represents some 700 local grape producers and wine makers.

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