Sentinel imagery can be thought of as Europe’s equivalent of Landsat imagery. It is freely available just like Landsat imagery, but higher resolution. Today we are having a look at how to process it in order to view it in Google Earth with the help of GIMP.
Before we begin, if you intend to work with Sentinel imagery a lot, then first have a look at GeoSage’s Spectral Transformer for Sentinel-2 Imagery, as that makes the process extremely easy and adds some additional features that we simply cannot accomplish with GIMP. The only downside is it is not a free product.
In addition, the European Space Agency (ESA), provides a free tool called SNAP for processing Sentinel imagery, but we have not yet managed to figure out how to use it to get imagery into Google Earth.
Obtaining the imagery
The best way we have found for getting Sentinel imagery is from Amazon Web Services (AWS). The first step is to find out what the tile code is for the area you are interested in. To do this, download this KML file, which shows the tiles and tile codes. In our case we were interested in a landslide that occurred near Glacier Bay, Alaska on 28th June, 2016. This turned out to be tile 08VLL. The next step is to go to this page on AWS and find the data for your chosen tile. So in our case, select ‘8’ which represents the ’08’ in the tile name, next select ‘V’ and finally ‘LL’. Then you choose the date you are interested in, in year – month – day order. Imagery is captured about once a week, but it can vary by location. In our case, the only image so far captured after the event of interest was captured on July 11th, 2016. Finally click on the ‘0’ as there is typically only one image for a given day. You should now see a list of files available, and for a standard colour image you only need B02.jp2, B03.jp2 and B04.jp2. Download them by clicking on the links. Each one is about 85 MB.
The imagery can also be obtained here, which provides the imagery in a format suitable for use with SNAP, but the downloads are typically 5 to 6 GB as they include a large area and all the colour bands.
Converting to jpg
The Sentinel imagery is provided in a format known as JPEG 2000 with file extension “.jp2”. Although the JPEG 2000 standard was created in 2000, it hasn’t been very popular and not many programs support it. We believe GIMP has partial support, but it was not able to open the Sentinel imagery. So, we used a free image viewing program called Irfanview to do the conversion. Simply open the files in Irfanview then save them again as “.jpg”. Other free converters exist such as OpenJPEG and ImageMagick, both of which are command line converters.
Combining the colour bands
The next step is to open all three images in GIMP – open one first, then add the others as layers by dragging them into the ‘layers’ pane. To combine them into a single image, select
Colors->Components->Compose. Choose RGB as the colour model and select B04 as the red channel, B03 as the green channel and B02 as the blue channel. This will open a new GIMP window with the three layers combined into a single image. It may still look a bit colourless at this stage. Now select
Colors->Levels. In the popup window click the ‘auto’ button, then click ‘OK’. The colours should now look a lot better.
At this point our image looked like this:
Glacier Bay, Alaska, Copernicus Sentinel data, 2016.
Note that the image doesn’t fill the whole square and it is actually only part of a much larger image. However, even this piece is larger than we actually want. So, we cropped the image to the area we were interested in, then exported it as a “.jpg”.
Importing into Google Earth
When you use GeoSage’s Spectral Transformer for Sentinel-2 Imagery, as mentioned earlier, the resulting image contains the geographical coordinates and it can simply be drag and dropped into Google Earth Pro. However, our method above does not include any geolocation information, so it must be manually positioned. Open Google Earth, navigate to the approximate location the image was captured then add an image overlay. In the image overlay properties select the file previously created with GIMP. Now adjust the transparency slider (found just below where you selected the image) to about half way, so you can see both the image you are adding and the Google Earth imagery behind it. The default settings allow you to rotate and adjust the size of the image overlay, but force it to remain a rectangle. However, our Sentinel image is typically not exactly rectangular, so go to the ‘location’ tab in the overlay’s properties window and click ‘Convert to LatLngQuad’. This changes the way you adjust the overlay so that you can now move each corner individually. It can be a little difficult to get it just right, but patience usually pays off in the end. Moving each corner adjusts the whole image and puts out of alignment parts that had already been aligned. You need to look for easily recognisable features as close as possible to each corner then match up the overlay with the Google Earth imagery at each corner in turn and repeat several times until they all match. Once you are done positioning it, put the transparency slider back to the right, so that the overlay is no-longer see-through.
Once aligned, this is what our image looked like in Google Earth:
Glacier Bay, Alaska, Copernicus Sentinel data, 2016.
Zooming in to the location of the Landslide:
Landslide near Glacier Bay, Alaska, Copernicus Sentinel data, 2016.
We can also use Google Earth’s measuring tools to find that the area affect by the landslide is about 10 km in length.
To see the above image in Google Earth download this KML file. To get an idea of the size of the event, look at the northern edge of the overlay. There are two cruise ships visible, one in the Google Earth imagery and one in the Sentinel image. They look tiny in comparison to the landslide. If the landslide had gone into the water it could have caused a catastrophic tsunami.
[ Update: Also see this post for more on processing sentinel imagery. ]