In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science with the aim to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in science. Today, women remain under-represented in the fields of science – less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women.
At EUMETSAT, as the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment from space, and CLS, a subsidiary of the French Space Agency CNES specialized in deploying innovative space-based solutions to understand and protect our planet, science is in our DNA.
Cristina Martin Puig, a remote sensing scientist at EUMETSAT and Sylvie Labroue, head of the Performance & Valorization of Space Observations unit at CLS are both heavily involved in the Sentinel-6 mission, a collaborative Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring the Earth as well as its oceans, and just one of the collaborations between EUMETSAT and CLS.
Implemented and co-funded by the European Commission, ESA, EUMETSAT, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the support of the French Space Agency (CNES), Sentinel-6 is the future reference precise ocean altimetry mission and is currently returning the most precise data ever on sea level.
Experts in the field of Altimetry, Cristina and Sylvie met with us to talk about what it means to be a woman in science.
Thank you, Cristina and Sylvie, for joining us. Could you tell us a little about what you do at EUMETSAT and CLS?
Cristina: I’m an electrical engineer who ended up doing science thanks to a Master’s in physics. I’m at EUMETSAT as a remote sensing scientist working in altimetry and more precisely on Sentinel-6.
Sylvie: I’m head of the Performance and valorization of space observations unit at CLS. My main mission is to develop our activities, validating altimetry products which means checking that the data are correct, alerting space agencies when something happens on the platform, being present when problem is solved, but also understanding the main sources of uncertainties affecting the data. A large part of my job is also to train the new generation. CLS, is one of the biggest altimetry laboratories in the world and so experience is often gained here.
What would you say is a woman in science today?
Cristina: I would say a brave person, to begin with because it can feel strange in a male dominated environment. However, women are becoming more motivated in science now. When I joined my electrical engineering course, and this is something I’ll never forget, there were only 5 women in a class of 90. But nowadays, at least in Barcelona, around 20% of those in engineering classes are women which is a big change compared to my time. I must say though, that at EUMETSAT there are about 50% of women in altimetry and I feel very comfortable here.
Sylvie: yes it’s the same for us at CLS, in my unit in terms of numbers we’re 50/50 and it’s something that I keep an eye on. I’m very attentive because it’s more interesting to have a balance.
Cristina: Even looking at the Sentinel-6 mission as a whole, at EUMETSAT there are a large number of women working on this mission, starting with the Ocean Altimetry Program Manager and the Marine Competence Area Manager, who are both women.
Sentinel-6 will soon become the new altimetry reference mission. What does Sentinel-6 represent in your everyday work?
Cristina: EUMETSAT’s core business is Weather and Climate forecasting. EUMETSAT has been distributing ocean altimetry data since Jason-2 to its member states and world wide for climate monitoring, and for ocean and weather forecasting. Sentinel-6 is the continuation of the Jason series. It will soon become the reference mission. The involvement of EUMETSAT in this mission has expanded compared to its predecessors. In S6 EUMETSAT not only distributes the Altimetry data, but it also operates the satellite and processes the data from its headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany.
Sylvie: CLS is involved in the Sentinel-6 mission in a variety of ways: as the processing chain development that is a key element to deliver products to all users. CLS team has been deeply involved during the past year in the commissioning phase, supporting EUMETSAT and our parent company, the French Space Agency. The adventure now continues with quality assessment of this precious data set, but also producing higher level altimetry products for EUMETSAT. CLS, as part of the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) and Copernicus Global Land Service (CGLS) is currently working to integrate the mission in these European services, so that sea level, wind and wave observations but also water level on river and lakes can be widely exploited by operational applications and scientists.
The Mean Sea Level, calculated from altimetry satellites is a key and irrefutable indicator of global warming. What does Sentinel-6, as the future reference mission, bring to the world of science?
Cristina: Sentinel-6, and any altimetry mission for that matter, are unique solutions to provide very accurate sea level trends and as well a unique solution, unfortunately, to reveal its alarming rise which is non negligible. So, it’s a vital satellite.
Sylvie: I would add to that it is a technological revolution that began with Sentinel-3 only a few years ago. It’s the transition between the old technology and the new. Not only will Sentinel-6 bring better knowledge in terms of the climate but also in hydrology. Its latest generation altimeter will be able to measure with surgical precision, not only the variations in ocean levels and circulation, but also lakes and rivers. Sentinel-6 will also be able to take measurements closer to the coast too, so not only will it improve the accuracy of measurements but also the geographical extent of the data.
How do EUMETSAT and CLS collaborate with each other?
Cristina: We have an important collaboration with CNES, CLS’s parent company, and through this collaboration, CLS provides a lot of support in instruments and product quality assessment.
Sylvie: Through the support we provide for both the Sentinel 3 & 6 missions, we’ve really learnt to work well together. There is a lot of respect on both sides. I find it really interesting for a constructive exchange that in the end benefits to science.
Finally, in your opinion, is it easier to collaborate between women in science?
Cristina: Of course! Women need to support each other. I really get on well with women. In fact, nowadays, my contact point at CNES is also a woman, Claire Maraldi. We’re in touch on a weekly basis, to check all the mean outcomes of the Cal/Val data, measure satellite issues – if any, and honestly, I have a great relationship with her. It is a pleasure to work with her.
The glass ceiling has already been broken at both CLS and EUMETSAT as already many scientists and managers are in fact women. For them, talent, knowledge and expertise are not based on gender.
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