Major GNSS project to boost potential for 'satellite' farming in Brazil

Precision agriculture 445 x 124
29 May 2018 15:15:00.000

The University of Nottingham is working with Brazilian and EU partners to solve atmospheric interference problems that hamper satellite-based positioning in equatorial countries like Brazil. 

The research network will support the advancement of precision agriculture, which aims to make crop farming practices cheaper, greener and more efficient, using satellite positioning and remote sensing*. 

These technologies rely on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) - such as the US GPS (Global Positioning System) and the new European equivalent, Galileo - to obtain centimetre-accurate coordinates on Earth. 

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Farmers then use this real-time precise data to optimise fertiliser use, to steer driverless machinery and for soil mapping to maximise crop production in a bid to feed an ever-rising world population. 

Despite its revolutionary potential, precision agriculture adoption rates in countries on equatorial regions such as Brazil are hindered by specific phenomena in the earth’s upper atmosphere (the ionosphere), known as ionospheric scintillation.  

Ionospheric scintillation affects the integrity, availability and accuracy of satellite positioning. Specifically, it causes interference with the propagation of satellite signals as they pass through the ionosphere, making it difficult for GNSS receivers to lock onto satellites and track their signals. This results in not only large errors but at times to complete service outages. 

"The strong signal fluctuations that characterise ionospheric scintillation are caused by the irregular behaviour of the ionosphere that is typical of the equatorial latitudes, affecting most of the Brazilian territory, hence the importance of the bi-lateral collaboration in the PEARL network," explains project leader, Dr Marcio Aquino from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute at the University. 

The PEARL network, which is funded by the European Commission’s INCOBRA project, aims to tackle this problem head on to ensure high accuracy positioning by satellite is robust and achievable in real time in Brazil. 

"Solutions arising from the research will have a positive impact not only in Brazil but in the whole of Latin America, due to its geographical location near the equator and corresponding disruptive ionospheric effects. 

"It could play a pivotal role in promoting the uptake of satellite-based positioning and the broad acceptance of the new EU system Galileo, paving the way for service implementation in other similarly affected parts of the world, such as southern China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia," Dr Aquino adds. 

Research and industrial partners from both Europe and Brazil will come together on the seven-month initiative to develop strategies to map the causes of ionospheric scintillation and specialised algorithms to model and mitigate their effects on satellite-based positioning. These strategies will be part of a large Brazil-EU collaborative proposal to be submitted to the forthcoming H2020 SPACE-EGNSS call due out in October 2018. 

Network members include small to medium enterprises in Europe and Brazil that are keen to incorporate new solutions that will improve their satellite-based services. 
The PEARL network encompasses:   
1.    University of Nottingham, UK; Sao Paulo State University and Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso, Brazil   
2.    National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology and SpacEarth Technology (an SME), Italy   
3.    Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland   
4.    Three SMEs:  Geo++, Germany and Alezi Teodolini and MC Engenharia Ltd, Brazil   

Notes to editors:   
The European Commission funds the INCOBRA project to increase and enhance Research and Innovation cooperation activities between Brazil and the European Union. PEARL is one of INCOBRA’s bilateral R&I cooperation networks, led by the University of Nottingham, addressing one of INCOBRA’s priority areas, namely Bio-economy, Food security and sustainable agriculture. 
*According to the latest issue of the GSA GNSS market report (issue 5, 2017), revenue for GNSS device sales in precision agriculture will grow to nearly €3bn by 2025, quadrupling from €750m in 2013 (based on GNSS receiver sales to just this market segment). 

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Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Marcio Aquino, in the Nottingham Gespatial Institute, at the University of Nottingham on 0115 95 13878 or

Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager

Email:  Phone: +44 (0)115 846 7156  Location: University Park

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