Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon, without making physical contact with the object. In modern usage, the term generally refers to the use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth (both on the surface, and in the atmosphere and oceans) by means of propagated signals (e.g. electromagnetic radiation emitted from aircraft or satellites).
Applications of remote sensing data
1. Conventional radar is mostly associated with aerial traffic control, early warning, and certain large scale meteorological data. Doppler radar is used by local law enforcements’ monitoring of speed limits and in enhanced meteorological collection such as wind speed and direction within weather systems. Other types of active collection includes plasmas in the ionosphere. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar is used to produce precise digital elevation models of large scale terrain (See RADARSAT, TerraSAR-X, Magellan).
2. Laser and radar altimeters on satellites have provided a wide range of data. By measuring the bulges of water caused by gravity, they map features on the seafloor to a resolution of a mile or so. By measuring the height and wave-length of ocean waves, the altimeters measure wind speeds and direction, and surface ocean currents and directions.
3. Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) is well known in examples of weapon ranging, laser illuminated homing of projectiles. LIDAR is used to detect and measure the concentration of various chemicals in the atmosphere, while airborne LIDAR can be used to measure heights of objects and features on the ground more accurately than with radar technology. Vegetation remote sensing is a principal application of LIDAR.
4. Radiometers and photometers are the most common instrument in use, collecting reflected and emitted radiation in a wide range of frequencies. The most common are visible and infrared sensors, followed by microwave, gamma ray and rarely, ultraviolet. They may also be used to detect the emission spectra of various chemicals, providing data on chemical concentrations in the atmosphere.
5. Stereographic pairs of aerial photographs have often been used to make topographic maps by imagery and terrain analysts in trafficability and highway departments for potential routes.
6. Simultaneous multi-spectral platforms such as Landsat have been in use since the 70’s. These thematic mappers take images in multiple wavelengths of electro-magnetic radiation (multi-spectral) and are usually found on Earth observation satellites, including (for example) the Landsat program or the IKONOS satellite. Maps of land cover and land use from thematic mapping can be used to prospect for minerals, detect or monitor land usage, deforestation, and examine the health of indigenous plants and crops, including entire farming regions or forests.
7. Within the scope of the combat against desertification, remote sensing allows to follow-up and monitor risk areas in the long term, to determine desertification factors, to support decision-makers in defining relevant measures of environmental management, and to assess their impacts.