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Geoinformatics - Remote sensing | 12th Geography : Chapter 6 : Geoinformatics

Chapter: 12th Geography : Chapter 6 : Geoinformatics

Remote sensing

Remote sensing is an integrated discipline encompassing some branches of arts, science and technology of collecting information about the terrestrial objects using camera and sensor system.

Remote sensing

Remote sensing is an integrated discipline encompassing some branches of arts, science and technology of collecting information about the terrestrial objects using camera and sensor system.


Elements of Remote Sensing

1. Energy Source

The primary requirement for remote sensing is to have an energy service, which provides electromagnetic energy to the target of interest. The sun being a major source of energy, radiation and illumination having a sharp power allows capturing reflected light with conventional cameras and films.

2. Radiation and the Atmosphere

The energy is required to illuminate the target. This energy is in the form of Electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation is a dynamic form of energy that propagates as wave motion at a velocity in space.

3. Interaction with the target

The interaction of Electromagnetic radiation with the target is important to remote sensing for two main reasons. First, information carried Electromagnetic radiation reflected by the earth’s surface is modified while traversing through the atmosphere. Second, the interaction of Electromagnetic radiation with the atmosphere can be used to obtain useful information about the atmosphere itself. The total energy is subjected to modification by the several physical process, scattering, absorption and refraction. Scattering is the re-direction of Electromagnetic radiation by particles suspended in the atmosphere or by large molecules of atmospheric gases. The amount of scattering depends upon the size of the particles and their abundance. The wave length of radiation, depth of the atmosphere through which the energy is travelling. Absorption is the process by which the gas molecules present in the atmosphere strongly absorb the Electromagnetic radiation through the atmosphere in certain spectral bands.

4. Recording of energy by the sensor

After the energy has been scattered by or emitted from the target, we require a sensor (remote not in contact with the target) to collect and record the electromagnetic radiation. A sensor is highly sensitive to all the wave lengths yielding spatially detailed data on absolute brightness. On the basis of the source of electromagnetic energy, the sensor can be classified into two ways. They are active sensor or passive sensor. Active sensor generates and uses its own energy to illuminate the target and records the reflected energy. It operates in the microwave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Their wave lengths are longer than 1 mm.

5. Transmission, Reception and Processing

The energy recorded by the sensor has to be transmitted in electronic form, to a receiving and processing station where the data processed into an image. The Image processing methods may be grouped into three functional categories such as Image Restoration, Image Enhancement and Information Extraction.

Image Restoration: Restoration processes are designed to recognize and compensate for errors, noise and geometric distortion introduced into the data during the scanning transmission and recording processes. The objective is to make the image resemble the original scene. Image restoration is relatively simple because the pixels from each band are processed separately.

Image Enhancement: Enhancement is the modification of an image, to alter its impact on viewer. General enhancement distorts the original digital values; therefore enhancement is not done until the restoration processes are completed.

Information extraction: Image restoration and enhancement process utilize computers to provide corrected and improved images for study by human interpreters. The computer makes no decision in these procedures. The human operator must instruct the computer and must evaluate the significance of the extracted information.

6. Interpretation and Analysis Image interpretation is defined as the act of examining images to identify objects and judge their significance. An interpreter studies remotely sensed data and attempts through logical process to detect, identify, measure and evaluate the significance of environment and cultural object pattern and spatial relationship.

The quality of an image is based on the inherent characteristics of the objects. Further it depends on the following aspects.

* Sensor characteristics

* Season of the year, time of the day when the photo is taken

* Atmospheric effects

* Resolution of the image

* Image motion etc

Image interpretation is essential for the efficient and effective use of the data. The elements of image interpretation such as image tone, shape, size, pattern, image texture, shadow and association are helpful to identify the exact target and to analyse.


Classification of remote sensing

On the basis of the sources of electromagnetic energy, the remote sensing can be classified as passive and active remote sensing. In a simple way, we can understand that the passive remote sensing is similar to taking a picture with an ordinary camera where as active remote sensing is analogous to taking picture with camera having built-in flash.

On the basis of the energy source, the active remote sensing generates and uses its own energy to illuminate the target and records the reflected energy where as the passive remote sensing depend on solar radiation to illuminate the target. On the basis of region of spectrum in which they operate, the active remote sensing operate in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum where as the passive remote sensing operate in the visible and infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The wave lengths of the active remote sensing are longer than 1 where as the passive remote sensing, the wave length range from 0.4 to 1.0 mm.

Some examples of active sensors are Fluorosensor and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). Passive sensors record radiation reflected from the earth's surface. The source of this radiation must come from outside the sensor; in most cases, this is solar energy. Because of this energy requirement, passive solar sensors can only capture data during daylight hours. Active sensors are different from passive sensors. Unlike passive sensors, active sensors require the energy source to come from within the sensor. A laser-beam remote sensing system is an active sensor that sends out a beam of light with a known wavelength and frequency. This beam of light hits the earth and is reflected back to the sensor, which records the time it took for the beam of light to return.

Remote sensing platform

The platform is a stage to mount the camera or sensor to acquire the information about a target under investigation. Based on the altitude above the earth surface, the platform can be classified as Ground borne platform, Air borne platform and Space borne platform.

Ground borne platform

Ground based platforms sensors may be placed on a ladder, scaffolding tall-building, crane etc. These are used to record detailed information about the surface which is compared with information collected from aircraft or satellite sensors. They are close to the ground.

A wide variety of ground based platforms are used in remote sensing. Some of the more common ones are hand held devices, tripods, towers and cranes. Instruments that are ground-based are often used to measure the quantity and quality of light coming from the sun or for close range characterization of objects Permanent ground platforms are typically used for monitoring atmospheric phenomenon although they are also used for long-term monitoring of terrestrial features.

Air borne platform

Aircrafts are generally used to acquire aerial photographs for photo interpretation and photogrammetric purposes. They are classified into two types. They are

* Low altitude aerial remote sensing

* High altitude aerial remote sensing


Balloons are used for remote sensing observation (aerial photography) and nature conservation studies. The first aerial images were acquired with a camera carried aloft by a balloon in 1859. Balloon floats at a constant height of about 30 km.


Drone is a miniature remotely piloted aircraft. It is designed to fulfil requirements for a low cost platform, with long endurance, moderate payload capacity and capability to operate without a runway or small runway. Drone includes equipment of photography, infrared detection, radar observation and TV surveillance. It uses satellite communication link. An onboard computer controls the payload and stores data from different sensors and instruments. The unique advantage is that it could be accurately located above the area for which data was required and capable to provide both night and day data.


The first known aerial photograph was taken in 1858 by French photographer and balloonist, Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as "Nadar". In 1855 Special aircraft with cameras and sensors on vibration less platforms are traditionally used to acquire aerial photographs and images of land surface features. While low altitude aerial photography results in large scale images providing detailed information on the terrain, the high altitude smaller scale images offer advantage to cover a larger study area with low spatial resolution.

Space borne platform

The satellites are normally used for the space borne remote sensing. The satellite moves in their orbit. The closed path of a satellite around the earth is called its orbit. These platforms are freely moving in their orbit around the earth and the entire earth or any part of the earth can be covered at specified intervals. The coverage mainly depends on the orbit of the satellite. It is through these space borne platforms, we get the enormous amount of remote sensing data. In space borne remote sensing, sensors are mounted on-board a spacecraft (space shuttle or satellite) orbiting the earth. Space borne remote sensing provides the following advantages:

1. Large area coverage.

2. Frequent and repetitive coverage of an area of interest.

3. Quantitative measurement of ground features using radio metrically calibrated sensors.

4. Semi automated computerised processing and analysis.

5. Relatively lower cost per unit area of coverage.


Types of satellite

Satellite orbits are designed according to the capacity and objective of the sensors they carry. Depending on their altitude, orientation and rotation relative to the earth satellites can be categorized as

1. Geostationary satellite

2. Polar Orbiting or Sun-Synchronous satellite

3. Spy satellite

1. Geostationary Satellites

Geostationary Satellite is an equatorial west to east satellite orbiting the earth at an altitude of 35000 km, the altitude at which it makes on revolution in 24 hours. These platforms are covering the same place and give continuous near hemispheric coverage over the same area day and night. These satellites are put in equatorial plane orbiting from west to east. Its coverage is limited to 70°N to 70°S latitudes and one satellite can view one-third globe. These are mainly used for communication and meteorological applications viz. GOES, METEOSAT, INTELSAT, and INSAT satellites. On June 19, 1981 India launched its first geostationary satellite called APPLE. It was an experimental communication satellite launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

APPLE being tested on a bullock cart

The Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE) was ISRO's first indigenous, experimental communication satellite.

India is the only one country which has reached to the mars in its first attempt.

2. Polar Orbiting or Sun-Synchronous satellite

As the satellite orbits the Earth from pole to pole, its east-west position would not change if the Earth did not rotate. However, as seen from the Earth, it seems that the satellite is shifting westward because the Earth is rotating (from west to east) beneath it. This apparent movement allows the satellite swath to cover a new area with each pass. All the remote sensing resource satellites may be grouped in this category. Few of these satellites are LANDSAT series, SPOT series, IRS series, NOAA SEASAT, TIROS, HCMM, SKYLAB, and SPACE SHUTTLE etc.

3. Spy satellites

Spy satellites are observational platforms that orbit the Earth in order to image its surface and to record radio signals for military and political purposes. They transmit their data to Earth, where it is interpreted by specialists in centralised, secretive facilities such as the U.S. National Photographic Interpretation Centre in Washington, D.C. Spy satellites have been essential not only to military operations and the formation of national policy but to the verification of arms control treaties such as SALT I, SALT II, etc.

The four basic types of spy satellite are: (1) photo reconnaissance systems that take pictures in visible and infrared light, (2) infrared telescopes designed to detect missile launches, (3) radars that image sea or land even through cloud cover and in darkness, and (4) signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites (also termed "ferrets"), which are optimised either for characterising ground-based radar systems or for eavesdropping on communications. Sometimes photo reconnaissance and SIGINT functions are combined in single, massive platforms such as the U.S. Keyhole-series satellites.

Although a number of nations have launched spy satellites, the U.S. and the Soviet Union are responsible for by far the greatest number. The Russian Federation, which inherited most of the Soviet Union's space system after 1991, has been unable to afford the cost of adequately updating its spy satellite network. In contrast, the U.S. has continued to deploy ever-more-sophisticated systems in a steady stream. Thus, the majority of spy satellites in orbit today, including all the most capable units, are U.S.-owned. Early U.S. Spy Satellites: Corona, MIDAS, SAMOS.

The Gaofen 4 is the world's most powerful GEO spy satellite (launched in 2015) which can provide instant coverage of earthquake or typhoon hit areas to support humanitarian relief. It will also allow China to monitor strategic foreign sites such as WMD facilities and naval bases inside its observation box.


Applications of remote sensing

1. Agriculture

The satellites have ability to image individual fields, regions and countries on a frequent revisit cycle. Customers can receive field-based information including crop identification, crop area determination and crop condition monitoring (health and viability). Satellite data are employed in precision agriculture to manage and monitor farming practices at different levels.

2. Forest Management

The forest - fire, sudden deforestation, encroachment of forest- land are recent challenges to the ecologist. It can be easily identified and curbed with the help of remote sensing satellite pictures.

3. Geology

Various fields Remote sensing techniques used in geology are

*  Lithological mapping

* Structural mapping

* Geomorphological mapping

* Mineral exploration

* Hydrocarbon exploration

* Sedimentationmapping and monitoring

* Geo-hazard mapping


NASA launches world's lightest satellite designed by 18-year-old Tamil Nadu student.

India once again broke a global space record by launching the world's lightest satellite weighing a mere 64 grams, called Kalamsat. It was designed and developed not by professional space scientists and engineers, but by 18-year-old Tamil Nadu student Rifath Sharook and his team. The tiny satellite, named after Abdul Kalam, was flown by a NASA sounding rocket on 22 June, 2017 and Kalamsat was the only Indian payload in the mission. Mission director Srimathy Kesan that the total flight time of the rocket was 240 minutes. The satellite, assembled at her T.Nagar residence in Chennai. The satellite was separated from the rocket after spending 125 minutes in the space's micro-gravity environment. Sharook’s project, the first to be manufactured via 3D printing, got selected through a competition, ‘Cubes in Space', sponsored jointly by NASA and 'I Doodle Learning'. The project aims to take the performance of new technology to space.

4. Oceanography

Satellite remote sensing plays an important role in coastal zone management. It allows us to locate and regularly monitor various aspects such as bathymetry (the measurement of the depth of water in water bodies), chlorophyll content, suspended sediment concentration, etc.

5. Cartography

Remote sensing aids in extensive surveys that are made from high altitudes to show the urban development, rural development, mountain areas, deserts, etc which help the cartographers. High-resolution satellite cameras located at altitudes of several hundred kilometres can record details as small as a few metres on the surface of the Earth.

6. Meteorology

The radar system is basically used to collect the weather data. It collects meteorological data from unmanned land/ ocean based Data collection platforms and serves as a communication satellite for rapid exchange of meteorological data among centres and for rapid dissemination of weather forecasts warnings etc, to user agencies.

7. Topography

Topography specifically involves the recording of relief or terrain, the three-dimensional quality of the surface, and Acousc Telemetry Tsunameter Anchor the identification of specific landforms. Topographic maps usually portray both natural and manmade features. They show and name works of nature including mountains, valleys, plains, lakes, rivers, and vegetation. They also identify the principal works of man, such as roads, boundaries, transmission lines, and major buildings.

8. Urban Planning

These information systems also offer interpretation of physical (spatial) data with other socio- economic data, and thereby providing an important linkage in the total planning process and making it more effective and meaningful. Digitization of planning base maps has facilitated updating of base maps wherever changes have taken place in terms of land development etc. Superimposition of any two digital maps which are on two different scales is feasible.

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