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What is remote sensing and what is it used for?

Remote sensing is the process of detecting and monitoring the physical characteristics of an area by measuring its reflected and emitted radiation at a distance from the targeted area. Special cameras collect remotely sensed images of the Earth, which help us "sense" things about the Earth. Some examples are:

  • cameras on satellites and airplanes take images of large areas on the Earth's surface, allowing us to see much more than we can standing on the ground.
  • sonar systems on ships can be used to create images of the ocean floor without needing to travel to the bottom of the ocean.
  • cameras on satellites can be used to make images of temperature changes in the oceans.

Some specific uses of remotely sensed images of the Earth include:

  • large forest fires can be mapped from space, allowing rangers to see a much larger area than from the ground.
  • tracking clouds to help predict the weather or watch erupting volcanos, and help watch for dust storms.
  • tracking the growth of a city and changes in farmland or forests over several years or even decades.
  • mapping the ocean bottom - Discovery and mapping of the rugged topography of the ocean floor (e.g., huge mountain ranges, deep canyons, and the “magnetic striping” on the ocean floor).

Learn more:

USGS Land Remote Sensing Program

USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center

USGS Remote Sensing Science Topics

Tags: Aerial Photography, Remote Sensing, Landsat, Satellites, Photographs, Imagery, Lidar