Public Involvement Techniques
4.C.j - Remote Sensing Applications
What are Remote Sensing Applications (RSA)?
Remote Sensing Applications (RSA) refer to the combination of
hardware and software that allows for the processing of information
about land, water, or an object, without requiring any physical
contact between the sensor and the subject of analysis. The term
remote sensing most often refers to the collection of data by instruments
carried aboard aircraft or satellites. However, remote sensing is
also conducted through a land-based network of environmental sensing
stations maintained by a variety of federal, state, and local agencies.
Such remote sensing may track weather conditions, measurements of
air and water conditions and quality, or other specialty data. Remote
sensing applications are commonly used to survey, map, and monitor
the resources and environment. Examples of images taken from remote
sensing, organized by categories such as agriculture, human dimensions
(e.g., environmental impact, population), land surface, and oceans,
can be found at NASA's Visible Earth site, http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/.
There are several different types of remote sensing devices
and applications. Many systems take photographs with cameras,
recording reflected energy or images in the visible spectrum. Other
systems record electromagnetic energy beyond the range of human
sight, such as infrared radiation and microwaves. Still other systems
employ a network of distributed electro-mechanical sensors and a
central location for collecting, transforming, and summarizing the
remote sensor data.
RSAs are varied and include archeological research, geologic
investigations, mapmaking, meteorology, mining, volcanic activity,
oceanography, and atmospheric and aquatic studies. Once data
has been collected, verified, and stored, RSAs may be able to develop
summaries and trends for the subject of analysis or topic of interest.
For example, information about air quality for a metropolitan area
could be collected and summarized by specialized RSAs. The analysis
could provide information about compliance with federal air quality
standards and the range of feasible transportation projects for
that area. Another common use of RSA is photogrammetry or the science
of taking measurements from photographs or other types of images
to make physical maps, including topographic maps. The maps are
generally developed from photographs taken by a special camera on
Why is it useful?
RSA is valuable since it provides a means of collecting and
analyzing environmental data at low cost and relative convenience.
As a public involvement technique, RSA is useful to help the public
understand the past and current environmental conditions in a particular
study area or region. RSA also provides first-hand access to data
that may be used to help educate the public, build confidence in
other analytic methods, and foster a more active public role in
the project or plan development.
Does it have special uses?
Because of the potential large-scale coverage of RSA techniques,
the public is able to develop a firsthand appreciation of the macro
and micro environmental features of a study area which would not
have been possible until recently. Depending on the availability
of quality data, a RSA could be useful in the various stages of
a project, such as issue identification, development of options,
and the selection of a preferred course of action.
Who participates? And how?
RSA are usually developed and managed by agencies. However,
special interest groups may also use basic data from remote sensors
to analyze and summarize their findings. Data sources are becoming
increasingly available and without cost on public websites.
To conduct a remote sensor analysis, one needs access to the
data and the conditions under which the data was collected.
The data is then processed through specialized software, which has
been developed and tested by experts. The results are verified,
summarized, displayed, printed, and/or summarized for further interpretation
and use. A variety of these collection and analysis activities are
conducting between commercial firms and academic or non-profit organizations.
For example, ESRI (a private firm engaged in GIS systems) maintains
a Conservation Research Program that provides industry-academic-nonprofit
collaboration on a variety of environmental and community remote
sensing projects. These projects range from studies in conservation
biology to environmental justice assessments (e.g., http://www.conservationgis.org/links/justice.html.)
How do agencies use the output?
Products from RSAs are used in four primary ways:
- To educate the public about baseline environmental conditions
- To analyze and develop findings of community and environmental
impacts of a proposed plan or project;
- To assist in displaying or conveying complex environmental information;
- To obtain public comments or reactions.
What are the costs?
Because of the specialized nature of RSAs and the extent of
the sensing network, the costs can vary significantly. Some
data and information can be low cost because data and analyses are
available through specialized Internet sites. If analyses or findings
are not available, then RSAs may need to be developed to meet a
specific project need. Sometimes this expertise is available within
an agency. Consequently, the costs may vary from a few hundred dollars
to several thousands, depending on the objectives of the RSA, the
level of precision required, and the complexity and scope of the
sensing data and subsequent analysis.
How is it used with other techniques?
RSAs complement other environmental data collection techniques.
RSA is most effective when macroscale surveys of environmental data
are required and the hardware and software for data collection,
analysis, and reporting have been developed and verified. The data
and findings can be used to assist or augment other public involvement
techniques such as using reports and display materials to impart
a baseline knowledge of environmental conditions, identifying issues/concerns,
developing solution alternatives, selecting among alternatives,
and communicating/displaying data, information, and knowledge.
What are the drawbacks?
RSA techniques are relatively straightforward, but the complexity
of the process from sensing data to the communicating of findings
is highly complex and may not be "transparent" to a non-specialist.
This may create some issues of credibility and validity of the findings.
Also, the cost of RSAs may be relatively high, although increased
use of RSA during the past 20 to 30 years has helped to lower the
When is it used most effectively?
RSA are most effective when the technique is somewhat familiar
to the public, e.g., weather sensing, the analysis process is
relatively intuitive and straightforward, and the findings contribute
to additional understanding and interpretation of the issues or
discussion topics at hand.
For further information:
Aeronautic and Space Administration's Observatorium offers education
resources about remote sensing
Sensing Imagery: Making Sense Of Available Data"
||by Alex de Sherbinin,
Environment, Volume: 44 Number: January 1, 2002
Global Observing Strategy is a major partnership of data providers
and data users focused on atmospheric, oceanographic, and land-based
Earth provides an excellent array of imagery grouped conveniently
into categories such as agriculture, biosphere, human dimensions,
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).