Airborne remote sensing for geology and the environment; present and future

Bulletin 1926

Edited by:
Ken Watson and Daniel H. Knepper



In 1988, a group of leading experts from government, academia, and industry attended a workshop on airborne remote sensing sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and hosted by the Branch of Geophysics. The purpose of the workshop was to examine the scientific rationale for airborne remote sensing in support of government earth science in the next decade. This report has arranged the six resulting working-group reports under two main headings: (1) Geologic Remote Sensing, for the reports on geologic mapping, mineral resources, and fossil fuels and geothermal resources; and (2) Environmental Remote Sensing, for the reports on environmental geology, geologic hazards, and water resources. The intent of the workshop was to provide an evaluation of demonstrated capabilities, their direct extensions, and possible future applications, and this was the organizational format used for the geologic remote sensing reports. The working groups in environmental remote sensing chose to present their reports in a somewhat modified version of this format. A final section examines future advances and limitations in the field.

There is a large, complex, and often bewildering array of remote sensing data available. Early remote sensing studies were based on data collected from airborne platforms. Much of that technology was later extended to satellites. The original 80-m-resolution Landsat Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) has now been largely superseded by the 30-m-resolution Thematic Mapper (TM) system that has additional spectral channels. The French satellite SPOT provides higher spatial resolution for channels equivalent to MSS. Low-resolution (1 km) data are available from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's AVHRR system, which acquires reflectance and day and night thermal data daily. Several experimental satellites have acquired limited data, and there are extensive plans for future satellites including those of Japan (JERS), Europe (ESA), Canada (Radarsat), and the United States (EOS).

There are currently two national airborne remote sensing programs (photography, radar) with data archived at the USGS' EROS Data Center. Airborne broadband multispectral data (comparable to Landsat MSS and TM but involving several more channels) for limited geographic areas also are available for digital processing and analysis. Narrow-band imaging spectrometer data are available for some NASA experiment sites and can be acquired for other locations commercially.

Remote sensing data and derivative images, because of the uniform spatial coverage, availability at different resolutions, and digital format, are becoming important data sets for geographic information system (GIS) analyses. Examples range from overlaying digitized geologic maps on remote sensing images and draping these over topography, to maps of mineral distribution and inferred abundance.

A large variety of remote sensing data sets are available, with costs ranging from a few dollars per square mile for satellite digital data to a few hundred dollars per square mile for airborne imaging spectrometry. Computer processing and analysis costs routinely surpass these expenses because of the equipment and expertise necessary for information extraction and interpretation. Effective use requires both an understanding of the current methodology and an appreciation of the most cost-effective solution.

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USGS Numbered Series
Airborne remote sensing for geology and the environment; present and future
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U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
xiii, 43 p.