"Remote sensing” is a general term for monitoring techniques that collect information without being in physical contact with the object of study. Overhead imagery from aircraft and satellite sensors provides the most common form of remotely sensed data and records the interaction of electromagnetic energy (usually visible light) with matter, such as the Earth’s surface.
Remotely sensed data are fundamental to geographic science. The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Eastern Geographic Science Center (EGSC) is currently conducting and promoting the research and development of several different aspects of remote sensing science in both the laboratory and from overhead instruments. Spectroscopy is the science of recording interactions of energy and matter and is the bench science for all remote sensing. Visible and infrared analysis in the laboratory with special instruments called spectrometers enables the transfer of this research from the laboratory to multispectral (5–15 broad bands) and hyperspectral (50–300 narrow contiguous bands) analyses from aircraft and satellite sensors. In addition, mid-wave (3–5 micrometers, µm) and long-wave (8–14 µm) infrared data analysis, such as attenuated total reflectance (ATR) spectral analysis, are also conducted. ATR is a special form of vibrational infrared spectroscopy that has many applications in chemistry and biology but has recently been shown to be especially diagnostic for vegetation analysis.