Other Sensors

sensorsThe three previous sections provide a representative overview of specific systems available for remote sensing in the (predominantly) optical portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. However, there are many other types of less common sensors which are used for remote sensing purposes. We briefly touch on a few of these other types of sensors. The information is not considered comprehensive but serves as an introduction to alternative imagery sources and imaging concepts.


Although coarser in spatial resolution than traditional photography or digital imaging, video cameras provide a useful means of acquiring timely and inexpensive data and vocally annotated imagery. Applications with these requirements include natural disaster management, (fires, flooding), crop and disease assessment, environmental hazard control, and police surveillance. Cameras used for video recording measure radiation in the visible, near infrared, and sometimes mid-infrared portions of the EM spectrum. The image data are recorded onto cassette, and can be viewed immediately.


Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR) systems operate in a similar manner to across-track thermal imaging sensors, but provide an oblique rather than nadir perspective of the Earth´s surface. Typically positioned on aircraft or helicopters, and imaging the area ahead of the platform, FLIR systems provide relatively high spatial resolution imaging that can be used for military applications, search and rescue operations, law enforcement, and forest fire monitoring.

Laser fluorosensor

Some targets fluoresce, or emit energy, upon receiving incident energy. This is not a simple reflection of the incident radiation, but rather an absorption of the initial energy, excitation of the molecular components of the target materials, and emission of longer wavelength radiation which is then measured by the sensor. Laser fluorosensors illuminate the target with a specific wavelength of radiation and are capable of detecting multiple wavelengths of fluoresced radiation. This technology has been proven for ocean applications, such as chlorophyll mapping, and pollutant detection, particularly for naturally occurring and accidental oil slicks.


Lidar is an acronym for LIght Detection And Ranging, an active imaging technology very similar to RADAR (see next paragraph). Pulses of laser light are emitted from the sensor and energy reflected from a target is detected. The time required for the energy to reach the target and return to the sensor determines the distance between the two. Lidar is used effectively for measuring heights of features, such as forest canopy height relative to the ground surface, and water depth relative to the water surface (laser profilometer). Lidar is also used in atmospheric studies to examine the particle content of various layers of the Earth´s atmosphere and acquire air density readings and monitor air currents.


RADAR stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. RADAR systems are active sensors which provide their own source of electromagnetic energy. Active radar sensors, whether airborne or spaceborne, emit microwave radiation in a series of pulses from an antenna, looking obliquely at the surface perpendicular to the direction of motion. When the energy reaches the target, some of the energy is reflected back towards the sensor. This backscattered microwave radiation is detected, measured, and timed. The time required for the energy to travel to the target and return back to the sensor determines the distance or range to the target. By recording the range and magnitude of the energy reflected from all targets as the system passes by, a two-dimensional image of the surface can be produced. Because RADAR provides its own energy source, images can be acquired day or night. Also, microwave energy is able to penetrate through clouds and most rain, making it an all-weather sensor. Because of the unique characteristics and applications of microwave remote sensing, Chapter 3 covers this topic in detail, concentrating on RADAR remote sensing.