Contributing to Satellite Earth Observation

By Laura Nichol
March 2012

The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing recently received the 2011 William T. Pecora Award for its outstanding contributions to satellite earth observation.
Drawing of Radarsat-2 orbiting the Earth

Radarsat-2 orbiting the Earth
Photo credit: MD Robotics Ltd

High above the Earth’s atmosphere satellites are orbiting, continuously recording data gathered from electromagnetic energy radiating off the earth’s surface. Data collected from optical and microwave wavelengths allow scientists to track changes to the earth’s surface.

Since 1971, Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan’s) Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) has been contributing to the development of observation technology and its applications, providing information for environmental monitoring, community planning and emergency response.

Recognizing its long history of achievements, the U.S. Department of the Interior and NASA recently honoured CCRS with the 2011 William T. Pecora Award.

The award acknowledges CCRS’s significant contributions to global remote sensing technology and applications. “The technical, scientific, and policy contributions of CCRS are without parallel for such a small organization,” reads the award citation. “As a national remote-sensing program, CCRS’ experience, productivity, and efficiency have resulted in numerous countries using them as a model.”

Scientific and Technical Contributions

Tom Loveland, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, describes CCRS’s international impact on remote sensing technology. “CCRS sparked the community early on by providing trained professionals and conducting the research that led to the early methodologies that everyone adopted,” says Tom. “You can trace a lot of the innovations all the way back to CCRS.”

Map of the flood extent on the Red River, Manitoba on May 2, 2011

Within about three to four hours of retrieving satellite imagery, CCRS provides emergency response mapping products to federal departments, municipalities and provincial emergency measures organisations

For example, CCRS began the work that led to the development of the first civilian multi-beam radar sensor sent into space. Known as RADARSAT-1, the satellite used a technology called C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to retrieve information about the Earth’s surface during the night and through atmospheric obstructions such as clouds.  

In addition to technology development, CCRS has pioneered various remote sensing-based applications to monitor environmental changes occurring on the Earth’s surface. These applications can track natural disasters such as forest fires, flooding, and oil spills, as well as subtle shifts in sea ice, vegetation cover and water resources. Monitoring of these events from space has significantly enhanced the world’s capacity for environmental stewardship and emergency response. 

Key to CCRS’s success at home and abroad has been collaboration, both domestically and internationally. “As a relatively small organization, CCRS has focused on scientific excellence and collaboration with academia, industry and other countries to leverage our own work, and to access other nations’ capacities,” says Doug Bancroft, the Director General of CCRS.

Remote Sensing Today and for the Future

Photo of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, Inuvik, Northwest Territories

In 2010, CCRS inaugurated the most northern satellite station facility in Canada, the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility, located above the Arctic Circle.
Copyright of Terry Halifax Photography

Today, CCRS continues to contribute to the earth observation community. They provide new satellite data from their growing ground station infrastructure and manage commercial satellite data sharing among their partners in Canada and abroad. At the same time, they ensure that data from new international satellite missions are useful for addressing Canada’s priorities.

New projects in the works include the development of spaceborne techniques to support the implementation of a world-class environmental monitoring system of Alberta oil sands development. As well, CCRS is monitoring land surface dynamics of the vast northern territories, evaluating the impacts of climate change on terrain stability and ecosystem integrity.

For more information on CCRS, visit NRCan’s “Canada Centre for Remote Sensing” web page.

To access remote sensing, earth observation, spatial referencing and photographic products and services from provided by NRCan, visit our “Satellite and Photographic Imagery” web page.


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