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Fundamentals of Remote Sensing - Introduction

What is Remote Sensing?

So, what exactly is remote sensing? For the purposes of this tutorial, we will use the following definition:

"Remote sensing is the science (and to some extent, art) of acquiring information about the Earth's surface without actually being in contact with it. This is done by sensing and recording reflected or emitted energy and processing, analyzing, and applying that information."

In much of remote sensing, the process involves an interaction between incident radiation and the targets of interest. This is exemplified by the use of imaging systems where the following seven elements are involved. Note, however that remote sensing also involves the sensing of emitted energy and the use of non-imaging sensors.

Remote Sensing Process

1. Energy Source or Illumination (A) - the first requirement for remote sensing is to have an energy source which illuminates or provides electromagnetic energy to the target of interest.

2. Radiation and the Atmosphere (B) - as the energy travels from its source to the target, it will come in contact with and interact with the atmosphere it passes through. This interaction may take place a second time as the energy travels from the target to the sensor.

3. Interaction with the Target (C) - once the energy makes its way to the target through the atmosphere, it interacts with the target depending on the properties of both the target and the radiation.

4. Recording of Energy by the Sensor (D) - after the energy has been scattered by, or emitted from the target, we require a sensor (remote - not in contact with the target) to collect and record the electromagnetic radiation.

5. Transmission, Reception, and Processing (E) - the energy recorded by the sensor has to be transmitted, often in electronic form, to a receiving and processing station where the data are processed into an image (hardcopy and/or digital).

6. Interpretation and Analysis (F) - the processed image is interpreted, visually and/or digitally or electronically, to extract information about the target which was illuminated.

7. Application (G) - the final element of the remote sensing process is achieved when we apply the information we have been able to extract from the imagery about the target in order to better understand it, reveal some new information, or assist in solving a particular problem.

These seven elements comprise the remote sensing process from beginning to end. We will be covering all of these in sequential order throughout the five chapters of this tutorial, building upon the information learned as we go. Enjoy the journey!

Did you know?

direct contact with the source of information

Of our five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch), three may be considered forms of "remote sensing", where the source of information is at some distance. The other two rely on direct contact with the source of information - which are they?

Whiz quiz

acquiring information at a distance

Can "remote sensing" employ anything other than electromagnetic radiation?    The answer is ...

Whiz quiz - Answer

While the term 'remote sensing' typically assumes the use of electromagnetic radiation, the more general definition of 'acquiring information at a distance', does not preclude other forms of energy. The use of sound is an obvious alternative; thus you can claim that your telephone conversation is indeed 'remote sensing'.

acquiring information at a distance

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