Fundamentals of Remote Sensing
As we learned in the section on sensors, each one was designed with a specific purpose. With optical sensors, the design focuses on the spectral bands to be collected. With radar imaging, the incidence angle and microwave band used plays an important role in defining which applications the sensor is best suited for.
Each application itself has specific demands, for spectral resolution, spatial resolution, and temporal resolution.
To review, spectral resolution refers to the width or range of each spectral band being recorded. As an example, panchromatic imagery (sensing a broad range of all visible wavelengths) will not be as sensitive to vegetation stress as a narrow band in the red wavelengths, where chlorophyll strongly absorbs electromagnetic energy.
Spatial resolution refers to the discernible detail in the image. Detailed mapping of wetlands requires far finer spatial resolution than does the regional mapping of physiographic areas.
Temporal resolution refers to the time interval between images. There are applications requiring data repeatedly and often, such as oil spill, forest fire, and sea ice motion monitoring. Some applications only require seasonal imaging (crop identification, forest insect infestation, and wetland monitoring), and some need imaging only once (geology structural mapping). Obviously, the most time-critical applications also demand fast turnaround for image processing and delivery - getting useful imagery quickly into the user's hands.
In a case where repeated imaging is required, the revisit frequency of a sensor is important (how long before it can image the same spot on the Earth again) and the reliability of successful data acquisition. Optical sensors have limitations in cloudy environments, where the targets may be obscured from view. In some areas of the world, particularly the tropics, this is virtually a permanent condition. Polar areas also suffer from inadequate solar illumination, for months at a time. Radar provides reliable data, because the sensor provides its own illumination, and has long wavelengths to penetrate cloud, smoke, and fog, ensuring that the target won't be obscured by weather conditions, or poorly illuminated.
Often it takes more than a single sensor to adequately address all of the requirements for a given application. The combined use of multiple sources of information is called integration. Additional data that can aid in the analysis or interpretation of the data is termed "ancillary" data.
The applications of remote sensing described in this chapter are representative, but not exhaustive. We do not touch, for instance, on the wide area of research and practical application in weather and climate analysis, but focus on applications tied to the surface of the Earth. The reader should also note that there are a number of other applications that are practiced but are very specialized in nature, and not covered here (e.g. terrain trafficability analysis, archeological investigations, route and utility corridor planning, etc.).
Multiple sources of information
"Multitemporal information" is acquired from the interpretation of images taken over the same area, but at different times. The time difference between the images is chosen so as to be able to monitor some dynamic event. Some catastrophic events (landslides, floods, fires, etc.) would need a time difference counted in days, while much slower-paced events (glacier melt, forest regrowth, etc.) would require years. This type of application also requires consistency in illumination conditions (solar angle or radar imaging geometry) to provide consistent and comparable classification results.
The ultimate in critical (and quantitative) multitemporal analysis depends on calibrated data. Only by relating the brightnesses seen in the image to physical units, can the images be precisely compared, and thus the nature and magnitude of the observed changes be determined.