28 February 2012

Here’s looking at you: remote sensing from space

Those eyes in the sky are seeing plenty. Researchers are finding more and more ways to use that data to solve the world’s great challenges and even save lives.

An article in the latest issue of The Scientist detailed several recent projects. Among them:

“With funding from NASA, Frank Muller-Karger, director of the Institute for Marine Remote Sensing at the University of South Florida, and his colleagues purchased more than 1,400 Landsat 7 images acquired between 1999 and 2003 in order to outline and classify the world’s shallow-reef ecosystems. Completed in 2007, the Millennium Coral Reef Mapping Project produced the first uniform map of all the coral reefs around the world at a 30-meter-pixel resolution. The United Nations’ World Conservation Monitoring Centre is now refining the map in order to use it for global conservation efforts.”

The information the team has gathered is also useful for fish and wildlife managers and others with interests in monitoring ocean water quality. Muller-Karger is one of the authors of a paper to be presented next month at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing in Baltimore on new products using satellite data for monitoring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

A recent article in the SPIE Newsroom detailed another USF team’s work in monitoring the Deepwater spill. See images from their work here:

The Scientist article also describes using tracking of ocean temperatures off the Horn of Africa and of greening vegetation inland that enabled prediction and control of an outbreak of deadly Rift Valley fever in Kenya, Somalia, and Tanznaia; studies of the impact of invasive goats and vegetation on native birds and plants in Hawai’i; and a chance study of ocean grazing halos with valuable applications in managing fish stocks.

There are some common threads throughout these stories. One of them is NASA, in the news this week in connection with a new book by Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson, who also is an advisor to NASA and other space organizations, and next year will host the revived television series “Cosmos.”

Tyson wants people in general to get excited about space exploration, and would like to see increased funding for NASA programs along with that. But part of his ultimate goal isn’t about space research in particular. Just as space exploration accelerated science and technological progress during the so-called “space race” of the 1960s, Tyson sees scientific exploration and discovery as the driver for progress in the 21st century.

“The nations that embrace innovation in science and technology are the ones who will lead the world,” he said in an interview posted yesterday in the Cosmic Log. Noting the many spin-offs from spaceflight -- from satellite weather forecasting to to Tang and Teflon -- he said, "Spin-offs are great, but that's not even what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a culture that wants to dream about tomorrow, and make tomorrow happen today.”

And, he noted in an interview on The Daily Show last night, “Scientists and engineers are the ones who enable tomorrow to happen today.”