Why remote sensing? Sure there’s something odd about satellites looking down on us everyday, a bit unsettling from a socio-political perspective. But from an ecological perspective, its a game changer, in a very good way.

Since the 1970s, NASA has been recording the earths surface at a resolution of about 1km. Thats large enough to see landscape change, but too blurry to see humans moving around.

And what can we see with these images? How about glaciers melting in the Northern Hemisphere, and glaciers expanding in the Southern Hemisphere. Or the landscape change in the region you grew up in as a kid.

It gets really interesting when you start tweaking the light spectra that you are viewing. You get the ability to tell the difference between different types of vegetation (different plants reflect different wavelengths of light). It also gives you the ability to see surface temperature as well as soil moisture. And that’s crucial for studying landscapes and how they are changing in response to climate change.

Satellite image data over a period of 45 years, around the globe, with a frequency that spans from 1/month to 1/day. Incredible.

And knowing how to work with these images using open-source software? Even better.

This book is going on my wishlist: “Remote sensing and GIS for ecologists: using open source software.” Edited by Martin Wegmann, Benjamin Leutner & Stefan Dech, Pelagic Press 2015.

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