Conservation Technology – Mapping our environment using the Carnegie Airborne Observatory

Remote sensing was recently on stage at TEDGlobal 2013, where Greg Asner highlighted how advanced technology can be leveraged for improved conservation of our natural environment.

Asner, a scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, believes that “technology is absolutely critical to managing our planet, but even more important is the understanding and wisdom to apply it.”

In his TED talk, Asner illustrates how data acquired from hyperspectral and lidar instruments on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory can be used to generate kaleidoscopic 3D maps of natural ecosystems in unprecedented detail. These maps, which define data layers such as the biodiversity landscape and carbon geography, provide crucial knowledge that is necessary to make more informed conservations decisions.

Greg Asner: Ecology from the air (13:50)

For more information on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory:

Conservation Remote Sensing – Inviting you to get involved

Blue MarbleThe Conservation Remote Sensing Working Group (CRSWG) is extending an open invitation to join their growing community and participate in advancing conservation efforts through remote sensing.

Are you passionate about conservation? Are you experienced in remote sensing? Do you have ideas on how remote sensing and geospatial data can be better incorporated into conservation management and planning? Have you developed a new image analysis tool that will benefit the conservation community? If you’ve answered yes to any or all of these questions, then the CRWSG is interested in your input.

The mission of CRSWG is “to increase conservation effectiveness through enhanced integration of remote sensing technologies in research and applications.” Under the leadership of Dr. Robert Rose from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the CRSWG focuses on four key themes that are critical for fostering effective conservation:

Research and Collaboration – “Greater collaboration amongst remote sensing scientists and practitioners will create a critical link between the novel and visionary work of remote sensing scientists and the on-the-ground experience of conservation practitioners.”

Capacity Development – Improved education and awareness “will allow conservationists around the globe to broaden their understanding of applied remote sensing, gain skill sets needed for finding, processing and analyzing remotely sensed data and associated products, and develop an understanding of remote sensing that allows them to integrate remote sensing into conservation.”

Best Practices – “A series of standards and recommendations” are needed “for the best use of remote sensing for conservation applications…, focusing on data collection, generation and integration, validation, models and remote sensing-derived products, as well as application of new technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Communications – “The goal is to curate and share critical information, both inward, to the conservation remote sensing community, and outward, communicating to the broader conservation community and others who may be interested in the applications of remote sensing for conservation.”

To learn more, or better yet to join the group, just follow this link, or visit Google Groups and search for “Conservation Remote Sensing”, and then select “Apply to join group”.

HySpeed Computing is participating in this community and encourages you to add your voice to the discussion.

INSAT-3D Successfully Launched – India’s newest weather satellite

Ariane 5 Liftoff

Ariane 5 liftoff from European Spaceport in French Guiana (source: Arianespace)

This week Arianespace achieved yet another successful satellite launch from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. On this occasion, in a visually spectacular daytime launch, two new satellites – Alphasat and INSAT-3D – were delivered into orbit utilizing a heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket.

The larger of the two satellites, Alphasat, with a liftoff mass of 6,650kg, represents Europe’s largest ever telecommunications satellite. Built through a partnership between the European Space Agency and Inmarsat, its primary purpose is to expand Inmarsat’s mobile network, which provides communication services across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The other satellite included in the launch, INSAT-3D, while smaller in comparison, is still a sizeable instrument, with a liftoff mass of 2060kg and measuring about the size of a small car. INSAT-3D is the latest generation weather satellite developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which will reside in geostationary orbit, some 36,000 km above the Indian Ocean.

While the deployment of Alphasat is significant and highly valuable, our focus here is on the geosciences and Earth observing systems; hence, let’s explore the capabilities of INSAT-3D in more detail. Building on the past success of India’s previous geostationary weather satellites, KALPANA-1 and INSAT-3A, the INSAT-3D mission incorporates many significant technologic advances. The satellite carries four main instruments as its core components:

  • Imaging System. This is a six-channel multispectral imaging system, which will provide repeat images of the Earth disk every 26 minutes. The spectral channels include: visible, short-wave infrared, two mid-wave infrared, and two thermal infrared bands. Example output products from the imager include: sea surface temperature, snow cover, fire, smoke, quantitative precipitation estimation and tropical cyclone intensity and position.
  • Atmospheric Sounding System. This is a nineteen-channel atmospheric sounding system, which will provide vertical profiles of temperature, humidity and integrated ozone. The spectral channels include one visible band and eighteen short-wave infrared, mid-wave infrared, and long-wave infrared bands. Example output products include: temperature and humidity profiles, ozone, wind index, and total perceptible water.
  • Data Relay Transponder. This instrument receives and relays important meteorological, hydrological and oceanographic data measured at remote Data Collection Platforms. Data is transmitted to centralized processing centers where the information is utilized to assist with weather forecasting operations.
  • Search and Rescue Transponder. This is a key component in satellite aided search and rescue, whereby the instrument receives and relays signals from maritime, aviation and land-based distress beacons to the Indian Mission Control Centre. The region covered by this service includes large areas of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

In the coming weeks the ISRO Master Control Facility will perform orbit maneuvers and testing of the onboard instruments. Once complete, INSAT-3D will be transitioned into operational status. We wish them great success with their ongoing efforts.

For more information on INSAT-3D:

Highlights from VISualize 2013 – Connecting the remote sensing community

VISualize 2013 is an annual conference hosted by Exelis Visual Information Solutions, and co-sponsored by HySpeed Computing, that brings together thought leaders in the geosciences to discuss the latest trends in remote sensing. The focus this year was on “Connecting the Community to Discuss Global Change and Environmental Monitoring.”

With more than 20 presentations and ample discussion throughout, it was an insightful and very informative conference. Some highlights from VISualize 2013 include:

  • Jim Irons (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) presented a summary of the Landsat 8 mission, including details on data distribution, sensor specifications, measurement capabilities, and new band designations. He also noted that responsibility for the instrument was officially shifted from NASA to USGS on 30 May 2013, signifying completion of all on-orbit checkouts and the initiation of public data dissemination. Currently more than 20,000 images are already available for users to download.
  • Mark Braza (U.S. Government Accountability Office) described the use of propensity score analysis to estimate the effectiveness of land conservation programs. The approach utilizes statistical analysis to identify control groups from amongst land areas associated with, but not included in, established conservation projects, and then leverages these control areas as a means to assess the relative impact of land conservation efforts.
  • Nasser Olwero and Charles Huang (World Wildlife Fund) summarized objectives of the Global Impact Award that WWF recently received from Google. In this project WWF will be using state-of-the-art technology, specifically animal tracking tags, analytical software that optimizes ranger patrolling, and airborne remote sensing, to reduce the impact of animal poaching and protect valuable species like elephants, rhinos and tigers.
  • Matthew Ramspott (Frostburg State University) presented findings from a study using Landsat data to assess wetland change along the Louisiana coast. A key aspect of the analysis was the methodology used to automatically delineate the land/water interface. Results demonstrate the value of using remote sensing to monitor long-term change in coastal wetlands and assess impact from storm damage, flood management decisions and rising sea levels.
  • Robert Rose (Wildlife Conservation Society) outlined the top 10 conservation challenges that can be addressed using remote sensing. The list of challenges result from a NASA funded workshop in early 2013, and are defined according to 10 general themes: species distribution and abundance; species movement and life stages; ecosystem properties and processes; climate change; fast response; protected areas; ecosystem services; conservation effectiveness; land cover change and agricultural expansion; and degradation and disturbance regime. In each theme the objective is to focus on achievable conservation outcomes with clear pathways for putting technology into practice.
  • Robert Rose also spoke about the revitalization of the Conservation Remote Sensing Working Group (CRSWG), which aims to encourage discussion around four main topic areas: research and collaboration; capacity development; communications; and best practices. To join the conversation, just look for CRSWG on Google Groups and contact the group admin to get involved.

Interested in more information on these and other speakers? Exelis VIS will soon be posting copies of all the VISualize 2013 presentations to their website. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone again next year at VISualize 2014.

World Wildlife FundAs thanks to WWF for opening its doors to VISualize, Exelis VIS and HySpeed Computing proudly contributed donations to WWF on behalf of the speakers. Pictured from left to right: Matt Hallas (Exelis VIS), Nasser Olwero (WWF), Charles Huang (WWF) and James Goodman (HySpeed Computing).

Coral Reef Remote Sensing – A new book for coral reef science and management

Coral Reef Remote SensingAnnouncing publication of “Coral Reef Remote Sensing: A Guide for Mapping, Monitoring and Management”, edited by Dr. James Goodman, president of HySpeed Computing, and his colleagues Dr. Sam Purkis from Nova Southeastern University and Dr. Stuart Phinn from University of Queensland.

This ground breaking new book explains and demonstrates how satellite, airborne, ship and ground based imaging technologies, collectively referred to as “remote sensing”, are essential for understanding and managing coral reef environments around the world.

The book includes contributions from an international group of leading coral reef scientists and managers, demonstrating how remote sensing resources are now unparalleled in the types of information they produce, the level of detail provided, the area covered  and the length of the time over which they have been collected.  When used in combination with field data and knowledge of coral reef ecology and oceanography, remote sensing contributes an essential source of information for understanding, assessing and managing coral reefs around the world.

The authors have produced a book that comprehensively explains how each remote sensing data collection technology works, and more importantly how they are each used for coral reef management activities around the world.

In the words of Dr. Sylvia Earle – renowned scientist and celebrated ocean explorer:

This remarkable book, Coral Reef Remote Sensing: A Guide for Mapping, Monitoring and Management, for the first time documents the full range of remote sensing systems, methodologies and measurement capabilities essential to understanding more fully the status and changes over time of coral reefs globally. Such information is essential and provides the foundation for policy development and for implementing management strategies to protect these critically endangered ecosystems.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to scientists, students, managers, remote sensing specialists, and anyone who would like to be inspired by the ingenious new ways that have been developed and are being applied to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges: how to take care of the ocean that takes care of us.

If it had been available in 1834, Charles Darwin would surely have had a copy on his shelf.

We invite you to explore the book (including a sneak peek inside the chapters) and see how you can put the information to use on your own coral reef projects.

Rockets in the Rainforest – ESA deploys three new satellites from its spaceport in French Guiana

ESA Proba-V

Proba-V (artist rendition; courtesy ESA)

Earlier this week, on a rainy night at the European Spaceport located along the tropical coast of French Guiana, the Vega launch vehicle successfully rocketed into space and completed its mission of deploying three new satellites into orbit.

This was just the second deployment of Vega, representing a momentous occasion for both the European Space Agency and Arianespace – the company operating the launch – and marking another significant step forward in the commercial transition of launch operations.

Also celebrating the Vega launch were the teams behind the three satellites deployed during the mission. These include:

  • Proba-V. From the European Space Agency, Proba-V was the primary payload of the Vega mission. The “V” stands for vegetation, and the satellite is designed as a follow-on mission to the vegetation imagers included on the French Spot-4 and -5 satellites. Proba-V contains a moderate-resolution four-band multispectral instrument capable of mapping complete global vegetation cover once every two days.
  • VNREDSat-1A. Representing the first Earth observing satellite from Vietnam, this is a high-resolution five-band imager (four multispectral bands and one panchromatic) designed for monitoring and managing natural resources, assessing the impacts of climate change, and improving response to natural disasters.
  • ESTCube-1. This represents the very first satellite from Estonia. ESTCube-1 is a CubeSat built primarily by students at the University of Tartu. Its main scientific objective is to deploy and test an electric solar wind sail, a novel method of space propulsion.

You may ask why the European Spaceport, aka Guiana Space Center, is located in the equatorial rainforest of South America, which upon first consideration may seem like an unlikely location. The answer is that the Spaceport’s location has some significant advantages. First and foremost, its location near the equator makes the Spaceport ideal for launching satellites into geosynchronous orbit, and given the higher rotational speed of the planet near the equator, this also lends efficiency to the launch process (i.e., saving fuel and money). Second, the region is relatively unpopulated and not at risk from earthquakes or hurricanes, thereby significantly reducing risk from any unforeseen disasters. The European Spaceport also has a rich launch history extending back nearly 50 years. Originally established by France in 1964, the Spaceport has been used by the European Space Agency since its founding in 1975.

With all this talk lately about new satellites, it may also seem like space is starting to get crowded. It is! The issue isn’t necessarily all the new satellites being launched, but rather all the derelict space debris that remains in orbit. To address this issue, there has been significant international discussion lately to develop debris removal plans. While such an endeavor is certainly going to be costly and logistically difficult, space cleanup is a necessary step towards ensuring the integrity of current and future satellites.

But for now let’s celebrate the success of these latest satellite missions and make sure the data is put to good use.

Accessing The Oceans – See how Marinexplore is connecting users with a world of data

Are you working on an oceanographic or marine related project where you need to identify and access the many data resources available for your study area? Marinexplore is now making this process easier than ever.

As with many fields of research, the realm of ocean science includes a staggering volume of data that has already been collected, and continues to be collected, by different organizations and government entities around the world. While there is a general movement throughout science towards improved data availability, greater standardization of data formats, and increased adoption of data interoperability standards, efficiently searching and accessing all of this data can still be a cumbersome task.



To address this challenge, Marinexplore has created a centralized resource for the ocean science community to quickly access multiple data sources from a single framework. Using an interface built on top of Google Maps, users can easily search from amongst the many available data collections, select relevant data for a particular project, and download the resulting dataset in a single file. Not only does this cut down on search time, it also simplifies a number of data integration and preprocessing steps. Users can also save, store and share created datasets, as well as collaborate with other users.

So how does it work? Marinexplore currently has access to more than 1.2 billion in situ measurements. This predominantly includes publically available data that has been acquired from ocean instruments, such as buoys, drifters, fixed platforms, and ships, as well as products generated from satellite sensors. Data access is a free service, but users must first register with Marinexplore to set up an account. Users can then create up to three datasets per day, where the size is initially limited to no more than 5 million measurements per dataset, but with options to significantly expand this limit to 25 million measurements per dataset (and beyond) by referring other users.

Marinexplore reportedly also has plans to expand functionality of its system, such as providing an API (Application Programming Interface) for developing specialized applications, functionality for data streaming, and the ability to run oceanographic models. But these features have yet to be added. For now Marinexplore is focused on establishing a user community and delivering data to interested users.

So go check out the data, and see what’s available for you to use on your next project.

For more information on Marinexplore:

The NEON Science Mission – Open access ecological data

NEONInterested in assessing the ecological impacts of climate change? How about investigating the complex dynamics of ecological response to land use change and invasive species? What types of data would you need to perform such research at regional and continental scales? These are just some of the ambitious science questions being addressed by NEON – the National Ecological Observatory Network.

Sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, NEON is an integrated network of 60 sites located throughout the U.S. where infrastructure is being put in place to collect a uniform array of scientific data. The hypothesis is that by providing consistent measurements and observations across the U.S., scientists will be better able to answer critical questions related to environmental change. Originally conceived in 1997, and followed by many years of planning, NEON entered its construction phase in 2012. Current plans are for the network to be fully operational in 2017, and for data from NEON to be collected for 30 years.

The 60 NEON sites encompass the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Sites were selected to represent a diverse range of vegetation communities, climate zones, land types, and land-use categories. The current list of NEON data products to be collected at each site include over 500 different entries, including both field and remote sensing observations. Items range from as detailed as genetic sequences and isotope analyses of field samples to as broad as temperature and wind speed measurements from meteorological instruments. Additionally, in what has become a welcome trend within the community, NEON data is being distributed using an open access policy.

Of particular interest to the remote sensing community is that NEON includes an Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) that will be used to collect digital photography, imaging spectroscopy data, and full-waveform LiDAR data. To accommodate the geographic distribution of NEON sites, this same suite of remote sensing instrumentation will be deployed on three different aircraft. Note that remote sensing data collection, as well as testing and validation of analysis protocols, has already begun and preliminary data is available upon request.

Given its scope, it is clear that the data and information derived from the NEON project will have a profound impact on our understanding of the natural environment and our ability to assess ecological change.

For more information on NEON:

The German EnMAP Satellite – Open data access for the community

EnMAPCurrently orbiting the Earth is an international collection of satellite instruments, both government and commercial, designed for measuring and observing our planet. The applications are as varied as the number of satellites, and then some, with new capabilities being developed every day. Soon to be included in this impressive mix of technology is EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program) – a new hyperspectral satellite from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) scheduled for launch in 2015.

EnMAP builds on decades of successful research by remote sensing scientists around the world in the field of hyperspectral imaging, also known as imaging spectroscopy or imaging spectrometry. Unlike traditional multispectral sensors, which measure select subsets of the electromagnetic spectrum, hyperspectral sensors provide contiguous measurements of the entire spectrum. This typically equates to measuring more than 100-200 bands, rather than the usual 4-20 bands measured by multispectral systems. As a result, hyperspectral imaging allows scientists to analyze not just individual bands, or combinations of bands, but a multi-band profile of the full spectrum. This is equivalent to analyzing a curve rather than just points on a curve, thereby providing significantly more data with which to derive information about our planet.

The EnMAP sensor will measure a total of 242 bands from 420-2450nm, at a spatial resolution (ground sampling distance) of 30m. The instrument will have a pointing range of +/- 30°, allowing greater flexibility with respect to the location on the Earth’s surface that can be measured during any particular orbit. The sensor’s swath width on the ground will be 30km, and the system will be capable of measuring 1000km of data per orbit and 5000km of data per day.

Of great significance to the scientific community is that the EnMAP mission is embracing an open data policy, which means imagery will be made freely available for scientific use. The same policy is also being used for the currently available EnMAP simulated data, which allows researchers to develop and test EnMAP applications prior to instrument launch. Another notable aspect of the mission is the creation of EnMAP-Box, a platform-independent software tool being developed specifically for processing EnMAP imagery. The software will allow users to easily visualize and process EnMAP imagery using a suite of standard algorithms, as well as incorporate new user-contributed custom processing modules. It is admirable to see this level of community involvement embedded throughout the EnMAP mission.

The 2015 launch date might seem like it’s far away, but from the perspective of a satellite mission the date is just around the corner. Go EnMAP!

For more details on the EnMAP mission:

NASA Earth Science Today – A look at current satellites


Earth from far above (image courtesy NASA)

Presently orbiting the Earth are a complex international array of satellites, providing services for navigation, communication, astronomy, security, and weather. Amongst these are also satellites dedicated to monitoring the environment in which we live, including our atmosphere, land and oceans. A previous post examined NASA Earth observing satellites planned for launch in the coming years. Today we look at some of the many NASA satellites that are currently in orbit around our planet.

TERRA: The heft of this satellite may be surprising, close to the size of a small bus and weighing over 11,000-lbs at launch. With this size, however, come extensive capabilities. The Terra satellite, an international mission launched in 1999, contains five separate instruments: ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System), MISR (Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer), MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and MOPITT (Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere). Together these instruments provide a unique capacity to observe Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, snow, and ice, helping address questions related to climate variability and change, atmospheric composition, weather, and the water, carbon and energy cycles.

AQUA: This is a companion satellite to Terra, which, along with a collection of other existing and planned satellites, is an integral part of the multi-satellite Earth Observing System (EOS). Aqua was launched in 2002, and carries a total of six instruments: AIRS (Atmospheric Infrared Sounder), AMSU-A (Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit), HSB (Humidity Sounder for Brazil), AMSR-E (Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS), MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), and CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System). Aqua and Terra have different orbit characteristics; hence the presence of MODIS and CERES on both satellites allows the same type of imagery to be collected at different times of the day.

TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission): As would be expected from its name, the mission of this satellite is focused on measuring and understanding precipitation patterns in the tropics. The mission also provides information of tropical latent heating characteristics, which will help scientists better model the global energy budget. TRMM was launched 1997 and carries five instruments: PR (Precipitation Radar), TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager), VIRS (Visible and InfraRed Scanner), CERES (Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System), and LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor).

CloudSat: Unlike some of the other satellites, CloudSat carries a single instrument, the CPR (Cloud Profiling Radar). This instrument builds on the strong legacy of radar expertise at NASA, following the success of other instruments such as SRTM, SIR-A, SIR-B, SIR-C, QuickScat and SeaWinds. The CPR instrument on CloudSat, launched in 2006, measures the vertical profiles of clouds, providing valuable information on cloud structure and composition. Such data is a critical component in the study of climate and weather dynamics around the planet.

AURA: The four instruments aboard the Aura satellite, launched in 2004, are designed to examine Earth’s atmosphere. Measurements are targeted at better understanding trends in air quality, atmospheric composition, ozone distribution, and the climate. The instruments on Aura include: HIRDLS (High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder), MLS (Microwave Limb Sounder), OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument), and TES (Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer).

As evident from the above descriptions, a common theme among many of the Earth observing satellites is the co-location of multiple instruments on a single satellite platform. This is not only more efficient in terms of engineering, launch and management, but also facilitates the acquisition of multiple images from different types of instruments at the same time and place in orbit. Another theme is placing the same type instrument on different satellites, allowing image collection to be performed with more frequency. At the same time there are some satellites containing just one instrument with very specific measurement objectives. Together these satellites provide a multifaceted look at our planet that can be used to address a myriad of important science and societal questions.

For information on NASA’s satellite program, visit: