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Remote Sensing - an overview

Remote Sensing (RS) is the science and art of acquiring information (spectral, spatial, temporal) about material objects, area, or phenomenon, without coming into physical contact with the objects, or area, or phenomenon under investigation. Without direct contact, some means of transferring information through space must be utilised. In remote sensing, information transfer is accomplished by use of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). EMR is a form of energy that reveals its presence by the observable effects it produces when it strikes the matter. EMR is considered to span the spectrum of wavelengths from 10-10 mm to cosmic rays up to 1010 mm, the broadcast wavelengths, which extend from 0.30-15 mm.

Types of Remote Sensing
In respect to the type of Energy Resources
  • Passive Remote Sensing: Makes use of sensors that detect the reflected or emitted electro-magnetic radiation from natural sources.
  • Active Remote Sensing: Makes use of sensors that detect reflected responses from objects that are irradiated from artificially-generated energy sources, such as radar.
In respect to Wavelength Regions
Remote Sensing is classified into three types in respect to the wavelength regions
  • Visible and Reflective Infrared Remote Sensing
  • Thermal Infrared Remote Sensing
  • Microwave Remote Sensing
Bands Used in Remote Sensing
Emission of EMR (Electo-Magnetic Radiation) from gases is due to atoms and molecules in the gas. Atoms consist of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons, which have discrete energy states. Transition of electrons from one energy state to the other leads to emission of radiation at discrete wavelengths. The resulting spectrum is called line spectrum. Molecules possess rotational and vibrational energy states. Transition between which leads to emission of radiation in a band spectrum. The wavelengths, which are emitted by atoms/molecules, are also the ones, which are absorbed by them. Emission from solids and liquids occurs when they are heated and results in a continuous spectrum. This is called thermal emission and it is an important source of EMR from the viewpoint of remote sensing.

The Electro-Magnetic Radiation (EMR), which is reflected or emitted from an object, is the usual source of Remote Sensing data. However, any medium, such as gravity or magnetic fields, can be used in remote sensing.

Remote Sensing Technology makes use of the wide range Electro-Magnetic Spectrum (EMS) from a very short wave "Gamma Ray" to a very long 'Radio Wave'.

Wavelength regions of electro-magnetic radiation have different names ranging from Gamma ray, X-ray, Ultraviolet (UV), Visible light, Infrared (IR) to Radio Wave, in order from the shorter wavelengths.

The optical wavelength region, an important region for remote sensing applications, is further subdivided as follows:



Name Wavelength (mm)
Optical wavelength
Reflective portion (i) Visible
(ii) Near IR
(iii) Middle IR
Far IR (Thermal, Emissive)
0.30-15.0
0.38-3.00 0.38-0.72
0.72-1.30
1.30-3.00
7.00-15.0
Microwave region (1mm to 1m) is another portion of EM spectrum that is frequently used to gather valuable remote sensing information.

Spectral Characteristics vis--vis different systems
The sunlight transmission through the atmosphere is effected by absorption and scattering of atmospheric molecules and aerosols. This reduction of the sunlight's intensity s called extinction.

One cannot select the sensors to be used in any given remote-sensing task arbitrarily; one must instead consider
  • the available spectral sensitivity of the sensors,
  • the presence or absence of atmospheric windows in the spectral range(s) in which one wishes to sense, and
  • the source, magnitude, and spectral composition of the energy availabe in these ranges.
  • Ultimately, however, the choice of spectral range of the sensor must be based on the manner in which the energy interacts with the features under investigation.
Energy Interactions, Spectral Reflectance and Colour Readability in Satellite Imagery
All matter is composed of atoms and molecules with particular compositions. Therefore, matter will emit or absorb electro-magnetic radiation on a particular wavelength with respect to the inner state. All matter reflects, absorbs, penetrates and emits Electro-magnetic radiation in a unique way. Electro-magnetic radiation through the atmosphere to and from matters on the earth's surface are reflected, scattered, diffracted, refracted, absorbed, transmitted and dispersed. For example, the reason why a leaf looks green is that the chlorophyll absorbs blue and red spectra and reflects the green. The unique characteristics of matter are called spectral characteristics.


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