What is Remote Sensing?

April 8, 2013

Hi, I’m Emerald Robinson, and in this “What is” Video, we’ll try to answer the question, “What is remote sensing?”

Remote sensing is any technique used to gather information about an object that does not require touching the object. Remote sensing can be done with devices either on the ground, or on ships, planes, or even satellites.

There are two parts to remote sensing. First, devices record radiation like light or heat from an object or area, and, second, this data is analyzed to determine what it means. For simplicity, we can divide all of the devices used in remote sensing into two groups.

In passive remote sensing, technology is used to record an object’s natural radiation. An infrared camera on a tripod that records heat coming from a rock formation or an airplane flying over a rainforest that registers the sunlight reflected from the forest’s canopy are examples of passive remote sensing.

Active remote sensing takes place when a device sends out a signal in order to gather information about an object. A ship that sends sonar waves to scan the ocean floor uses active remote sensing, as do satellites that monitor hurricanes.

Although you may not realize it, you benefit from the results of remote sensing almost every day. Meteorologists count on it to help generate weather forecasts, police use it to catch speeding cars, and geologists use it to create maps of all kinds. A special type of remote sensing called Light Detection and Ranging, or, LIDAR is a type of active remote sensing that uses lasers. LIDAR is used by everyone from farmers to help fertilize their crops to engineers, who use it to help them survey the land.

In fact, you are using a type of passive remote sensing right now. Human eyes and ears capture light and sound waves, and allow us to detect information about an object without touching it.

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