What Is Remote Sensing?

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  • 0:01 What Is Remote Sensing?
  • 0:53 How Is Remote Sensing Used?
  • 2:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what remote sensing is, how it is used in geography, and give examples of remote sensing. A short quiz will follow.

What Is Remote Sensing?

Remote sensing is any method of collecting data about an object or location without making physical contact with it. For example, you can fly a satellite or aircraft over an area and use that to collect data. These days, there are so many satellites in space that it can be an extremely practical way of collecting data. It's also convenient because you can access areas, such as the rainforest, for example, that would be extremely hard to get to otherwise.

There are two main types of remote sensing. Passive sensing is where information is recorded just from the sunlight bouncing off objects. Active sensing is where the satellite or aircraft actually produces or beams a signal toward the object or land. Active sensing can involve laser beams or other electromagnetic waves.

How Is Remote Sensing Used?

There are many ways that remote sensing can be used - it can help collect a huge variety of data. Passive sensors include cameras (photos), infrared imagery, and radiometers. Active sensors include sonar for underwater positioning and radar, which bounces a signal off objects and sees how long it takes to return, giving information about where an object is, how fast it's moving, and in what direction.

In geography, remote sensing can be used for mapping, surveying land use, and measuring deforestation, the movement of glaciers, the depth of oceans, the movement of ocean currents, and the features of clouds. Through remote sensing, geographers can study phenomena in the Earth's lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere, making it one of the most useful tools we have.

Making sense of images produced by remote sensing can be hard. Viewing things from above doesn't always come naturally to humans, and when images are taken using things other than visible light, they can look nothing like we would expect. To make it possible to interpret these kinds of images, there are certain characteristics that are used to identify objects in images. Those characteristics are shape, size, image tone or color, pattern, shadow, and texture.

For example, let's say you're taking overhead images of a city in infrared. Maybe you can't tell which building is which just by looking at it, but measuring the size and the shape, you might be able to find a match in the area you're imaging.

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