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Three Trends Reshaping Imagery and Remote Sensing


Geospatial intelligence adds context to our world, and imagery brings it to life. In the remote sensing industry, there has been a shift back to the roots of earth observation, as well as a conversation around remote sensing's increasing role in traditionally nonspatial analytics. Here are three top trends to watch.
 

1. Integrating structured and unstructured data


Businesses, governments, and agencies are realizing that bringing different sources and forms of data together into a single ecosystem can enable deeper and richer analytic insights. There is power in understanding unstructured data sources in spatial context.

As the number of sensors globally grows, data is becoming more voluminous, putting pressure on data scientists and analysts to turn it into meaningful information.

Unstructured data such as digital media files, tabular data, or documents, while information rich, becomes more valuable when understood in geospatial context. Natural language processing can help detect place names in text, linking those locations to a map and helping analysts find patterns or relationships. Oriented imagery catalogs can be used to see exactly what a location looks like, pull up a related video clip, or retrieve a data-rich document—all to enrich understanding. During times of social unrest, live photos can help capture sentiment in a region.

The rewards of data integration are potentially vast. Not only do we enable a better understanding of the spatial relationships between data elements, we also can now see the world's interdependent social, economic, and environmental ecosystems in the holistic manner required to address some of our most pressing challenges. Now we can see the world multidimensionally, extending the paradigm beyond x, y, and z to add time (t) and relationships (r). This enables a more informed decision-making process and not only gives us a truer picture of what's happening on the ground, but also starts to answer the questions of where and why.
 

2. Supporting sustainability efforts with innovative applications of remote sensing


As the world comes together to address the climate crisis, remote sensing professionals are being called on to create the best workflows that provide persistent coverage to monitor methane and carbon in the atmosphere.

Until now, most greenhouse gas emissions have been tracked through terrestrial monitoring stations around the globe, often near large methane- or carbon-emitting facilities. But these stations are limited in coverage. By using spaceborne hyperspectral imaging from sensors on satellites, we can now monitor a wider view of the planet and detect new phenomena. Carbon Mapper, Satellogic, and GHGSat are some key players leading the way with planned hyperspectral capabilities.

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data is becoming prominent for both monitoring and analytic applications. Some standout organizations making use of it are Capella Space, PredaSAR, and ICEYE. The technology recently gained popularity because it can create a highly accurate picture during the day, at night, and through smoke or cloud cover. Whether it's a local emergency like an oil spill off the California coast or a global issue like deforestation, this technology can help us see areas that more traditional sensor types can't and gain a more holistic picture of what's happening.

Satellite Imagery of Washington, DC, provided by Airbus. Traditionally analysts have had to sacrifice resolution when using this off-nadir imagery, but looking at the example above, we can see that that's no longer the case. Satellite Imagery of Washington, DC, provided by Airbus. Traditionally analysts have had to sacrifice resolution when using this off-nadir imagery, but looking at the example above, we can see that that's no longer the case.

3. The next wave of satellites will be larger and provide higher-resolution imagery


From the mid-2000s to the late 2010s, the future seemed to be large constellations of small satellites. Now, based on the number of newly planned constellations, we are seeing a move back to building larger satellites, and more of them, with higher resolution, better quality, and increased revisit time. For example, the Pléiades Neo constellation by Airbus now boasts four 30-centimeter-resolution satellites in orbit, upping the game for both resolution and higher temporal frequency. Small satellites will continue to have their place, but there is movement to better balance temporal and spatial resolution, with a renewed focus on quality and accuracy. 

Esri, the leader in geospatial technology, provides comprehensive, scalable, and resilient software to help enable a greater understanding of our world across space, time, and contextual relationships. Whether this be at the local or national level, imagery can drive change for the global good.
 

Satellite Imagery of Washington, DC, provided by Airbus. Satellite Imagery of Washington, DC, provided by Airbus.

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