Using High Resolution Satellite Data for Environmental Studies

02 April 2015

The use of high resolution satellite data can be invaluable in assessing environmental impacts, risks and liabilities. It is particularly helpful when site access is restricted, when the area of interest is large or when the assessment requires consideration of past environmental conditions. Spatial, temporal and spectral resolutions of satellite sensors are the main physical characteristics of satellite sensor systems. But often certain compromises need to be made, where the sensor systems can be the limiting factor for data use– e.g. a high spatial resolution is associated with a low spectral resolution and vice versa. Sensors with a spatial resolution of about 0.5m and a spectral resolution ranging from 0.4μm to 0.7μm wavelength (visible light) allow users to visually analyse and interpret surface features from images that are time-based and spatially suitable for the objectives of the project. Satellite images with such characteristics, obtained from sensors orbiting the earth in a daily cycle (in a range of 700 – 800 km altitude) are commercially available.

ERM has recently used high resolution satellite data to support a combined environmental baseline study, environmental impact and risk assessment, and infrastructure integrity assessment for a client in the oil and gas sector.

To assess existing impacts and to provide an estimation of their overall extent, ERM acquired high resolution satellite imagery (approx. 0.5 m spatial resolution) for all the areas within the client’s interest. Visual analysis of existing oil field features and infrastructure based on up-to-date satellite imagery meant that the current status of critical infrastructure could be established. Potential environmental legacy and contamination issues or liabilities associated with historical exploration, operations and other activities could then be identified, mapped and qualified using a Geographic Information System (GIS). Sustainability aspects such as land use, distance to settlements and waterbodies were taken into account to identify potential risks and barriers regarding the building of new infrastructure. Additionally, historic satellite images were used to detect and map changes and to establish when existing contamination may have occurred.

Remote sensing data have the ability to support environmental, health and safety aspects in a project in a time and cost effective way, provided limitations of the remote sensing systems (spatially, spectrally, temporally) are known and taken into account when analyzing surface features and sustainability issues. ERM has shown in past projects that high resolution satellite imagery in combination with environmental, regional and sector specific expert knowledge can be powerfully used to help companies establish an environmental baseline, to analyze impacts and risks, and to assess the integrity of existing infrastructure in areas where access is restricted, where the area of interest is large or where historic liabilities need to be investigated.

Are you interested in further details? Please contact:

Dr. Sasa Fistric 
Senior Consultant
+49 6102 206 216

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