Readers of www.GISdevelopment.net would like to know how GIS and Remote Sensing is being used in monitoring the global environment?
Dr. Hussein Harahsheh
The United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)
Faculty of Science
P. O. Box 15551 Al-Ain United Arab Emirates
Email: [email protected]
- Readers of www.GISdevelopment.net would like to know how GIS and Remote Sensing is being used in monitoring the global environment?
The amount of environmental data gathered from remote sensing satellites and many other sources are nearly overwhelming. And each year, as new systems go into operation, the data stream increases and becomes more complex. In order for these data to assist in environmental monitoring and management decision making, they must be available to researchers in a timely way. This means that efficient data and information management systems must be implemented to handle, store, manipulate, and disseminate these data. Over the past twenty years sophisticated computer-based information systems have evolved that have great potential to help in developing management strategies for sustainable development and environmental protection. Geographic Information System (GIS) are designed to store, analyze, overlay, and display in map from diverse types of digital data in geographically referenced format or accounting system. GIS have become an essential link in the global monitoring system between the data collection technologies, such as remote sensing, and the policy makers such as environmental agencies.
Because of the vastness of environment and the rapid rate at which it is changed by human and natural forces, special surveillance systems are needed to measure and monitor the environment efficiently. Among the most widely used environmental monitoring systems will be remote sensing of the Earth’s oceans, land, and atmosphere. Remote sensing instruments mounted on orbiting satellites or aircraft, produce map like images and gather other non pictorial data about the environment, including land use, vegetation cover, water, temperature and air pollution.
- Tell us something about the current research activities involving GIS and Remote Sensing in the field of environmental planning?
Several national and international research programs are currently investigating global change, the International Council of Scientific Union (ICSU), a nongovernmental organization that promotes international scientific research, administers a global change research program, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). The IGBP studies how physical, chemical, and biological process interact to regulate the global environment and monitor any detectable changes that might occur. IGBP projects are investigating how biological processes regulate atmospheric composition; how vegetation controls energy and water flows; how global changes will affect marine and terrestrial ecosystems and how processes in the Open Ocean and coastal zones affect global cycles. Currently more than fifty countries have national IGBP projects. In the United States the IGBP project is the Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). This interdisciplinary program staffed by scientists from eleven federal agencies and departments has established several high- priority research areas, including climate and hydrologic systems, biogeochemical and ecosystem dynamics human interactions.
Complementing the IGBP is the Human Dimension of Global Environmental Change Program (HDGECP), which has been established by the international Social Science Council (ISSC) to focus on environmental changes driven by human activities.
- In environment which area is benefited most by the use of GIS and Remote Sensing technologies?
Research into environment utilizes GIS and Remote Sensing technologies in several significant ways. Most notable is research into global climatic and hydrologic change, as well as ecosystem analysis and the role of human interaction with environmental system.
Since the launch of ERTS-1 (Landsat 1) in 1972, digital remote sensing has been used with some success to monitor natural resources and provide input to better manage the Earth. Applications have included monitoring of deforestation, agroecologic zonation, ozone layer depletion, food, early warning systems, monitoring of large atmospheric, oceanic anomalies such as El Ni?o, climate and weather prediction, ocean mapping and monitoring, wetland degradation, vegetation mapping, soil mapping, natural disaster and hazard assessment and mapping, and land cover maps for input to global climate models. Although developments have been broadly based across many divergent disciplines, there is still much work required to develop remotely sensed images suited to natural resource management and environmental monitoring, refine techniques, improve the accuracy of output, and demonstrate and implement work in operational systems.
- Please tell us something about your ongoing research on the desertification mapping in Asia?
More than 6.1 billion hectares, nearly 40 per cent of the Earth’s land area, is dryland. Out of this, about 0.9 billion hectares are hyper-arid deserts. The remaining 5.2 billion hectares are arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid lands, part of which have become desert degraded by man. These lands are the habitat and the source of livelihood for about one fifth of the world’s population.
It is estimated that about 3.6 billion hectares, or 70% out of 5.2 billion hectares of potentially productive drylands, are presently threatened by various forms of land degradation or, as it is called, desertification, directly affecting the well-being and future of one sixth of the world’s population.
So it is a big challenge to human communities, particularly scientists, to map and locates lands threatened by desertification. Here, we need to use high technology and new tools like remote sensing and geographic information system. In addition we need to develop and improve methods and techniques to study and map desertification. It is a big and open area of reserch.
In my work of desertification mapping, we achieved a detailed study for a small area about 1300 sq. km of drylands. We employed RS and GIS techniques. This work is in process of being published. Another work, which used RS and GIS, covers Middle East area, here GIS techniques were used to automate the desertification mapping.
In continental level, we achieved the first part of land degradation mapping, which cover Asia continent (book and map), the second part, which is now undergoing will cover the North Africa. This work is a joint research with Russian and Japanese scientists.
I hope to initiate another research, “Desertification mapping: Local to continental approach”, which will describe the existing methodologies for desertification mapping for all levels of studies.
- Currently China is facing the problem of land degradation. Would you like to comment?
The People’s Republic of China is one the greatest superpowers of the world. The interrelation between population and the environment, i.e., the pressure of population on the environment is the major constraint for sustainable development. Further economic and political development of China will depend upon the progress in solving the population/environment problem. Degradation of the drylands in China is a historical process documented for 2000 – 2500 years.
According to Chinese scientists desertification- prone land in China totally cover 334,000 km2, in which desertified land area is 176,442 km2 and the land of desertification risk is 158,000 km2, involving 212 counties in 13 provinces and autonomous regions, They distinguish the following desertification types: on-going type (45.9%), severe type (34.4%), and most severe type (19.7%). The leading causes of land degradation in China are:Irrigation reclamation, Excessive grazing, Lumbering of woods Industrial, mines and communication construction, and Improper use of water resources.
- Availability of high-resolution imageries has its impacts in many areas of applications. How does it affect in the field of environment?
The low cost of the imagery is an obvious advantage for natural resource managers, particularly in developing countries. Urban planners will find the imagery of great interest. Another potentially useful application is the use of this imagery for map making-updating maps is slow and expensive, and a number of agencies have been using satellite imagery or orthophotographs as a base over which traditional cartographic line work (eg,roads, rivers, cadastre, etc) are placed. Perhaps the greatest advantage of rapid delivery of images is for checking and control of human activities and impacts. This will allow users to monitor new developments, as well as design methods to assess whether environments are degrading as a result of resource utilization.
- What should a customised software for environmental planning and environmental impact assessment look like?
Customized software for environmental planning and environmental impact assessment should allow uploading, evaluating, maintaining and reporting field and analytical data that have been stored in a variety of formats. Also allows assembling all of your hazardous waste data into one powerful database. Once data are uploaded into the system database, it should be possible to process the data using a variety of query, reporting, graphical and statistical tools to determine the most cost-effective methods for achieving complete regulatory compliance.
The environmental customized software can combine the hands-on knowledge of environmental management experts and software development professionals with an ease-of-use that allow to manage the data quickly, cost-effectively and with fewer errors. Every environmental situation is unique. The software should be customized to meet the specific requirements of virtually any project. Which means we can select from a library of standard data entry forms and output reports or create our own.
- Being an academician, could you suggest the future prospects of “GIS/RS in Environment” as a specialized discipline of study?
A wide range of international scientific programs are underway to study and monitor environmental processes and earth resources using satellites and geographic information systems (GIS). The vast quantities of data generated by the satellites’ remote sensing systems are being made available to the worldwide scientific community via international computer networks and geographic information systems. For example, the United State and other nations have committed to a series of up to fifty scientific investigations of the environment using remote sensing satellites over the next twenty years. The program is under the aegis of the UN Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). To date several satellites have been launched to begin these scientific investigations. This situation lead to our comment that these scientific program will not be successful unless there are an enough number of skilled scientists in the field of remote sensing and GIS technologies. This need is requested on all levels of studies from local to international level of environmental investigations. Here an educational discipline like “remote sensing/GIS environment” becomes very important, very successful, and very promote, but this discipline needs to be improved continuously view the high rate of development of remote sensing and GIS technologies.