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Satellite Remote Sensing of the Environment

  1. Jonathan L Bamber,
  2. Guy Schumann

Published Online: 15 JUN 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003267.pub2



How to Cite

Bamber, J. L. and Schumann, G. 2012. Satellite Remote Sensing of the Environment. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUN 2012


Satellite remote sensing of the environment is a relatively young science, beginning in earnest in the 1970s. Since then, rapid developments in sensor technology, computer power and data storage capabilities have resulted in remarkable advances in what can be observed, at what resolution and with what accuracy. Here, we summarise the fundamental physical concepts and the types of sensor that have been used for observing the biosphere, hydrosphere, oceans and ice at the surface of the Earth.

Key Concepts:

  • Satellites can provide global, synoptic coverage of key parameters such as albedo, surface temperature, soil moisture, rainfall, primary productivity in the surface oceans, and vegetation cover.

  • There is a continuous time series of visible and infrared observations covering the last four decades. Much of these data are freely available.

  • Improvements in technology mean image resolution of less than a metre is achievable, greatly improving classification accuracy.

  • Radar remote sensing is proving particularly useful for observing the hydrological cycle due to its all-weather day/night capability.


  • albedo;
  • emissivity;
  • hydrology;
  • oceans;
  • cryosphere;
  • vegetation;
  • meteorology