The Critical Zone

Remote Sensing and Aerial Photography


While field studies are essential for understanding the geomorphic environment or setting of a region, remote sensing imagery—specifically easily obtained aerial photographs and satellite imagery—provides a broad overhead view, a context in which to place field observations. For this reason, in this section of the landform lesson, we will explore various online resources that provide overhead imagery. Before you begin the following activity, go to Fluvial/Deltaic/Coastal Landforms and Karst/Lacustrine/Aeolian/Glacial Landforms to view aerial photographs representative of the major geomorphic environments presented in sections 3 through 7 of this lesson.




For this assignment, you will need to record your work on a word processing document. Your work must be submitted in Word (.doc) or PDF (.pdf) format so I can open it. In addition, documents must be double-spaced and typed in 12 point Times Roman font.

  1. The EROS Data Center is the major government clearinghouse for aerial photographs and imagery in the United States. Follow the hyperlink to the EROS Data Center site, and click on the "Aerial" image gallery link. This will take you to the available Aerial Products. The first line in the table has information available through NAPP.
    • Choose Find Data, then Aerial Photography under the Products & Data Available list.
    • Scroll down to National Aerial Photography Program (NAPP) -- then Get Data from the header bar.
    • Use USGS EarthExplorer -- input an address or use the clickable map to view aerial photographs of your study site.
  2. Return to the EROS Data Center - Find Data page and choose "Satellite Imagery" to view the available Satellite Products.
    • Explore what is available for your study site. At a minimum, view the Landsat TM imagery through EarthExplorer. Alternatively, you may choose to access Landsat imagery through the LandsatLook viewer. The imagery you find here should be included in your semester project report.
    • You may also want to visit the Color Landform Atlas of the United States and Flash Earth to be sure you've covered all the bases! Google Earth too.
    • Also, visit Principles in Remote Sensing to learn more about remote sensing in general and some specifics about the various sensors and data.
  3. Aerial photographic coverage for Pennsylvania are archived and made accessible through Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA), which includes historical archives available for the state. Other state surveys do, too. Does the home state of your study site provide similar resources?
  4. TerraServer is another Web site that provides access to aerial photographs of the United States. Visit the site to determine whether TerraServer provides additional resources beneficial to your semester project.
    • While there, or using Google Earth, use the coordinates tab (;at/long - decimal) to view the sites listed below (longitude, latitude). Note that negative longitude values indicate west. TerraServer is a commercial company that recently opted to brand the photography so you cannot simply screen capture the imagery, thus it may be a little challenging to see past the name - try anyway, or use Google Earth.
      • -105.57229, 37.78748
      • -101.64845, 41.82330
      • -91.47299, 30.65249
      • -146.95036, 64.34985
      • -66.88306, 18.43125
      • -81.92303, 29.35791
      • -76.65703, 42.99389
      • -77.02833, 42.52195
      • -75.51855, 35.22025
      • -124.20464, 43.92189
    • For each site, record a few sentences describing what you see and classifying the site using one of the five geomorphic settings discussed in sections 3 through 7. Consider whether zooming in or out will help your classification effort.
  5. Write a one-page report that contains the following:
    • A statement regarding whether the home state of your study site provides similar resources to Penn Pilot (Step 3).
    • Your descriptions and classifications for each site listed in Step 4.
  6. Save your report as either a Microsoft Word or PDF file in the following format:

    L9_remotesensing_AccessAccountID_LastName.doc (or .pdf).

    For example, student Elvis Aaron Presley's file would be named "L9_remotesensing_eap1_presley.doc"—this naming convention is important, as it will help me make sure I match each submission up with the right student!

Submitting your work

Upload your report to the "Lesson 9 - Remote Sensing Report" dropbox in Canvas (in the lesson under the Modules tab) by the due date indicated on our Canvas calendar.

Grading criteria

You will be graded on the quality of your writing. You should not simply write responses to the questions and submit them to me. Instead plan on writing a short stand-alone paragraph (or page or whatever you decide is necessary considering any constraints I might have placed on you) so that anyone can read what you've written and understood it. You should strive to be specific and complete in responding to the questions. Your answers should be analytic, thoughtful and insightful, and should provide an insightful connection between ideas. The writing should be tight and crisp with varied sentence structure and a serious, professional tone.

Check this out . . .

Go to the NASA website and view the learning module Blue Marble Matches - you may find it to be something to introduce into your classroom!