GEOG 480
Exploring Imagery and Elevation Data in GIS Applications

The Role of Humans


Chapter 1 of Campbell (2007) defines key aspects of remote sensing data collection and analysis. It also defines a number of key terms that you will hear over and over again throughout this course. Campbell discusses the evolution of government and commercial remote sensing programs, and how remote sensing supports national and international earth resource monitoring. This introduction sets the contextual stage for the highly technical material to come. It is important to understand the motivation behind technology development, and to see how technology contributes to the broader societal, political, and economic framework of geospatial systems, science, and intelligence, be the application to military, business, social, or environmental intelligence.

In another seminal remote sensing textbook, Remote Sensing of the Environment, cited in the course syllabus as an additional reference, John Jensen describes factors that distinguish a superior image analyst. He says, "It is a fact that some image analysts are superior to other image analysts because they: 1) understand the scientific principles better, 2) are more widely traveled and have seen many landscape objects and geographic areas, and/or 3) they can synthesize scientific principles and real-world knowledge to reach logical and correct conclusions. (Jensen, 2007)

Jensen goes on to describe the role of the human being in remote sensing process.

"Human beings select the most appropriate remote sensing system to collect the data, specify the various resolutions of the remote sensor data, calibrate the sensor, select the platform that will carry the sensor, determine when the data will be collected, and specify how the data are processed."

This statement succinctly expresses our goals, as instructors, for developing a remote sensing curriculum within a broader geospatial program. It has been our experience, working with local, state, and federal government agencies, in engineering, environmental, and disaster response and recovery applications, that more expertise in the application of remote sensing is needed. By expertise, we mean a solid, working knowledge of the fundamentals, and use of those fundamentals in combination with good problem-solving and critical thinking skills. In today's world, there are a small number of professionals at a "very expert" level with a particular sensor or application, but there is a shortage in the workforce of people who are knowledgeable at a basic or intermediate level over the broad scope of remote sensing.

As remotely sensed data reaches the general public through tools such as Google Earth, in-car navigation systems, and other web-based and consumer-level technologies, it becomes increasingly important for the basic principles of remote sensing and mapping to become common knowledge. Misinterpretation and ill-informed decision-making can easily occur if the individuals involved do not understand the operating principles of the remote sensing system used to create the data, which is in turn used to derive information. After taking this course, you should have acquired enough knowledge to understand the purpose and scope for each of the activities set forth by Jensen above; you should "know what you don't know," and, when you don't know, you should be armed with the basic concepts and vocabulary that will allow you ask appropriate questions, to seek out the right expert, and to communicate effectively with that person.