GEOG 480
Exploring Imagery and Elevation Data in GIS Applications

Lesson 1 Introduction


A brief history of remote sensing as a governmental activity, a commercial industry, and an academic field provides the student with a perspective on development of the technology and emergence of remote sensing applications. Accounts of remote sensing history generally begin in the 1800s, following the development of photography. Many of the early advancements of remote sensing can be tied to military applications, which continue to drive most of remote sensing technology development even today. However, after WWII, the use of remote sensing in science and infrastructure extended its reach into many areas of academia and civilian life. The recent revolution of geospatial technology and applications, linked to the explosion of computing and internet access, brings remote sensing technology and applications into the everyday lives of most people on the planet. One could argue that there are very few aspects of life that are not touched in some way by this powerful and enabling way of viewing, understanding, and managing our world.

This lesson will also introduce the basic scientific principles of light and its interaction with matter that makes remote sensing possible. This foundation will be drawn upon throughout the course to explain how remotely sensed imagery is acquired, processed, and analyzed. Many new terms will be introduced and carefully defined, in this lesson and throughout the rest of the course. While some of these terms may seem familiar, many are often misused in casual communication. It is a responsibility of the remote sensing or geospatial professional to inform and guide those with whom he/she comes in contact, through correct and precise use of these terms.

Throughout this course, you will be guided to many external resources that you can use to complement the course material and continue to refer to after completing the course.

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • describe key milestones in the historical development of remote sensing;
  • discuss fundamental principles of electromagnetic radiation that are the basis for remote sensing;
  • summarize the role of remote sensing as a fundamental element of GIS analysis.


If you have any questions now or at any point during this week, please feel free to post them to the Lesson 1 Questions and Comments Discussion Forum in Canvas.