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Saturday, July 29, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Andrew Blanchard, left, and David Goodenough led the
20th annual International Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Symposium at Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Taking the
pulse of our
planet home

Scientists here this week
looked at remote sensing as an
aid to understanding the
mysteries of Earth

By Helen Altonn


More than $25 billion worth of spacecraft will be launched internationally for remote sensing in the next five years with profound effects on everyday life, say two leaders of a space science society.

Just what is remote sensing?

"Your eyeballs are probably the most sophisticated remote sensors around," explains Andrew Blanchard, University of Missouri electrical engineer.

"It is looking at things from afar," adds David Goodenough of the Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada.

More than 1,200 scientists were here this week looking at use of remote sensing to improve understanding of the weather, natural disasters, fisheries, volcanoes, polar ice sheets, buried ancient cities, global warming, pollution and other mysteries.

Blanchard and Goodenough were co-chairmen of the 20th annual International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society.

Leaders of national space agencies in the United States, Japan, Canada and Europe opened the meetings Monday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Researching isle phenomena

More than 1,500 papers were presented at weeklong sessions on advanced technologies to explore the earth, oceans, atmosphere and space. The theme: "Taking the Pulse of the Planet."

This was the largest number of scientific presentations in the symposium's history, representing an increased number of remote sensing satellites and a shift from pure research to practical use of the technology, the co-chairmen said.

"For the first time, we're starting to see technologies influence policy," Blanchard said. "We're beginning to realize the technologies we're working on have a place in the public sector, for public good."

In Hawaii, for example, National Marine Fisheries Service scientists described how they are using remote sensing to study currents and eddies to identify fishing grounds, Goodenough noted.

TerraSystems Inc. of Honolulu discussed how it gets a broad picture of the ocean by sensor on an aircraft. Then it tows a sensor on a platform behind a ship for a closer look at the health of marine communities.

University of Hawaii scientists discussed their work with remote sensing to learn more about volcanic plumes and aerosols, lava flows, coastal systems and the ocean environment.

'Greater flow of information'

With remote sensing, scientists can monitor changes in greenhouse gases, coral reefs, the climate, ocean and other environmental factors, the symposium leaders said.

They can measure ocean height within a few inches and ocean temperature within a few degrees.

They can use remote sensing to plan agricultural and urban growth, to spot the best sites for malls and roads, to detect anti-personnel mines, fight forest fires and teach people about their Earth home.

"Ten years ago, one needed very large computer systems and facilities to look at one remote sensing image," Goodenough said. "Now a student can download an image on a personal computer."

He said the public is much more aware of what is going on in the environment, and increased knowledge from remote sensing can be used to challenge activities with adverse impacts.

"There will be a greater flow of information; it will be more rapid and less sophisticated," he said. "In the future, it will be like the weather channel," Blanchard said, with satellite images accessible to the public for a variety of purposes. "Farmers will use it. Vacationers will use it. It will be a completely new industry base."

This is the first year the media has been invited to the symposium, which reflects an increased effort to make the public aware of the new technologies, the co-chairmen said.

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