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  • Big data, rising tides: How advances in free remote sensing technology can help cities to prepare for climate change

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Big data, rising tides: How advances in free remote sensing technology can help cities to prepare for climate change

Source(s):  GIM International (GIM)

How advances in free remote sensing technology can help cities to prepare for climate change

By Ran Goldblatt and Nicholas Jones

In view of the increased vulnerability of cities to climate and disaster risks, accurate and up-to-date geospatial data is fundamental for a more resilient urban planning approach. Publicly available geospatial datasets are increasingly becoming the foundation stone for more informed urban planning decision-making and better investment prioritization. Today, satellite data can help cities to better prepare for natural disasters such as urban flooding and make more informed investment decisions.


Thanks to the EU’s Copernicus mission in particular, the availability of free satellite imagery that can capture snapshots of actually experienced flooding is increasing. Sentinel-1 imagery relies on Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) – a radar sensor that is capable of detecting flood extents regardless of cloud cover – while Sentinel-2 provides high-resolution electro-optical imagery which can capture water content on Earth.


Analysts can now utilize a higher-resolution source for night-time light data: the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which captures imagery at up to 500m resolution. This means that it is now also possible to estimate spatial trends in economic activity down to the neighbourhood level. [A] research team used a slope-of-change method to identify economic growth trends and hotspots since 2012, marking high-growth city districts as ‘hot’ and areas of steady or declining economic activity as ‘cool’.


The high-resolution imagery captured by Sentinel-2 allows for systematic extraction of open spaces, parks and gardens in urban settings. The widely used Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) effectively picks out vegetation from multispectral imagery, benefiting from the unique reflective properties of chlorophyll. Additionally, [a] research team used analytical products derived from Landsat satellites to pick out areas that show extensive trends of deforestation. This enables suggestions regarding locations where reforestation in a city’s watershed could contribute to preventing excess run-off that floods businesses and neighbourhoods, for example.


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  • Publication date 03 Sep 2019

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