CIESIN Thematic Guides



Welcome to the CIESIN guide on remote sensing. The purpose of this guide is to help you find selected key documents and data sets vital to understanding the use of satellite remote sensing to study the human dimensions of global environmental change. Satellite remote sensing technology and the science associated with evaluation of its data offer potentially valuable information for assisting human dimensions research studies.

The human dimensions of global environmental change consist of the driving forces and the resultant actions of mankind capable of affecting the Earth system and its processes. From a fundamental perspective, the relevant types of human actions are those that have accompanied the historical development of civilization and technology, and that now are reaching epic proportions due to the continually expanding human population. In "A Framework for Research on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change," Jacobson and Price (1990) group such actions into five major categories: 1) fossil fuel consumption; 2) biomass fuel consumption; 3) land use change; 4) agricultural activities; and 5) halocarbon production and release.

Human actions involving biomass fuel consumption, land-use change, and agricultural activities all involve direct interaction with the global land surface. The extent of these interactions has prompted concern about the possible effects on the global physical, chemical, and biological systems. In particular, large-scale changes in land use at rates unprecedented in human history are provoking considerable concern. Land-use change is frequently accompanied by alterations or changes in land cover, which may possibly contribute to subsequent environmental change.

Satellite remote sensing is an evolving technology with the potential for contributing to studies of the human dimensions of global environmental change by making globally comprehensive evaluations of many human actions possible. Satellite image data enable direct observation of the land surface at repetitive intervals and therefore allow mapping of the extent--and monitoring of the changes--in land cover. Evaluation of the static attributes of land cover (types, amount, and arrangement) and the dynamic attributes (types and rates of change) on satellite image data may allow the types of change to be regionalized and the proximate sources of change to be identified or inferred. This information, combined with results of case studies or surveys, can provide helpful input to informed evaluations of interactions among the various driving forces.

This guide contains an Overview and five subsections that offer in-depth information and on-line references for the following topics:

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