18 February 2011

Remote Sensing in Natural Hazard Assessments

One of the most important tools available to the regional planner is the remote sensing of the environment. Not only is it very useful in the planning process in general, but it is also valuable in detecting and mapping many types of natural hazards when, as is often the case, detailed descriptions of their effects do not exist. If susceptibility to natural hazards can be identified in the early stages of an integrated development planning study, measures can be introduced to reduce the social and economic impacts of potential disasters.

All natural hazards are amenable in some degree to study by remote sensing because nearly all geologic, hydrologic, and atmospheric phenomena that create hazardous situations are recurring events or processes that leave evidence of their previous occurrence. This evidence can be recorded, analyzed, and integrated into the planning process.

Most remote sensing studies concerned with natural hazards have been about an area's vulnerability to a disaster, the monitoring of events which could precipitate a disaster, and the magnitude, extent and duration of a disaster. This chapter tells planners what types of remote sensing information are suitable for identifying and assessing particular natural hazards and where to look for it.

Since the existing remote sensing information may be inadequate for a planning task or phase, this chapter also provides guidelines on selecting and acquiring the appropriate data. Only those sensor systems that are deemed capable of making a insignificant contribution to the development planning process are discussed, with their specific applications to the assessment of each of several natural hazards. It is assumed that planners and other readers are already familiar with basic remote sensing technology and vocabulary. If further details of techniques and/or applications are required, near state-of-the-art information is available in Sabins (1986), Lillesand and Kiefer (1987), and ASP (1983). An excellent overview of satellite imaging systems and disaster management can be found in Richards (1982).

While both aerial and satellite remote sensing techniques are presented, emphasis is placed on satellite-derived sensing because the data provide the synoptic view required by the broad scale of integrated development planning studies. Aerial remote sensing data are useful to natural hazard management for focusing on priority areas, verifying small-scale data interpretations, and providing information about features that are too small for detection by satellite imagery, but extensive aerial surveys commonly exceed the budget constraints of a planning study and may also provide more information than is necessary, particularly during the early stages of the study.

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