Show Details

Disaster Sensing

November 17, 2009

Satellite imagery can sense chemical changes in the soil, revealing pollution, potential landslides, and more.


A vigilant eye in the sky. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Subtle changes in soil chemistry can reveal a toxic spill, a flood risk, or a looming crop failure. But they’re hard to spot from close up. Now, Tel Aviv University geography professor Eyal Ben-Dor and his colleagues are recruiting satellites to help. Using a technique called hyperspectral remote sensing, his team analyzes light radiation from the earth. That light changes when the soil chemistry changes – for example, because of pollutants seeping into the ground.

EYAL BEN-DOR (Tel Aviv University):
If you put pollutants in the soil, this means that you change the chemistry of the soil, and if you change the chemistry of the soil, it means you can detect it by spectroscopy.

He says the technique could also flag soil changes after a forest fire. And it could monitor the health of vegetation and bodies of water as well. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.