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Institute of Advanced Study

Evidence and Spatio-temporality

Earth observation and Evidence: what can new imaging technologies bring to science and society?

The 2013 European Space Agency symposium in Edinburgh highlighted the important role of satellite and airborne imaging (remote sensing) in understanding and monitoring the Earth’s surface: a dynamic and changing environment with impacts on human life and society.

Remote sensing data have in recent years acquired a status as evidence both in the legal and scientific senses. For example, data are routinely presented to courts and tribunals in national and international law obligations in areas such as environmental law, boundaries, arms control, human rights and fisheries management; satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to scale-up their sphere of observation, studying Earth processes and climate globally; data collected over many years helps to reveal the signals of a changing climate.

The multi-disciplinary nature and societal impact of the evidence gatherable by means of remote sensing also rely on the potentials (and related issues) associated with the accessibility and exploitability of this evidence.

Earth observation image map data is part of everyday life through providers such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Yahoo who bring imagery to computers, tablets and phones for mapping and various navigation and location services. Other forms of imagery are less available but no less interesting or useful; these include microwave (RADAR) imaging which have particular properties including the ability to image day or night independently of sunlight, that translate into practical benefits in real-life problem solving. RADAR can also image through cloud and have the potential to penetrate vegetation canopies and even the soil surface, and therefore serve applications across several disciplines.

These technologies are not new but their use in science and society is still at a very early stage and needs to be explored more extensively and understood by possible end-users, especially to understand the information and evidence that can be exploited for everyday use whether for public use, regulatory compliance or scientific analysis.

Key questions that will be addressed through this programme of works include: the reliability with which the Earth’s surface physical characteristics and dynamics can be estimated at any given time; and how best to exploit these new and exciting data sets and provide products of use to science and society.

A full day technical workshop will take place on during 2015/16 to examine the topic of reliability, accuracy, redundancy, exaptation and exploitability of the evidence of Earth’s surface changes gathered via radar technologies from a scientific and technical perspective.

In addition, a one-day public engaging workshop will build up on the outcomes from the first workshop and will examine topics of relevance to general public, interested stakeholders and resilient communities.

Those interested in taking part in either workshop should contact Professor Danny Donohue danny.donoghue@durham.ac.uk or Dr Deodato Tapete deodato.tapete@durham.ac.uk

2015/16 Annual Programme: Evidence