Satellite data could track vulnerable areas, terrorist threats

September 10, 2002

ATHENS, Ohio - Orbiting 500 miles above the planet, satellites give scientists a "big picture" view of changes to the Earth's landscape - from suburbanization trends to shoreline erosion. Now, an Ohio University researcher is using the technology to try to detect a more dangerous activity: terrorism and the areas of the country most vulnerable to potential attacks.

With the aid of a grant from NASA, geographer James Lein will study the use of satellite data to identify geographic areas that could be at risk of terrorist threats. The project, aimed at supporting homeland security, will use information collected from the Landsat and Aster satellites to inventory chemical and power plants, utility lines, key public buildings and geographic characteristics of a region, including population density. Changes in the data, updated every 24 hours, could identify problems and emergencies.

"Satellite data has the advantage of being able to see a lot of different things in a lot of different ways," said Lein, an associate professor of geography at Ohio University. "The project is trying to support the idea of homeland security by giving information to communities that haven't thought about what's in their backyards."

The satellites, supported by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, can use digital cameras to zoom in on geographic areas as small as a half meter in size to capture finely detailed images of the landscape, Lein said. For several years, researchers have used satellites to track changes in the Earth's landscape to monitor such issues as the loss of farm land to residential development, deforestation and water pollution. For the purposes of homeland security, government officials can compare images from the same location over time to detect unusual activity, such as at the site of a remote pipeline.

"It could signal to policy makers where they might be vulnerable and where they should take appropriate actions," he said. The satellites collect information in a process known as "remote sensing," or measuring energy wavelengths such as sunlight reflected off the surface of the Earth. Different land surfaces, such as forests, streams, agricultural fields, reflect different energy patterns. The satellites then transmit the information, often in electronic form, to a ground station where the data are processed into an image. The technology also could have potential for the detection of airborne agents, Lein noted. Highly sensitive satellites can spot the wavelength signatures of gases in the atmosphere, as they can record between 100 to 250 different types of energy wavelengths, compared with other satellites, which pick up between only three and 12 types.

The number of chemical industries and power plants located on the Ohio River makes southeastern Ohio a good test site for the project, Lein said. Preliminary work suggests that the technology could be applied to other areas of the country as well, he added. Lein intends to make the satellite data available to state and local government officials as a resource for security planning and response programs.

Lein previously used satellite technology and remote sensing for risk assessment of natural hazards, including identifying homes in the flood plain that could be damaged by floods. The homeland security project, an idea spawned from a discussion with an Ohio policy maker, is a natural outgrowth of the prior work, he said. His 18-month NASA grant for the project is administered through the Ohio Aerospace Institute.

The geographer is a member of Ohio View, a consortium of 10 Ohio universities and government partners dedicated to using satellite data for education and research purposes. Recent projects by the organization's researchers include using the data to study gypsy moth infestations around the state and water quality of Lake Erie.

Lein expects to compile more findings from the homeland security project, which will involve Ohio University graduate students, in four to five months and will present and publish data in the upcoming year.
Additional Contact Information:
James Lein,

Ohio University

Related Technology Articles from Brightsurf:

December issue SLAS Technology features 'advances in technology to address COVID-19'
The December issue of SLAS Technology is a special collection featuring the cover article, ''Advances in Technology to Address COVID-19'' by editors Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., (National University of Singapore), Pak Kin Wong, Ph.D., (The Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA) and Xianting Ding, Ph.D., (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China).

October issue SLAS Technology now available
The October issue of SLAS Technology features the cover article, 'Role of Digital Microfl-uidics in Enabling Access to Laboratory Automation and Making Biology Programmable' by Varun B.

Robot technology for everyone or only for the average person?
Robot technology is being used more and more in health rehabilitation and in working life.

Novel biomarker technology for cancer diagnostics
A new way of identifying cancer biomarkers has been developed by researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

Technology innovation for neurology
TU Graz researcher Francesco Greco has developed ultra-light tattoo electrodes that are hardly noticeable on the skin and make long-term measurements of brain activity cheaper and easier.

April's SLAS Technology is now available
April's Edition of SLAS Technology Features Cover Article, 'CURATE.AI: Optimizing Personalized Medicine with Artificial Intelligence'.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Post-lithium technology
Next-generation batteries will probably see the replacement of lithium ions by more abundant and environmentally benign alkali metal or multivalent ions.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom
Introducing tablets and laptops to the classroom has certain educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests that tech has its limitations as well.

The science and technology of FAST
The Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), located in a radio quiet zone, with the targets (e.g., radio pulsars and neutron stars, galactic and extragalactic 21-cm HI emission).

Read More: Technology News and Technology Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to