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"Earth Binoculars" Sense Disasters From Space

New Tel Aviv University technology combines sophisticated sensors in orbit with sensors on the ground and in the air to create a “Hyperspectral Remote Sensor” (HRS). HRS can give advance warnings about water contamination after a forest fire, or swiftly alert authorities of a pollution spill.

Professor Eyal Ben-Dor of TAU's Department of Geography describes his team’s HRS technology as a combination of physical, chemical, and optical disciplines. “When a devastating forest fire hits the Hollywood Hills, for example, we can see from space how the mineralogy of the soil has changed,” he explains. “Because of these changes, the next rainstorm may wash out all the buildings or leach contaminants into the soil. With our new tool, we can advise on how to contain the pollutants after the fire, and warn if there is a risk for landslides.”

HRS provides information useful to property developers as well. It can offer a soil profile map with detailed information for contractors, farmers, or vintners interested in making major land purchase deals or managing existing ones. It can also indicate where water runoff should be directed, and what minerals may be lacking in a given parcel of land.

About 90% of all gas stations leak contaminants into the soil, according to Ben-Dor. The HRS can monitor gas stations and identify problematic areas. “Our space sensors combined with ground measurements and GPS data will be able to detect and map hydrocarbon contamination in real time. Within a year, we’ll be able to identify these problematic areas far more quickly than with traditional methods,” he says.

The HRS simultaneously acquires hundreds of optical images, each from a different frequency, that enable a “spectral assessment” from distances high in the air via airplanes and in orbit using satellites. This raw data is then processed by the researchers to yield thematic maps.

(Tel Aviv University)