Environmental Monitoring

Visible (top), thermal infrared daytime (middle) and thermal infrared nightime (bottom) view of Atlanta, GA. In the thermal images, white is the warmest followed by red, yellow, green and blue. Notice the oval structure in the lower left and how the south sun facing side (towards the right of the image) which is the warmest area during the day is also the warmest area at night - showing how the structure retains the daytime heat.

Satellites use infrared sensors to monitor deforestation and fires in the Amazon Basin and in other areas of the world. For example, Brazil's forestry service uses the thermal imaging capabilities of the USDA Forest Services FireMapper to detect illegal logging in the Amazon basin. Heat sensing infrared cameras are also used to detect thermal pollution in rivers, oil and chemical spills, septic leaks, buried waste and to monitor smoke stack emission and waste water. Infrared cameras onboard helicopters are used to monitor river temperatures to assist efforts to improve salmon migration.

In California, home to some of the worlds most stringent air pollution control programs, state officials are studying the use of infrared light as part of an enhanced vehicle inspection and maintenance program to detect and repair high polluting vehicles. Remote sensing will use an infrared beam to instantaneously gauge the level of tailpipe emissions from a passing vehicle, in order to detect high-polluting vehicles, and facilitate their repair.

Data from airborne infrared cameras have been used by NASA to study the heat distribution in urban areas. Such information is helping city planners to reduce ozone levels and showing where to plant trees. For example, NASA and school children in Atlanta recently teamed up on a project to study how trees help keep cities cool.

Visible light (left) and infrared (right) views of Baton Rouge, LA. The yellow and red colors denote warmer areas, and correspond with roads and buildings. The cooler blue and green areas correspond with water and vegetation.

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