Sensor Evaluation


In 1995, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) estimated that international space agencies were planning to launch more than 80 missions by the year 2010. These missions will be carrying over 200 different instruments, providing measurements of many environmental change parameters, some for the first time. The commercial sector has also been planning and launching several systems that will provide complementary data. These new capabilities bring significant improvements in spectral, spatial, and temporal resolution, thereby making it possible to address health issues previously thought to be beyond the capabilities of remote sensing.

In addition, advances in the understanding of the ecology of disease organisms, vectors, and their reservoirs and hosts have directed researchers to assess a greater range of environmental factors that promote disease prevalence, disease vector production, and the emergence and maintenance of disease foci. Advances in computer processing, geographic information system (GIS), and global positioning system technologies now make it easier to integrate ecological, environmental, and remotely sensed data for the purpose of developing predictive models that can be used in disease surveillance and control activities.

The capabilities of remote sensing technology have not been fully disseminated to the health investigators and agencies that could be using them. The goals of this project were to (1) generate a guide to satellite systems and data products that could be used for research, surveillance, control, and modeling the distribution of human disease risk, and (2) develop and maintain a database on the Internet containing epidemiologic and environmental data, as well as individual sensor and data product characteristics. A workshop was held in May 1998, during which an expert panel of health investigators provided recommendations on ways in which to present the results of the sensor evaluation. From the large list of instruments originally mentioned by the CEOS report, we have determined that a subset of these showed potential for use by the health community. Our criteria included the following:

  1. Instruments should be currently operating or scheduled for launch within the next five years. (Past sensor systems are listed on a separate page.)

  2. Instruments should be operational; i.e., not a short-lived, one-time only instrument designed for exclusive use by science teams.

  3. Data products should be fairly straightforward to use; i.e., not requiring a lot of complex pre-processing using non-public domain algorithms or calibration data from many other instruments.

  4. Data products should be digital, not photographic, to facilitate their use in geographic information systems and models, as well as integrated with other data.
The results of our sensor evaluation can be accessed via our search engine, which is organized by process, sensor type, spatial and temporal resolutions, and status (currently in operation, future, by year). The processes, which can be sensed remotely, include those that have been identified in the literature and through expert consultation as those that affect some aspect of disease transmission; the other criteria can be used to refine a search of the database. We will be adding information on data products available through the various NASA archive sites, as well as posting a sampling of data products from many sensor systems, representing both current systems and prototypes of planned systems for browsers to explore. In the meantime, check out the examples of datasets available from CEOS.

Those wishing more information about earth-observing sensors will find H.J. Kramer's latest edition (4th) of Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors to be a valuable resource. It was published in January 2002 by Springer.

Our current goal is to get feedback from the human health user community on these pages so that we can improve the search engine and identify gaps in satellite system capabilities. Therefore, please direct your observations/criticisms/ideas to Louisa Beck.


Beck, L.R., B.M. Lobitz, B.L. Wood. 2000. Remote sensing and human health: New sensors and new opportunities. Emerging Infectious Diseases 6(3):217-227.

Funding for this project, including the subset of the CHAART pages devoted to the Sensor Evaluation project, was provided by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. The other CHAART webpages describe projects and activities supported by NASA's Fundamental Space Biology Division, within the Biological & Physical Research Enterprise (formerly the Office of Life & Microgravity Sciences & Applications).

Last updated: August 2002