Environmental data and remote sensing

Remote sensing science and technology have been among the most rapidly developing scientific disciplines in the last two decades. Remote sensing is the measurement or acquisition of data about an object or scene by satellites or other instruments above, or far from, the object. Aerial photography, satellite imagery, and radar are examples.

Department faculty and students explore different uses of remote sensing data in natural resources mapping and land management. A major focus of this research is the development of modeling mechanisms to explain the relations between driving forces and landscape dynamics so that human impacts on our ecosystems can be more effectively assessed. One current remote sensing project is designed to develop multiple innovative models in regional land-cover change studies. Other projects include the identification of natural communities and ecosystem monitoring using multispectral, multitemporal, multisensor remote sensing, in situ observations, and multisource GIS/GPS data.

The Rhode Island Geographic Information System (RIGIS) project began in 1985 and is a cooperative effort between the Department and a number of state agencies. The system uses the ArcINFO geographic information system computer package and carries out complex spatial analyses of natural resource parameters. Data on geology, geomorphology, hydrology, soils, vegetation, wetlands, rare species, and land use patterns in Rhode Island are available through this system. The Environmental Data Center (EDC) has hardware and software tools for processing satellite imagery and scanned photography. The EDC also maintains a GPS Base Station, and provides GIS technical support, training, mapping, and complex data processing for National Park Service field units throughout the region.

Other projects underway in the EDC include: modeling patterns of biodiversity at local and landscape scales; monitoring shoreline change along barrier beach systems; developing a model to identify priority coastal wetlands for restoration; developing GIS systems for municipalities, state agencies, and nonprofit conservation organizations; assessing wildlife-habitat relationships; and modeling the biophysical, economic, and cultural factors effecting land use change dynamics.