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Informação e Debates sobre
 Política e Direito das Atividades Espaciais
* Núcleo de Estudos *


Identifying shortfalls in the use of soil
with satellite imagery

 Daniël Konrad Link *

"The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

An important mechanism of cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space is to identify social shortfalls on the use of soil on Earth with remote sensing technologies.

When we look at the satellite image of the levant region, in Image 1.1 we understand the power of remote sensing to identify the profound social inequalities that shape our world: one geographic region, with same climate and land features, with so contrasting imprints in soil cover.

Image 1.1 – soil cover in south levant and north Sinai regions[i].

It is possible to clearly identify the Gaza strip, and the Israel – Egypt border, having Israel the greenest soil cover in the region.

In the zoomed Image 1.2. we can see that just from crossing the border from one country to the other, there are contrasting apparatus supporting the agriculture.

Image 1.2 – in clockwise position: north of Sinai Peninsula, Gaza strip, Israel.

These images were captured by Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager instrument (OLI). The OLI provides “sufficient resolution to distinguish features like urban centers, farms, forests and other land uses”[ii].

The Israeli agriculture is internationally recognised by the modern irrigation methods and technologies. Drip irrigation, sustained use of industrial waste water for agriculture[iii], computerized fertigation (a process that automatically injects fertilizer through irrigation systems)[iv], biopesticides and use of satellite imagery for crop management[v] are some of the extra edge assets Israeli farmers count for the most efficient use of water and soil.

In same direction, the Israeli government has plans to keep investing in space technology to expand their imagery database taken from space. Among projects in development important hightlight goes to VENµS[vi] project, an earth observation microsatellite to be build jointly by Israel and France, aimed at precision agricultural imaging and environmental monitoring.

Agriculture is paramount for the development of a nation. Poor access to food leads to subnutrition and undermine minds slowing the creative and innovative power of a country. High cost access to food impact the purchase power of a society.

Remembering the Outer Space Treaty: “the exploration and use of  use of outer space [...] shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development”[vii]. Also, “States Parties shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space, […] in the interests of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding”[viii].

The art of adding value to existing satellite imagery brings benefits, and must be fomented internationally, and nationally in every country: mechanisms that identify shortfalls on use of soil to design policies and concerted measures to improve the imprints monitored by satellite. Those resulting concerted measures shall be carried by both, governmental and non governmental entities.

Another example of evaluating shortfalls on the use of soil with satellite imagery: Image 2.1[ix], this image is of a rural area in Brazil, in the municipality of Laranja da Terra. The agriculture is predominantly family farming, small rural properties working to achieve the maximum output possible of production. 

Image 2.1 – irrigated areas, dry season

Image captured during a very dry season, on August 27th 2013, with Landsat 8 OLI instrument, with Stretch 3SD enhancement to better identify topography. Most of the hills, in brown evidence the drought. The bright green are irrigated areas, most of them in the lowland. Main products are bananas, okra, chinese-yam, tomato and coffee.

The up part of the image points exactly north. East of the river in the center of the image outputs greater agriculture production, while west being more balanced between agriculture and cattle raising.  The image evidences shortfalls of irrigation in hilly areas. Because of lack of irrigation there is low or none economic output from many hill areas.

Because there is low output from hill areas many suffer the supression of forest to turn into extensive cattle raising. Expected key decisions on the resulting process of reading satellite data are, but not limited to: evaluate access of agriculturists in this region to modern irrigation technologies, that cause less water stress and are less labor intensive, such as drip irrigation; evaluate access of agriculturists to the construction of water reservoirs in the top of the hills to perform irrigation by gravity; evaluate overall water efficiency of the region; evaluate less water dependent cultivars for the hill areas; evaluate efficiency of credit lines to acquire modern irrigation systems and techniques; evaluate the technical expertise in the region; evaluate granting incentives to sustainable irrigation systems that improve soil cover, among others.

* Member of the Brazilian Association of Air and Space Law (SBDA) and its Centre of Space Law Studies (NEDE).

[i]     SceneID: LC81730392014053LGN00 ; sensor OLI ; acquisition Date: 22 Feb 2014, Landsat 8 image; http://landsatlook.usgs.gov/ ; access on 09 March 2014.

[vii]  OST Art 1.

[viii] OST Art 3.

[ix]       LC82160742013239LGN00, 27 Aug 2013 OLI, 12:46:48 GMT scene Start Time; Landsat 8 image http://landsatlook.usgs.gov/; acc. 10 March 2014.

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