Let's get down to earth

The Remote Sensing Data Book
February 4, 2000

The remote-sensing world has generated a profusion of acronyms and jargon that can be particularly daunting to newcomers to the field. Gareth Rees's book, The Remote Sensing Data Book , helps to decipher the idioms and provides a reference to the nomenclature.

By arranging the information alphabetically, Rees has successfully produced a dictionary-cum-encyclopedia for the specialist field of remote sensing. The breadth of terms included means that the book is comprehensive. The definitions cover the basic theory of earth observation and image-processing techniques, as well as describing the data derived from past, present and future satellites.

While this book is an excellent starting point for newcomers to the field, it carries sufficient detail to be of use to those already familiar with earth observation and atmospheric data. Clear diagrams and data tables have been used where necessary to provide an intelligible explanation of terms such as "radiative transfer equations", "synthetic aperture radar" and "classification techniques" used in image processing.

The Remote Sensing Data Book works effectively as a dictionary of terms, but it also provides a reasonably thorough overview of broader concepts. Entries that require a wider interpretation, for instance "legal and international aspects", are written as short essays. This particular example includes a formative outline of the historical events that have led to the current level of cooperation between nations.

Even terms incorporated into remote sensing from other disciplines (such as geology or botany) are clarified in a succinct manner. All too often these are overlooked in earth-observation textbooks, despite such background knowledge being essential to understanding remote-sensing applications.

An outstanding feature is that websites have been included. The internet is of course a standard source of information, but one that is not always acknowledged in published volumes. Wherever possible Rees has included the internet address for satellite missions, instruments and organisations associated with remote sensing. Some of the suggested internet sites may be more useful than others, as the information content is at the discretion of the host organisation. However, the majority of sites are updated and enhanced on a regular basis.

One useful addition would have been a listing or entry for remote-sensing data sources. A summary of available data and its origin along with the establishment's distribution and pricing policy would be extremely helpful for both students and researchers working in the field. Instead, each of the main data suppliers (such as Nasa and Esa) are included along with their contact addresses. Fortunately, these details, combined with the cross-referencing in the book, make the task of tracking down instrument data, the associated satellite mission, and hence its operator reasonably straightforward.

The Remote Sensing Data Book is a thoroughly researched, easy-to-use reference for those working in space-borne remote sensing. Such a volume has been long overdue.

My main concern is that as new satellite missions and space programmes are initiated, especially the low-cost, small satellites that have a short time from inception to launch, the book may date rather quickly. We can only hope that Rees and his publishers will produce new editions on a regular basis.

Anna Corlyon works as a systems engineer, Vega Group plc.

The Remote Sensing Data Book

Author - Gareth Rees
ISBN - 0 521 48040 X
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £25.00
Pages - 262

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