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Remote sensing is defined by the Environmental Systems Research Institute or ESRI's GIS Dictionary as "Collecting and interpreting information about the environment and the surface of the earth from a distance, primarily by sensing radiation that is naturally emitted or reflected by the earth's surface or from the atmosphere, or by sensing signals transmitted from a device and reflected back to it. Examples of remote-sensing methods include aerial photography, radar, and satellite imaging." 

In the realm of watershed monitoring and management, remote sensing has several applications.  Using satellite images and aerial photographs can be a cost effective and repeatable approach to monitoring and evaluating watershed conditions.  The table below describes just a few of those applications.

Remote Sensing Data Type Application
Creating high resolution elevation models
  • Delineating watershed and subwatershed boundaries
  • Identifying drainage patterns
  • Locating areas susceptible to soil erosion
Land cover mapping
  • Determining land cover distribution and land use patterns
  • Evaluating trends in land cover change over time
  • Identifying impervious surfaces
Bathymetric models of water bodies
  • Developing advanced mixing models
Normalized Difference Vegetative Index
  • Evaluating wetland health
  • Identifying drought conditions
Aerial Photographs/High Resolution Satellite Images
  • Monitoring water clarity (Secchi Disk Depth)


Landsat is a moderate resolution satellite that has been capturing images of the earth consistently for over 30 years.  The first satellite was launched in 1972 and has been collecting multispectral satellite images and documenting our planet's changes ever since. 



July 3, 1999


January 27, 2000


July 5, 2000

September 7, 2000

May 5, 2001

September 13, 2001