LIST remote sensing tools provide unique environmental and humanitarian aid

Published on 23/02/2023

Extreme weather events, which bear witness to climate change, are multiplying across the globe and are of major international concern. Other human-induced pressures, such as the intensive exploitation of natural resources, are disrupting the already fragile balance of ecosystems on which our societies depend. In this context, LIST's remote sensing solutions provide revolutionary environmental and humanitarian support to policy makers and emergency response units.

HASARD® is a flagship example, internationally acclaimed for its ability to generate global flood maps from satellite data. However, the scope of work carried out at LIST is much broader. With an unequalled accuracy, LIST remote sensing tools can actually perform maritime, vineyard and soil monitoring as well as detecting damage in urban areas.

On the lookout for illegal fishing and oil spills

Faced with illegal fishing activities, LIST researchers have helped the Mexican authorities to set up better surveillance of their coastal waters using their radar remote sensing tool. The usual method does not provide an accurate analysis of maritime traffic due to an insufficient number of stations to implement an Automatic Identification System (AIS) as well as the limitations of such a system where ships that turn off their transponder or have technical problems with it become invisible.

By combining data from radar satellites and ship transponders, the LIST solution is able to detect all so-called uncooperative vessels, ranging from illegal fishing activities to piracy, including ships experiencing technical incidents. This innovative methodology has also attracted the interest of entities such as Luxembourg’s Commissariat des affaires maritimes, which is responsible for ships travelling around the world with a Luxembourg registration.

Within the framework of the activities of the WASDI spin-off, the Institute's experts are interested in another type of maritime surveillance: the detection of ships responsible for maritime pollution. This time, using the HASARD® tool, they can identify oil spills and locate nearby ships.

Combatting desertification and preserving vegetation

With more than 20 years of environmental observations thanks to radar satellites, LIST detects trends and anomalies due to climate change, including the desertification of certain regions of the world. Thanks to their radar remote sensing tool, researchers monitor soil moisture by detecting water in the top few centimetres.

Using hyperspectral data combined with drone images, they are also able to detect the first symptoms of diseases in vineyards and forests, allowing for early identification and treatment. In collaboration with the Institut Viti-Vinicole, this application has already been put into practice in the vineyards of Luxembourg.

Supporting aid to urban disaster areas

Initially mandated by the Luxembourg Directorate of Defence to develop maps of natural disasters and their impact on urban infrastructures, LIST remote sensing researchers have just opened up a whole new area of application. In fact, their feasibility study has also made it possible to detect the urban damage caused in the city of Mariupol, a victim of the war in Ukraine.

The HASARD® tool used in this context is capable of analysing SENTINEL-1 radar satellite images to detect potential changes between two data acquisitions. LIST researchers usually use this feature to detect the appearance of new buildings. But by applying the opposite reasoning, they were able to detect heavily or completely destroyed buildings in urban areas. The team is now exploring their tool’s sensitivity in order to identify which types of building damage can be detected.

These new capabilities of HASARD® are applicable in multiple emergency situations, for example during an earthquake or an explosion. In this sense, the LIST solution could be of great interest to the country's defence space strategy. Announced in February 2022 by the Minister of Defence, Luxembourg plans to launch its first military Earth observation satellite, LUXEOSyS, in the course of 2023.


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 Patrick MATGEN PhD
Patrick MATGEN PhD
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