Focus on the Vine: producing focused web solutins that bear real fruit
eNews Archive

eNewsletter January 2011

George Clooney and Friends Fund Eye-in-the-Sky to Avert War in Sudan

A human rights project using satellite imagery that the general public can access was launched at the end of December to help deter a resumption of war between north and south Sudan linked to a crucial referendum in January. The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP), which is backed by actor George Clooney, combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google's Map Maker technology to monitor the area marking the boundary between the nations of Sudan and Southern Sudan, which is expected to become Africa's 55th country following the voting that began on January 9.

On January 27, the first report was released. The SSP has confirmed that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has deployed company-sized units of troops equipped with light armor and artillery in areas of South Kordofan around the oil-producing Abyei region and other strategic areas along Sudan’s volatile North-South border. However, the project’s first report also indicates that the SAF troops do not appear prepared for imminent forward movement.

Commercial satellites passing over the border areas between north and south Sudan are capturing images of possible troop movements and build-ups, potential attacks on villages, the movement of displaced people, and other possible threats to civilians. The project aims to provide an early warning system to focus world attention and generate rapid responses on human rights and human security concerns.

The Sentinel Project is a collaboration between Not On Our Watch, the Enough Project, UNOSAT (the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, and Internet strategy and development firm Trellon, LLC. The Enough Project, co-founded in 2007 by Africa experts Gayle Smith and John Prendergast, contributes field reports, provides policy analysis, and, together with Not On Our Watch, puts pressure on policymakers by urging the public to act. Not On Our Watch is a human rights organization co-founded by Clooney.

A few proofs of concept using satellite imagery helped inspire the Satellite Sentinel Project — including Amnesty International's Eyes on Darfur project, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Crisis in Darfur project, and use of satellite images by Physicians for Human Rights and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to gather evidence of mass grave tampering in Afghanistan. The Sentinel Project, however, is the first to use sustained, public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential conflicts and threats to security along a border, within 24-36 hours of their occurrence.

A deterrent to using satellite images in the past has been the expense of commercial satellite images, which can cost about $2,500 per image. Not On Our Watch has funded a $750,000 six-month start-up phase of the Sentinel Project. For the project, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative will provide system-wide research and lead the collection, human rights analysis, and corroboration of on-the-ground reports that contextualizes the satellite imagery. UNOSAT leads the collection and analysis of the images and collaborates with Google and Trellon to design the Web platform for the public to access the images and reports easily.

The aim of the project's funder, Not On Our Watch — co-founded by Don Cheadle, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub — is to focus global attention and resources toward putting an end to mass atrocities around the world.

According to Jonathan Hutson, director of communications for the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group, one goal of the project is to teach the world best practices in using commercially available satellite imagery along with crowd-sourced mapping tools to provide better, faster responses. These could be responses to potential human rights abuses, conflicts, humanitarian crises, or natural disasters.

URL: www.satsentinel.org

Privacy Push Will Impact Geolocation Sector, Attorney Says

Efforts to protect consumers' privacy on the Internet are likely to impact companies that collect, use, or distribute geolocation data, according to LeClairRyan attorney Kevin D. Pomfret, who specializes in spatial law and technology. Therefore, he argues, businesses should step forward to educate Congress and executive agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the breadth and scope of location-based technologies, as well as about the industry's enormous potential. They should also begin to identify and protect any geolocation data they collect or use that could be associated with an individual, he adds.

Pomfret, a Richmond-based partner in LeClairRyan and executive director of the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy, points out that several privacy-related initiatives that attempt to address geolocation are currently under way in Washington, and that GPS location-aware smart phones and other devices already collect enormous amounts of data about where people go, who they are, and what they do. The level of available detail — and potential privacy risks — will only increase with time, compounding existing concerns about such issues as “cyber-stalking,” Fourth Amendment privacy rights and more, he says.

Pomfret also urges the geolocation industry to educate lawmakers and regulators about the many ways in which location data can be collected and used in order to create a fully informed discussion about the industry and the technology. Overly broad legislation, he points out, could stymie the numerous important governmental and societal applications currently being developed based upon location, such as using location data for crisis and emergency response, public transportation, and economic development.

In order to fully understand how proposed regulations will affect them, geolocation companies should begin to identify what spatial data assets they have throughout their organizations and how that information is aggregated, Pomfret added. “Increasingly, companies that do not consider themselves 'geolocation companies' have databases that connect customers, employees, and vendors to a location, often at a particular time,” he said. “Depending upon the outcome of the current privacy discussion in Washington, such information could become subject to regulation if laws are not carefully drafted.”

URL: www.leclairryan.com

National Spatial Data Infrastructure Contract Awarded to Intermap Technologies

Intermap Technologies, a digital mapping and geospatial solutions provider that creates high-resolution 3D digital models of the Earth’s surface, has received a $12.4 million contract to provide 3D digital elevation models and ortho-rectified radar images as part of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) program to update the client’s current 1:50,000-scale base map. The geospatial data will be used for topographic map production to manage sustainable forestry projects and to support local infrastructure needs.

Under the terms of the agreement, Intermap will begin collecting the data in January 2011 via interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR). Prior to data delivery, Intermap will also provide training to the client on the creation of topographic maps. The company’s airborne IFSAR data collection system was chosen as the best option for collecting data in rugged areas obscured by prevailing cloud cover.

URL: www.intermap.com

DigitalGlobe 2010 8-Band Research Challenge Winners Announced

Winners of the DigitalGlobe 8-Band Research Challenge were announced at the Geospatial World Forum on January 20 in Hyderabad, India. The challenge was designed to uncover the unique benefits that 8-band imagery can bring to remote sensing scientists and to the greater community. Hundreds of scientists participated in the challenge, conducting independent research using DigitalGlobe’s unique high-resolution 8-band multispectral imagery. Their results highlight the quality of 8-band imagery and the limitless potential for practical applications. Winners were judged to be superior in terms of sound scientific reasoning, problem definition, methodology and presentation.


  1. Vegetative canopy parameter retrieval using 8-band data
    Christoph C. Borel-Donohue – Air Force Institute of Technology
  2. Introduction: Remote sensing of vegetation parameters has important applications for determining plant health, growth stage and the impact of diseases.

    Findings: This study presents an effective method for mapping these vegetation parameters using 8-band imagery. By applying a multiple regression analysis of all eight bands, the research shows that estimates of leaf area index are improved over analysis of the traditional VNIR bands alone. For the first time, other vegetation parameters such as average leaf angle, chlorophyll content, and brown pigment content can be determined (unlike with commercial VNIR images, which can be used only to estimate leaf area index). Conclusion: 8-band imagery is therefore uniquely suited to create vegetation maps that provide critical information for precision agriculture, forestry, and other environmental remote sensing applications.

  1. Derivation of bathymetry from multispectral imagery in the highly turbid waters of Singapore’s south islands: A comparative study
    James F. Bramante – National University of Singapore, Tropical Marine Science Institute
  2. Introduction: Determining bathymetry in shallow, turbid waters is technically challenging and very costly.

    Findings: This research identified two bathymetry models that performed well using 8-band imagery. The first was a linear band algorithm with an RMSE of 0.229 m and a median error of 26%; the second was a band classification method with an RMSE of 0.313 m and a median error of 25%. In each case, the additional spectral resolution provided by 8-band imagery improved the accuracies of these bathymetric calculations as compared with 4-band VNIR imagery. The improvements were 9% and 27% respectively. Conclusion: With sufficiently representative training sets, 8-band imagery has the potential to determine shallow water bathymetry accurately in highly turbid waters.

  1. Using WorldView-2 vis-NIR MSI imagery to support land mapping and feature extraction using normalized difference index ratios
    Antonio Wolf – Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
  2. Introduction: Multispectral imagery (MSI) is regularly used to support decision making by enabling land mapping, terrain classification and feature extraction.

    Findings: This study outlines an elegant mechanism for improving the extraction of features, artifacts, and surface materials by employing non-traditional normalized difference index ratios that leverage 8-band imagery. Each ratio, comprised of at least one band from the arsenal of newly available wavelengths (coastal, yellow, red edge, and NIR2), provides a superior method of extracting features as compared with traditional VNIR imagery. Conclusion: WorldView-2’s 8-band imagery enables a more effective land mapping and feature extraction process as compared with other commercial multispectral imagery sources.

  1. New capabilities for the monitoring of threatened coral reefs
    Jeremy M. Kerr – Nova Southeastern University, National Coral Reef Institute
  2. Introduction: Accurate bathymetric maps are critical to the effective evaluation and monitoring of reef system health.

    Findings: This study explored optimizing a standard optically derived bathymetry model to take advantage of the WorldView-2's additional spectral data. The research demonstrated that by using the 6 visible bands for depth modeling and the two NIR bands for de-glinting, highly accurate bathymetry results could be achieved (RMSE = 0.77 m; NRMSE = 5.49%) over a wide range of bottom types commonly found in coral reef systems, even with limited ground truth. Conclusion: 8-band imagery is a vital tool in near-term and long-term reef mapping and conservation efforts.

  1. Commercial Timber Tree Species Identification Using Multispectral WorldView-2 Data
    Hamdan Omar – Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
  2. Introduction: The ability to identify forest species, while vital both for effective management of commercial timber plantations and for research and conservation activities, is very challenging and labor intensive.

    Findings: This study leveraged 8-band imagery to delineate successfully ten tree species with an accuracy of about 90% using the Random Forest algorithm. The research showed that the most important bands for species discrimination were NIR-2, NIR-1, Red Edge and Green – primarily the new spectral bands. Conclusion: The high spatial and spectral resolution of 8-band imagery provides critical information necessary for modern forestry management.

Judges were:

Dr. Anko Börner, Head of the Department of Information Processing of Optical Systems, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Germany

Dr. Stuart R. Phinn, Director of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (Australia), and Director of the Centre for Spatial Environmental Research, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, the University of Queensland, Australia

Dr. Hrishikesh Samant, Associate Professor of Geology, St. Xavier’s College, India, and Senior Associate Editor at GIS Development

Dr. Walter Scott, Founder and CTO, DigitalGlobe, United States

Index of eNewsletters
DGI 2014 | 21-23 January 2014, London | Strategies for data, geoint, and cyber security in defence & intelligence | Find out more