The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2007 Finalist

Satellite Images project

Satellite Images project

Conservation in developing countries

"Conservation managers, educators, aid agencies, and many other groups need easy access to satellite images. We should give it to them," says TerraLook project leader Gary Geller, who brings the latest news from the project.

Access to satellite images has traditionally been largely limited to science communities with the necessary tools and expertise, even though other communities, including conservation, education, and sustainable development, among others, could also benefit from them.  Fortunately, these access hurdles can be overcome with data and tools appropriate for the underserved communities.  TerraLook has developed from interactions with the conservation community in response to their need for data.

TerraLook.  TerraLook is a collaborative project that provides a time-series of satellite images and a software toolkit for utilizing them, all at no cost.  Together, these make images and basic analytical capabilities available to people who lack experience with them or the resources to buy images and expensive commercial software.  Users access a website where they can select the images they want from a global archive, and a collection of full-resolution images is then generated for them.  Most users create collections that are centred around a particular theme, such as a country, a watershed, or the parks of a region.  Once the TerraLook outreach program is in place, users will be able to obtain enhanced collections from collaborating organizations. 

Uses.  For conservation, examples of activities that have used early versions of TerraLook include detecting, mapping, and managing land use change such as deforestation; threat detection and management such as boundary encroachment; burned area extent; and understanding spatial relationships.  In addition to conservation, TerraLook is beginning to be used by other types of natural resource managers, by educators, for infrastructure development in developing countries, and in various workshops to introduce people to remote sensing.  However, the most common use of images may be for effective communication, a picture truly being worth a thousand words.

Status.  TerraLook is just now moving into the "operational" stage.  The US Geological Survey (USGS) website went live in February, 2007, though the site has not yet been publicized pending final preparations; the publicized launch is planned for the second quarter of 2007.  Version 1.0 of the TerraLook Toolkit was released in March. 

Next Steps.  Aside from simply publicizing TerraLook and its website, two primary tasks remain.  First, the Toolkit, which is being developed by conservation NGO in India, needs to be upgraded, simplified and improved with new underlying software that has just become available.  But the larger task is to start the next phase of the outreach program, the core of which is to collaborate with existing organizational networks that can benefit from easy access to satellite images.  These networks are already connected to users, generally in developing countries, and can act as local "TerraLook representatives" and distribution hubs. 

To assist these organizations a "Distribution Kit" is planned to provide basic information on TerraLook, satellite images, data overlays, and their use for a variety of applications.  If resources are available the kit will also contain training materials explaining how satellite images and data overlays can be used in various applications.  The prize money would enable completion of the Development Kit and printing and distribution of its hardcopy version.  It would also facilitate cost-shared workshops with the organizational partners that would connect users with satellite images so they are aware of the availability, benefits, and ease with which such images can be accessed and used.

Acknowledgments.  The U.S. space agency, NASA, was the prime sponsor for project development, with help and advice from IUCN-The World Conservation Union, and additional funding and support from a variety of sources including The Nature Conservancy, the World-Bank-Funded IABIN project, the U.S. State Department, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation-Funded Amazon Basin Protected Area Network.  The Toolkit was developed by Ecollage, a conservation NGO based in India. The U.S. Geological Survey Center for EROS was also a major sponsor, operationalizing TerraLook by incorporating it into their existing systems and making it one of the standard products they offer; they will operate and maintain it. Much of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.  At USGS, this project was made possible with the collaboration and support of the USGS Land Remote Sensing program.

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