South Africa hosts international remote sensing community

May 10th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT


Speaking at the 37th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of the Environment (ISRSE) Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor stressed the need to leverage space for development and improved decision making, and expressed her hope that space-based products would play a fundamental role in aiding decision makers working on NEPAD’s 2025 Vision and provide support to the African Union (AU) in monitoring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

ISRSE 2017, which was hosted by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), is being held from 8 to 12 May at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria. The theme for the symposium is “Earth observation for development and adaptation to a changing world”, and delegates from space agencies and earth observation programmes from around the world were in attendance. Fourteen different themes were covered by the programme which included biodiversity and ecosystems, disasters resilience and geohazards, energy and mineral resource management, food security and sustainable agriculture, water resource management, marine and coastal environment resources and dynamics, and data and information systems and spatial data infrastructure.

Mmboneni Muofhe (Department Science and Technology, South Africa), Naledi Pandor (Minister of Science and Technology, South Africa), Sheila Senkubuge (City of Tshwane), Val Munsami (SANSA), John Trinder (ISPRS) and Charles Hutchinson (ICRSE) at the opening plenary of ISRSE 2017.

Addressing the international remote sensing gathering, Dr. Val Munsami CEO of SANSA pointed out that despite having ample resources Africa is the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped continent. African countries, he said, are reflecting on how they can change this situation in order to create a prosperous and peaceful Africa and 90% of the work being done by the AU in this regard requires space science technology solutions and applications.

Munsami also spoke about the African Space Policy and the African Space Strategy which were adopted by the AU last year, and the work being done towards the development of an African Space Agency and an African Space Programme. He stated that South Africa has been given the hosting rights for the Pan African University for Space Science, which will involve seven universities in South Africa and focus on three broad training areas – space engineering, space science and space application. Munsami called on the ISRSE delegates to share their learning experiences during the symposium and stated that he hoped to cement partnerships to further the development of the African Space Programme.

Listening to Stephen Briggs (ESA) talking on global trends in earth observation.

The plenary session on day one of the conference saw senior representatives from the European Space Agency, the Argentinian National Space Activities Commission, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Brazilian Institute of Space Research, the Chinese Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, the South African National Space Agency, the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration share how their organisations were working to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

During his presentation Stephen Briggs from the European Space Agency spoke about future trends and referred to the suite of opportunities surrounding space technologies which provide further scope for remote sensing scientists and organisations. These, he said, include cloud computing activities, improved satellite sensitivity, linked data, access to and linking to mobile devices, improved processing capabilities and the application of algorithms to big data. He said that the analytical capacity to understand more intelligently large amounts of data is going to be critical and there is a lot of scope for that to improve as well.

An important comment was made by Lawrence Friedl during his presentation on NASA’s earth science programme. He mentioned that his agency had recently established a new consortium, led by Resources for the Future, to advance techniques to quantify the economic and social value from the use of earth observation to inform decisions. The consortium, which consists of earth scientists and economic scientists, will apply a variety of economic techniques (e.g. yield preferences) to a range of case studies where earth observation was used for decision making in order to determine the economic value and to establish which techniques are more appropriate for certain earth science applications. The ultimate goal being to create an improved literature base which can be drawn on when there is a need to determine the value of funding for future earth observation initiatives. The programme is expected to run for five-years.

ISRSE is held on a biennial basis by the International Centre on Remote Sensing of Environment (ICRSE) and the International Committee on Remote Sensing of the Environment (ICORSE), a standing committee of the International Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS). This is the second time that the symposium has been held in Africa.

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