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Remote sensing is a discipline based on measurable quantities and testable hypotheses, which requires a good ability to analyse and synthesise and which offers society direct results that allow better management of the environment. Remote sensing includes meteorological products, applications aimed at improving agricultural yields, land mapping, control of drought and natural disasters, search of new mineral deposits, forest management, land use planning and a long list that has only just begun since it is a young discipline.

The importance of scientific studies carried out from remote sensing data about varied aspects of our environment is easily justified given the large number of operational applications that provide scientific results obtained from it. Remote sensing provides thematic maps, characteristics and parameters of interest related to water, soil, crops and natural vegetation, providing regular, updated information, facilitating long-term and periodic monitoring and assisting in the decision-making of managers in these areas. It provides a way to study areas with no access and/or with minimal field support. It is used in agriculture, land planning, irrigation management, agri-environmental impacts, environment and natural hazards.

When we talk about the usefulness of remote sensing in regional planning or environmental impact assessment, we must highlight the temporal and spatial dimension implicit to both types of processes, and how remote sensing can address them. To mention a few specific examples related to the temporal scale, remote sensing can detect information about phenomena and processes occurring in very large periods, such as information relating to soil formation and erosion, but also to events such as fires or explosions of a nuclear reactor, which can have catastrophic consequences for the environment and the development of society in seconds. All these processes can be recorded and analysed from a local and regional scale to a global and planetary one by implementing methodologies for the analysis of the information contained in digital images provided by satellites, which makes way for new lines of research and, therefore, of doctoral theses in the context of Doctoral Studies in Remote Sensing proposed here.

Today, remote sensing has become a source of geographic information of great interest, which is recognised for its extraordinary scientific and application potential. The characteristics of this information in relation to both the power of resolution of the sensors and its digital format, followed by the progress in the field of microcomputing and the design of specific computer programs, has also helped to generate a consolidated methodology for the processing of spatial information and the progress in specific processing methods. In other words, remote sensing has ceased to be a tool that could only be applied at local level as a complement to other sources of geographic information; it is now the only tool capable of providing vital information for the understanding and analysis of processes related to regional and environmental planning.

Remote sensing has been supplying data about the Earth’s surface and oceans for more than three decades and will continue to do so through the planned Earth Observation Programmes.

The areas in which the new observing systems will bring progress can be summarised in three main sections:

  1. The monitoring of environmental conditions on Earth’s surface, from the global to the regional scale.
  2. The management and monitoring of land resources, both renewable and non-renewable.
  3. And finally, the deeper knowledge of weather conditions and their modeling.

The significance of many of these advances does not imply that they have covered all the expectations raised in the beginning, or that they have developed their full potential. In fact, some of the Observation Programmes mentioned are still at draft stage, and those that have been in orbit for several years continue to enable testing and promote the approach to new working methods as new demands for information and application arise.

The motivation behind this expansion of Space Observation Programmes and especially the development of their potential for realising specific applications stems from the need to consider the functioning of the Earth’s surface as a whole, and from the need to interweave physical facts to human activities, if we pretend to make predictions and design models of the functioning of the earth system.

The ability to provide a synoptic view of large strips of territory, the temporal coverage and the possibility to develop spatial models from the data detected by a sensor, make remote sensing a very versatile and essential technique in certain application fields. The optimisation of these capabilities requires the development of efficient data and model networks for their analysis and integration with complementary data sources, as well as the consolidation of appropriate application fields. This all constitutes a broad field of work for the development of doctoral theses, to which this Doctoral Studies Programmes will contribute.