Guest article from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – NASA. Authors: Jonathan O’Brien, Brock Blevins, and Ana Prados.

Satellites are constantly taking the Earth’s pulse, allowing us to analyze and compare phenomena over distances and over time. They allow us to study biodiversity by monitoring habitat loss, detect animals such as penguins and whales, and monitor the spread of wildfires just to name a few. Satellites allow us to study our climate by measuring precipitation, measuring pollutants and the general composition of our atmosphere, locating flood zones and at-risk areas for other natural disasters, and estimating land surface temperature. Remote sensing brings us closer to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the UN by allowing us to quantify and measure our progress and develop data-driven strategies for how best to reach these goals.

With such a wide spectrum of data available, it makes sense to empower others to do their own analysis using NASA data and apply it to their needs, since no one has a better picture of the true situation on the ground than local organizations and communities. This decentralized approach to remote sensing analysis can also bring greater efficiency and timeliness of data processing since the workload is distributed among several local or regional entities instead of falling on the shoulders of a single agency. In addition, the responsibility of implementing the SDGs and keeping track of progress falls on governments all the way down to the regional level, and therefore the capacity to provide relevant data at this level is paramount. A wide variety of remotely-sensed satellite data is ideally suited for analysis on a regional level due to its spatial resolution (pixel size), area covered, and revisitation (how frequently a picture is taken of the same area), and there is a strong desire to have the ability to process this type of data in-country along with local knowledge and in situ verification. The only issue is that government and private entities often lack the capacity or knowledge to find, download, and use these datasets.

This challenge has led to the rise of programs like NASA’s Applied Remote Sensing Training Program (ARSET), which works globally to enable users at every level to take advantage of the agency’s freely available satellite data in an effort to help enact this ground-up approach. Designed to reach participants at all levels of expertise throughout all sectors around the globe, our program demonstrates how to access and apply those observations to support the UN SDGs, and by extension, many other international agreements. Since 2009, more than 31,000 people have participated in ARSET trainings, representing more than 7,000 organizations and 170 countries around the world. These online and in-person trainings focus on applications of satellite observations for disasters, air quality, land, and water resources. All trainings are recorded and are available for free online at the ARSET website, along with copies of the materials.

The value of remote sensing is well-understood by those who are already acquainted with it. If you were to take an ARSET course on the fundamentals of remote sensing, you would gain awareness of how remote sensing can be utilized to support climate adaptation, monitor biodiversity, and achieve and report on Sustainable Development Goals. In the more advanced ARSET courses, you would then learn how to actually integrate the data into your workflow. ARSET receives requests for remote sensing training for these applications on a regular basis. To help meet this demand, the program frequently partners with other organizations that align with these objectives to offer the most relevant training possible. Our most current partnership is with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), through which we will be offering a training on the use of their UN Biodiversity Lab, an analysis platform specifically designed to enable local governments to visualize and manipulate spatial data as it relates to the SDGs. Also noteworthy is the fact that this training will be offered in English, Spanish, and French. When possible, ARSET also works closely with agencies developing indicator reporting methodologies, such as GEO (EO4SDGs), Conservation international, UNCCD, and UN Habitat.

In summary, there is a wealth of resources available to help implement remote sensing into your climate mitigation and planning efforts and help your organization work toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Programs such as ARSET strive to make remote sensing a realistic option for anyone involved in these efforts. If you would like to learn more about what resources and data are available or register for training, please visit our website at