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Sensing disasters from space

One small step for mankind is now a leap for averting natural and man-made disasters on earth.

New Tel Aviv University technology combines sophisticated sensors in orbit with sensors on the ground and in the air to create a "Hyperspectral Remote Sensor" (HRS). It can give advance warnings about water contamination after a forest fire, alert authorities of a pollution spill long before a red flag is raised on earth, or tell people in China where a monsoon will strike.

Prof. Eyal Ben-Dor of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography describes his team's HRS technology as a combination of physical, chemical and optical disciplines. "When a devastating forest fire hits the Hollywood Hills, for example, we can see from space how the mineralogy of the soil has changed," he explains. "Because of these changes, the next rainstorm may wash out all the buildings or leach contaminants into the soil. With our new tool, we can advise on how to contain the pollutants after the fire, and warn if there is a risk for landslides."

Details on new applications of this technology were presented recently in several leading journals including Soil Science Society of American Journals, Soil Science Journal and the International Journal of Remote Sensing.

Putting a price on dirt

HRS provides information useful to property developers as well. It can offer a soil profile map with detailed information for contractors, farmers or vintners interested in making major land purchase deals or managing existing ones. It can also indicate where water runoff should be directed and what minerals may be lacking in a given parcel of land.

"Water is an expensive commodity today," says Prof. Ben Dor. "Knowing how to better manage water resources is a top priority for states like California, and our new tool could help them do that."

Today, it can take years before authorities can detect chemicals that can c

Contact: George Hunka
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

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