Natural Resources to improve satellite imagery of Canada

Renewed funding for a satellite imaging portal project by Natural Resources Canada will mean Canadians get a closer look at the country’s roads, wetlands and vegetation.

Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) announced $2.4 million over the next five years for the project, which will also involve Telus Corp. and a few other firms. The announcement was made at the 2006 Geomatics Leadership Summit in Ottawa.

The portal, GeoBase, is available for free to the public and was first launched in 2002. It contains scores of images which the government uses to monitor the health of forests, the delineation of wetlands and the level of floods or rivers when they rise in the spring. Other partners in the project include Agriculture and Agri-Food, National Defence, Environment, Parks, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

According to Jeff Labonte, director general of NRCan’s data management dissemination branch in the Earth Sciences sector, the cost of satellite imagery may be going down but the cost for greater accuracy is not. The investment will go towards improving the degree to which details can be seen from 15 metres away to seven, not unlike the way digital cameras have brought greater resolution on a megapixel basis. 

“Fifteen years ago, the best you could get was 25 metres,” he said. “Anything smaller than that and you couldn’t see it.”

Some of the data from GeoBase is used by Google as part of its Google Earth portal, Labonte said, but there is a difference in what the two services offer.

“What Google Earth creates is a lot of what you could call consumer interest and a very exciting opportunity. It also creates some expectations that the data is always new,” he said. “The reality is the satellites are always on, but they only have so much life, and only a certain amount of capacity of take pictures.”

The satellites that capture the images for GeoBase are distributed by Lethbridge, Alta.-based Iunctus Geomatics Corp. Wim Chalmet, the firm’s director of operations, said the SPOT satellites will generate much higher resolution and less static shots than those captured in the previous incarnation of GeoBase, which were taken between 2000 and 2002.

“This data can be as much as five or six years old by now, and things change,” he said. “We are going to remap Canada completely using the satellites.”

Telus processes the raw data into a usable image, then ships it to NRCan, Labonte said. The images are captured in Geo-TIFF, an extension of the popular TIFF format that integrates data about location where the picture was taken, Chalmet added.

The imagery is optical rather than the radar pictures used to monitor the flooding in the prairies, Labonte said. They are also multi-spectral, meaning they can capture things that cannot be seen by the naked idea. This helps identify things such as the different properties of vegetation, he added.

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