Nine open source tools for analysing satellite images

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SATELLITE imagery has become an invaluable resource for journalists, providing verifiable proof of events, especially in regions where access is limited due to censorship or conflict.

This transparency combats disinformation and propaganda by offering concrete evidence that can debunk false narratives by state and non-state actors. Additionally, satellite imagery adds a visual dimension to stories, offering context and scale to events based on witness testimony or interviews, ultimately providing representation in media for those affected.

Satellite imagery refers to images of the Earth taken from satellites orbiting the planet. These satellites are equipped with various sensors for detecting visible light, infrared light, microwave radiation, and more to craft high-resolution images.

Since the technology emerged, journalists and media platforms have effectively integrated it into their stories or projects, enriching their reporting with verifiable visual evidence and contributing to a deeper understanding of the underlying issues.

For instance, The ICIR used satellite images to depict the over N2billion worth of fire-fighting trucks which were abandoned by the Nigerian government for almost 20 years. The technology was also used to illustrate the distance between where students were abducted in Kuriga in Kaduna state and likely place they might have been held captive.

In this explainer, we take a look at some of the tools that can be used for satellite imagery analysis.

  1. Bing Maps: The platform developed by Microsoft offers developers some of the highest resolution maps available, with resolutions up to 30cm/pixel and worldwide coverage. They use high-quality location data to provide popular features like Bird’s Eye imagery for coverage from multiple angles, as well as StreetSide. This true-to-life navigation experience puts virtual users on the ground.
  2. Eyes on Russia Map: The platform was developed by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) to collect and verify videos, photos, satellite imagery and other media related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The goal of the project is to provide the world with timely and reliable information concerning the impact of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine and its people.
  3. Global Fishing Watch Map: This is an online tool for visualization and analysis of vessel-based human activity at sea. The map enables people to monitor global fishing activity from 2012 till date for more than 65,000 commercial fishing vessels responsible for a significant part of global seafood catch.
  4. Global Forest Watch: Based on satellite imagery analysis, the platform monitors tree gain and loss in real-time worldwide. It is a good resource for environmental journalists.
  5. Google Earth Engine: The tool combines a multi-petabyte catalogue of satellite imagery and geospatial datasets with planetary-scale analysis capabilities. It can be used to detect changes, map trends, and quantify differences on the Earth’s surface.
  6. Google Earth Pro: This is a free desktop mapping application with historical satellite imagery and GIS data capabilities.  It can be leveraged to view its extremely high-resolution satellite imagery, upload or download geospatial data in its native interoperable format (KML), and also find locations (e.g. for simple geo-coding)
  7. Myanmar Witness Fire Map: This platform developed the CIR uses satellite imagery, verified footage and NASA FIRMS data to document and investigate where buildings and villages have been destroyed by fire in possible human rights incidents.
  8. NASA Worldview: This is an online tool that lets you explore Earth through high-resolution satellite imagery, offering over 1,000 layers frequently updated with some images as recent as 3 hours after capture. You can visualize this data by overlaying layers and even download it for further analysis, making it valuable for time-critical applications like wildfire management, air quality monitoring, and flood response.
  9. Zoom Earth: This is an interactive weather map of the world. It enables users to explore the current weather and see forecasts for various locations through interactive maps of rain, wind, temperature, pressure and so on.
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Nurudeen Akewushola is a fact-checker with FactCheckHub. He has authored several fact checks which have contributed to the fight against information disorder. You can reach him via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 via Twitter.

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