Section 1.4: Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics


How does forest restoration affect water cycles?

German environmental satellite EnMAP successfully launched into space: Representatives from science and politics acknowledge the importance of the mission for the analysis of climate and environmental phenomena

Christopher Kyba honoured with "Leon Gaster Award"


latest publications:

Gou, Y., Balling, J., De Sy, V., Herold, M., De Keersmaecker, W., Slagter, B., Mullissa, A., Shang, X., Reiche, J. (2022): Intra-annual relationship between precipitation and forest disturbance in the African rainforest. - Environmental Research Letters, 17, 4, 044044.

Milenković, M., Reiche, J., Armston, J., Neuenschwander, A., De Keersmaecker, W., Herold, M., Verbesselt, J. (2022): Assessing Amazon rainforest regrowth with GEDI and ICESat-2 data. - Science of Remote Sensing, 5, 100051.

McCallum, I., Kyba, C., Bayas, J. C. L., Moltchanova, E., Cooper, M., Cuaresma, J. C., Pachauri, S., See, L., Danylo, O., Moorthy, I., Lesiv, M., Baugh, K., Elvidge, C. D., Hofer, M., Fritz, S. (2022): Estimating global economic well-being with unlit settlements. - Nature Communications, 13, 2459.

The research aims of the Remote Sensing and Geoinformatics Section at GFZ are to establish remote sensing as a core method in geosciences. In particular, we aim to increase awareness of the considerable value of remotely sensed data for knowledge generation about Earth’s surface properties and processes, which arises from its ability to provide complete coverage over large spatial scales. Our research and method development covers the entire range of the remote sensing processing chain. We examine bio, geophysical, and geochemical processes in soil, geology, vegetation, and the atmosphere which are triggered by landscape and vegetation development, climate change, natural disasters, and human land use.

Our work on monitoring bio and geophysical surface parameters includes developing sensors for mapping change from satellite, aircraft, and drone imagery. We also develop methods for simulation, calibration, and fusion of data from multiple (optical and radar) sensors via spectral modeling. We investigate the connection between bio and geophysical processes and spectral imagery by combining spectral measurements in the laboratory, in the field, and from air and spaceborne systems with the physical and chemical properties of real surfaces, which we sample using field surveys. Our image analysis methods and software extract information about changes from time series data, enabling users to identify the underlying bio and geophysical processes. This work in particular involves the use and adaptation of big data analytics and data science approaches.

What makes our section exceptional is our multifaceted expertise in remote sensing. This allows us to first observe changes in imagery, and then to understand the underlying process responsible and to observe this process continuously through long-term monitoring.

An unprecedented amount of imagery and remotely sensed data is available today, and this information could benefit many people who are not experts in remote sensing. We therefore founded the “FERN.Lab”, to ensure that our scientific work is translated into practical applications that benefit society.

We hold the role of science principal investigator for the German hyperspectral satellite mission EnMAP. Our diverse expertise covering the entire remote sensing chain (from sensor to application) is pooled together in the development of this mission.

Section Highlights

  • Torsten Sachs takes part in the Expedition "MOSAiC - Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate" from January to May.
  • Daniel Spengler is now official representative and member of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture – Competence Network for Digitization in Agriculture (Participation of 2nd Competence Network meeting at Bonn, 03./04.03.2020)
  • Sabine Chabrillat is appointed Vice-chair of the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society/ Standards Committee (GRSS/SC) Working Group; P4005 on 'Standard Protocol and Scheme for Measuring Soil Spectroscopy'; ( Activity started with the Kick-off meeting in June 2020
  • Torsten Sachs has been invited by the BMBF/ptj to the Polar Research Support Group of the BMBF research program MARE:N - Coastal, Marine and Polar Research for Sustainability. In the "Agenda Process Polar Research" the support group formulates new goals for future BMBF research funding in coastal, marine and polar regions

  • Remote sensing of night lights: A review and an outlook for the future is listed as one of the 25 most downloaded papers from Remote Sensing of Environment
  • Shamshiri, R.,Motagh, M., Nahavandchi, H.,Haghshenas Haghighi, M., Hoseini, M. (2020): Improving tropospheric corrections on large-scale Sentinel-1 interferograms using a machine learning approach for integration with GNSS-derived zenith total delay (ZTD). - Remote Sensing of Environment, 239, 111608
  • Milewski, R., Chabrillat, S., Bookhagen, B. (2020): Analyses of Namibian Seasonal Salt Pan Crust Dynamics and Climatic Drivers Using Landsat 8 Time-Series and Ground Data. - Remote Sensing, 12, 3, 474.
  • Wolanin, A., Mateo-García, G., Camps-Valls, G., Gómez-Chova, L., Meroni, M., Duveiller, G., You, L., Guanter, L. (2020): Estimating and understanding crop yields with explainable deep learning in the Indian Wheat Belt. - Environmental Research Letters, 15, 2, 024019.;
  • Bohn, N., Guanter, L., Kuester, T., Preusker, R., Segl, K.(2020): Coupled retrieval of the three phases of water from spaceborne imaging spectroscopy measurements. - Remote Sensing of Environment, 242, 111708;
  • Scheffler, D., Frantz, D., Segl, K.(2020): Spectral harmonization and red edge prediction of Landsat-8 to Sentinel-2 using land cover optimized multivariate regressors. - Remote Sensing of Environment, 241, 111723;
  • Beamish, A.L., Raynolds, M.K., Epstein, H., Macander, M.J., Frost, G.V., Bergstedt, H, Bartsch, A., Kruse, S., Miles, V., Tanis, C.M., Heim, B., Fuchs, M., Chabrillat, S., Shevtsova, I., Verdonen, M., Wagner, J. (2020), Recent trends and remaining challenges for optical remote sensing of Arctic tundra vegetation: A review and outlook, Remote Sens. Env., 246, 111872,
  • Chris Kyba`s experiment in Tucson was one of the 7 papers mentioned in Science's "This week in other journals": 
  • Torsten Sachs and his team co-authored Nature Climate Change paper on remote sensing of methane emissions from Arctic lakes: Engram, M., Walter Anthony, K. M., Sachs, T., Kohnert, K., Serafimovich, A., Grosse, G., Meyer, F. J. (2020). Remote sensing northern lake methane ebullition. Nat. Clim. Change, 10, 511-517. 
  • Koebsch, F., Gottschalk, P., Beyer, F., Wille, C., Jurasinski, G., Sachs, T. (2020). The impact of occasional drought periods on vegetation spread and greenhouse gas exchange in rewetted fens, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 375: 20190685.

  • Start of EnMAP 2020-2022 Scientific preparation and support of the hyperspectral satellite mission EnMAP. GFZ is coordinating a consortium of 4 partners with a total project budget of 3.0 Mio €. About 1.9 Mio budget for GFZ. Duration 01.01.2020 – 31.12.2022 with potential extension after satellite start. Scientifically GFZ will be mainly involved in mission coordination and preparation, sensor simulation (pre-launch), data quality and validation (after-launch), EnMAP Box development and user support, training and workshops, education initiative HYPERedu.
  • Start of the CHIME CCN1 E2E performance simulator project 2020. The main objective of this project is to develop an end-to-end (E2E) satellite simulator framework for the Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment (CHIME) that is currently a candidate mission in the Copernicus Expansion Sentinel program. The project is done in cooperation with partners from the University of Valencia, Spain.
  • Start of TECVOLSA project: Tectonics and Volcanoes in South America with InSAR. The goal of this project is to develop an intelligent Earth Observation (EO) data processing system for monitoring  earthquake cycle and volcanic events in South America. The project is done in cooperation with partners from German Aerospace Center (DLR ) and section 2.1

  • Start of GFZ Helmholtz Innovation Lab - FERN.Lab. The 5-year funding (incl. project evaluation after 2.5 years) of 2.3 Mio € (50% of the project costs) enables the build-up of a physical lab, which is to establish itself as a technology platform for application-oriented, transdisciplinary method developments for the analysis of remote sensing data in the long term beyond the funding period.
  • Start of project AgriSens DEMMIN 4.0 (Test field (Experimentierfeld) for digitization in Agriculture initiated by BMEL) with focus on transfer. GFZ is coordinating the consortium of 8 partners with a total project budget of 3.5 Mio €. About 1.35 Mio budget for GFZ. Duration 02.03.2020 – 01.03.2023 with potential extension of +2 years. Scientifically GFZ will be mainly involved in RS data analysis / data synergy analysis for soil parameter estimation e.g. for optimization of irrigation.

  • Sabine Chabrillat has taken over the position of the Scientific Principal Investigator of the EnMAP Mission
  • Mahdi Motagh has been appointed as member of the UNESCO Land Subsidence International Initiative LaSII
  • Sabine Chabrillat has been appointed as editorial board member for the journal Remote Sensing
  • Chris Kyba has been invited to the "Highlights der Physik" event with 4500 people in the audience. He discussed light pollution with the event moderator. The „Highlights der Physik“ is annually organized by  the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) and the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG) since 2001.
  • Mathias Bochow has been selected as one of ten German experts to the Sino-German Symposium on Microplastics, 9-10th July 2019 Beijing.
  • Mathias Zöllner represents GFZ in the „UAV DACH – Verband für unbemannte Luftfahrt“

  • Sophia Walther was awarded with the "Ernst Reuter Preis". She received the prize from the Freie Universität Berlin for her outstanding Phd Thesis „Assessment of the dynamics of terrestrial vegetation using satellite observations of greenness and sun-induced chlorophyll fluorescence”.
  • Friederike Körting won first place for the best audience poster award at the biannual workshop on hyperspectral remote sensing which is organized every two years by the Special Interest Group on Imaging Spectroscopy of the European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories (EARSeL SIG-IS). Her poster is titled 'Proximal Hyperspectral Outcrop Scanning – A Geological Use Case Study'.
  • Friederike Klos was awarded third place for the best Young Scientist poster presentation at the biannual workshop on hyperspectral remote sensing (EARSeL-SIG IS) for her poster 'Hyperspectral Lithium-Pegmatite Detection - A Case Study for Hoydalen, Norway' and second place for the best poster audience award.
  • 10th Anniversary Best Paper Award of MDPI journal „Remote Sensing“.  Nominations from all papers published from 2009 to 2018   Rank 3 Award for:  The EnMAP Spaceborne Imaging Spectroscopy Mission for Earth Observation. Authors: Luis Guanter, Hermann Kaufmann, Karl Segl, Saskia Foerster, Christian Rogass, Sabine Chabrillat, Theres Kuester, André Hollstein, et al.
  • 20th Anniversary Best Paper Selection of the International Journal of Digital Earth.  Thirty papers originally published in the period from 2008 to the 2019 have been selected in a virtual special issue entitled “Digital Earth and Big Earth Data”. Paper: Challenges and strategies for the visual exploration of complex environmental data. Authors: Carolin Helbig, Doris Dransch, Michael Böttinger, Colin Devey, Antonie Haas, Mario Hlawitschka, Claudia Kuenzer, Karsten Rink, Christian Schäfer-Neth, Gerik Scheuermann, Tom Kwasnitschka, Andrea Unger
  • Niklas Bohn successfully applied for a DAAD scholarship for doctoral researches. He is going to visit the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, for a 7-months research stay starting in November 2019. Supervised by Dr. David Thompson, he will join the imaging spectroscopy group to continue working on his doctoral thesis.

  • Sánchez de Miguel, A., Kyba, C., Aubé, M., Zamorano, J., Cardiel, N., Tapia, C., Bennie, J., Gaston, K.:  Colour remote sensing of the impact of artificial light at night: The potential of the International Space Station and other DSLR-based platforms. In Remote Sensing of Environment. DOI:
  • Saskia Foerster, Luis Guanter et al. edited a Springer review book on the state-of-the-art of spaceborne imaging spectroscopy entitled “Exploring the Earth System with Imaging Spectroscopy” including chapters led by Sabine Chabrillat and Luis Guanter. The book is published within the Space Sciences Series of ISSI ( and as special issue in the Surveys in Geophysics journal (
  • Marc, O., Behling, R., Andermann, C., Turowski, J., Illien, L., Roessner, S., Hovius, N. (2019): Long-term erosion of the Nepal Himalayas by bedrock landsliding: the role of monsoons, earthquakes and giant landslides. - Earth Surface Dynamics, 7, pp. 107—128. DOI:
  • Veh, G., Korup, O., von Specht, S., Roessner, S., Walz, A., 2019. Unchanged frequency of moraine-dammed outburst floods in the Himalaya. Nature Climate Change, 9, 379-383, DOI; 
  • Haghshenas Haghighi, M., Motagh, M. (2019): Ground surface response to continuous compaction of aquifer system in Tehran, Iran: Results from a long-term multi-sensor InSAR analysis. - Remote Sensing of Environment, 221, pp. 534-550.  DOI
  • Walter, T. R., Haghshenas Haghighi, M., Schneider, F. M., Coppola, D., Motagh, M., Saul, J., Babeyko, A. Y.Dahm, T., Troll, V. R., Tilmann, F.Heimann, S.Valade, S., Triyono, R., Khomarudin, R., Kartadinata, N., Laiolo, M., Massimetti, F., Gaebler, P. (2019): Complex hazard cascade culminating in the Anak Krakatau sector collapse. - Nature Communications, 10, 4339.DOI:
  • Natali, S. M., Watts, J. D., Rogers, B. M., Potter, S., Ludwig, S. M., Selbmann, A., Sullivan, P. F., Abbott, B. W., Arndt, K. A., Birch, L., Björkman, M. P., Bloom, A. A., Celis, G., Christensen, T. R., Christiansen, C. T., Commane, R., Cooper, E. J., Crill, P., Czimczik, C., Davydov, S., Du, J., Egan, J. E., Elberling, B., Euskirchen, E. S., Friborg, T., Genet, H., Göckede, M., Goodrich, J. P., Grogan, P., Helbig, M., Jafarov, E. E., Jastrow, J. D., Kalhori, A. A. M., Kim, Y., Kimball, J. S., Kutzbach, L., Lara, M. J., Larsen, K. S., Lee, B., Liu, Z., Loranty, M. M., Lund, M., Lupascu, M., Madani, N., Malhotra, A., Matamala, R., McFarland, J., McGuire, A. D., Michelsen, A., Minions, C., Oechel, W. C., Olefeldt, D., Parmentier, F. W., Pirk, N., Poulter, B., Quinton, W., Rezanezhad, F., Risk, D., Sachs, T., Schaefer, K., Schmidt, N. M., Schuur, E. A. G., Semenchuk, P. R., Shaver, G., Sonnentag, O., Starr, G., Treat, C. C., Waldrop, M. P., Wang, Y., Welker, J., Wille, C., Xu, X., Zhang, Z., Zhuang, Q., Zona, D. (2019): Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region. - Nature Climate Change, 9, pp. 852-857

  • FERN.Lab (Remote sensing for sustainable resource use) initiated by Daniel Spengler, Julia Neelmeijer and Theres Küster will be funded by Helmholtz starting from 2020.  It is intended to become a technology platform for developing and operationalizing practical transdisciplinary methods of using remote sensing data. The lab focuses on collecting geoinformation, especially from satellite data, to meet the specific requirements of companies, agencies, and NGOs.
  • Christian Mielke and Friederike Körting together with Martin Otto and Arndt Schwaiger founded the company rad. Data Spectral Analytics UG (haftungsbeschränkt). The company aims at the usage of remote sensing and imaging spectroscopy applications in the mining sector from multiple remote sensing platforms. This way innovative solutions are provided to the mining industry for a more cost effective and sustainable resource discovery and recovery.

  • Luis Guanter and Sabine Chabrillat have been appointed as member of the „Mission Advisory Committee for the ESA candidate mission CHIME (Copernicus Hyperspectral Imaging Mission for the Environment)“
  • Mahdi Motagh has been appointed as guest Professor for Radar Remote Sensing at Wuhan University in China.
  • Mahdi Motagh has been appointed as editorial board member for the journal Remote Sensing
  • Mike Sips has been selected as one of five German experts to the Transatlantic Dialogue „Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity“ in Ottawa, Canada, by „The Canadian German Chamber of Industry & Commerce“.
  • Katrin Kohnert has been selected as a reviewer for the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (group review organized by the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists)
  • Mathias Zöllner has been selected as a member of the VDI/DIN-Kommission Reinhaltung der Luft (KRdL) – Normenausschuss – Mitglied der Arbeitsgruppe NA 134-02-01-50 UA „Meteorologische Messungen – Unbemannte Fluggeräte“

  • Sabine Chabrillat, Robert Milewski and Stephane Guillaso received the Best Paper Award at the 9th Workshop on Hyperspectral Image and Signal Processing Evolution in Remote Sensing ‘Whispers’ 2018, held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, from 23 to 26 September.
  • Katrin Kohnert won Best Poster Award for early career scientists 15th International Circumpolar Remote Sensing Symposium, Potsdam
  • Section 1.4 received the GFZ „Innovationspreis“ for its activities in technology transfer regarding remote sensing for geology and agriculture

  • Kyba, Ch, Is light pollution getting better or worse? In: Nature Astronomy. DOI
  • Kyba, Ch., Kuester, T., Sánchez de Miguel, A., Baugh, K., Jechow, A., Hölker, F., Bennie, J., Elvidge, C. D., Gaston, K. J., Guanter, L.: „Artificially lit surface of Earth at night increasing in radiance and extent“ Science Advances has been listed in the „Altmetric top 100“ in 2018:
  • Behling, R., Milewski, R., Chabrillat, S. (2018): Spatiotemporal shoreline dynamics of Namibian coastal lagoons derived by a dense remote sensing time series approach. - International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 68, pp. 262—271. DOI:
  • Veh, G., Korup, O., Roessner, S., Walz, A., 2018. Detecting Himalayan glacial lake outburst floods from Landsat time series. Remote Sensing of the Environment 207, 84–97.
  • Wang, T., Shi, Q., Nikkhoo, M., Wei, S., Barbot, S., Dreger, D., Bürgmann, R., Motagh, M., Chen, Q. (2018): The rise, collapse, and compaction of Mt. Mantap from the 3 September 2017 North Korean nuclear test. - Science, 361, 6398, pp. 166-170.
  • Moreno, M., Li, S., Melnick, D., Bedford, J., Baez, J. C., Motagh, M., Metzger, S., Vajedian, S., Sippl, C., Gutknecht, B., Contreras-Reyes, E., Deng, Z., Tassara, A., Oncken, O. (2018): Chilean megathrust earthquake recurrence linked to frictional contrast at depth. - Nature Geoscience, 11, pp. 285-290
  • Kohnert, K., Juhls, B., Muster, S., Antonova, S., Serafimovich, A., Metzger, S., Hartmann, J., Sachs, T. Toward understanding the contribution of waterbodies to the methane emissions of a permafrost landscape on a regional scale-A case study from the Mackenzie Delta, Canada. - Global Change Biology, 24, 9, pp. 3976-3989. DOI
  • Unger, A., Dräger, N., Sips, M., Lehmann, D. J. (2018): Understanding a sequence of sequences: Visual exploration of categorical states in lake sediment cores. - IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 24, 1, pp. 66-76. DOI:

back to top of main content