i initiative

Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Bakassi under Radar Surveillance

Posted by Simon Adebola on August 24, 2009

What were they actually pointing out?

The image shown below is from the TerraSAR-X image of the month series on the DLR website. The area shown is the Bakassi Peninsula on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. The area has been a cause of much dispute between the two neighbours. Much of this has been traced to the fact that the area is said to be oil-rich. The choice of petroleum mining services is the purview of the concerned countries. This post would however examine the role of satellite radar remote sensing in the management of natural resources and especially petroleum in this case.

Mangroves, Bakassi Peninsula, Cameroun. (Source: DLR Portal)

Remote sensing involves the use of sensors that are not in direct physical contact with a substance in getting information about it. Satellite remote sensing involves using satellites to acquire data about features on the earth’s surface. This is accomplished by launching the satellites into orbit around the earth, and as they rotate, they could either detect and record natural physical emissions from the earth’s surface (passive remote sensing) or transmit their own waves to the earth and then record the reflections from the earth’s surface (active remote sensing). Optical sensors aboard satellites detect light and other electromagnetic waves as they are reflected and they help in producing much of the imagery that has been largely popularized by Google Earth and other Virtual globes. This however has its challenges, chief of which are the distortions that follow poor weather and atmospheric conditions including cloud cover, especially over tropical regions. They are also unable to produce clear images at night when the sun’s rays are not being reflected off the earth’s surface. Radar remote sensing on the other hand overcomes these chief challenges of optical remote sensing. Due to the fact that it relies on the transmission of its own waves, it does not rely on the earth’s natural emissions and thus can function actively during the night hours. It is also able to provide all-weather capability and penetrate cloud cover. These major advantages make radar remote sensing the choice option for a wide-range of monitoring, detection and investigative procedures that require a reliable source of satellite data over given areas. This includes its use in the petroleum prospecting industry for detecting slicks from oil seeps, both onshore and especially offshore, in order to point to likely sources of crude oil. It also helps in monitoring pipelines, effectively tracks oil spills, and other effects of environmental pollution due to petroleum activity.

After comparison of this optical image above from Google Maps with the earlier radar image from the TerraSAR-X satellite of the same area (both images are freely available), the unanswered question was what prompted the acquisition of this image? Images from radar satellites are usually 3-4 times more expensive than their optical counterparts of the same spatial resolution. Was it the economic potential of the shrimps and fishes in the waters around the peninsula? Was it the biodiversity and ecological importance of the mangrove habitats, of which that region remains an example of a rapidly disappearing biological and environmental heritage due to human reclamation of mangrove forests and pollution? Could it be the military sensitivity of the region? Or could it just be the crude oil potential and the importance of that natural resource, both for oil and natural gas, in a world that keeps urging for better access and control over energy sources? If that be the case, the obvious and pre-eminent question would then be if African countries have put the right systems in place to assess and monitor the resources in their own environment, such as through the use of satellite-based monitoring? Should the rest of the world keep pointing the way to them, right under their noses, in their own backyards?

3 Responses to “Bakassi under Radar Surveillance”

  1. Iyke said

    Well, this is indeed food for thought, and I hope we, Africans, would see this as a wake-up call and awake to the vast responsibilities and challenges facing us.
    One thing would be for we, the younger generation, to take responsibility and begin to steer ourselves in this direction of radar remote sensing (on a private basis would be much preferable), and then begin to work from here, in bringing the much needed scientific research and technological development to our homeland!
    This would go a long way in assuring that we take active control of our nation, country and continent!

    • Simon Adebola said

      Thanks Iyke for your inspirig contribution. It is true that we must make room for innovation and research as part of our collective drive for social development. There is certainly a lot of room for integration through private investments and activities, and also for public-private partnerships (an example of which is the TerraSAR X satellite). These could go on while the reinvention of the social psyche is also pursued in order to ingrain the values and ethos of progressive thinking, equitable access to information (which is of prime value in an information-driven society), and productivity based on transparent and honest dealings. This is what ‘i initiative’ is about.

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