Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Keeping an eye on international conflict

Burke Hales and George Waldbusser

Ground disturbance within Gaza Strip between July 30 and August 14, 2014

Information about social conflicts was once gathered primarily through eyewitness accounts — placing citizens, reporters and other personnel at great risk. Now, remote sensing technologies can capture valuable intelligence on conflicts to help inform the international community and alert watchdog and aid groups alike.

Jamon Van Den Hoek, an assistant professor in geography, is at the forefront of using such approaches to monitor armed conflict. He specializes in the use of remote sensing and geospatial analysis to understand the relationship between military operations, for example, and the environmental changes that result. Recently, he applied these techniques to help analyze the aftermath of "Black Friday," the violent August 2014 outbreak in the Palestinian territory following the capture of an Israeli soldier.

Using images from NASA's Landsat-8 satellite and the French-operated and very high-resolution Pléiades satellites, Van Den Hoek performed a change analysis of the Gaza Strip over a two-week period. These "change" maps were used to identify building and road damage, locations of craters and crops or trees destroyed when vehicles were driven through fields.

"We were able to identify specific attack sites and transportation routes based on changes in condition of vegetation or soil brightness that were readily apparent in satellite images," said Van Den Hoek. "Our interpretation was corroborated by journalist and citizen video footage, military accounts as well as testimony by Gazan residents."

According to a report by Amnesty International, which used Van Den Hoek's analysis, the satellite images provided a useful resource to reconstruct the military force movement, blasts and other events in early August 2014.

"This study is one step toward building a data-driven conflict monitoring platform that supports transparency and peaceful resolution," said Van Den Hoek. Learn more about the project.

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