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© Pléiades Satellite Image ©2012 CNES- Distribution Astrium Services / SPOT Image

Spatial information systems for integrated environmental management

In summary

In a word

  • 41 permanent staff including 36 researchers, engineers and technicians
  • 22 top-ranking publications per year on average
  • 2 software programmes and 1 patent

Four lines of scientific research

  • Acquisition and processing of remote sensing and spatialized observation data
  • Spatial analysis and modelling
  • Spatialized information systems, modelling, extraction and distribution of data and knowledge
  • Usage of spatial information and governance

Editorial : spatial remote sensing supporting territorial development

Pierre Maurel, Deputy science director, SYNERGIEThere can be no better vantage point than the sky for monitoring the evolution of our territory! Some 60 years after the first satellite was sent into orbit, observation of the Earth using satellite remote sensing now has multiple applications in fields as varied as vegetation mapping, land use observation, forecasting and combating fires and floods, monitoring biodiversity, etc.

At Irstea, researchers working on the research topic SYNERGIE (Spatial information systems for integrated environmental management) are designing tools for land analysis using more and more numerous and accurate data supplied by increasingly sophisticated sensor technology, from a variety of sources. Their goal is to achieve an enhanced understanding of the state of the environment and of territorial dynamics to help public actors for sustainably territorial management.

One of the core strengths of the Institute is undoubtedly its integrated approach: the methods and tools developed cover the whole chain of spatial information, from acquisition to processing, management and use by stakeholders. It plays a unique role in France, such as analysing the uses of spatial information in the territories or collaborative work to measure the economic impact of the methodologies transferred to the authorities. Irstea also supplies recognized expertise in cutting-edge spheres such as the use of Lidar and radar data to monitor forests or data-mining techniques which can extract knowledge from very large volumes of greatly varying information.

Lastly, it makes a key contribution to Equipex GEOSUD and more broadly to the national data and services centre THEIA, whose tightly nested technological platforms are designed to facilitate and democratize access to the satellite data which are still under-exploited because of their cost and the capacities they demand. National and international showcases of the know-how of Irstea and its partners, these structures are also catalysts of innovation fostering the development of remote sensing.

Selected research projects

Remote sensing: the vertical nature of forests


Mapping natural habitats


Interview with a partner

A successful transfer of know-how

Interview with Jean-François Closet, deputy director-general of G2C Ingénierie, a research consultancy specializing in water, the environment, urban and territorial studies intended for local communities.

What is your relationship with Irstea ?
Since 2004, we have conducted a number of research projects with different Irstea teams. The most recent, the FUI Sirhyus project (2011-2014) and the Captiven SCOOP project (2015), have enabled us to transfer to our teams the methodology for the production of fine mapping of land use1 developed by Irstea. We have worked together closely to fully master the methodology and to carry it over into software tools.

What do you gain from this methodology ?
The accuracy that it provides is valuable in responding to the needs of regional communities in the management of the water cycle and preservation of biodiversity (green and blue belts, etc.), and consequently it represents a commercial asset for G2C Ingénierie. However, because it is more expensive than the system that we were using until now, in cooperation with Irstea we conducted a comparative costeffectiveness analysis before offering our clients the product most suited to their problem and to their budget constraints.

Will the collaboration continue ?
We plan to carry out a full-scale demonstration in an effort to convince the local authorities of the value of the methodology derived from the SCOOP project. If necessary, Irstea could provide us with its scientific and technical expertise.


Satellite imagery

Towards a national remote sensing sector
Created a few years apart, Equipex GEOSUD and the THEIA centre share two common features: the pooling of data and capacities related to satellite imagery and the privileged commitment of Irstea.
The result of an initiative launched at the beginning of the 2000s, dubbed Equipex in 2011, currently GEOSUD brings together, under the direction of Irstea, 13 public action stakeholders focused on the same goal: to establish a shared strategy and research, training and transfer resources in the field of remote sensing. This is because satellite imagery is still underexploited due to the cost of the data and the lack of training and coordination. In response to these obstacles GEOSUD is making freely available to all public actors very high resolution annual coverage (1.5 to 6 m) of the territory, a data management infrastructure and pooled access to calculation and processing tools. It is also helping to network its 400 users and welcomes the support of enterprises specializing in services connected with satellite remote sensing.

This ambition is being enlarged by the THEIA national hub, which since 2012 has federated the users (scientists and state actors) of remote sensing used on continental surfaces and is based broadly on the expertise and resources of GEOSUD; Irstea is one of its driving bodies. Thanks to its infrastructures (including a worldwide receiving station of the data from the SPOT 6-7 satellite installed in 2014 at the site of the Remote sensing centre in Montpellier) and to its network of experts, THEIA is contributing to the development of innovative processing tools and methods, to the organization of the community of users and to the international visibility of the French observation sector of the Earth by satellite remote sensing.