Can we use Remote Sensing to find mass graves?

An interesting idea was put forward during a talk a the RSPSoc’s student conference I attended last week, searching satellite signals for indications of mass graves by a researcher at Bournemouth University, Emily Norton.

The idea is based around the detection of the classic vegetation health indicator, NDVI, and inferring from that signal the likelihood a grave is present. As a control the researchers dug a grave filled with pig carcasses which seemed to show a reasonably clear signal. It’s clearly quite ambitious using 1 datastream to try to distill out the grave signal, and so it’s used as a basic indicator of initial search sites.

Given InSAR is so acute for changes in topography, and considering it’s already been well developed to detect changes in microtopography (for instance land-mine detection, just 1 of many examples, albeit not at the same scale), I wonder how big a grave would have to be to show up in an InSAR scene, or if the combination of spectral indices with RADAR would produce a better indication of their presence.

It was a very interesting talk on an important topic, I’ll be keeping up with her research in the future!


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