The Role of GIS and Remote Sensing in Environmental Impact Assessment

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What is the role of GIS and Remote Sensing in

1. Environmental Impact Assessment

2. Substance Flow Analysis

3. Carbon Foot printing

4. Health Impact Assessment

5. Social Impact Assessment


Geospatial techniques such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing play a pivotal role in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and their various components such as ecological, social and hydrological impact assessment. These tools have proved so useful that they have also been incorporated into carbon foot printing and substance flow analysis. This paper will discuss how GIS and remote sensing have been incorporated into each of the assessment techniques highlighted above.


The most common application of GIS is concerned with environmental issues with half of all GIS work undertaken since the 1980s worldwide having been related to environmental or rural issues including GIS (Antunes, et al., 2001). This prominent role has been attributed to the fact that GIS can answer questions that are central to the EIA process which according to ESRI (1995) are

“1. What is where?

2. What spatial patterns exist?

3. What has changed since?

4. What if?”

The knowledge of “what is where” is pivotal to in conducting the screening, scoping and baselines studies while on the other hand data on the existing spatial patterns can help in developing an understanding of the baseline conditions as well as in impact prediction and mitigation. For instance the location of a wetland near to the proposed project site can identify impacts to do with effluent discharge while the impact of the effluent can be determined by the wetland’s ability to self purify which depends on the soil type as well as flo...

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