EARTH OBSERVATION / GIS



A change detection method to monitor the scorched-earth tactics - in Darfur.




This novel use of Landsat data is a realistic mean to monitor and document the human abuses that have taken place and is ongoing in Darfur and southern Sudan. Compared to VHR data - this method is approximately 100 times cheaper and can trace historical changes - it produces information on villages’ status: recently burnt, unchanged or left - furthermore, it can quickly reveal what’s going on in the no-go zones of Darfur or elsewhere.


The method was developed during a pilot study for Amnesty, it was based upon change detection between 2003 and 2004 where the satellite images have been recorded under the same environmental conditions and found that 44% of the villages in the region covered were burnt. 352 villages were analysed by comparing the albedo from the two images. 155 of these have strong indications of the burning, 125 have no significant change, 61 have some change, and seven of the remaining 11 have some change that can be linked to burning before March 2003. The method has been verified with an overall accuracy above 98%.



Plotting of burnt villages from the Landsat study - compared to initial efforts made US HIU by the use of

VHR data. 


The study was used for and had impact on:


·         Main input in Amnesty Internationals report "Sudan: At the mercy of the killers - destruction of villages in Darfur" the 2' July 2004.

·         Presented in UN's Security Council the same week-end, and on the African Unions meeting the week after.

·         Used by UN organizations, governments, NGO's and press in several countries.

·         Assisted in the final pressure that open up for help organizations, international monitoring and the AU union force.


Awarded the 2005 Nairobi prize by 90 Danish journalists for the most important news for developing countries, the method is published by Nature and two times in Danish national TV.


Change detection of albedo from Landsat data revealed burning of villages. Other areas of change are related to bush fire scares - these did not ocurred inside the villages.


Change detection of albedo revealed large scale burning of villages - double rings indicate villages

co-observed by the Landsat / VHR.





Amnesty 2004 Report link:

PRINS, E (2008): Use of low cost Landsat ETM to spot burnt villages in Darfur, Sudan. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 29 (04), pp. 1207 - 1214. DOI: 10.1080 / 01431160701730110

Nature 2008:  Satellite can spot razed villages in Darfur Published online 11 March 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.663.  

Ingenøren 2008: Dansk fotoanalyse afslører afbrændte landsbyer

TV: Danish Broardcasting (DR2) Deadline 17 and Science program. Both on the developed method to trace burnt villages in Darfur 22/4-2008.

Satellite can spot razed villages in Darfur; Free imaging data could rapidly pinpoint some human-rights violations. March 12, 2008 at 10:40 am | In Remote Sensing Law Current Events | by Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz

Humanitarian info: on the fantastic work of Erik Prins for Amnesty International on monitoring burnt villages using remote sensing. Amnesty used his research as part of their campaigning back in 2004-5, but Erik has just published an article, Use of low cost Landsat ETM+ to spot burnt villages in Darfur, Sudan, in the International Journal of Remote Sensing. The research is right on the mark.

Client: Amnesty International / Development Research project by PRINS .


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