Evaluation of remote sensing for the detection of landfill gas and leachate in an urban environment

  • R.J. Ellis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The technique of remote sensing provides a unique view of the earth's surface and considerable areas can be surveyed in a short amount of time. The aim of this project was to evaluate whether remote sensing, particularly using the Airborne Thematic Mapper (ATM) with its wide spectral range, was capable of monitoring landfill sites within an urban environment with the aid of image processing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) methods.
The regions under study were in the West Midlands conurbation and consisted of a large area in what is locally known as the Black Country containing heavy industry intermingled with residential areas, and a large single active landfill in north Birmingham.
When waste is collected in large volumes it decays and gives off pollutants. These pollutants, landfill gas and leachate (a liquid effluent), are known to be injurious to vegetation and can cause stress and death. Vegetation under stress can exhibit a physiological change, detectable by the remote sensing systems used. The chemical and biological reactions that create the pollutants are exothermic and the gas and leachate, if they leave the waste, can be warmer than their surroundings. Thermal imagery from the ATM (daylight and dawn) and thermal video were obtained and used to find thermal anomalies on the area under study.
The results showed that vegetation stress is not a reliable indicator of landfill gas migration, as sites within an urban environment have a cover too complex for the effects to be identified. Gas emissions from two sites were successfully detected by all the thermal imagery with the thermal ATM being the best.
Although the results were somewhat disappointing, recent technical advancements in the remote sensing systems used in this project would allow geo-registration of ATM imagery taken on different occasions and the elimination of the effects of solar insolation.
Date of AwardJan 1997
Original languageEnglish


  • image classification
  • ATM
  • thermography
  • image processing
  • GIS

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