Using satellite data for CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) threat detection, monitoring, and modelling

Gary Sutlieff*, Lucy Berthoud, Mark Stinchcombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

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CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) threats are becoming more prevalent, as more entities gain access to modern weapons and industrial technologies and chemicals. This has produced a need for improvements to
modelling, detection and monitoring of these events. While there are currently no dedicated satellites for CBRN purposes, there are a wide range of possibilities for satellite data to contribute to this field, from atmospheric composition and chemical detection to cloud cover, land mapping, and surface property measurements. This study looks at currently available satellite data, including meteorological data such as wind and cloud profiles, surface properties like temperature and humidity, chemical detection, and sounding. Results of this survey revealed several gaps in the available data, particularly concerning biological and radiological detection. The results also suggest that publicly available satellite data largely does not meet the requirements of spatial resolution, coverage, and latency that CBRN detection requires, outside of providing terrain use and building height data for constructing models. Lastly,
the study evaluates upcoming instruments, platforms, and satellite technologies to gauge the impact these developments will have in the near future. Improvements in spatial and temporal resolution as well as latency are already becoming possible, and new instruments will fill in the gaps in detection by imaging a wider range of chemicals and other agents and by collecting new data types. This study shows that with developments coming within the next decade, satellites should begin to provide valuable augmentations to CBRN event detection and monitoring.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727-755
Number of pages28
JournalSurveys in Geophysics
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2021


  • CBRN
  • Satellite
  • Earth Observation
  • Monitoring
  • Detection


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