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GeoMine Uses ENVI to Locate and Map Landmines

Customer Challenge

Every year, landmines planted during periods of conflict kill or injure several thousand people, most of whom are civilians. The vast majority of these landmines are located in countries no longer at war,such as the southern African nation of Angola. In addition to tracks of land with unidentified mines, governments have fenced off vast swaths of potentially habitable land, preventing settlement and agriculture due to the presence of mines. Efforts to eradicate these weapons have increased, yet there are still more than one hundred million landmines hidden in places that now pose a threat to people. The United Nations has projected that at the current pace and cost of landmine removal it would take roughly 1,100 years at a cost of $33 billion to clear the planet of these explosives.

Current methods for locating and removing the explosives, such as the use of explosive sniffing dogs and high powered metal detectors, are not accurate enough, cannot detect all types of explosives and are extremely slow and labor intensive. To address this worldwide problem, Avi Buzaglo-Yoresh, CEO of GeoMine, Ltd., secured funding and support to develop anew method of detecting land mines and other unexploded ordinance, such as bombs, shells and grenades. Using his background in geology and experience in the Israeli Army, Buzaglo-Yoresh determined that buried explosives leave a telltale “signature” in the surrounding soil and vegetation and sought to find a method of visualizing and analyzing geospatial imagery, in order to pinpoint their location and greatly reduce the danger, time and resources required to clear them.

Solution Achieved

Avi Buzaglo-Yoresh served in the Israeli Army for more than two decades, during which time, he frequently mapped landmines in the Golan Heights planted by Syria during the 1967 war. After retiring from the army, Buzaglo-Yoresh theorized that there had to be a more accurate and efficient method of locating these mines and others in different regions around the world and founded the company GeoMine, Ltd. GeoMine’s goal was to develop a new method for landmine detection that was substantially quicker, cheaper and safer than existing methods. If GeoMine could prove this, governments in countries containing landmines and companies paid to remove these mines would hire them to locate the mines.

At GeoMine, Buzaglo-Yoresh utilized his experience clearing landmines and degrees in geology and determined that explosives left in the ground leach a specific form of nitrogen into the soil and vegetation. While these effects are mostly hidden from the human eye, they can be detected using certain spectral cameras – imaging devices mounted on airborne and spaceborne platforms that capture information from across the electromagnetic spectrum. Buzaglo-Yoresh needed to develop a method of capturing spectral images of large areas of land and accurately analyzing the images to map the location of landmines.

Buzaglo-Yoresh could capture the images by flying an airplane equipped with a spectral camera over areas identified or suspected of having landmines, however, he needed a way to visualize and analyze the imagery and then export results to a GIS so he could produce detailed maps of the mine locations. He ultimately chose ENVI image analysis software because it combines the latest spectral image processing and image analysis capabilities with automated workflows, allowing him to obtain scientifically proven, accurate results quickly and efficiently. 

“We chose ENVI over other technology because it is the only software that can open and visualize the images we collect and perform the detailed analysis that we need,” said Buzaglo-Yoresh. “In addition, ENVI is by far the most common image analysis tool used by the Israeli Ministry of Defense (MOD) and Israeli universities so it is easy to share findings and results with them.”

Buzaglo-Yoresh also chose ENVI because he can easily add information extracted from imagery using the product to the leading GIS platform, ArcGIS®. Adding information extracted from imagery to a GIS provides a complete picture of geographic area of interest that includes pertinent, current information. As an ArcGIS user, Buzaglo-Yoresh has seamless access to ENVI image analysis tools directly from an ArcGIS toolbox.

After refining his techniques, Buzaglo-Yoresh ultimately developed a multi-step solution for landmine detection and mapping. First, his company performs a survey of the region suspected of having landmines to understand the geology, vegetation and environmental factors that affect the area. Then, they fly an airplane equipped with a hyperspectral camera over the area and gather imagery. GeoMine opens the imagery in ENVI to perform spectral analysis and look for contaminated materials because of nitrogen leached from the landmines.

To identify contaminated materials, Buzaglo-Yoresh developed a custom spectral library based on his work analyzing leached nitrogen in the soil and vegetation around landmines. A spectral library is a database of identified spectra used to identify unknown materials. ENVI contains several spectral libraries, but also has the extensibility for Buzaglo-Yoresh to build his own libraries that include the specific spectral signatures of nitrogen. GeoMine uses ENVI to analyze the visible, near infraRed (VNIR), and short wavelength infrared (SWIR) portions of the electromagnetic spectrum in their imagery and detect areas that match the spectral signatures of leached nitrogen contained in their spectral libraries.

To make the task of finding these spectral signatures faster, GeoMine has modified ENVI using IDL to automate this process. Since ENVI is developed using the powerful IDL development language, its advanced image analysis tools can be easily customized and additional features and functionality can be added. 

After using ENVI to compare the spectral signatures in the collected imagery with their spectral library, Buzaglo-Yoresh then looks at each pixel’s spectrum to verify results. He also brings other imagery into ENVI, such as ASTER imagery from NASA, to overlay and compare the results and exploit the strengths of the different sensors. Next, Avi orthorectifies the imagery using ENVI. Orthorectification is a process that removes the geometric and terrain distortions introduced during image capture, by precisely registering the imagery to a ground coordinate system. These properties make orthoimagery “map accurate” and the clear choice for applications like Buzaglo-Yoresh’s,which require accurate positional information.

In ENVI, Buzaglo-Yoreshthen creates a shapefile of the spectral analysis results showing landmine locations and brings it and the orthorectified imagery into ArcMap® to generate a map. In ArcMap, Buzaglo-Yoresh includes layers of information to create a map that identifies the areas suspected of having landmines. “ENVI has made it easy for us to move the results of our analysis into ArcGIS,” said Buzaglo-Yoresh. “In the past, this process was laborious and slow, but now we don’t worry about it. This saves us valuable time and allows us to identify landmines more quickly.”

Once GeoMine has created the orthorectified maps identifying the precise locations of the contaminated areas, they provide the maps to the government officials and companies that have hired them to locate the mines. Buzaglo-Yoresh then goes out into the field and ensures that the people clearing the mines understand how to properly use the map.

“The landmine detection solution that we employ using ENVI has reduced the areas that need to be cleared of landmines by 90 to 95 percent,” said Buzaglo-Yoresh. “Landmine clearing operations can focus on areas that are contaminated and ignore the rest, which is safer and saves valuable time, money and resources.”

In the past few years, GeoMine has been hired to locate landmines in regions around the world. In Angola, The War of Independence (1961–1975) and a civil war that began soon thereafter and continued, with some interludes, until 2002, left the country littered with landmines. The Angolan government recently hired GeoMine to locate landmines near several villages and the results have been impressive. GeoMine’s work has led to the safe and efficient removal of hundreds of landmines and clear marking and fencing of now identified minefields. In addition to Angola, GeoMine has mapped mines in Israel. GeoMine is currently in contact with officials from the United Nations and governments of India,Vietnam, Colombia, Azerbaijan, and Thailand who are interested in their solution and services. 

Key Benefits

  • GeoMine uses ENVI to visualize and analyze geospatial imagery to pinpoint the location of landmines and other unexploded ordinance.
  • The integration of ENVI and ArcGIS enables GeoMine to easily move spectral analysis results and orthorectified imagery into ArcView to generate image maps.
  • GeoMine’s landmine detection solution enables perilous minefields to be cleared dramatically faster and more safely than before.

Additional Resources

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently awarded GeoMine Ltd. with an honorable mention for the “PrimeMinisters Prize for Initiatives and Innovation.” The goal of the prize is encourage initiatives, innovational thinking, imagination and creativity.
  • Television stations and newspapers around the world have reported on the work performed by GeoMine.  Here is an example of one television report.
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