The natural environment is essential for human survival and development since it provides water resources, land resources, biological resources and climate resources etc. As a developing country, China has witnessed a significant change in the natural environment in recent decades; and therefore, monitoring and mastering the status of the environment is of great significance. Due to the characteristics of large-scale and dynamic observation, remote sensing technology has been an indispensable approach for environmental monitoring. This paper reviews the satellite resources, institutions and policies for environmental monitoring in China, and the advances in research and application of remote sensing from five aspects: ecological index retrieval, environmental monitoring in protected areas, rural areas, urban areas and mining areas. The remote sensing models and methods for various types of environmental monitoring, and the specific applications in China are comprehensively summarized. This paper also points out major challenges existing at the current stage: satellite sensor problems, integrated use challenges of datasets, uncertainty in the retrieval process of ecological variables, scaling effect problems, a low degree of automation, the weak ability of forecasting and comprehensive analysis, and a lack of computational power for massive datasets. Finally, the development trend and future directions are put forward to direct the research and application of environmental monitoring and protection in the new era.
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