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USGS - science for a changing world

Land Remote Sensing Program


The USGS is fostering the use of land remote sensing technology to meet local, national, and global challenges.

Huang He Delta and Laizhou BayShasta Lake, CaliforniaDetailed Elevation Data-Niger River DeltaMapping Biodiverse Highlands with Satellite Imagery and Elevation DataCoastal Flooding near Semarang City, IndonesiaZapata PeninsulaVolcanic Ashfall, Mount TavurvurOil Production near Tioga, North DakotaUrban Expansion of Shenyang, ChinaDam Breach at Mount Polley Mine, Canada
Huang He Delta and Laizhou Bay
The Huang He (Yellow) River in China flows from the Bayan Har Mountains to the Bohai Sea.
Shasta Lake, California
These two Landsat images show the changing shoreline of Shasta Lake reservoir in northern California over the past three years.
Detailed Elevation Data-Niger River Delta
Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data had previously only been available worldwide at 90-meter resolution. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), NASA, and USGS are now releasing a newly processed, global SRTM 30-meter dataset.
Mapping Biodiverse Highlands with Satellite Imagery and Elevation Data
A team from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center produced a detailed land use/land cover map of the highlands along the Senegal-Guinea border.
Coastal Flooding near Semarang City, Indonesia
Coastal inundation is an ongoing concern for the region near Semarang, Indonesia. This area faces several different types of flood risk, due to the potential combination of high tides, seasonal rainfall events, and river flooding.
Zapata Peninsula
The Zapata Peninsula is located in western Cuba. Most of this sparsely populated area lies within the Ciénaga de Zapata National Park and UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve.
Volcanic Ashfall, Mount Tavurvur
Mount Tavurvur erupted on August 29, 2014, sending ash over surrounding areas on Papua New Guinea’s New Britain Island.
Oil Production near Tioga, North Dakota
These Landsat images show the area around Tioga, North Dakota, in 2002 and again in 2014.
Urban Expansion of Shenyang, China
The city of Shenyang is one of the largest cities in northeastern China. These images show the city in 1984, and again in 2014.
Dam Breach at Mount Polley Mine, Canada
On August 4, 2014, an earthen dam failed at the Mount Polley Mine in central British Columbia, Canada.
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Remote Sensing Highlights

Enhanced Elevation Data to Sharpen Global Focus on Climate Issues

September 23, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior) released a collection of higher-resolution (more detailed) elevation datasets for Africa. The datasets were released following the President's commitment at the United Nations to provide assistance for global efforts to combat climate change. The broad availability of more detailed elevation data across most of the African continent through the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will improve baseline information that is crucial to investigating the impacts of climate change on African communities.

Satellites: Make Earth Observations Open Access

Changes in land cover affect the global climate by absorbing and reflecting solar radiation, and by altering fluxes of heat, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases. Detailed assessments-regional, global, daily, and seasonal-of land use and land cover are needed to monitor biodiversity loss and ecosystem dynamics. Satellite imagery is the best source of such data, especially over large areas. In many cases, satellite data are restricted or charged for. Not true for U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) satellite imagery. A new era of open-access satellite data began in 2008 when the USGS released its Landsat archive, the world's largest collection of Earth imagery, to the public free of charge. According to an article by Michael A. Wulder and Nicholas C. Coops in Nature magazine: "Freely available satellite imagery will improve science and environmental-monitoring products."

Landsat and Water: Using Space to Advance Resource Solutions

A recent White House-led assessment found that Landsat is among the Nation's most critical Earth observing systems, second only to GPS and weather. A new USGS study,Landsat and Water - Case Studies of the Uses and Benefits of Landsat Imagery in Water Resources, provides examples of why Landsat is so valuable. Water is managed by many levels of federal, state, local, and tribal governments; by the private sector; through the courts; and through international and interstate treaties and compacts. At all these levels, water users and managers rely more and more on Landsat data about water conditions both at the moment and in the context of four decades of Landsat record.

USGS Role in the National Earth Observing Plan

Fundamental knowledge of the land and its resources is a basic need for effective government and a productive economy in any nation. More than 30 countries now have Earth observing satellites, reflecting a wide range of national priorities around the world for environmental monitoring and economic growth. With minimal restrictions, Earth observation data provided through public funding are made open to the public to advance human knowledge and enable private industry to provide value-added commercial services. The plan includes a list of 145 high-impact Earth observation systems. The top 15 systems form a select top tier and are ranked in order of importance, according to carefully identified priorities. USGS systems make up three of the top 15. First on the prioritized list is the Global Position System (GPS). In second place is the national weather radar network, Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD). The USGS-related programs that follow are Landsat (ranked 3rd), airborne lidar mapping (8th), and the USGS streamgage network (13th).

Released: National Plan for Civil Earth Observations

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a National Plan for Civil Earth Observations that aims to maximize the value of observations collected by Federal agencies of the Earth's land surfaces, oceans, and atmosphere. The Plan is a blueprint for future Federal investments in and strategic partnerships to advance Earth observing systems that help protect life and property, stimulate economic growth, maintain homeland security, and advance scientific research and public understanding.

Visit the Highlights Archive for information highlighted here in the past.

Featured Science

Landsat Data aids in Study: U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change
Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions

USGS scientists used Landsat data to determine that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern U.S. naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year, which is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions. In conjunction with the national assessment, USGS released a new web tool, which allows users to see the land and water carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states. Biological carbon storage - also known as carbon sequestration - is the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in vegetation, soils and sediment. The USGS estimates the ability of different ecosystems to store carbon now and in the future, providing vital information for land-use and land-management decisions. Management of carbon stored in our ecosystems and agricultural areas is relevant both for mitigation of climate change and for adaptation to such changes.

Tracking Urban Change and Flood Risk with Landsat
Tracking Urban Change and Flood Risk with Landsat

When it comes to helping communities across the US stay up-to-date on their flood risk, the Landsat satellite can take a bow. Landsat images help track urban change, a factor that can impact a community's flood risk. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, uses these images to help identify where they should launch a new flood study. Flood studies determine how prone different neighborhoods are to floods of a certain intensity or likelihood.


Visit the Featured Science Archive for information highlighted here in the past.


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Page Last Modified: September 26, 2014