Land Remote Sensing Program
The USGS is fostering the use of land remote sensing technology to meet local, national, and global challenges.
The Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA presented the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing to Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth's land surface and coastal regions.
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.
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."
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.
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).
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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.
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.
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