Land Remote Sensing Program
The USGS is fostering the use of land remote sensing technology to meet local, national, and global challenges.
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).
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.
USGS is developing a functional capability to obtain, characterize, manage, maintain and prioritize all Earth observing, land remote sensing user requirements. The goal is a better understanding of community needs that can be supported with land remote sensing resources, and a means to match needs with appropriate solutions in an effective and efficient way. The requirements gathered in this study were utilized as input to the USGS-NASA Sustainable Land Imagery report currently being developed, and as an input and requirement elicitation enhancement for the on-going USGS National Land Imaging Requirements Project.
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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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