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Land Remote Sensing Program

Land Remote Sensing Program Featured Science ArchivePrint Page      Text Size: + | -

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Multiple Satellite Eyes to Track Algal Threat to U.S. Freshwater
Algal Blooms

Landsat 8 is demonstrating promising new capabilities for water quality assessment. Satellite-based instruments allow for more frequent observations over broader areas than physical water sampling. Four federal agencies-NASA, NOAA, EPA, and USGS-are joining forces to develop an early warning system for toxic and nuisance algal blooms. Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals. This will improve detection of these blooms and help researchers better understand the conditions under which they occur.


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 has a LandCarbon site 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.

Remote Sensing Activities Report
DOIRSWG 2012 report

The Department of the Interior has released its remote sensing activities report. This report, from the DOI Remote Sensing Working Group, provides a sampling of the many FY12 applications of remote sensing across the Department. Remotely sensed data, information, and resources contribute significantly to mission-critical work across the DOI. Spanning data sources from aerial photography, to moderate resolution satellite data, to highly specialized imaging sensors and platforms, DOI personnel use remotely sensing capabilities to evaluate and monitor land-surface conditions over the vast areas for which DOI has responsibility.


Taking Landsat to the Extreme: The Coldest Place on Earth
The Coldest Place on Earth
Image Credit: Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center

What is the coldest place on Earth? It is a high ridge in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau where temperatures in several hollows can dip below minus 133.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 92 degrees Celsius) on a clear winter night.

With remote sensing satellites, including Landsat 8, researchers have recorded new measurements of the Earth's coldest temperatures. The satellite imagery not only allows scientists to take the temperature of these inhospitable locations, but enables them to figure out what sort of weather brings on the record-breaking cold.

The quest to find out just how cold it can get on Earth -- and why -- started when NASA researchers were studying large snow dunes, sculpted and polished by the wind, on the East Antarctic Plateau. When the scientists looked closer, they noticed cracks in the snow surface between the dunes, possibly created when wintertime temperatures got so low the top snow layer shrunk. This led scientists to wonder what the temperature range was, and prompted them to hunt for the coldest places using data from satellite sensors : MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer), and Landsat 8 - TRS (Thermal Infrared Sensor).

Landsat Satellite Data Used to Inventory the World's Forests
Bolivian Deforestation        Bolivian Deforestation

A new study based on Landsat Earth-observing satellite data comprehensively describes changes in the world's forests from the beginning of this century. Published in Science today, the study found that from 2000 to 2012 global forests experienced a loss of 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers), roughly the land area of the U.S. states east of the Mississippi River. During the study period, global forests also gained an area of 309,000 square miles (800,000 square kilometers), approximately the combined land area of Texas and Louisiana.
"Tracking changes in the world's forests is critical because forests have direct impacts on local and national economies, on climate and local weather, and on wildlife and clean water," said Anne Castle, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science. "This fresh view of recent changes in the world's forests is thorough, objective, visually compelling, and vitally important."

Remote Sensing Activities Report

Remote Sensing Activities ReportThe Department of the Interior has released its remote sensing activities report for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11). This report from the DOI Remote Sensing Working Group (DOIRSWG) provides a sampling of the many FY11 applications of remote sensing across the Department. Remotely sensed data, information, and resources contribute significantly to mission-critical work across the DOI. Spanning data sources from aerial photography, to moderate resolution satellite data, to highly specialized imaging sensors and platforms, DOI personnel use remotely sensing capabilities to evaluate and monitor land-surface conditions over the vast areas for which DOI has responsibility.

Landsat Improving Everyday Life

Landsat: Continuing to Improve Everyday LifeLandsat satellites provide decision makers with key information about the world's food, forests, water and how these and other land resources are being used. The Landsat Application Book, Landsat: Continuing to Improve Everyday Life (PDF, 101 Mb), explores a number of important everyday uses of Landsat that benefit us as a society. The launch of the LDCM satellite ensures that Landsat data will continue to enable these applications.

How do we measure changes to Earth's environment?

ECVs Global climate is changing. USGS is using remote sensing data to help develop new climate information products called Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) and Climate Data Records (CDRs). Together, USGS CDRs and ECVs can provide an authoritative basis for regional to continental scale identification of historical change, monitoring of current conditions, and predicting future scenarios. Find out more...

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Value of Landsat-Executive Report

Featured ScienceAcross the country, people in many different sectors of the working world use Landsat imagery. But exactly who these users are, how they use the imagery, and the value and benefits derived from the information that the imagery provides were largely unknown-until now...

VideoVideo: Interior Department Plays Role in President's National Space Policy

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Satellite images of Southern California wildfire and link to larger view

The White House has initiated a year-long study called The Future of Land Imaging to explore options for United States operational use of satellites to better serve society. The USGS serves on the leadership team of this Federal interagency working group.

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Forest-cover Loss in Eastern US
Processing coal at a coal mine in southern West Virginia.

Remote-sensing data, statistical sampling, and change-detection methods indicate that contemporary land-use pressures have a significant impact on the extent and condition of forests in the eastern United States, causing a regional-scale decline in forest cover. Across the East from 1973-2000 an important land-cover transition has occurred: from a mode of regional forest-cover gain to one of forest-cover loss caused by timber cutting cycles, urbanization, and other land-use demands.

BioScience article
Learn more about Land Cover Trends

Eagerly awaiting Landsat 8
OLI Overview

The Earth Imaging Journal recently featured an article about a launch of vital importance to the global Earth observation science community in December 2012. The joint NASA/USGS Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) was created to investigate and research options for the most feasible solution to follow the Landsat 7 mission. NASA is acquiring the spacecraft to collect and provide data to DOI/USGS. The USGS is responsible for the operations of this mission, along with collecting, archiving, processing, and distributing the data to the U.S. Government and other users. The Landsat Science Team has been established to address the science goals of the mission. NASA and the USGS plan to implement LDCM in a manner that does not preclude a long-term solution for continuity of Landsat-type data. OLI Instrument   Learn more

Tracking Nature's Cycles
Remote Sensing Phenology

Phenology is the study of recurring biological cycles such as plant budding and animal migrations. The earliest known phenological records were compiled by the Chinese approximately 1000 BC. Today, USGS Remote Sensing Phenology scientists use satellites to track seasonal changes in vegetation on regional, continental, and global scales. Remotely sensed phenological data are useful for assessing crop conditions, drought severity, and wildfire risk as well as tracking invasive species, infectious diseases, and insect pests. Because phenological events are sensitive to climate variation, these data also represent a powerful tool for documenting phenological trends over time and detecting the impacts of climate change on ecosystems at multiple scales. Learn more...

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Landsat 7 helps track Antarctica's emperor penguins
Click to view enlarged version of this graphic.
Landsat 7 satellite imagery is used to track Antarctica's emperor penguins. This true-color image, acquired by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus on the Landsat 7 satellite, 12-4-2002, captures brown stains of penquin guano. Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), discovered that looking for guano stains is more reliable than looking for actual penguins since the birds' tuxedo colors blend in with the shadows on the ice. By locating penguin droppings, the BAS team identified 38 emperor penguin colonies along the Antarctic coast. Learn more...
Landsat 5 captures Mt. Redoubt
Mt. Redoubt
On March 1, 2009, Landsat 5 acquired a clear image of the Mt. Redoubt region in Alaska. Scientists have been carefully monitoring the area as Mt. Redoubt has experienced volcanic tremors and gas releases in recent months, activities normally associated with possible eruptions. Landsat 5, having completed 25 years of global observations on March 1 provides a useful tool for monitoring global land surface features and changes. Learn More...
Kingston Fossil Plant Flood
Kingston Fossil Plant Flood
At approximately 1:00a.m. on December 22, 2008, an earthen dam holding a containment pond at the Kingston, Tennessee Fossil Plant gave way, releasing over 500 million gallons of ash and sludge. In a brief time downstream areas were flooded, some with as much as six feet of debris. More than 12 homes were affected, a number of them were destroyed or moved off their foundations. No lives were lost though many families were displaced and the Emory River and shorelines were inundated. Landsat 5 data, acquired the morning of the 22nd, illustrate the effects of the break. The light blue tones in the water bodies indicate sediment flow from the flooding. Clear water in the region has a darker blue tone. Recovery agencies will use the Landsat data and other sources of information on the area to study the extent of the damage and the long term effects of the dam break.

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Cyclone Nargis — 2008
Cyclone Nargis
Landsat satellite imagery, acquired shortly before and after Cyclone Nargis hit the coastal region of Myanamr on May 3, 2008, illustrate the flooding and destruction caused by the cyclone. The delta region, which is home to one fourth of Myanmar's 57 million people, is a major agricultural area and its lowlands make it especially susceptible to flooding. The cyclone created a 3.6 meter storm surge which devastated the area. At least 22,000 deaths have been reported, with 41,000 listed as missing. Over 1 million are homeless. Learn More.

Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica
Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica
LIMA brings the coldest continent on Earth alive in greater detail than ever before through this virtually cloudless, seamless, and high resolution satellite view of Antarctica. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), created LIMA from more than 1,000 Landsat ETM+ scenes. For more information visit LIMA.

Press Release

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Georgia Fires
Georgia Fires
Satellite remote sensing research and applications are essential for providing required data for mapping fire fuels, assessing fire effects, monitoring fire danger, and measuring progress in implementing the National Fire Plan. Land management agencies, scientific communities, and citizenry affected by wildland fires can benefit from research and development of consistent and accurate geospatial fire data, maps, and assessment produced at various scales. To learn more visit USGS Satellite Data Applications for Fire Science

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South California wildfire
Satellite images of Southern California wildfire and link to larger view
The nearly 11,000 acres affected by the Sierra fire in Orange County, California are seen in these Landsat 5 images. The image on the left was acquired three days prior to the breakout of the fire. The image on the right was acquired the day the fire was contained. The burned areas show as the deep red tones in the center of the right image. View the above image in higher resolution or visit the Land Remote Sensing Gallery for more images.

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Satellite images of New Orleans -- pre and post-Hurricane Katrina
View the larger size image to see the changes to New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina.

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Asian Tsunami
Satellite images of the Asian Tsunami area -- pre and post-tsunami
Within hours of the Asian Tsunami, the USGS National Center for Earth Resources Observation and Sciences (EROS) began providing pre-and post-tsunami satellite images and other vital information to help planners for disaster response from many agencies and organizations make well-informed decisions.

Gap-Filled Products available soon

Salton Sea one of the Gap-Filled  products soon from the USGS

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Page Last Modified: July 07, 2017