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The View from Space: Tracking Forty Years of Global Changes

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The View from Space: Tracking Forty Years of Global Changes

Dr. Thomas Loveland:   I appreciate you all coming in tonight.  We have a small problem, we’re not advancing.

I am from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is the home of the EROS Center.  We were placed there in the early 1970s in the anticipation of the series of Earth’s resource satellites that were conceived of as a way of revolutionizing the monitoring of the changing Earth.

OK, we’re moving.  OK, we’ll start there.

And this is where I come from. This is a classic retro scene. Like you, I left Sioux Falls on Monday and it was 50 degrees above zero, that’s a fabulous thing, for us.

What I would really like to do today is talk to about the 40-year history of the program called Landsat.  But before I get into any of the details about it, what I want to do is to provide a little bit of context about the idea of looking at the Earth from a distance and we can go back to the days of the Greeks and consider this quote by Plato which he provides us the advice that we could rise above our current state on the Earth and look beyond to really understand what we have in the world we live in.

And in fact, that’s the concept behind the field of study called remote sensing.  Remote sensing, in its simplest definition, is the acquisition of the information about an object without physical contact.

So for example, we all use remote sensing. You’re looking at me and sizing me up and I’m doing the same with you, and that’s the process of collecting information without coming into direct contact.

In that case of remote sensing, we have the tendency to rely upon the measurement of reflected or emitted electromagnetic energy.  Eyes for example see the visible portion of the spectrum but with instruments so we can look beyond what the eye can see and measure different wavelengths of reflected or emitted energy and from that, make up decisions about the characteristics of the features of the earth.

Now, this extra visual electromagnetic information has some real advantages when trying to understand the characteristics of an area.  Here is a pair of images taken by Landsat at the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. One is a false color image that combines the invisible light from the near-infrared portion of the spectrum with the red and green light that the eyes see, and the other is taken from a different portion of the spectrum to replicate the green and natural look of the landscape that we would normally see.

Each one of these provides a little bit different information, and when we look at the contrast between them, we can start understanding the condition of features that we wouldn’t see by just looking at only one portion of the spectrum.

When we are practicing remote sensing, we generally want to have a distant vantage point. Early remote sensing started with the use of balloons that evolved into airplanes and now much of our work is done from the vantage point of space.  And it’s the space-based perspective that I want to talk about.

What I’d like to emphasize is that that all of this started with something called ERTS, the Earth’s Resources Technology Satellite that was built by NASA starting in 1970 and launched on July 23rd, 1972 and that is what started this earth observation era.

Now, before I say too much more about ERTS, now called Landsat, I just want to give a little bit of its history – and that history is the idea of looking at the Earth from the vantage point of space, primarily for the purposes of better understanding how our planet is changing and how we can use that information to better manage natural resources, was actually an idea that was first proposed by a man by the name of William T. Pecora, the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1960s.  Dr. Pecora, after looking at the growing used of space observations within the Defense and Intelligence World, realized that from the vantage point of space we can understand our natural resources in a way that could revolutionize the effective use of our land.

And so he, along with then Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall, proposed something called Project EROS which was this concept of using new technologies, satellites, to view the Earth and to try understand the planet’s condition and how it’s changing.

Ultimately, through our partnership of NASA, the USGS and NASA moved forward with this program that is now called Landsat.   We’re approaching the 40th anniversary of this program since it was originally ushered into the modern era in July of 1972.   We have seen six successful launches of satellites.

One, Landsat 6, failed to have achieved orbit.  We currently have two satellites, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7, that are still in orbit, although I can’t say they’re fully functional; and we are about a year out from launching the next in the series – the Landsat Data Continuity Mission or Landsat 8, the name it will be given upon launch, which we are planning on in January 2013.

Now, over those six successful missions, we have created the most unique, comprehensive record of the condition of the Earth ever.  The Landsat’s series of satellites have imaged the Earth every 16 to 18 days, or sometimes more frequently providing image of almost every part of the Earth, except for the very high latitudes but that document the condition of the land.

This is a permanent record and historic evidence of the condition of the Earth at given point some time since 1972.  In the history of the human race, no other record as complete as this has ever been prepared for the surface of the Earth.

So if we want to define or document the way things are changing and try to understand how it affects changes or rather changes of economies, we have the record in order to do that.

Now, when you study Landsat, you’ll see all kinds of names of instruments like MSS, TM and ETM+, Those are all names given to the series of instruments flown by Landsat going back to the original couple and then the newer ones and more recent missions. And those are types of the images that we get frequently from this series of orbiting satellites. 

Now Landsat had a purpose and its purpose is to provide an inventory of the global land surface that can be used to measure changes and to be able to attribute those changes to either natural causes or human activity.   Landsat was designed, not to look at the small details in the landscape, but to look at the patterns of the utilization of our natural resources at a scale where we can understand human activity from natural processes.

And we need to do that seasonally and we need to do annually and we need to do that continuously. And so in July, we will cross the 40-year threshold, the 40th anniversary of this remarkable series of missions.

Now, as I said, Landsat doesn’t look at the ultimate detail.  Our current satellites have the resolution of 30 meters.  For those of you with an agricultural background, that’s about a quarter of an acre.  So it would be too small to look at what you’re doing in your backyard, or too small to spy on your neighbor or even to determine whether you have a new car. It’s really enought to look at the condition of our agricultural lands or forests, the growth of cities and other similar types of things.

On the left side of the slide, you’ll see something called MODIS data. MODIS is an example of a different type of imaging system that looks at the Earth on a daily basis but not at that 30-meter resolution Landsat’s used.

And as you see as we have a comparison of the two areas, there’s a much different level of detail you have.  One has a purpose of being very current and looking everyday viewing vegetation condition everyday, the other allows you to look at the land at a scale that humans manage land.

Now, there are many different types of sensors and missions out there measuring data.  Some, get down to measuring things as small as a meter, just a few feet.  And others like our Landsat is at 30 meters. 

They all serve purposes.  They’re very complimentary to each other, seeing that the ultimate in detail is not a practical or advantageous thing as you are trying to understand how the nation or the planet is changing.  It’s very good if you’re trying to look at specific processes of the organization.

All of these are parts of the arsenal tools that people use in remote sensing look at when they’re trying to understand processes and the way of our planet.

Now, every Landsat image is about 185 kilometers on a side - that translates to about 105- 110 miles.  So we’re looking regionally at things at the vantage point of looking at things regionally is that we can see the relationship of the uses of the land to the underlying natural resources. We can see the proximities of our farms to our urban centers and the like and really start understanding environmental relationships .

The critical part is that our satellites orbit the earth every 16 days and so we’re getting this regional look every 16 days, potentially around the world, and it’s been going on for many, many years.

Now, Over the 40 years of Landsat, the series of satellites have documented most of the major contemporary events that we have lived through or witnessed.  And I want to show a few examples of that. 

For example, many in this room probably remember the day we woke up to find out that Mount St. Helen’s erupted, which was in 1980.  Here’s a series of four images that were taken before and after the Mount St. Helen’s eruption.  In 1973, we see the mountain the protected falls, I should point out.


In this particular slide, a false color image and so the red indicates the healthy green vegetation and that’s one of the old tradition approaches in remote sensing for understanding vegetation vigor.   Moving on, so 1973 was pre-eruption, in 1980 it erupted.  Here in the 1983 image is what it looked like after the mountain blew up to the north.

The mood of the trees, that’s what the grays and the browns indicate; and if you look at the 1988, ’92 you see the return of the pinkish colors, that’s the living healthy vegetation regenerating in the ecosystem.  And so this is a chance for us to see not only the destruction of a volcano but the natural process of recovery that goes on.

We can monitor glaciers around the world.  And here is an interesting pair of images that show the gradual elimination of the snows of Kilimanjaro made prominent by Ernest Hemingway's book. Because of this continuing monitoring we can start understanding not only that we’re losing glacial ice on this mountain and others but are able to understand how the land around the mountain is changing and is affected and start understanding what the connections are to the environmental changes that are occurring.

We can monitor the changing footprints of our urban areas. Here are images of Dallas-Fort Worth from the 70s to the 80s to the 2000s in which the population doubled and the footprint of the city doubled as well.  What were once two relatively distinct cities, Dallas and Fort Worth, are now one big large metroplex.

We’ve all heard about the changes in tropical forests and in particular the loss of forest in the Amazon basin of Brazil.  Here is an example of the types of processes that have been witnessed by Landsat where on the one side is the 1984 image. Before much development occurred, there’s a little bit of logging going on at the far side of the image, but then in 2011, a few years after a very large dam was completed, we see not only the new reservoir that went into image but the white areas that are the losses of the forest, of tropical forest, that came about because of the settlement practices that are changing much of the rural areas of Brazil.

And here is a --I’m from South Dakota, it’s my home, I always have to show South Dakota image or two-- here’s a series from 1984, ’91, 2001 and so on until 2011.  This is an area that’s about 25 miles across and up, and each of these images, in contrast to a lot of parts of in the world, we are not in a draught cycle.  We have been on about a 25, 30-year wet cycle.  And we have more water than we know what to do with in any parts of the state.

This is an old prairie region and in 1984 about 15% of this area was covered with surface water.  We’re at about 40-45% water cover now in 2011 and if you look at this area you’ll see roads flooded, new lakes formed and a total transformation as the water bodies fill up.

Now if we look downstream to where I live in Sioux Falls, which is about 150 miles away, what we’re seeing are runoff rates from our rivers that are greater than normal and it’s simply because the ground is saturated and so runoff rates from any type of precipitation event are increasing.

Now, there’s a lot of ways to look at the value of Landsat.  Here’s just a couple of quotes that I think help us understand why the continuous observation of space makes some sense.  In the first quote by a Russian responsible for a program called the Transparent World Partnership, he concluded that by the continuous imaging of the space from things like Landsat, we are able to essentially democratize the events that are going on in the surface of the planet and providing that in concealable historic evidence that will allow all people to understand what really happened.

The evidence doesn’t go away.  It’s permanent, stored for perpetuity within the images.

Another way of looking at it is from a colleague of many of ours, Curtis Woodcock from Boston University, in which he compares Landsat to the Earth’s free press and says that because of the global perspective that we’ve had since 1972, we have objective and undisputable evidence of the condition of this planet.  That’s the value of imaging the Earth on a continuous basis.

Here’s an example of one of the events that was witnessed by Landsat.  Most of us probably have heard about the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986.

The first image in 1975, that’s the area where the construction of the nuclear power plant was just being developed.

If you look at the center image, you’ll see the big blue blob, that’s the nuclear power plant, the cooling pond for it and the reactor was to the upper left hand side of that.

Around it you see the dark greens – that’s the patterns of the forest and the lighter greens and white rectangular patterns are the agriculture fields.

After the disaster, the area was contaminated and through continuous monitoring of the region by Landsat, we’ve been able to look at how the land is recovering and being used.  And essentially, what we’re seeing is that the agricultural lands are now in grasslands and have indeed returned to productive agricultural use because of the long-term contamination resulting from the explosion.

Landsat wasn’t designed for military purposes but it certainly contributes to our collection of tools we use when we’re trying to understand tactical and strategic responses to national security events.

Here is an example of the series of images put together for Operation Desert Storm in early 1990s in which in this particular case in Kuwait, at the center image, we’re seeing a lot of dark cloudy things that smoke coming from the oil wells that were set afire by the Iraqis.

And if you look at the final November 14th of ‘91 image, you’ll see that the efforts to reduce and to eliminate the fires are having some success and the smoke is going down.

Afterwards this provided a means to really assess the environmental impact, of what was probably a fairly significant environmental disaster.   As important, these are maps of broad regions and by looking at things regionally, we can look at pattern or changes that we wouldn’t see if we were looking at very localized areas and from that we can gain information we may need to start understanding what the movements of military troops are.

And certainly another example I want to emphasize in 2010 – much of the country was struggling with how to respond to the Gulf Oil Spill. Landsat was one of many imaging systems enlisted to try to provide the intelligence we need to actively deal with this disaster.

So what drives the need for Landsat?

It’s used for science; it’s used for operational activities; natural resource management; and it’s available to the public to understand their environment and the lands around them.  No matter what other purpose, we all have a need for these images.

We need a global perspective.  Our problems don’t end in our borders and we were affected by activities around the world.  We need to look around the world using our long record of observation so we can understand how Earth conditions today had origins in decisions made 30 to 40 years ago.

And we need to have data in a calibrated and accurate form so that we can compare images to another, that the differences we see have meaning.  The images tell us something definitive about the condition of the land, the state of the vegetation, the quality of the water or whatever other factor we’re measuring.

It helps us look at areas that we can’t look at very conveniently any other way. This is a part of a very innovative effort by NASA, the USGS, and the National Science Foundation in which we used Landsat and other types of images to mosaic together the first image-base of the Antarctic continent.  And in this particular case, it provides us with the look, that we cannot see unless we are standing on the ground in a particular area.

We’re seeing the region as a whole and in fact, we can go beyond what looks like a bunch of white stuff and display it in a 3-dimentional form and start really understanding the conditions of Antarctica are like. We can understand the changes in ice flows and depths and other factors that are important in understanding how Antarctica is responding to our changing world.

Its becoming an increasingly important tool in understanding some of the factors that are pointed to as causes of global climate change.  And of course one of the things we’ve heard much about over the years is that as we cut forests, particularly in tropical regions, that the increases of carbon in the atmosphere is contributing to warming.  And so the use of Landsat to really understand the extent of that trade is a pretty important and growing use.

Here’s an example put together by a colleague, Matt Hansen, of the University of Maryland, formerly from South Dakota State University. But the trader left. The red areas are various densities of the amount of forest that were changed.

This was done not just by Landsat but with other instruments but because of the detail Landsat provides, we were allowed to very accurately, statistically estimate the precise amounts of change between 2000 and 2005.

The interesting thing about this is that when you look at the continents with forest change, North America is higher than what we are seeing in South America and that’s probably intuitive if you follow what’s reported in the press.

And in fact, if you look at the countries with major loss and change, the U.S. is showing up pretty prominently in that box.  And so those are significant things to think about.

We can look in more detail though and we use this 40-year record to understand land change across the United States.  This is a very generalized map that shows you the general rates of change for the different ecological regions of the country. The red colored areas have the highest rates of land change, and if you throw in your geography, you’ll understand that the forested areas are changing the most in the United States.

And not because we are eliminating a lot of tress for agricultural purposes, such as is occurring in Brazil, but we have an active commercial forestry sector that is planting tress and in some parts of the country able to harvest in 20-25-year cycles and then we plant immediately after that. So our landscape changes rapidly but it’s very cyclic.

Trees will be cropped one day and replanted the next year.  But when we look at it over a period of time, from the vantage point of Landsat, we’re able to really measure the fact that over the last thirty years, we’ve had about a percentage or so loss of the forest.  So we are losing trees in the U.S. but not as alarming as that other study suggests.

Now, many federal agencies make constant use of Landsat to understand the characteristics of our nation’s and to address resource management challenges.


The U.S. Geological Survey for example, every five years puts up together this map called the National Land Cover Database which provides a map of the extent of croplands, forests, urban areas and many other land uses and covers across the U.S. It provides information on how those resources are changing, what the percent tree cover is and how much of that surface is impermeable - how much of it has been paved over-- a very important factor when we’re trying to understand hydrological processes.

The Department of Agriculture through the National Land Statistics Service on an annual basis, one of most aggressive uses of Landsat and other satellite imagery around ,maps all of the croplands every season and those are used to determine crop acreage across the country that ultimately help us understand yield potentials, market values and many other very important economic variables.

This is the 2010 Cropland Layer that was just released by the National Statistics Service.  Doing similar kinds of things, the map natural vegetation and translate those into fuel types that correspond to the admission potential, the burn rates, the amount of energy that could be released of lands if they were to be set on fire. 

This is really a critical tool to the nation’s efforts to manage wild fires and to try to reduce the economic and human loss that’s associated with the fires particularly those currently in the wild land and the urban interfaces.  Fires is a major use of Landsat and every major fire that occurs in this country is immediately mapped with Landsat and it’s monitored for years to follow as we try to understand recovery rates, we try to measure the effectiveness of the remediation that resource managers are using to reduce the erosion from the burn over area and other factors.

And so Landsat on a daily basis gets put to use to try to improve and return burned lands to healthy conditions.

Now another example that I think one is one of the more incredible ones – you’ll notice --- I’m really nervous to talk about because I think the guy who did this is in the audience. Western water users have a problem.  There’s not enough water to meet the growing demands.

The competition between urban uses and agricultural uses are increasingly in conflict.  And so understanding how to best manage those water resources is a critical factor.  Landsat has become, in recent years, the tool of choice to really help understand water unitization in the west and to help understand effective from inefficient water uses and to adjudicate any disputes that are going on.

And so, through the analysis of thermal infrared imagery, emitted heat measurements that Landsat collects, has the ability to calculate th evapotranspiration and ultimately translate that into terms relating to water use.

Close enough, Rick?

Rick:  Yeah.

Dr. Thomas Loveland:  Thanks.

And we think that’s pretty neat stuff and so do others.   Rick and his colleagues developed this, Rick is with the University of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, really have been putting this to good use won an award from the Harvard University’s Ash Institute’s Innovations in American Government Award for finding an innovative technological solution that can very effectively improve water resources management and it really is dependent upon Landsat.


A lot of efforts have been made to quantify the value of Landsat.  What are the benefits?  What’s the return on the investment that we have?  And as the numbers you see here shown, there’s a pretty wide range but the numbers are pretty big.  In the case of the study done by the Western States Water Council, in extrapolating the value of what Idaho is doing with water across the rest of the western US, the estimate is that there’s a potential savings of $100 million a year in improved water resources management from the use of Landsat.

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, the largest geospatial and remote sensing organization in this country, estimated just under a billion dollars a year benefits, and in a recent study conducted by the company Booze-Allen they’re estimating benefits it’s close, perhaps as large as 7.5 billion.

Pick a number- they are all big. The thing is that Landsat does contribute to addressing societal needs on a daily basis.


OK.  I want to talk a little bit about where we are today with Landsat.  I said at the beginning that Landsat started in 1972 and we’ve been providing images for a long, long time – - but the fact of life is, that we’ve been selling images for a long, long time because that was the government policy that we operated under. For the most part of the Landsat record, we sold images for the cost of reproduction, which at its low point was $200 an image. That’s for 110 by 100 miles of imagery.  That’s a lot of money.  And in its high point, it was over $4,000.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of money, particularly for agriculture, natural resources, forestry types of applications.  And so in October of 2008, the USGS made a bold decision to make the entire Landsat archive, which by the way, right now is more than 3 million images iof the earth going back to 1972, and we made those data available to anybody.  Anybody.  Period.  At no cost.

And this had started a new revolution in the use of Landsat data that we have hoped would happen but it’s occurring at a rate that we just simply didn’t expect.

Here’s a chart that shows how the data are flowing out of our facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Let me start with a little history.  When we were selling data, our best sales year ever was the early 2000s and we distributed about 21,000 images.  That’s a good number.

The first year we made Landsat data free, we distributed about a million images, and now we’re distributing about 3 million. The rates are growing and we’ve been sending a lot of data out.  We’re sending those data to over 180 countries.  And we’re using more imagery in our archive than we’ve ever used before.

About 2008, before we made all data free, our estimate is of our archive of Landsat data, that’s imagery from 1999 to the present, users purchased 7.7% of this collection of imagery from around the world. Now that we have a free data policy, the numbers are up to about 65% and in fact if we just look at the images that are not completely cloudy it’s close to about 80%.  So, it’s a big number.

So all of a sudden, this investment that the taxpayers have made is now being distributed far and wide and being put to use for peaceful uses to try to understand and better manage our natural resources.

Now, just a quick footnote, if anybody in here is interested in looking for Landsat imagery, they’re available on the Web.  Here are two websites and I believe the addresses are on the set of handouts that were at the back of the room.  You can go search for images in our archive, look at the coverage from 1972 to the present, if you see something you like, you can download it either in a very large format that’s for scientific and applications uses or in jpeg forms that you can look at in full blown resolution to really see what’s going on. But, available to anybody through this site and it’s at no charge.

OK.  Now, at the beginning I said we have two satellites are still in orbit.   I just want to tell a little bit where those satellites are. Landsat 7 was our most recent satellite.  It was launched in 1999 and so that means it’s actually now on its 13th year, so it’s old.  This was a satellite, by the way, designed with an expected life expectancy of about five years and so we’re getting very noble service.

It’s collecting over 350-400 images of various parts of the globe every single day, and all of those images are available.  But it has a small problem. In 2003 there is a mechanical failure on the Landsat 7 satellite. it means that 22% of all of the information in every image has dropped.

Here is what it looks like if we’re looking at the Greater Washington, DC Area.  From above the, a little less at the center of the image radiating out, you’ll see these data gaps, these venetian blind effects, where there’s a loss of imagery.

This data still have terrific scientific value.  They still help understand the changing Earth but for some users the data are compromised.  But it’s the best we have and we continue to collect and make very practical use.

In case you’re trying to figure out where we are, there’s the Dulles Airport area, the DC area, so we’re somewhere around here, between the gaps.

Probably, one of the more amazing stories in the history of Landsat is our satellite called Landsat 5, which was launched in 1984.  It’s 27 years old and was designed the last three years and it’s still in orbit now. It’s not all good news.  In November of 2011, it had a mechanical problem, an electronic failure, electronic problem that has caused us to turn off the imaging and to do an investigation of whether or not we can correct the problem.

And so the flight engineers responsible for Landsat 5 have been investigating ways to return this to service; our hope is to turn it back on by May in time to image the northern hemisphere growing season. It’s very important for agricultural purposes.

Or we may switch to our old instrument that was turned off in the late ‘90s, called the Multispectral Scanner System.  Not as good as the thematic mapper, one we rely on that has better resolution, just a hard quality image.  But it might, be at some point, continue to provide life for this.  But it’s all up in the air.  For now, we’ve got one satellite flying.

The good news, and it is great news, is that the next Landsat is getting ready. Through a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey a mission called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) is being built.  NASA is responsible for all of the complicated space stuff and the USGS is building the ground system and will take over operations after it’s placed in the orbit.  And it’s going to continue this record of providing seasonal coverage year after year of the globe.

It’s going to be done in a way that’s consistent with all the other Landsats, so the imagery we’ll acquire next year from Landsat 8, the LDCM will be called, will be comparable to all the other data in the archive.

And so this continues the long record and while it’s designed for a five-year life with consumables fuel that will last for, perhaps 10 years, that may mean that 10 years from now we’re talking about a 50-year record. Landsat will continue to be the longest continuous record of the Earth ever collected.

Now, LDCM is going to have some new stuff on it - better spectral imaging and more advanced imaging capabilities than we’ve ever had.  There’s a bunch of jargony stuff in there that don’t mean much to most of us.  The key is we will have better data and we will hopefully start having it early next year.

And just to provide some evidence that I’m not making any of this up, here’s some images of the two primary instruments, the Operational Land Imager and the Thermal Infrared Sensor, as well as the spacecraft that those instruments are being attached to that will then be n put into a rocket and sent into space in January of next year.

So, that’s Landsat 8.  And that will get us to 2018, maybe longer.  That means it’s now time to start thinking about Landsat 9.  The involvement of space system and satellites takes a long time.  The estimates are 5-6-7 years from conception till launch, and so we have to start now.

Through a series of decisions made in the federal government, some starting with the Office of the President, the National Space Policy came out that maintained a place of strong commitment on land observations, land remote sensing or imaging and said that the USGS Director with NASA will work together in maintaining a program for operational land remote sensing observations.

The President, in his budget submitted for 2012, followed up by that by suggesting that not only do we start looking at the development of Landsat 9 and 10 but that the program will be moved to the USGS through Department of Interior, part of the U.S. Geological Survey for the program and operational use.

And so, Dr. Pecora proposed the idea of Landsat, Project EROS in 1966 and in 2012 the recommendation is to return it to the USGS to continue on with it.    Now, if this happens, it will be done through the same close partnership with NASA that there always is.  They design space missions and instruments and their expertise is unmatched.  But the budgetary and management home of it will be shifted to this agency.

Now, as we all know, it was a tough budget year; we were not left out in the cold but we have a small amount of planning money to begin making decisions in advance of building Landsat 9 and so the future continues.

So let’s just wrap up by thinking about a few things.  Let’s start by realizing that the planet was different 40 years ago.  There were less than 4 million people on Earth and that equates to 9.4 acres of land per person on the planet.  OK?  But the world is shrinking and of course Landsat, that is one of those standards that were used around the world to understand how it’s shrinking has been measuring it constantly since then.

The data from Landsat are being used to address many societal issues on a daily basis.  When Landsat 7 was launched, it continuous record, it was looking at 6 billion people, a growth of 2 billion people over the 17-year period, 27-year period..

In 2013, when we’ll launch the LDCM, we’re over 7 billion people. We can use free Landsat data to look at the changing Earth to understand how our decisions are changing the planet and how we may better manage it so that we are not leaving it in a condition that’s unsuitable for the next generation. 

And when we get to the end of the LDCM line we’ll be 7.5 billion people.

Because of this continuing growth of the human race, the shrinking planet is increasingly challenged to support our needs. This ability to use the perspective of space is really a very critical thing.

So if we’re looking at natural resources management, we really need to have an investment in the tools that are needed to allow us to understand how the planet is changing and make wise decisions.  Our hope is that Landsat legacy will continue and will help build on the wise decisions and the effective use of our planet’s resources.

I want to just close by referencing a quote that was just published a couple of weeks ago by Robert Kennedy from Oregon State University in which in his article reflecting on how using remote sensing to understand the Earth concluded that, “As the longest-running continuing satellite imaging data set for land processes, Landsat data provide unparalleled witness to the enormous changes occurring on Earth since 1972.”

And 3 million plus images in the archive is evidence that proves that. And so with that, I want to thank you for paying attention and I am happy to answer questions I’d sure be happy to.



Title: The View from Space: Tracking Forty Years of Global Changes


For nearly 40 years, Landsat and other Earth observing satellites have been silently orbiting the globe collecting high quality images that document the condition of our changing planet. Remote sensing images provide an unprecedented long-term, impartial view of the Earth's cities and natural resources. Dr. Thomas Loveland discusses the profound impact Landsat has on many facets of our economy, safety, and environment.

Location: Reston, VA, USA

Date Taken: 2/1/2012

Length: 42:00

Video Producer: Melanie Gade , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

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Tags: EarthAsArt GlobalChange Pecora PublicLecture RemoteSensing ScienceInAction eros landsat satellite usgs


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