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Environmental Watch with Landsat satellites
April 21, 2014

Landsat satellites have monitored Earth’s environment for more than four decades, providing detailed imagery of some of our planet’s most precious ecosystems such as forests, coastlines, glaciers, volcanoes and oceans. Scientists, researchers, foresters, emergency responders and educators use the data sets to understand natural and human-caused surface changes, identify the ecological impact of natural disasters, examine the effectiveness of environmental policies, and help preserve our planet for future generations.

This Earth Day, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey celebrates the environment by looking back at some of the impressive data sets from Landsat, a joint mission of NASA and U.S. Geological Survey. Through these Earth images and others, scientists can monitor the place that over seven billion people call home.


Natural Hazard Recovery

[image-200]On May 18, 1980, the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens decimated nearby forests, covering the area with ash and triggering a large landslide. The left image shows residual damage four years after the event. The right image, from 2013, shows tree regrowth and logging projects on the mountain.

The left image was captured on June 17, 1984, by the Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5. The right image was taken on August 20, 2013, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on the Landsat 8 satellite. 

Image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory


Glacier Activity

[image-63]Scientists from NASA’s Operation IceBridge discovered a crack in Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier in 2011. Moving forward at roughly 4 kilometers a year, the calving front separated from the iceberg between November 9–11, 2013. The images show the iceberg before and after separation.

The Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite acquired natural-color images of the iceberg in Pine Island Bay on October 28, 2013 (left) and November 13, 2013 (right).

Image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory


Forest Cover

[image-79]Analyzing Landsat 7 pixels between 2000 and 2012, researchers created a year-by-year map of forest loss, shown here where yellow represents the earlier years, and red the later years. Brazil had the greatest trend in decreasing forest loss. Indonesia had the greatest increasing trend in forest loss.

Image courtesy of Matt Hansen, University of Maryland

[image-95]This image analyzing Landsat data shows the impact of a mountain pine beetle infestation on forests in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The map shows forest cover between 2000 and 2012, where green represents forested areas and red represents forest loss, largely due to the insect infestation.

Image courtesy of Matt Hansen, University of Maryland


Forest Disturbance

[image-111]This image uses Landsat data to show forest loss from logging in the Olympic National Park area in Washington. Scientists saw a local drop in logging in the national forest since the mid-1990s, when the Northwest Forest Plan was enacted. Red shows recent forest loss. Blue shows earlier forest loss.

Image courtesy of Sean Healey and Warren Cohen, U.S. Forest Service


Evapotranspiration Activity

[image-62]Scientists use Landsat data to study plants’ water use by gauging evapotranspiration activity. The false color (left) and true color (right) images show croplands just south of Modesto, Calif. The dry grass and scrub slopes show very low evapotranspiration activity due to drought (tan in the false color image). The irrigated fields display high evapotranspiration (green in the false color image), and the flooded rice paddies (blue) exhibit very high levels of evapotranspiration.

Image courtesy of Ayse Kilic, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The image was acquired on Feb. 26, 2014 from the Landsat 8 satellite.


Coastal Erosion

[image-127]The image uses Landsat data to create an atlas of coastline changes near Drew Point, Alaska over the past 40 years. Yellow (1974-1978), orange (1978-1999) and red (1999-2008) areas are losses due to erosion. Blue (1974-1999) and green (1999-2008) areas show where deposition added to the coastline.

Image courtesy of David Hulslander, Visual Information Solutions

More information from Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences


Land Cover Changes

[image-143]Parc W straddles Burkina Faso, Niger, and Benin in West Africa. The images show land cover changes between 1984 (left) and 2002 (right). The right picture shows a sharper delineation of the meandering park boundaries from agricultural and savanna land clearances near the border. Fire scars are red.

Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey and NASA, processing by Joint Research Centre - European Commission


Volcanic Activity

[image-159]In January 2014, an eruption at Indonesia’s Sinabung Volcano displaced thousands of residents that did not return to their villages until March. The image shows volcanic activity where hot lava flow is seen as red spots on the volcano’s flank, and the gas and steam plume above the summit is blue.

Landsat collected images of an ash plume and pyroclastic flow from Sinabung on March 6, 2014.

Image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory


For more information about Landsat, visit: www.nasa.gov/landsat



Kasha Patel

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 

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before/after showing gray glacier breaking off into dark sea
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silhouette globe map with changes in forest cover lit up in yellow and red
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familiar view of terrain with bright red and green coloration around streams and rivers.
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color-coded map showing three regions of no, little and much development
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land in brown and green, dark sea and coastline in bright green, blue and red
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before/after satellite images of terrain
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satellite view of volcano with smoke plumes against green terrain
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Page Last Updated: April 29th, 2014
Page Editor: Karl Hille