A Decade from Above: Landsat Imagery from the 2010s

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Another decade has come and gone.

The decade of the 2010s was a monumental one for the Landsat program, marking the first full decade of free and open data, the launch of Landsat 8, the release of Landsat Collections and Landsat Analysis Ready Data and countless Landsat-based research projects.

A subjective accounting of the satellite program’s “greatest hits” from an imagery standpoint would be all but impossible – the program collects hundreds of new images every day, after all – but there are plenty of standouts from year-to-year. Many of those standouts are pulled into products like “Image of the Week” or Earthshots.

With that in mind, here are a few of our favorite Landsat selections from the decade that was the 2010s.

2010: Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Image: Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico - Landsat 7

On April 20, 2010, an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a major oil spill, sparking emergency response efforts to contain a growing oil slick. Landsat imagery acquired on May 1, 2010 showed the extent of the slick. Landsat data were used to monitor the extent and movement of the slick in the months that followed.

Download the image here.

2011: Ishinomaki – Before and After a Tsunami

Ishinomaki - Before and After...

A massive earthquake, and subsequent tsunami, struck the northeast coast of Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011. The USGS calculated the magnitude of the earthquake as a 9.0, the fourth largest ever recorded. The tsunami that followed was over 10 meters high in places. Landsat imagery, acquired on March 20, recorded the impact of the tsunami on the city of Ishinomaki, Japan in false color.

Download the image here.

2012: Petermann Glacier Break

Landsat 7 image of Petermann Glacier break

Just two years after a massive calving event in 2010, northwest Greenland’s Petermann Glacier saw another large iceberg break free. It was estimated to be about 130 square kilometers in size. This 2012 image comes from our Earthshots page on change to the glacier.

See more imagery from Petermann Glacier here.

2013: Landsat 8 Launch, Earth As Art

Earth As Art 4 satellite image - geometric desert

The year 2013 saw the launch of Landsat 8, which formed the basis of our Earth As Art 4 collection. The imagery used to create this selection, called “Geometric Desert,” was captured on May 22, 2013 – a few short months after the orbiter's launch.

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2014: Checking in on Cairo's Growth

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Landsat's long historical record is particularly useful in tracking urban growth, particularly rapid growth. The 2014 Landsat 8 image on the right above represents the results of a growth spurt in urban and agricultural activity in and around Egypt's capital city, Cairo. The area's population grew from 6 to more than 15 million between that year and 1987, the date of the Landsat 5 image on the left.

Click here to download the imagery.

2015: Lithium Mining in Chile

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Lithium batteries powered the decade, used in smartphones, tablets, computers, smart watches and more. These Landsat 8 images show us the Salar de Atacama in Chile, a large, dry salt flat surrounded by mountain ranges, both before and after the explosion in lithium demand. The Salar is particularly rich in lithium salts. Images from 1993 and 2015 show the change brought to the desert landscape by lithium mining's expansion. 

Download the images here.

2016: Six-Mile Landslide Across Glacier Bay National Park

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On June 28, 2016, a 4,000-foot-high mountainside in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve collapsed, sending rocky debris equivalent to 60 million mid-size SUVs tumbling onto nearby Lamplugh Glacier.

The image on the right shows the impact as Landsat saw it, on August 7, 2016. The image on the left was acquired on September 13 the previous year.

Download the images here.

2017: Solar Farms Across the Globe

Satellite showing 3 different solar energy locations

Solar energy expanded throughout the 2010s. This set of 2017 Landsat 8 images highlights three large-scale solar farms. The image on the far left was captured over the California-Nevada border. In the center is a plant in Morocco, and on the far right is a solar plant in China, the world’s largest producer and buyer of solar panels.

Download the imagery here.

2018: Paradise Ablaze

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Landsat 8 captured the image on the right of Paradise, CA as it was engulfed by the Camp Fire, a blaze that ultimately reduced the city of nearly 27,000 to an ashen heap. The Camp Fire became the deadliest in California’s history, killing at least 85 civilians.

Download the images here.

2019: Flooding Across the Midwest

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The last year of the 2010s brought a long, cold winter in the midwestern United States. Once the snow began to melt, the rivers filled. It was the most significant flood event for the upper Great Plains since 2011. The image on the left above shows the swelling banks of the Missouri, Platte, and Elkhorn Rivers flowing through four states in that year, as captured by Landsat 5. The image on the right was captured by Landsat 8, showing those rivers in March of 2019.

Download the images here.