Indigenous Artwork Celebrates USGS, Geoscience Australia Landsat Partnership

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A multi-decade partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Geoscience Australia (GA) to monitor Earth’s landscapes using Landsat satellites now includes a new but also ancestral connection to their respective homelands.

On Monday, Nov. 11, GA officials commissioned artwork created by Lakota Sioux artist Rosaline (Little Eagle) Oren from South Dakota that now adorns the reflector surface of the newest Landsat satellite antenna at their Alice Springs Ground Station in Australia.

An older antenna at Alice Springs already features artwork that recognizes the role of the Arrernte Aboriginal people in Central Australia as custodians of the land where the ground station is located.

The use of artwork to recognize the ancestral stewards of lands in Central Australia and in South Dakota, where the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center also operates Landsat antennas, showcases the indigenous connections between the two agencies, said Vincent Rooke, who manages the Alice Springs Ground Station.

He likened it to a cultural exchange between Central Australia and South Dakota.

“That’s really the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve here,” Rooke said. “The artwork is a good way to give back to the community and create a story. We hope that story just continues to a longer-term cultural exchange beyond what Geoscience Australia does and is mandated to do for USGS.”

USGS Director Dr. Jim Reilly spoke at Monday’s commissioning ceremony, which was held in conjunction with the 40th anniversary recognition of the establishment of the Alice Springs station that opened in 1979 as the Australian Landsat Station.

Oren’s Lakota artwork features imagery of a star that appeared on a quilt presented by former EROS Director Dr. Frank Kelly to GA officials in June 2015, when the Australians signed an agreement with USGS to take a larger role in transmitting command and control signals to Landsat satellites, and to support the downloading of satellite imagery.

Star quilts came into use in the 18th century and recognize fruitful partnerships and good fortune to the Lakota. The Arrernte artwork by Roseanne Kemarre Ellis is called Caterpillar Tracks. It highlights the link between the Arrernte people’s mapping of their land, and the role of the antenna in collecting satellite imagery of Earth. Interestingly enough, the traditional Lakota tribal colors of red, black, yellow, and white are also the colors of Australia’s Indigenous flag.

Alice Springs was chosen to host a Landsat Ground Station in 1979 because of its location in central Australia. The agreement signed with the USGS in 2015 led to a $4 million upgrade to the Alice Springs station so it can send commands to Landsat satellites. That movement of Alice Springs from the International Cooperators network to the Landsat Ground Network will result in a multi-million-dollar savings to USGS through the years.

The partnership between the two agencies has also led to:

  • Optimized and improved data flow from the Alice Springs Ground Station to EROS, in part by leveraging approaches GA developed through collaboration on the Landsat 8 mission.
  • The contributions of GA engineers that enabled increased observations over Australia and the world, and led to access to various ground stations in the region as those engineers worked closely with the USGS Mission Operations Center located on the East Coast of the U.S.
  • The participation of GA software engineers and scientists with the Landsat Science Team to help in the development of technologies and software that will take greater advantage of GA’s innovative, time-series “Data Cube” development efforts.
  • Important Australian input on Analysis Ready Data (ARD) and future ARD products. That will increase the likelihood that products generated by USGS will be directly usable in Australian and other international systems, reducing the need for costly custom processing by GA.

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