Looking Back: EROS Marks Major Milestones for 2020

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The year of 2020 will be remembered largely for the global coronavirus pandemic, and with good reason: The impact was worldwide, sustained and continues into the new year.

LCMAP Annual Land Cover Change (LCACHNG) product for an area over Portland, Oregon for product year 2005.

LCMAP Annual Land Cover Change (LCACHNG) product for an area over Portland, Oregon for product year 2005. Visit the LCMAP Collection 1 Science Products webpage for more information.

The year of 2020 will be remembered largely for the global coronavirus pandemic, and with good reason: The impact was worldwide, sustained and continues into the new year.

Despite the challenges presented by the virus and the remote work conditions under which many in the U.S. Geological Survey labored throughout 2020, the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center marked a series of historic milestones.

The accomplishments of 2020 would mark an unusually successful year at EROS—even in normal times. Most notably, the scientists, engineers, and technicians at the Center shepherded the release of three important datasets, all of which were years in the making:

  • The USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment and Projection (LCMAP) initiative released its Collection 1 product suite, putting 33 years of satellite-based land change data for the U.S. into the public domain.
  • LANDFIRE released its Remap for the Conterminous United States, marking the first full-scale update of the program’s base map in its 15-year history, improving its accuracy and boosting its value to the research community.
  • The USGS released Landsat Collection 2, improving the 48-year Landsat Archive’s geometric accuracy, bolstering Landsat’s interoperability with other satellite data sources, widening access to Level-2 products, and making the data available in a cloud-friendly format.

Those highlights came in a year that also saw the release of numerous other datasets, research papers and collaborative projects from EROS. As we prepare to face the challenges of 2021, let’s take a month-by-month look back at the year that was through our EROS Center News. Bookmark this page to stay up-to-date with all our Center News.


EROS Fire Scientists Look at Potential Use of Lidar for Operational Burn Mapping: USGS geographers have begun exploring the use of 3D light detection and ranging (lidar) data to learn more about burn severity and intensity. Researchers made several trips to South Dakota’s Custer State Park to study the landscapes impacted by the 2017 Legion Lake fire. Follow this link to hear a podcast on that work.


EROS contributes to New Land Cover Maps for U.S., Canada, Mexico: The EROS researchers behind the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) serve as the U.S. operational partners in the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS). In February, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada partnership released its latest land cover dataset for all three countries.


Color image of Boise, ID area, overlaid with a near real time cheatgrass map from 2018

Improved cheatgrass mapping products from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center offer a higher resolution picture of invasive grass extent than previously available across parts of the Western U.S. This image shows a 2018 cheatgrass coverage map for the Boise, ID area, atop a Landsat 8 image of the same area.

New EROS Maps to Offer Aid in Understanding, Management of Invasive Grasses: EROS teams worked to harmonize data from Landsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) Sentinel-2 satellites to produce near real time maps of invasive, fire-fueling cheatgrasses in the Western U.S. The data released in early 2020 would later be pooled with other data sources in an invasives-monitoring collaboration with the Western Governors’ Association.


USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP) releases ‘unprecedented’ reference dataset for United States: The LCMAP initiative offers an unparalleled time series of land cover and change data for the U.S., but it also offers an unprecedented reference dataset. This story explains how that dataset will pay off for land change researchers in and outside the LCMAP project. Also check out this story, which walks through the painstaking collaborative work involved in producing the dataset: Pixel by Pixel: How the USGS, U.S. Forest Service Checked the Work of a Computerized Landsat Mapping Project


EROS Scientists Publish Accuracy, Guidance for Global Evapotranspiration Data: Evaporation from the surface and transpiration from the leaves and stems of plants—evapotranspiration, or ET—makes up the largest portion of the water budget, but ET is notoriously difficult to track. EROS researchers have put in a great deal of work producing ET estimates from remote sensing data. This story speaks to the importance of evaluating of ET product performance.


From Concept to Reality, USGS Land Change, Monitoring, Assessment and Projection (LCMAP) Pushes Boundaries in Service of Science: The possibility of leaning on the decades-long Landsat record to assess land change has been pondered for nearly a decade by EROS scientists. The release of the LCMAP initiative’s Collection 1 product suite represents the fruit of that labor. Follow this link to hear a podcast on LCMAP.


LANDFIRE Remap Marks Major Improvements for Essential Resource Management Dataset: The  multi-agency partnership that comprises LANDFIRE released the most significant upgrade in 2020, leaning on its 15 years of experience to improve a complex product used across the U.S. by both the fire science community and the wider research community. Follow this link to hear a podcast on the Remap.


Rangeland Mapping Tools Take Users Back in Time Across Western U.S.: The NLCD team not only works to produce land cover products for the U.S., it aims to expand the data resources available to land managers in places like the Western U.S. This story addresses the NLCD Back In Time (BIT) rangeland products released in August, which break down each 30-meter pixel in the West into its component parts from the early 1980s through 2018.


 color graphic explaining evapotranspiration

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center are playing an important role in a bold new initiative intended to fill the biggest data gap in water management known as OpenET

Agencies Announce Bold Initiative to Fill Water Management Data Gap in Western U.S.: A bold new initiative called OpenET, intended to fill the biggest data gap in water management in the western U.S., was announced Sept. 15 by a unique public-private partnership of Federal agencies, universities, environmental groups, and water managers and farmers. Follow this link to hear a podcast on OpenET.


The International Charter: 20 Years of Disaster Monitoring: The International Charter collects and distributes remotely sensed imagery following natural or man-made disasters. The USGS is among the founding members of the organization. Follow this link to hear a podcast marking its 20th Anniversary.


Newly Released Elevation Dataset Highlights Value, Importance of International Partnerships: The Copernicus 30-meter global Digital Elevation Model (DEM) discussed in this story has the potential to improve the quality of Landsat and Sentinel satellite data, bolster interoperability across a wide range of satellite systems, and will offer immediate benefits to elevation modeling both within and outside the USGS.


USGS Releases the Most Advanced Landsat Archive to Date: Landsat Collection 2 marked the second major reprocessing campaign of the USGS Landsat archive since 2016, resulting in several data product improvements that harness recent advancements in data processing, algorithm development, and data access and distribution capabilities. Follow this link to hear a podcast on Collection 2. See also: Every Pixel in its Place: How Collections Unlock the Potential of the Landsat Archive, and EROS Releases Collection 2, Boosting Cloud Access, Accuracy, Value of Landsat Archive