USGS, Australians Assess Collaboration Milestones over the Past Year

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The latest report on collaborative efforts between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Geoscience Australia (GA) suggests the two agencies are making significant strides together in exploiting land remote-sensing data to monitor the Earth and detect change as it happens.

Photo of Geoscience Australia/EROS collaborators

Jenn Lacey, EROS Observing Systems Branch Chief, presents Guy Royal, Geoscience Australia's (GA) Branch Head for Observations and Science Support, with a congratulatory certificate during a May meeting in Mountain View, CA. GA's Alice Springs ground station received the first scene acquired by Landsat 7 during its 100,000th orbit on February 1, 2018. From left to right are GA's Vincent Rooke and Andy Barnicoat, Lacey, Royal, and Doug Daniels, USGS Landsat Mission Manager with The Aerospace Corp. (Public domain.)

Representatives of the USGS and GA met at NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA, in late May to assess their progress in using that data to address problems of national and international significance, to promote societal benefits from Earth Observation (EO) programs, and to pursue operational efficiencies and cost savings.

Calling the collaborative relationship with GA one of the strongest USGS enjoys among all the remote-sensing agencies it works with across the globe, Landsat International Ground Station Network Manager Steve Labahn said there was plenty to be upbeat about after the three-day conference in Mountain View.

A significant achievement in the past year was the continued impact of the Australian agency’s involvement in the Landsat Ground Network (LGN), Labahn said. The USGS successfully worked with GA to optimize and improve Landsat 7 data flow from the ground station in Alice Springs, Australia, to the Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, SD, by leveraging approaches developed by the two agencies through their collaboration on the Landsat 8 mission.

The result was increased efficiency and cost savings.

Australians Help With Landsat 9 Ground Network Element

GA officials have also been plugged into the development of the Ground Network Element (GNE) for Landsat 9, Labahn said. The Australians participated in Preliminary and Critical Design reviews for the L9 GNE, and both their early commitment and proven performance have helped to streamline the Landsat 9 program.

“They’ve been in lockstep with us so that after Landsat 9 launches and is commissioned, GA will be right there ready to go because they’ll be fully tested,” Labahn said. “Clearly, LGN is the cornerstone, the foundational piece that we do with GA from our perspective.”

But the Australians have proven to be a valuable partner in other areas as well, such as their work with analysis-ready data (ARD) over this past year. GA and USGS collaboratively pursued a number of key initiatives involving ARD during the USGS’ Chair role with the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) in 2017. That work included CEOS ARD for Land (CARD4L) specifications and production generation, Future Data Architectures, and Moderate Resolution Sensor Interoperability.

USGS has also benefited from Australian input on the definition of future ARD products. That discussion increases 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.

“Because of our partnership with GA, and our complementary and consolidated approach in the international community, using the same voice, you’re seeing this groundswell of space agencies coming on board with doing Level 2 analysis-ready data products,” Labahn said.

Data Cubes Important Part of Conversation

The meeting in Mountain View also touched on Australia’s leadership with Data Cubes, which can provide easy access to vast amounts of satellite data back through time that allow for monitoring and measuring land cover change. The USGS is doing something similar with its Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP) initiative. And Landsat is the key data source for both agencies.

The reprocessing of the decades-old Landsat archive into a more consistent, almost seamless Collection of data by EROS staff, means the inputs are now available to create pixel-level ARD without the heavy lifting of having to first process the data.  As a result of that, Labahn said more and more space agencies globally are moving toward ARD with its surface reflectance and surface temperature products.

“Australia’s Open Data Cube is the one we’re still exploring, and how it can fit in maybe with LCMAP,” Labahn said of the USGS’ collaboration with GA. “Really at this stage, it’s more in an exploration and investigative state.”

That conversation will undoubtedly continue, as will other ongoing discussions, including interoperability, how cloud computing fits into future strategies, and the possibility of establishing “predictive” systems for environmental data.

“Our relationship with GA one of the strongest that we have going, really, from an international partnership perspective,” Labahn said. “So, this was a good meeting. We continue to learn a lot from each other.”