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Remote sensing satellites are a constant watchdog for ecosystems around the world. Forests, wetlands, deserts, and more all benefit from the imagery and data that satellites generate for scientists, researchers, and others to use. 

Episode 76 – ECOSTRESS and Disease Risk

Color image of Anna Boser and Andy MacDonald with the graphic for the USGS podcast Eyes on Earth
Anna Boser, PhD candidate at the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Andy MacDonald, research professor, UC-Santa Barbara.

In this episode, we learn how measurements from space can track risk of mosquito-borne disease. Spaceborne sensors orbit hundreds of miles over our heads. Even the most advanced among them struggle to capture high-resolution imagery of individual human beings. Mosquitos, of course, are far smaller than we are. Clearly, sensors on a satellite or space station can’t see them. Even so, these sensors can gather a host of information that helps to understand the movements and behaviors of these pesky little disease vectors, which are responsible for at least a million deaths a year. Mosquitos are more active under certain environmental conditions, for example, and those conditions can be tracked at wide scales from above. Changes to the land’s surface can also make it easier for mosquitos to proliferate. On this episode, we learn how a sensor onboard the International Space Station was used to calculate West Nile virus risk in California’s San Joaquin River Valley.

Guests: Anna Boser, PhD student, University of California-Santa Barbara; Andy MacDonald, UC-Santa Barbara Earth Research Institute

Host: John Hult

Release date: June 27, 2022

Episode 75 – Mapping Dust Sources Worldwide

Phil Brodrick, Raymond Kokaly, David Thompson with the logo for the USGS podcast Eyes on Earth
Clockwise from lower left: Phil Brodrick, Raymond Kokaly, David Thompson of the EMIT Science Team.

In this episode, we hear about a mission to map the Earth’s minerals from above. Clouds of dust kicked up in places like the Sahara can travel thousands of miles across the planet. We can see those clouds in satellite imagery, but we don’t typically know much about the composition of that dust. That’s a huge blind spot, because those unknown characteristics—such as the particles’ lightness or darkness—have an impact on what they do. The warming and cooling of the atmosphere, snow melt, ocean or rain forest fertilization, and even cloud formation can all be affected by dust cloud composition.

Mapping those dust sources is the focus of the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, or EMIT, which will be supported by NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC), which is located at the USGS EROS Center. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear about the importance of the mission from three members of the EMIT Science Team.

Guests: Raymond Kokaly, USGS; David Thompson, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); Philip Brodrick, NASA JPL

Host: John Hult

Release date: June 15, 2022

Episode 70 - ECOSTRESS and Aquatic Ecosystems

Color image of Cassie Nickles, Shruti Khanna and Becca Gustine with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth"
From top, Cassie Nickles, Shruti Khanna and Becca Gustine with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth."

In this episode, we learn how space-based measurements of water temperature can help manage invasive species. The Earth observation data archived here have plenty of value to the study of aquatic ecosystems. Landsat satellites can capture harmful algal blooms, for example. Spaceborne sensors can also record land surface temperatures, and that includes water surfaces. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear about how a sensor called ECOSTRESS can be used to measure water temperatures at different times of day, and how those measurements could be useful in the monitoring and management of the endangered Delta smelt. ECOSTRESS data are available through the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC), located in the USGS EROS Center.

Guests: Rebecca Gustine, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Cassandra Nickles, NASA JPL, Shruti Khanna, California Department of Water Resources

Host: John Hult

Release date: March 21, 2022

Episode 64 – Colorado Bark Beetles

Color image of Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, Dr. Kyle Rodman, and Dr. Sarah Hart
From top, Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, Dr. Kyle Rodman, and Dr. Sarah Hart.

In this episode, we learn how Landsat helps to track bark beetle outbreaks. Outbreaks of native bark beetles can lead to conspicuous changes in a forest landscape. They’ve been present for thousands of years with occasional outbreaks, but there’s a lot we don’t yet understand about them. Exactly when and where have outbreaks occurred? How severe were they? What happened to the forest afterward? How will a warming climate influence outbreaks?

On this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from researchers Dr. Sarah Hart and Dr. Kyle Rodman, who use Landsat to help find answers to those questions. A recent study led by Dr. Rodman used Landsat to identify the locations and severity of bark beetle outbreaks in the southern Rocky Mountains. The researchers were surprised to find smaller areas of severe mortality than they expected. Landsat can even be used to help predict patterns of future outbreaks. Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, a USGS researcher, adds his perspective of the effects of forest disturbance as well.

Guests: Dr. Sarah Hart, forest ecologist, Colorado State University; Dr. Kyle Rodman, research scientist, Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute; Dr. Zhiliang Zhu, USGS biologic carbon sequestration researcher

Host: Jane Lawson

Release date: December 27, 2021

Episode 52 - Tracking 'Gray Ghosts' with Landsat

color photo of Dr. Andrew Reinmann with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth"
Dr. Andrew Reinmann, assistant professor of ecology and environmental science at The City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center and Hunter College.

In this episode, we hear how satellite imagery helps track invasive insects on the East Coast. The invasive species hemlock woolly adelgid is a threat to eastern hemlocks, filling some southeastern U.S. forests with what are called “gray ghosts” of the trees. Until recently, the insect had stayed in the southern part New York, but late last summer, an infestation was discovered in the Adirondacks. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, a New York university researcher talks about his effort to help detect the insect, which is the size of a poppy seed, by using remote sensing such as Landsat.

Guest: Andrew Reinmann, assistant professor of ecology and environmental science at The City University of New York Advanced Science Research Center and Hunter College

Host: Jane Lawson

Release date: June 14, 2021

Episode 50 - Delaware River Basin

Terry Sohl and Jordan Dornbierer with the logo for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth"
Terry Sohl (upper left) and Jordan Dornbierer.

In this episode, we learn about mapping the past and the future across an East Coast River basin. About 15 million people rely on the Delaware River Basin for drinking water, including residents of Philadelphia, PA, Camden, NJ, and Wilmington, DE. What might happen to the water supply if climate change and population growth continue unabated? How might that impact land cover and land use patterns? Those are the kinds of questions scientists at EROS looked to answer in a dataset built from Landsat satellite imagery, historical records, and scenario-based modeling across the basin. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, two of those scientists talk about how they looked back to 1680 and forward to 2100 and what sorts of questions the work may help answer.

Guest: Terry Sohl, Integrated Science and Applications Branch Chief, USGS EROS; Jordan Dornbierer, Scientist, USGS EROS Center contractor

Host: John Hult

Release date: May 17, 2021

Episode 42 – Rangelands of the U.S.

color photo of USGS EROS scientist Matthew Rigge
USGS EROS Research Physical Scientist Matthew Rigge, pictured with the graphic for the EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth."

In this episode, we hear how Landsat helps monitor vulnerable rangelands in the Western U.S. The extensive rangelands across the Western United States are threatened by invasive grasses, climate change, and altered fire regimes that can disturb the landscape. The largely semi-arid lands are also important for the survival of species that need undisturbed sagebrush ecosystems to thrive. But most satellite-based land cover datasets don’t offer the kind of detail needed to track small but ecologically meaningful shifts in vegetation that can alter fire regimes and improve habitats. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear about how new EROS data products help fill in that gap.

Guest:  Matt Rigge, Research Physical Scientist, USGS EROS Center

Host: John Hult

Release date: January 25, 2021

Episode 23 – Ecosystem Monitoring

Color photo of Melanie Vanderhoof
Melanie Vanderhoof, pictured with the graphic for the USGS EROS podcast "Eyes on Earth."

In this episode, we hear about how Landsat satellites help scientists study ecosystems, watersheds and environmental health. Landsat satellites offer a wealth of information to scientists studying ecosystem health and recovery. Data products derived from Landsat open even more areas of inquiry. Landsat Burned Area products, for example, can help researchers identify previously unknown fires that took place from 1984 through the present. In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we talk to one of the scientists behind that product about Landsat’s role in monitoring ecosystem health and recovery.

Guests: Dr. Melanie Vanderhoof, USGS

Host: Steve Young

Release date: April 20, 2020

Episode 20 - Mapping Alaska's Permafrost

Bruce Wylie with graphic for USGS EROS podcast Eyes on Earth
USGS Scientist Bruce Wylie

In this episode, we hear about efforts to map near surface permafrost across Alaska and why such efforts are important. The Arctic is changing at a more rapid rate than the rest of the planet. Some of the most significant changes are tied to the thawing of near-surface permafrost, the layers of frozen soil that contain vast stocks of stored carbon. Scientists at EROS have used remote sensing tools to map the extent of permafrost in Alaska, offering a baseline for further research as change continues to ripple through the state.

Guests: Bruce Wylie, Research Physical Scientist at the USGS EROS Center; Neal Pastick, scientist and contractor to the USGS EROS Center

Host: Steve Young

Release date: March 23, 2020

Episode 10 – Landsat and Water Quality

Nima Pahlevan - Eyes on Earth podcast
Nima Pahlevan - Eyes on Earth podcast, USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

In this episode, we learn how Landsat is used to track the health of aquatic ecosystems. We tend to associate Landsat satellites with what we see on solid Earth, but they can also tell us much about the health of our inland and coastal ecosystems. Landsat can be used to monitor harmful algal blooms, for example. Eyes on Earth guest Dr. Nima Pahlevan, a Landsat Science Team member, is part of a research team that tracks algal blooms worldwide using Landsat data.

Guest: Dr. Nima Pahlevan, Landsat Science Team

Host: Steve Young

Release date: Dec. 2, 2019