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2021 saw more than its share of milestones for the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center and the USGS Landsat program.

Landsat 9 Launch from Vandenberg: 3 ViewsThree views of the Landsat 9 launch on September 27, 2021. Liftoff of the Atlas V rocket took place at 11:12 local time from Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, California. Mild fog and the "marine layer" of clouds cleared just enough to see the first 10 seconds of flight from 4 miles away at the OS-45 viewing area (also known as the "gravel pit") located to the north of the SLC-3 launch pad.Since 1972, the joint NASA/ U.S. Geological Survey Landsat series of Earth Observation satellites have continuously acquired images of the Earth’s land surface, providing uninterrupted data to help land managers and policymakers make informed decisions about natural resources and the environment.Landsat is a part of the USGS National Land Imaging (NLI) Program. Landsat data is processed and hosted at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.Learn more about Landsat 9 and the Landsat program at

Years of planning, design, and testing paid off on Sept. 27, 2021 with the launch of Landsat 9 from Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, CA. The newest Landsat mission will continue the nearly 50-year legacy of the world’s longest-running record of repeat Earth observations from space.

Scientists and engineers at EROS supported that work in the run-up to the launch, and continue to work alongside colleagues at NASA as the satellite proceeds through the commissioning process. The USGS will take ownership of Landsat 9 in early 2022, and EROS will ingest, process and archive data from the new satellite.

EROS teams released new tools for accessing and studying Landsat data, as well, such as a revamped LandsatLook tool that allows users to scan new satellite imagery as it arrives in the archive.

But EROS had more on the docket than Landsat. For example, the EROS calibration and validation specialists were hard at work on updates to the second edition of a land remote sensing compendium, a resource meant to guide users of Earth observation data in a science and research community whose available data sources continue to grow by the year. Others laid out plans to monitor irrigated lands across the U.S. for years to come.

Read on to learn more about the research projects, datasets, and science milestones marked at EROS in 2021.

Landsat 9 Continues the Legacy

The launch of Landsat 9 was the biggest news of 2021 for EROS—and for much of the remote sensing community. Staff from EROS were part of environmental testing early in the year and moved through the first half of it with an eye to the Landsat 9 ground system. When the satellite launched from Santa Barbara County, EROS staff were among the USGS representatives on the ground to observe the launch and document the historic extension of Landsat’s record.

Follow this link to learn more about the Landsat 9 Ground System.


Color graphic of Landsat 8/Landsat 9 underfly schedule
Landsat 9 flew beneath Landsat 8 as part of the calibration process for the newer satellite, launched on Sept. 27, 2021. The underfly allowed calibration experts to compare measurements collected by the fully operational satellite with Landsat 9, management and operation of which will be handed off to the U.S. Geological Survey in early 2022. 

Follow this link to hear scientists, officials, international partners, and “Mother of Landsat” Virginia Norwood discuss Landsat 9 and the Landsat Program on the EROS podcast Eyes on Earth.

Click here to learn about the “underfly” of Landsat 9 beneath Landsat 8, an event that saw crews fanned out across the globe to collect information that will enhance the satellite observations’ accuracy.

Finally, click here to see, read about or download the first images collected by Landsat 9.

Big Data, Delivered More Quickly

EROS scientists released several new land cover and change datasets that help us to understand the composition of the Nation’s landscapes and capture landscape change across the U.S. These mapping products built at EROS help land managers, communities, and emergency responders understand the past and plan for the future.

This animation shows change in the Osage Beach, MO area using the USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP) initiative’s Primary Land Cover Product. Visit the LCMAP Change Story page "Outfitting the Ozarks" to learn more about this animation.

The National Land Cover Database (NLCD); Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection (LCMAP); and Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools (LANDFIRE) each offered updated mapping products in 2021, each at faster clip than any had been produced before.

EROS scientists also updated and renamed their Rangeland Condition, Monitoring, and Assessment (RCMAP) datasets, which break down the rangelands of the Western U.S. into their component parts from 1985-2020.

NLCD, meanwhile, debuted its Enhanced Visualization and Analysis (EVA) tool, which offers at-a-glance statistics on land cover change at the county level across the U.S. in a simplified format that requires no GIS experience to use or understand.

Follow this link to learn about NLCD 2019, or click here to listen to the NLCD 2019 podcast.

Click here to learn about LCMAP Version 1.2, which covers 1985-2020, or click here for the full LCMAP website

Follow this link to learn about LANDFIRE 2019 Limited, or click here to listen to the podcast

Filling the Largest Gap in Water Management

EROS was also part of the launch of Open ET, a public-private partnership that aims to map evapotranspiration (ET) across the Western U.S., where irrigation is critical to agriculture and competes with household and industrial use for scarce water resources. ET is the combined measure of evaporation from the surface of the Earth and transpiration from the leaves of plants, and it represents the largest portion of the water budget.

 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

EROS has long produced ET estimates across wide landscapes using Landsat. For OpenET, the EROS-based products are folded into an ensemble of six ET models that, taken together, offer a more accurate picture of consumptive water use than any do on their own.

The launch of the OpenET data portal on Oct. 21, 2021 offered free, easily accessible field-scale data about water consumption by crops and other vegetation in the Western U.S.

Follow this link to learn more about the OpenET launch.

Click here for an Eyes on Earth episode with three partners in OpenET, including EROS’ Gabriel Senay.

Using Landsat to Visualize Change

The spring of 2021 saw the introduction of the Google Timelapse tool, an enhancement for Google Earth that allows anyone with an internet connection to visualize change across more than three decades.

Google Earth Engine’s Timelapse Viewer
Google Earth Engine’s Timelapse Viewer shows the progression
of artificial archipelagos along the shoreline of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Landsat, as well as the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites, were key inputs for the tool:

“The content served by 3D Timelapse is derived, in large part, from five decades of U.S. Government investment in Landsat observations and data distribution. These substantial investments, measured in tens of billions of dollars, have created a Landsat archive containing nearly 300 billion square kilometers of global imagery.”

Click here to read the full story.

Stay Up to Date!

The EROS Communications and Outreach (C&O) Team is constantly on the lookout for new stories of landscape change, new and unique applications of Landsat and other remote sensing data. The team also uses satellite data to tell stories of recent change you may have heard on the radio, read about or learned about online or on television.

In the past year, we’ve released videos on California wildfires, lithium mining in Chile, and floods in British Columbia, released stories on Landsat’s role in forecasting the future of a critical East Coast river basin and in pinpointing dangerous urban hotspots, and published podcasts on the value of satellites to the monitoring of harmful algal blooms and invasive species.

The C&O team also updated its Earthshots page, which tells more than 100 stories of landscape change around the globe, and updated its remote sensing classroom with additional tools for teachers, students and curious adults.

New fact sheets are added periodically to the EROS/National Land Imaging Program’s Landsat State By State project, and EROS recently released its new Landsat State Mosaics page, filled with Landsat-based posters of all 50 states.

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