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A new article from researchers at the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center emphasizes the importance of satellite-derived data for studying Earth processes.

In the article, “Earth science looks to outer space,” published in Nature Geoscience, authors Patrick Barnard and Sean Vitousek describe how satellites have revolutionized the way scientists study Earth-system processes and changes, such as glacial retreat, coastal erosion, and sea-level rise.  

What traditionally was a labor- and time-intensive endeavor—with scientists in the field collecting samples, making measurements, and mapping features to understand Earth’s many processes—has been transformed by the high quality and quantity of data provided by satellite remote-sensing techniques. For example, global-scale studies of the world’s coastlines have been completed for a fraction of the cost of many labor-intensive field studies.

“Although understanding the relationship between what we see from space and what we measure on the ground still requires field measurements, the satellite era offers to bring many meaningful advances in coastal research,” the authors write. “Imagine a future where we can observe dynamic changes in the Earth system almost daily and continuously feed those observations back into hazard models to better protect life and property from extreme events, such as floods, droughts, and landslides, and from large-scale climate impacts, such as sea level rise.”

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