Landsat Known Issues

Single Event Upset

Landsat data are systematic, geometric, radiometric, and terrain corrected to provide the highest quality data to the user communities. Occasionally, anomalies occur and artifacts are discovered that require research and monitoring.

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A Single Event Upset (SEU) occurs when an energetic particle travels through a transistor substrate and causes electrical signals within the transistor. This known phenomenon often occurs in spacecraft passing through the Van Allen belts, especially the northern and southern auroral zones (> 60 degrees north or south latitude) and over the South Atlantic Anomaly. SEUs have been observed on almost every low-earth orbit satellite system, even as far back as Explorer 1 in 1958, which discovered the presence of the Van Allen belts.

Example of Single Event Upsets in Landsat 7 ETM+ Image (Bands 321).

Example of Single Event Upsets in Landsat 7 ETM+ Image (Bands 321).

On Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) scenes, SEUs appear as bright spots—often larger than one pixel and sometimes the width of a detector array—that appear in only one band at a time. They may saturate or oversaturate the detectors. After the initial bright spike, there is usually a single dark pixel as the affected detectors recoil in bright target recovery. These dark pixels often saturate low (recording a value of zero); detection of low saturated pixels is the primary means of discovering these artifacts within the data.

Example of Single Event Upset showing the Landsat 7 detector array

Example of Single Event Upset (SEU) showing the Landsat 7 detector array. 

Examination of the Image Assessment System (IAS) trending database shows that SEUs are correlated to the regions in Earth's orbit with high particle flux. The vast majority of SEUs found have occurred over the South Atlantic Anomaly, an anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field that causes particle storms at low orbital altitudes.

A geographic plot from the trending database of low saturations in Bands 2-4 shows the observed geographic extent of these artifacts. Other effects, such as Oversaturation and Detector Ringing events, may be included in the data set displayed here, which may explain many of the high latitude cases.

Global occurrence of Single Event Upsets found in the USGS Landsat Image Assessment System (IAS) trending database

Global occurrence of Single Event Upsets found in the USGS Landsat Image Assessment System (IAS) trending database. 

SEUs have been discovered in all bands except Band 6, but mining the IAS trending database for SEUs is complicated by the presence of other low saturating artifacts, especially in Bands 1, 5, and 7. Bands 5 and 7 were excluded from this map because of the frequent occurrence of Oversaturation in those bands over small fires around the world. Band 1 was excluded because of low saturation caused by Detector Ringing events.

SEUs appear similar to and can be mistaken for Impulse Noise or Fire Noise. SEUs have a multi-detector shape, whereas Impulse Noise usually affects only a single pixel. Unlike Fire Noise, each SEU event only occurs in a single band.

Generally, SEUs are not a cause for concern. They do not pose a threat to the health of any properly designed instrument. The imagery directly underneath the SEU is uncorrectable in the band in which it appears.