The Landsat Program has been a boon to the study of the Earth's land resources, shorelines, and inland waters. Five decades of imagery revealing the land surface's visible and invisible features have sparked or advanced innovations in science that are now folded into the way we understand our planet, inside and outside of the research community.
Learn how Landsat imagery is applied the world over to tackle problems such as deforestation, algal blooms, and water resource management, as well as to document the landscapes of our ever-changing planet.
The birth of the Landsat program was also the birth of modern land remote sensing from space. Innovations have built upon innovations since 1972, expanding the toolkit used by scientists to monitor and study Earth's natural resources.
Today, for example, agricultural producers take for granted the ability to track and measure the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values of the crops in their fields. Fifty years ago, the notion of tracking crop health from space was a distant dream, if pondered at all.
NDVI is measurement of crop health (greenness) built from a mathematical equation that factors in visible and near infrared light reflected from the Earth’s surface. It’s just one of several vegetation indices made possible by the recording of reflected light in the near infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum—something every Landsat satellite since 1972 has done, and something that simply wasn't possible prior to the land remote sensing era. The Multispectral Scanner (MSS) onboard the first Landsat marked the first time a civilian satellite recorded repeat, near-infrared information at the global scale.
Landsat was the driving force behind the first space-based global crop assessment project in the 1970s. Today, geospatial information system (GIS) software applications—even online-only tools for satellite data viewing—often allow users to calculate NDVI values with the click of a button, using data from Landsat or a host of other satellite sources for which visible and near-infrared data collection is standard.
Landsat imagery also serve as the backbone of another agriculture tool producers in the U.S. now take for granted: the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cropland Data Layer (CDL), which tracks crop types across the U.S.
The program’s contributions to agriculture, of course, represent just one of countless examples of the ways the longest continuously collected satellite data source in history has improved our understanding of our planet’s form and function over the past 50 years.
The first National-scale land cover maps, the land cover and fuel-mapping information made available by the LANDFIRE program, global forest health monitoring, and much, much, more owe their existence to the Landsat program and its consistent, reliable record of the Earth's surface.
Click the “Societal Benefits,” “Stories,” and “Innovations” tabs at your left to explore just a few of the examples of how Landsat has improved our understanding of Earth.
Explore more Landsat Science!
Remote Sensing and Dryland Management
USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection releases ‘unprecedented’ reference dataset for United States
Verification Datasets of Irrigation Status of Agricultural Lands in Select Areas of Montana, 2019 and 2020
LCMAP Offers Insight on Dynamic Wetlands
LCMAP Change Stories: Hurricanes in the Everglades
Monitoring Arctic and boreal ecosystems through the assimilation of field-based studies, remote sensing, and modelling
NASA-USGS National Blue Carbon Monitoring System
Colorado River Basin Focus Area Study: Evapotranspiration
Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS)
Identifying Lands Suitable for Biofuel Feedstock Crops by Dynamic Modeling of Ecosystem Performance
Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity
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Remote Sensing and Dryland ManagementDrylands (areas characterized by low precipitation, high evapotranspiration, and low soil moisture) occupy around 40-45% of the earth’s surface. Many drylands contain high biodiversity and provide essential ecosystem services (e.g., livestock forage, agricultural production, pollination) for nearly 1/3 of the world’s population who live in drylands. Given limited precipitation and other resources...
USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment, and Projection releases ‘unprecedented’ reference dataset for United StatesThe USGS Land Change Monitoring, Assessment and Projection (LCMAP) team has released its reference dataset for the Conterminous U.S. (CONUS), an 25,000-point trove of land cover data that represents the culmination of nearly five years of intensive human labor.
Verification Datasets of Irrigation Status of Agricultural Lands in Select Areas of Montana, 2019 and 2020The Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center (WY-MT WSC) is currently (2019-2020) developing field and data management methods to collect and manage field-verified spatial datasets of irrigated lands in an effort to improve estimates of irrigation water use throughout the nation. The USGS is currently (2019) working with the University of Wisconsin to develop datasets to describe the spatial extent of...
LCMAP Offers Insight on Dynamic WetlandsWetlands are dynamic in nature, growing and shrinking within and between years in ways far less predictable than croplands, forests, or established urban areas.
LCMAP Change Stories: Hurricanes in the EvergladesWhen Atlantic hurricanes make landfall in south Florida, the coastal marshes and mangrove forests of the Everglades often act as a buffer that protects residents from rising sea levels, high winds and storm surge.
Monitoring Arctic and boreal ecosystems through the assimilation of field-based studies, remote sensing, and modellingNorthern high-latitude regions are experiencing climate warming at rates nearly double that of lower latitudes, leading to warming and thawing of permafrost-affected soils, decomposition of previously frozen organic matter and increases in the number of large fire years, which can substantially impact social and environmental systems. Monitoring Arctic and boreal ecosystems of northern latitudes...
NASA-USGS National Blue Carbon Monitoring SystemThe NASA-USGS National Blue Carbon Monitoring System project will evaluate the relative uncertainty of iterative modeling approaches to estimate coastal wetland (marsh and mangrove) C stocks and fluxes based on changes in wetland distributions, using nationally available datasets (Landsat) and as well as finer scale satellite and field derived data in six sentinel sites.
Colorado River Basin Focus Area Study: EvapotranspirationNew USGS-developed, remote-sensing based approaches were used to quantify agricultural irrigation water consumption on a field-by-field scale. The work produced the first ever Colorado River Basin-wide, 100-m scale actual ET estimate (2010) using Landsat imagery.
Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS)The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) is a consortium of 61 agencies operating 172 satellites worldwide working together to ensure international coordination of civil, space-based, Earth observation programs for the benefit of all.As a long-term member of the consortium, the USGS is involved in a variety of CEOS Working Groups, Virtual Constellations, and Ad Hoc Teams.
Identifying Lands Suitable for Biofuel Feedstock Crops by Dynamic Modeling of Ecosystem PerformanceDemand for biofuel products is expected to increase as the world seeks alternatives to fossil fuels. Currently, ethanol produced from Midwest corn is the most common biofuel product in the United States. The negative environmental effects caused by corn-based biofuel development include soil erosion, water quality impairment from pesticides and fertilizer, and demand for water for irrigation. The...
Fire AtlasEROS work on fire activity in the United States includes the creation of an atlas of fire perimeters for fires occurring on U.S. National Wildlife Refuges from 1984 through 2013. Fire Atlas perimeter data provide information to refuge managers as they plan land management activities for their units.EROS analysts use data provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which include a name...
Monitoring Trends in Burn SeverityMonitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) is an interagency program whose goal is to consistently map the burn severity and extent of large fires across all lands of the United States from 1984 to present. This includes all fires 1,000 acres or greater in the western United States and 500 acres or greater in the eastern Unites States. The extent of coverage includes the continental U.S., Alaska...
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