Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Societal Benefits

Landsat touches the lives of people around the world every day in many ways, especially as the climate changes. It keeps an eye on our water supply—drinking water, irrigation, and even groundwater. It tells us how the crops are growing to feed livestock and us, clothe us, and help fuel our vehicles. It spots the effects of natural disasters, from droughts and wildfires to hurricanes and flooding.

Landsat reveals where we’re most vulnerable – to sea level rise, to urban heat, to extreme weather. It conveys where and how our valuable wildernesses are at risk, from insects attacking a forest to exotic grass invading shrubland.

Below you'll find just a few examples.

Click here to peruse articles, videos, interactive tools, and more on the myriad ways the Landsat Program benefits society. 


Monitoring Water Use 

Landsat helps with water management by indicating how much water gets consumed in irrigation. This is especially helpful in areas facing drought, such as the western United States and other countries.

The Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA), for example, finds remote sensing a beneficial tool for identifying irrigated areas in the large country:

Brazilian National Water Agency representatives at USGS EROS Center
Members of the Brazilian National Water Agency (ANA) were at EROS in 2018 to discuss the mapping of irrigated lands in Brazil
  • "Nearly 20 percent of all the planet’s rivers flow on Brazilian soil. Brazil uses roughly 72 percent of its available water for its extensive irrigated agricultural needs, including some of the planet’s largest cattle, pig, and poultry operations. But for all its wealth of water, Brazil also faces significant hydrologic challenges. Drought has baked the country’s semi-arid regions ... metropolitan regions like São Paulo face significant water supply problems. And it’s not just a lack of rain: the growth in water use and procrastination in meeting water and sanitation needs are testing areas that have already reached their limit in the balance between water supply and water demand. When ANA officials heard EROS staff presenting about their work on measuring and monitoring water consumption with their Operational Simplified Surface Energy Balance (SSEBop) model at a USGS Water Census conference in Atlanta four to five years ago, the Brazilians’ interest perked right up."

Continue reading "Water Monitoring, Mapping in Brazil Shows Value of Landsat Globally"


Tracking Wildfire Risk

Landsat contributes to mapping the western United States’ vast rangeland and showing where invasive annual grasses are prevalent. This helps with fire fuel projections as wildfire risks increase.

It also helps with grazing management, understanding bird and wildlife habitat, and identifying opportunities to preserve native species:

Color map of forage performance in the western U.S.
Screenshot from a tool called "Fuelcast," which uses several data points to calculate monthly biomass estimates for the western U.S.
  • The (Landsat-based) maps began to gain traction in the user community even before the most recent release. Matt Reeves of the USDA Forest Service, for example, has folded the information into a tool called 'Fuelcast,' which calculates biomass each month across the West. The Fuelcast calculations, which consider precipitation, temperatures and remotely sensed sources, serve two primary purposes. First, they offer a data point for ranchers seeking federal payouts for reductions in expected forage through the Farm Services Agency. Second, the projections help the firefighting community understand the conditions on the ground. High levels of biomass and dry conditions can be a dangerous combination if a fire is sparked. Before the USGS EROS data emerged, Fuelcast was unable to differentiate between the invasive grasses Reeves calls 'the gasoline' for fuel beds that might not burn as intensely without their influence."

Continue reading "New USGS EROS Maps Reveal Species-by-species Prevalence of Exotic Grasses in the Western U.S.


Tracking Urban Hotspots

Landsat can help identify the warmest areas within cities where residents are most vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and deaths. City planners then can develop long-term strategies to cool these areas down and emergency measures to help residents during heat waves. Landsat can also help define the effectiveness of mitigation strategies, such as the green roofs and green spaces in Chicago:

Color photo of Chicago City Hall rooftop
Chicago City Hall, with a green roof, is adjacent to the identical Cook County Building, which has no green roof. (Photo by Patrick L. Pyszka, City of Chicago)
  • Using Landsat’s historical archive, the project looked at trends of heat severity over time across Chicago and the statistical significance of land surface temperature changes at 26 intervention sites, which were mostly parks along with some neighborhoods. "We did a lot of land acquisition over several years to convert some of the industrial space on the far south side of Chicago into open space," said Brad Roback, who works in the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, focused on sustainability. Also involved in the project were Chicago’s Department of Public Health and the Office of Emergency Management Control. “We’re always working with the park district and with nonprofit partners to develop not only park space but community-managed open spaces like community gardens, pocket parks, those sorts of things."

Continue reading "Collaboration's Quest: Examine Effects of Urban Heat Actions in Chicago"


Cataloging the Forests

Landsat can tell us when and where forests have lost or gained ground around the world. It can offer details about the causes, too, such as insect outbreaks too remote or widespread for people to investigate on the ground. Bark beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountains, for example, can offer clues to future outbreak patterns and their effects on the people living near them:

forest affected by pine beetles
View of pine forest affected by mountain pine beetle epidemic in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Sarah Hart, a forest ecologist at Colorado State University, uses data from aerial detection surveys, during which observers fly over and digitally label areas affected by insects and disease. But for consistency, scale, and length of record, Hart turns to Landsat. “Bark beetle outbreaks unfold over several years to a decade in some areas. So the temporal record of Landsat was really critical. It’s the perfect tool, and really the only tool that, in my opinion, would have solved and answered some of the questions that we were interested in,” she said. Hart served as a collaborator on a recent bark beetle study by Kyle Rodman, who did postdoctoral research with Hart and now works as a research scientist at the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. Rodman grew up in Colorado Springs, and that familiarity has influenced his interest in forest disturbances. “I think you can do a lot of important and useful things if you know an area well, if you have that good understanding of what’s going on on the ground,” Rodman said. “As a remote sensing person, knowing what you’re seeing on the landscape is really valuable.”

Continue reading "Landsat Helps Tell the Story About Bark Beetle Outbreaks in Colorado"