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Ground Control Points

Ground Control Points (GCPs) are defined as points on the surface of the earth of known location used to geo-reference Landsat Level-1 data. GCPs are updated as needed to continually improve Landsat data. GCPs can be downloaded and used as reference data.

Return to Landsat Geometry Overview


The USGS Landsat Image Assessment (IAS) and Landsat Product Generation System (LPGS) teams use a coordinate reference system for Landsat Level-1 products and Ground Control Points generation.

Landsat Ground Control Points Coordinate Reference System

The refrence system consists of map projection coordinates that fall on pixel-size (resolution) whole integers. Each pixel in Landsat 4-5 Thematic Mapper, Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus, and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager/Thermal Infrared Sensor) products represents a 30 by 30-meter area on the surface of the Earth. This means both the X and Y map coordinates for the upper left pixel is a multiple of 30-meters.  These coordinates are associated with the center of a pixel. (Landsat 1-3 Multispectral Scanner data pixels are 60-by-60-meters).   

Two commonly-used definitions to describe the map coordinate of each pixel within an image are Pixel Is Area and Pixel Is Point

  • Pixel Is Area defines the map coordinate as the very upper-left corner of the 30-by-30-meter pixel.
  • Pixel is Point defines the map coordinate as the center of the 30-by-30 meter pixel. 

Landsat Level-1 products and Ground Control points are produced using Pixel Is Point, as the map coordinate of the center of the pixel for all 4 corners of the image is divisible by a whole number of the resolution of the band, therefore for each band, the corner coordinates are all divisible by 30, with a remainder of zero.  The metadata file delivered with each Landsat Level-1 product defining the corner coordinates also list the product corners as Pixel is Point.

Software Package Considerations

Some image processing software packages use the Pixel Is Area designation, and users will need to make adjustments to use the data in the selected software.

Changing from either Pixel Is Point to Pixel Is Area  or Pixel is Area  to Pixel is Point involves adjusting the corner coordinates by one-half a pixel in both the line and sample directions.  The graphic below displays these differences, and the adjustments needed to be made.

Differences between Pixel-is-Area and Pixel-is-Point

An example listing the GeoTiff information for a Landsat product is shown below, with the Pixel Is Point designation in bold:

Example listing of the GeoTiff information for a Landsat product

Understanding a Landsat Ground Control Point

Landsat Ground Control Points are created using coordinate reference system described above. An example geographical representation and the metadata of a sample GCP file is displayed below to help understand the GCP file structure.  NOTE: This sample GCP is not available and is shown as a reference only.

In this sample Path 39 Row 36 GCP, the image chip has a UTM map coordinate of 762900 X / 3892020 Y at the line and sample location (31,31) for a coordinate system whose upper left pixel is 0-relative with respect to line and sample (0,0).  The map projection coordinate are the center of the pixel.  This is represented in systems such as ENVI by listing the upper left coordinate as: map info = {UTM, 0.000, 0.000, Map Easting, Map Northing, 30.0, 30.0, 11, North, WGS-84, units=Meters}.

Landsat Ground Control Point (GCP) Sample to help understand structure
The metadata fields for this sample GCP file listed below are defined in the following table. 0390365454 Y 04-14-2021 NEW_POINT 1 39 36 GLS 35.1367489 -114.1145621 840.000 CONTROL 0390365454_01 Y 04-14-2021 1 39 36 31.000000 31.000000 762900.000 3892020.000 30.000000 30.000000 64.000000 64.000000 OLI MORAVEC 1 UTM 11 ABS 04-27-2018 UI*2
Value Metadata field description
0390365454 Unique Ground Control Point (GCP) ID - integer
Y GCP Active Flag - string (Y/N)
04-14-2021 GCP date updated - string in form mm-dd-yyyy
NEW_POINT GCP update reason - string
1 GCP version number - integer
39 GCP WRS-2 path - integer
36 GCP WRS-2 row - integer
GLS GCP source - string
35.1367489 GCP latitude of reference point in degrees - double
-114.1145621 GCP longitude of reference point in degrees - double
840.000 GCP elevation of reference point in meters - double
0390365454_01 Image chip ID - string
Y Image chip Active Flag - string (Y/N)
04-14-2021 Image chip date updated - string in form mm-dd-yyyy
1 Image chip version number - integer
39 Image chip source WRS-2 path - integer
36 Image chip source WRS-2 row - integer
31.000000 Image chip reference line - double
31.000000 Image chip reference sample - double
762900.000 Image chip reference point projection X in meters - double
3892020.000 Image chip reference point projection Y in meters - double
30.000000 Image chip pixel size x value in meters - double
30.000000 Image chip pixel size y value in meters - double
64.000000 Image chip size in lines - double
64.000000 Image chip size in samples - double
OLI Image chip sensor - string
MORAVEC Image chip selection method - string
1 Image chip Moravec rank if selection method is MORAVEC, zero otherwise - integer
UTM Image chip projection - string
11 Image chip projection UTM zone - integer
ABS Image chip type - string ABS (Absolute) or REL (relative)
04-27-2018 Image chip acquisition date - string in form mm-dd-yyyy
UI*2 Image chip data type - string

Improving Data with GCP Updates 

In 2014, improvements to GCP files began – these include removing outdated files, and creating new, time-specific and seasonal GCPs. Visit Landsat Ground Control Points Updates for details about the changes made with each update. 

Search for Landsat Ground Control Points

The Landsat Ground Control Point Search allows you to extract ground control point binary files over your area of interest.