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March 11, 2020 - Landsat Downloads Top 100 Million!

On March 9, 2020, the 100 millionth Landsat scene was downloaded from the Landsat data archive at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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The 100 millionth download is a Landsat 8 scene that was acquired on May 24, 2017 of WRS-2 Path 73, Row 87.  The image below, a natural-color composite of Landsat 8 Bands 4, 3, and 2, shows the southwest end of New Zealand’s North Island. The stunning forested areas contain Lake Taupo, the Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks, as well as the always-striking Mt. Taranaki and its perfectly formed volcanic peak within the Egmont National Park along the island’s west coast.

100 Millionth Scene Downloaded from the USGS Landsat archive: Landsat 8 Path 73 Row 87 Acquired May 24, 2017
Landsat 8 Path 73 Row 87, acquired May 24, 2017

This achievement would not have been possible without the April 21, 2008 USGS “Imagery for Everyone...” announcement which stated that all users will have no-cost electronic access to any Landsat scene held in the USGS-managed national archive by early 2009. This was a pivotal decision that removed financial barriers for institutions and researchers to pursue new and previously inconceivable Landsat applications. Prior to the 2008 open data policy, researchers were restricted to the data they could afford, rather than the data they required. Between 1972 and 2007, the largest number of Landsat data (film and digital) ever sold was ~250,000 scenes in 1976, when the cost for a Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS) was $20 USD (see Figure 1).

Annual Landsat Data Distribution with cost per scene from 1972 to 2007, prior to the 2008 open data policy decision.
Figure 1. Annual Landsat data distribution (film and digital) and cost per scene between 1972 and 2007, prior to the 2008 open data policy decision.

During the era of Landsat privatization (see the 1984 Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency responsible for all Landsat operations at that time, was instructed to find a commercial vendor for Landsat data distribution. NOAA selected Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT) as the vendor. From 1983 to 1998 EOSAT increased image costs from $650 to $4,400 USD and restricted redistribution. This increase out-priced many users and caused a decline in the annual distribution of Landsat data (film and digital) to a low of 4,842 by 1992.

In contrast, almost one million scenes were downloaded in 2009, less than a year after the no-cost electronic access announcement (see Figure 2). By December 2012 the number of Landsat scenes downloaded had already topped the 10 million mark, and since then there has been a consistent exponential growth in downloads, with the period June 12 to August 17, 2017 having the greatest number of downloads in any given period (~5 million).

Million Marks of Landsat Digital Downloads since Opening the Archive in 2008.
Figure 2. Million marks of Landsat digital downloads since 2008.

Now, just over a decade later, Landsat scenes have downloaded more than 100 million times from the USGS Landsat archive by users from around the world.  The demand for Landsat data is likely to remain high, and with the commitment to maintain a no-cost open data policy, coupled with new data access and distribution capabilities, including the availability of global Level-2 surface reflectance and surface temperature products (1984 to present) in mid-2020, the joint NASA/USGS Landsat program is  perfectly poised to further enhance our understanding of Earth.

A recent USGS report estimated an increase in the domestic and international economic benefits to society provided by the Landsat archive to about $3.45 billion USD in 2017, compared to $2.19 billion USD in 2011.

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