On this day in 2008, the USGS announced their plan to ‘open’ the USGS EROS Landsat archives, making all Landsat data available to download at no charge, to all users worldwide. Fifteen years later, in the “Year of Open Science”, Landsat continues to lead how Earth Observation data is utilized, and how Landsat data is used to support science and research efforts.
Fifteen years of Open Data Allows Advancements in Landsat Use and Research
As first described in this USGS Technical Announcement, the effort to open the USGS Landsat archive began with Landsat 7 ETM+ in late 2008 and followed with Landsat TM and Landsat MSS archives in early 2009.
Prior to 2008, the costs of obtaining Landsat scenes were prohibitive to science research and applications. Sales of Landsat 7 ETM+ data peaked in FY 2001 with 19,000 scenes sold; in FY 2008, over 86,000 scenes were downloaded at no cost. In August 2009, downloads reached the one-million mark. (Reference: Landsat’s Enduring Legacy, page 345).
As shown in the graph below, Landsat Level-1 scenes have been downloaded more than 160 million times since the Landsat archive became freely available. While Landsat Collection 1 data were downloaded directly from the USGS EROS Landsat archives, Collection 2 data and products can be accessed using a commercial cloud platform that offers new ways to explore the growing record of Landsat observations.
Higher Level Science Products Benefit from Open Data
Opening the Landsat archive allowed scientists to utilize the Level-1 data to create higher-level science products and further science studies to better monitor, assess, and project how changes in land use, land cover, and land condition affect people and nature.
These Landsat Science Products are available to download at no charge from the USGS Landsat Archive:
- U.S. Analysis Ready Data (ARD)
- Level-2 Surface Reflectance, Surface Reflectance-derived spectral indices, Surface Temperature, Provisional Aquatic Reflectance
- Level-3 Burned Area, Dynamic Surface Water Extent, Fractional Snow Covered Area, Provisional Actual Evapotranspiration
Citations Increase with Open Archive
While published works have always provided insights into the research done using Landsat data, the ability to obtain Landsat data at no charge has greatly helped researchers and scientists increase their publications and advance remote sensing science research.
For more than 20 years, members of the USGS/NASA Landsat Science Teams have been instrumental in creating many published works to support the Landsat mission. Consisting of USGS and NASA scientists and engineers, along with external scientists, engineers, and application specialists representing industry and university research initiatives, the Team provides scientific and technical evaluations to ensure the continued success of the Landsat program.
The graph below displays number of Landsat-related citations (orange line) and the cost per scene (blue line) from 1970 to 2022. As expected, citations increased greatly after the data became freely available starting in December 2008.
USGS Celebrates the Year of Open Science
The White House has announced 2023 as the Year of Open Science, featuring actions across the federal government to advance national open science policy, provide access to the results of taxpayer-supported research, and advance adoption of open, equitable, and secure science.
Throughout the Year of Open Science, the USGS will be sharing open science success stories, tips and tools for robust open science practices, and discussions on the value of open, equitable, and secure scientific enterprises. Visit https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/year-of-open-science/usgs-celebrates-year-open-science for more details.
Landsat’s Enduring Legacy
To learn more about the history of the Landsat Program, the “Landsat’s Enduring Legacy” book is available for download from https://my.asprs.org/ASPRSMember/ASPRSMember/Publications/Landsat-Digital-Access.aspx. This book was compiled and reviewed by many Landsat experts, and describes in detail how “Landsat missions laid the foundation for modern space-based Earth Observation and blazed the trail in the new field of quantitative remote sensing.”
The Landsat webpages provide information and specifics about the satellite missions, the available data products, and how to obtain and use the Landsat-based data and science products available from the USGS.
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